Vicious and Virtuous Circles of Aspirational Talk: From Self Persuasive to Agonistic CSR Rhetoric

Peter Winkler, Michael Etter, Itziar Castello

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Scholars are divided over the question of whether managerial aspirational talk that contradicts current business practices can contribute to corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this conceptual article, we explore the rhetorical dynamics of aspirational talk that either impede or foster CSR. We argue that self-persuasive CSR rhetoric, as one enactment of aspirational talk, can attract attention and scrutiny from organizational members. Continued adherence to this rhetoric, however, creates and perpetuates tensions that lead to a vicious circle of disengagement. A virtuous circle, by contrast, requires a shift toward an agonistic rhetoric that transcends tensions by rearticulating aspirations in concurrence with situated understandings of responsible corporate practice. Our arguments contribute to a better understanding of how communication becomes constitutive of CSR and address the debate on decoupling between talk and action.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness & Society
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)98-128
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: February 13, 2019


  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Aspirational talk
  • Rhetoric
  • Agonism
  • Decoupling

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