CSR – et begreb af forskelle: En systemteoretisk analyse af, hvordan begrebet håndteres i den danske CSR-debat

Thomas Noppen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility - or CSR - is as unfathomable as it is omnipresent. Within the last two decades CSR has gradually permeated executive boardrooms as well as government offices in Denmark. Politicians, companies and scholars all seem to have a different opinion on how the concept should be understood and put into practice. Consequently everyone agrees that the concept is debateable, but this is where agreement ends. Despite its imprecise nature CSR is often held to be morally right, good business, a political tool and in 2010 it formally found its place within national legislation. All this poses the question: how is it possible for a concept as debateable and indefinable as CSR to be viewed and continually discussed as a fixed concept while still being largely fluid? How can the moral rightness, possible economic returns, possibilities of CSR governance or even lawmaking be possible with such an unstable concept? To answer these questions this study explores the possibilities of using CSR’s paradoxical nature to explain how the concept evolves in modern society’s communication. Inspired by Niklas Luhmann’s general systems theory and the concept of second order observation – this study creates its own analytical framework focussing on how CSR is a concept combining three paradoxes: a paradox of matter, one of sociality and one in time. The paradox of matter deals with whether CSR should be viewed as profit or charity. The second asks whether CSR should be seen as a voluntary action or as a result of outside pressures. Thirdly, CSR is viewed as a paradox between whether CSR provides results or whether is it to be seen as a continuous process. The three paradoxes are found within classical definitions of CSR. Having shown that CSR can be understood through paradoxes, this then shows how these paradoxes are settled. The method of analysis is to show how the three paradoxical dimensions are handled within four differentiated societal communication systems. By order of appearance these are a moral, economic, political and legally differentiated communication systems. By showing how the paradoxes are settled, this study explains how CSR as an indefinable concept is able to connect to settled communication. Accordingly, it is possible to explain how CSR is defined as morally correct, good business, a political tool and how it is possible to work with the concept within a legal framework.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages97