Ethics Inc.: A Sociological Account of the Contemporary Market for Corporate Social Responsibility

Arena, Vanessa. 2011. Ethics Inc.: A Sociological Account of the Contemporary Market for Corporate Social Responsibility. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In the contemporary corporate marketplace a novel ethical proposal is being formulated. This is manifest in the suggestion that it is desirable for companies to behave in a 'socially responsible' manner, or practice what is formally referred to as 'Corporate Social Responsibility' (CSR). Distinct from conjunctions of 'business' and 'ethics' that have gone before, contemporary CSR proceeds on the basis of a unique claim - that it is possible for a corporation to 'do well, by doing good'. Known as the 'business case' for CSR, this proposal is of special sociological significance, this thesis argues, insofar as it understands 'marketability' to be an inhering aspect of the 'ethical' itself. Drawing on contemporary developments in the field of social studies of science (STS) and, relatedly, 'newer' economic sociology, this thesis attends to the question of what, in-practice and as-practice, this newly described market-ethics may be said to 'do.' This focus on 'doing' distinguishes the present work from prior sociological and economic accounts of the relationship between markets and ethics, which have been noticeably constrained by both historically conferred disciplinary remits and by the tendency to peremptorily prescribe ethics within the narrow bounds of classical deontological or utilitarian moral theories. Methodologically, this inquiry proceeds by first observing the assembly of particular market spheres or market 'nexuses' of CSR practice, and secondly by investigating the ways in which the 'ethical' is variously enacted within these. Three interlinked but delineated 'nexuses' of CSR focus provide empirical substrate for discussion - the 'ethical corporation,' 'ethical consumer,' and 'ethical career.' Paying heed to the multiply-reflexive constitution of these differentially assembled markets, ensuing critical discussion finds the 'doing' of ethics therein to be largely constituent in contingently engaged affective and material practices. Against accounts then that de-cry the increasing 'marketisation' of ever more aspects of everyday life, ( often seeking to indiscriminately discern in all market practice a totalising neo-liberalism on the march), the present thesis embodies an alternative theoretical approach wherein what it is possible to do in a market context is not prescriptively decreed or pre-maturely proscribed. In line with this emphasis, questions regarding the possibility of ethics, and finally, of effective alternative politics in market contexts are reexamined as part of the process of critically rethinking what present sociological understandings admit to and exclude from the designation of 'market' itself.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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Ethics, corporate marketplace, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

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Date Deposited:

29 May 2020 13:24

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:24


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