As corporate responsibility (CR) has evolved in the public and private spheres, we have noted a growing concern not just with how to operationalize corporate responsibility, but importantly how to influence others to pay heed to social, environmental and economic responsibilities.
Background and objectives
This aspect of CR lacks full theorization, and this hampers its development through the academic literature and in turn its robustness in practical application. Significantly, a small number of key CR researchers in Europe have simultaneously identified governmentality as a theoretical lens with great potential in the CR field.
We propose this theoretical concept of governmentality as a potentially fruitful lens for analysing CR and supporting this important concept to gain academic legitimacy and thereby coherent practical application.
The wide spread use of governmentality as a means of describing and understanding influence and control processes has an established pedigree in a broad range of research applications. Inspired in large part by Foucault’s work from the 1970s and later developed by him and others, government is about the ‘conduct of conduct’ (Foucault 1982; 1991).
Going beyond the governance of a state by a government, it quickly becomes apparent that we must recognise that “a whole variety of authorities govern in different sites, in relation to different objectives” (Rose et al. 2006: 85). Further, governmentality can be considered to deal with how we think about governing with different rationalities (Dean 2009: 24).
We follow Rose’s description of governmentality as “the deliberations, strategies, tactics and devices employed by authorities for making up and acting upon a population and its constituents to ensure good and avert ill.” (Rose 1996: 328).
Fledgling but important research in the CR field which draws on governmentality includes that by Vallentin and Murillo (2009), Spence and Rinaldi (2010) and O’Dwyer (2010). O’Dwyer is beginning work on governmentality in accounting and accountability practices.
The project by Vallentin and Murillo focuses on the political sphere, and contributes to a political understanding of CR, focusing empirically on developments within the EU. They approach CR governance in general and competitiveness-driven CR governance in particular from the point of view of an analytics of governmentality.
The research by Spence and Rinaldi, in contrast, uses governmentality in the context of governance in the supply chain, identifying the role that powerful buyers play in seeking to govern the corporate responsibility of their smaller suppliers. Providing a further complementary perspective, Córdoba-Pachon is researching on systems thinking and e-government (Córdoba & Ochoa-Arias, 2010).
Accordingly, a range of respected CR researchers have identified governmentality as a potentially valuable theoretical framework. A workshop sponsored by EABIS will take place at Royal Holloway, University of London on September 7, 2011."
EABIS Network members involved include ESADE, University of Amsterdam, Copenhagen Business School, RHUL.