Discourses about Righting the Business ← → Society Relationship

Date01 June 2016
AuthorSarah Bonewits Feldner,Steven K. May,Jeremy P. Fyke
Published date01 June 2016
Discourses about Righting the
Business ßàSociety
This article engages the question—what is the right
business-society relationship? We consider three perspec-
tives that seek to address the relationship: corporate social
responsibility (CSR), social entrepreneurship (SE), and con-
scious capitalism (CC). We take a macroapproach consider-
ing how commentary about these approaches establishes a
direction for corporate practice and its relationship to key
stakeholder groups. We argue that these perspectives are
‘D’iscourses that provide arguments for and articulations
about the direction of corporate practice and the business-
society relationship. To organize our review of each perspec-
tive, and focus our critique, for each we highlight (a) drivers
and influencers, (b) core assumptions and defining fea-
tures, and (c) approaches and exemplars. Although distinct,
all emphasize effective business practices as key to meeting
social needs. CSR suggests legitimizing business practice;
SE relocates business practices; and CC seeks to
Jeremy P. Fykeis an Assistant Professor in theJ. William and Mary Diederich Collegeof Communi-
cation at Marquette University. E-mail: jeremy.fyke@marquette.edu. Sarah Bonewits Feldner is
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research at Marquette University. E-mail: sarah.feld-
ner@marquette.edu.Steven K. May is an Associate Professorin the Department of Communication
Studiesat University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.E-mail: skmay@email.unc.edu.
C2016 Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.,
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 121:2 217–245
reimagine/rehabilitate business for social good. Ultimately,
we conclude that these Discourses lack a clear communica-
tive focus in terms of decision making within these organi-
zations. We attend to this and other implications, and offer
avenues for further research.
What is the right business-society relationship? Historically,
businesses have been imagined as one of the great social
institutions capable of the greatest social change and, yet,
we find ourselves at a crossroads. Despite the many ways in which
businesses continue to fulfill this type of expectation, many believe
they have lost their way. Scholars and practitioners point to several
examples over the past “decades horribilis” (O’Toole and Vogel 2011)
of business transgressions that have flooded mainstream press and
sparked a reappraisal of perspectives on corporate greed, trust, and
the public-organization relationship (e.g., Goldman Sachs, BP,
Enron, Arthur Andersen). These indiscretions have widespread
implications, including their role in the 2007/2008 financial crisis
(Weitzner and Darroch 2009). Consequently, calls have come out
recently to reappraise business practice (Werhane et al. 2011).
Questions of the business-society relationship highlight the
impact that a greater understanding of organizational and commu-
nication processes can have for both society and individuals. Our
essay is situated within studies that seek a fuller understanding of
the complex ways in which organizations are enmeshed within
society, and the implications thereof (Fulk 2014). Although non-
profit and government organizations can ameliorate certain issues
and fill societal needs (e.g., education, poverty, healthcare), the pri-
vate sector is increasingly called on to search for ways to “fill in the
gaps” where government and nonprofits fall short (Hemphill 2013).
Therefore, we join other recent work that focuses a critical lens on
business practices blended with social aims (e.g., Carbo et al.
2014). Extending earlier efforts, we focus on the business-society
relationship as a key problematic by considering three perspec-
tives: corporate social responsibility (CSR), social entrepreneurship
(SE), and conscious capitalism (CC).
Ultimately, CSR, SE, and CC provide ideas and practices for how
organizations can solve social problems and provide for the welfare
of society. Thus, we ground our critical review in the belief that
these three perspectives are ‘D’iscourses—”general and prevalent

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