SWG 02: Organizing Social Responsibilities in
Con­tested Times


, Surrey Business School, United Kingdom
, IÉSEG School of Managemen, France
, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, & Aalto University, Finland
, Royal Holloway University of London, United Kingdom
, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
, Royal Holloway University of London, United Kingdom
, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The aim of this Standing Working Group is to explore what as yet under-emphasized theoretical and methodological perspectives in organization studies have to offer to better understand and explain emerging societal phenomena that deal with the social responsibilities of organizations.

SWG 02 aims to provide a platform for scholars to discuss the organizational implications that societal actors face in light of emerging and pressing social issues such as inequality, precarious work, big data, or artificial intelligence (Ferraro et al. 2015; George et al., 2016). Organization theorists have only recently picked up these issues as new “organizational” phenomena. As yet, there is rarely a space for understanding in depth, from a pluri-theoretical perspective, these emerging social issues and their relation to organizational responsibilities. The SWG seeks to scrutinize what organization studies has on offer to address these challenges, paying particular attention to non-Western contexts, actors and analytical approaches that have, albeit their potential to significantly enhance our understanding of contested social problems, only received marginal attention by many organizational researchers.
Specifically, the responsibilities of businesses, often subsumed under the umbrella term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), are in a continuous process of contestation (e.g., Gond & Nyberg, 2017; Joutsenvirta & Vaara, 2015; Matten & Moon, 2008; Ramus, Vaccaro, Brusoni, 2017). This includes “classical” social issues like workplace safety, working conditions, philanthropy and related topics that have already received a good deal of attention by researchers. Business responsibilities however are constantly changing and emerging in the global organizational arena, where “old” topics become saturated, and new topics emerge on the radar of researchers and organizational practitioners. Simultaneously, new types of stakeholders, new forms of governing, new spaces of engagement and forms of organization and collaboration create new debates which researchers need to address with the same rigor that is applied to more established scholarly debate. This relates to technological change and digitalization as changing empirical contexts, but it must also include that researchers leave their “theoretical and methodological comfort zone” and bring up not only new problems but also new perspectives to address them.
The aim of this SWG is therefore to explore what as yet under-emphasized theoretical and methodological perspectives in organization studies have to offer to better understand and explain emerging societal phenomena that deal with the social responsibilities of organizations.
Social issues, their inherently contested nature and their relations to different types of organizations are increasingly a concern for organizational researchers. The SWG thus has at its core two guiding research questions:

  • In what ways can organizational research that utilizes the diversity of theoretical and methodological perspectives enhance our understanding of how emerging social problems are and should be organized?
  • How can examining grand societal problems and associated responsibilities provide insights and reinvigorate organization studies?

To give this broad research interest an analytical structure and “organize” it, the SWG features four distinct topical areas that together cover contemporary challenges for the organization of social responsibilities from a problem-oriented perspective. These four areas will form the consecutive sub-themes that constitute SWG 02.

First, we aim to study new and previously “hidden” social issues that appear on the radar of organizational researchers and, despite their magnitude, have only recently been picked up and investigated from an organizational perspective. The way organizational responsibilities are assigned or adopted is of particular interest in this sub-theme.
New issues include, for instance, modern forms of slavery, big data and artificial intelligence usage by organizations, organizational impacts on income inequality, exciting


developments in circular economies, sexuality and gender in organizations, and social problems under the umbrella of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The range of fast-changing and unpredictable trends presents new problems for organizations and organizing.

Second, this SWG seeks to embrace broader empirical context perspectives in which social responsibilities of organizations are more pertinent than can commonly be found in the mainstream organization studies and management literatures. Our starting point is that social responsibility is not a unitary phenomenon (even within Western contexts), yet we increasingly see the adoption of universal standards without full recognition of the differing contexts in which they are applied. This SWG thus intends to embrace a contextual perspective on organisational social responsibility, highlighting the plurality of contexts in which social responsibilities are assumed to operate, thereby highlighting marginal voices and perspectives. In doing so we will focus on contexts that stretch the boundaries of what we currently know about concepts like corporate social responsibility. We refer to different geographical arenas, and intend to go beyond European and North American territories to encourage rigorous research in contexts like the informal economy, developing country contexts, and lesser-research aspects of western economies such as collective action and unionisation within sectors, or taking an explicit cross-cultural perspective (see Bamberger & Pratt, 2010).

Third, this SWG will focus on research that pays attention to new actors and new organizations in the light of an increasingly digitalized society. We will approach the challenges of the new responsibilities derived from digitalization from an organizing social responsibilities perspective. We aim at exploring, for example, which new actors and organizational forms emerge from dealing with transparency issues derived from big data, new forms of activism through social media, new ways in which corporations engage with their stakeholders online and, the way technologies are changing the organizing of different organizational actors. We ask, how digitalization is redefining the nature of the engagements between actors in organizations and therefore their mutual responsibilities.

Fourth, emerging societal problems require new forms of accountability. Specifically, CSR scholars need to find better answers about how to account for outcomes beyond the commonly used financial measures as ultimate dependent variables of social concern. While the famous “business case” for social and environmental responsibility as well as other CSR-related outputs have been studied extensively, we know comparatively little about other outcomes that organizations’ responsibility policies may create, for instance with regard to the actual impact that such policies create. The question, then, is how to organize for new ways of measuring and being held accountable for CSR.


Considering the abovementioned challenges in organizing social responsibilities in contested times, the objectives of SWG 02 are as follows:

  • To encourage problem-driven research to understand the organization of emerging social responsibilities in contested times, across contexts and involving new actors and forms of accountability.

  • To explore and apply new methodologies to examine new forms of organizing social responsibilities in contested times.

  • Make use of new theories from multiple domains and connect them to organization studies to gain a more inclusive understanding the associated phenomena.

  • Demonstrate what organization theories have to offer to make management research more relevant for addressing pressing societal challenges.


  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • Gond, J.P., & Nyberg, D. (2017): “Materializing Power to Recover Corporate Social Responsibility.” Organization Studies, 38 (8), 1127–1148.
  • Joutsenvirta, M., & Vaara, E. (2015): “Legitimacy Struggles and Political Corporate Social Responsibility in International Settings: A Comparative Discursive Analysis of a Contested Investment in Latin America.” Organization Studies, 36 (6), 741–777.
  • Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008): “‘Implicit’ and ‘explicit’ CSR: A conceptual framework for comparative understanding corporate social responsibility.” Academy of Management Review, 33 (2), 404–424.
  • Ramus, T., Vaccaro, A., & Brusoni, S. (2017): “Institutional Complexity in Turbulent Times: Formalization, Collaboration, and the Emergence of Blended Logics.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (4), 253–1284.

About the Coordinators

Itziar Castelló is Senior Lecturer at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, UK where she is part of the Center for Digital Economies. Her research looks into the micro-foundations organizations and fields, with a focus on the role of the digital economy in the transformation of business and society relations. She looks at the narratives and emotions that people and organization use to make sense of their social and environmental responsibilities. Her research appeared in journals like Journal of Management Studies, Research Policy, Business & Society, Journal of Business Ethics, Corporate Governance. She is member of the Editorial Board of Business & Society.
Frank de Bakker is Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at IÉSEG School of Management in Lille, France where he is also engaged with ICOR, the IÉSEG Center for Organizational Responsibility. In his research, he combines insights from institutional theory and social movement studies to examine interactions between activist groups and business firms on issues of corporate social responsibility (CSR). His research appeared in journals like Academy of Management Review, Journal of Management Studies, Business & Society, Organization Studies, Academy of Management Discoveries, Journal of Business Ethics and several others. He is a Co-Editor of Business & Society, sits on several editorial boards, including Organization Studies and Organization & Environment.
Arno Kourula is an Associate Professor and director of the sustainability initiative at the University of Amsterdam Business School, Netherlands, and a docent at Aalto University, Finland. His research emphases are corporate responsibility and cross-sector interaction between corporations, the public sector, and civil society, using institutional, political, network, stakeholder, and identity lenses. Arno has published several book chapters as well as articles in journals such as Business Ethics Quarterly, Business & Society, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Energy Policy, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of World Business, Management and Organization Review, Research Policy, and Transnational Corporations. He is a member of the editorial review boards of Business & Society, Journal of International Business Policy and Journal of World Business.
Lauren McCarthy is a Lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability at Royal Holloway, University of London. She researches and teaches in the area of corporate social responsibility, with particular focus on global value chains and gender inequalities. In this area she has worked alongside a number of international businesses and NGOs, notably championing the use of participatory visual methodologies. She received her PhD from the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, at The University of Nottingham, UK. She has published in Business Ethics Quarterly and Business & Society, and has edited a book entitled Gender Equality and Responsible Business: Expanding CSR Horizons (2016).
Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). He is also Visiting Professor at Stockholm School of Economics. His research focuses on corporate responsibility standards (particularly the UN Global Compact), the political role of corporations in transnational governance, and the governance of global supply networks. He has published widely in international journals on topics related to corporate responsibility and sustainability, incl. Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Learning and Education. Recently, he co-edited Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategy, Communication, Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2017). He is Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly. More information is available at: http://www.arasche.com.
Laura J. Spence is Professor of Business Ethics at Royal Holloway, University of London where she is the Associate Dean for Research of the Faculty of Management, Economics and Law. Her research focuses on critical corporate social responsibility and ethics and social responsibility in small and medium sized enterprises, in particular. Her work has appeared in Organization Studies, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Journal of Management Studies, California Management Review and Business Ethics Quarterly. A frequent Guest Editor of ethics and CSR related journals, Laura is also Consulting Editor with the Journal of Business Ethics. She is co-editor of several books including Corporate Social Responsibility: Readings and Cases in a Global Context (with Andrew Crane and Dirk Matten, Routledge 2013).
Christopher Wickert is Associate Professor in Ethics & Sustainability at VU University Amsterdam. He received his PhD in Management from University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 2013. His research examines corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate sustainability as well as the broader relationship between business and society by mobilizing various strands of organization and management theory. His research has appeared in Academy of Management Discoveries, Business & Society, Human Relations, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Management Studies and Organization Studies, as well as in several book chapters. He is an Associate Editor of Business & Society.