Toward future directions for critical CSR: beyond framing CSR as strategic, political, or utopian

Laura J. Spence*, Scott Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter presents a reading of corporate social responsibility (CSR) research that identifies three key frames in contemporary literature: CSR as strategic, political, or utopian. In each of these approaches, good organizational praxis and positive social improvement may be an outcome but is not necessarily the primary measure of success. For example, strategic CSR emphasizes CSR’s functional value, making a positive contribution to financial performance if successful. Political CSR research positions corporations as political actors, engaging in private governance and acting in a quasi-governmental manner. Success is constituted by effective achievement of public goods. Third, utopian CSR research suggests CSR is inevitably flawed and failing. This way of thinking suggests that CSR can contribute to utopian projects if a much more radical ideology is adopted. While there is some boundary-crossing, researchers tend not to seek dialogue between strategic, political, and utopian interpretations of CSR. The somewhat parallel development of trajectories is hindering the advancement of CSR research, especially in its implications for practice and progressive change. The chapter concludes by outlining ways in which scholarly dialogue might be encouraged to develop a more clearly defined “critical CSR,” to the benefit of the research field, management education, and organizational practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Corporate Social Responsibility
EditorsThomas Maak, Nicola M. Pless, Marc Orlitzky, Sukhbir Sandhu
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781003152651
ISBN (Print)9780367713096
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Companions in Business, Management and Marketing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • General Business,Management and Accounting


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