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Room 110 Swansea University School of Management

Bay Campus

Fabian Way

Skewen

SA1 8EN

United Kingdom

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Dr Simon Brooks will speak on 'The Tyranny of Economic Rationality in Corporate Social Responsibility: Can Small Businesses Re-moralize the Debate?'

ALL WELCOME

Dr Brooks will speak for approximately 45mins, followed by a Q&A.

Refreshments will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your lunch.

Room 110 SoM, Bay Campus.


Abstract:

This seminar will begin by arguing that a certain kind of rationality, namely ‘economic rationality’ leads to a foreclosure of moral and ethical debate. This is found in a number of areas related to business ethics, but particularly in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The label ‘economic rationality’ derives from the sociology of economic behaviour, found in the work of Weber, Polanyi and more recently Fevre. According to Fevre (2000) economic rationality has colonising tendencies that fool us into thinking we are making moral decisions when in fact we may be acting in the service of economic motives. Hence questions are answered in a way that might look as if morality is playing a part, leading to foreclosure of further consideration.

Happily however, the sociology of economic behaviour also provides us with intellectual resources to argue against the dominance of economic rationality. This contrasts with the dominant contributions in the field of CSR and business ethics more generally, where the pursuit of apparently ‘ethical’ ends is often in the service of economic ends – business ethics is colourfully described by Jones et al (2005) as “…a set of excuses for being unpleasant.”.

Specifically in the CSR discourse, I argue that the pronouncement of Friedman that “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Make a Profit” (1970, p.13) led to a ‘wrong turn’ in the debate, where discussions of CSR as a moral or ethical practice were foreclosed. The academy developed a pre-occupation with proving Friedman wrong, but crucially this debate was henceforth conducted on his terms, these being the centrality of profit maximisation above all else. Those researching CSR devoted their efforts to establishing a link between the practice of CSR and improved outcomes for the firm. Friedman had essentially already won.

Enter an unlikely hero in the shape of the owner/manager of the small or medium sized business (SME). Such organisations contribute hugely to private sector employment and economic activity, and make up some 99% of all firms registered in the United Kingdom. These are not trivial actors in the economic landscape.

Although when compared to large firm CSR, SMEs are under-researched, there is enough evidence to suggest that they do not conform to the utility maximising and profit maximising model. In fact, SMEs are more likely to adopt an ‘ethic of care’ toward their stakeholders and will often shift their priorities depending on circumstance. They are embedded in their communities, by and large. Indeed, recent conceptual work has suggested that some well cited CSR theories need to be recast in light of this ethic of care. Our empirical work has supported this position, drawing up on the notion of moral proximity. A number of focus groups and in-depth interviews has shown that SMEs divide their priorities between a wide range of stakeholders, and do not conform to the conception of CSR that has been colonised by economic rationality.


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Room 110 Swansea University School of Management

Bay Campus

Fabian Way

Skewen

SA1 8EN

United Kingdom

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