Becoming responsible: Understanding the organizational power dynamics of CSR and corporate ethics

Laura J. Spence, Steen Vallentin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter focuses on the internal, organizational dynamics of CSR (corporate social responsibility) and corporate ethics. Instead of approaching the-becoming-responsible-of- business as a linear process that involves different stages of development, we argue that responsibilization needs to be seen as a contested political process that involves complex power dynamics and conflicts between different interests and rationalities in the organization. The main contribution of the paper is conceptual. We apply Foucault’s notion of governmentality (along with his concept of power) and show how it can provide important insights into the internal workings of CSR and challenge taken for granted notions of how businesses are supposed to become responsible. The analytical themes that sustain our analysis are governmentality, power, subjectivity and translation. The main contribution of the paper is to show how these four themes, viewed individually and in conjunction through a Foucauldian lens, allow for a more nuanced theoretical understanding of what makes or breaks responsibility in modern business. We use the case of BP and the Deepwater Horizon incident to illustrate our theoretical points.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical Business Leadership in Troubling Times
EditorsJoanne Ciulla, Tobey Scharding
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78990 305 8
ISBN (Print)978 1 78990 304 1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
EventTransatlantic Business Ethics Conference : Ethical Leadership in Troubling Times - Rutgers Business School, New York, United States
Duration: 1 Nov 20184 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameStudies in TransAtlantic Business Ethics Series


ConferenceTransatlantic Business Ethics Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York


  • corporate social responsibility
  • governmentality
  • CSR
  • corporate ethics
  • Deepwater Horizon Disaster
  • BP

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