Being a “responsible” company: a multiple case study inquiry into verbalized and non-verbalized organizational discourse

Sadeghi, Maryam (2016) Being a “responsible” company: a multiple case study inquiry into verbalized and non-verbalized organizational discourse. In: 12th International Conference on Organizational Discourse, 13- 15 July 2016, Amsterdam.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
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The debate about Responsible Practices has become widespread within the society and global business environment (eg., recent Paris Climate Change Conference, United Nations, 2015) - and contemporary organizations are more aware of demands regarding social and environmental aspects of the society and their responsibility for participation in related practices. For instance, the last two decades have witnessed the representation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability practices and their growing in various forms of reports and organizational communications (Gray, 2001; Gray, 2010).
This paper reports on a current research project exploring the phenomenon of responsible management within the organizational context. The aim is to understand how the meaning of responsibility is constructed and how responsible practices have been shaped and organized within that environment. This paper discusses aspects of responsibility revealed by a study of Unspoken (approach and methodologies) within the current literature and findings of a pilot study around ‘silence’ in CSR and sustainability reporting. Then, the paper presents a methodological framework for investigating organizational discourse around ‘responsibility’.
It has been noted that responsible practices (e.g. social and environmental activities) of companies are complex and ambiguous (Bebbington et al, 2008, Heslin and Ochoa, 2008, Gray, 2011) Hence there may be a difference between what is said and what is done and actual practices may be inconsistent. Inconsistencies exist in research findings as to definition, conceptualization and implementation of responsible practices. Evidence to date has raised unanswered questions in various studies regarding motivations and incentives of companies for doing responsible practices (eg. Is it really because of reputation? Does reputation has the same meaning for an investor and a general audience?). Notably, the mainstream quantitative research approach in this field and subjectivity involved in defining responsible practices and measuring expected practices had a role in those contradictory findings (see Aguinis and Glavas, 2012, Unerman, 2008). Working on unspoken methodologies and approaches within the literature, this paper takes a contextualized approach to understanding responsible practices in the real situation of the organization and those organizational practices that influences embodied responsible practices (see Birkinshaw et al. 2014, Parker, 2008, Unerman, 2008).
The paper investigates the types and the role of silence around the notion of responsibility. For this purpose, ‘’responsibility’’ in a broad sense is taken as being interpreted in context. The study explores how responsibility is manifested through normative practices of companies, reporting, disclosures and various representations within the society. The literature shows a wide range of studies around CSR and Sustainability reporting; however, raises questions such as; what makes companies talk about their practices? Why companies talk about practices the way they do and why they do not talk in another way? (Bebbington, et. al. 2008; Gray, 2010, Thomson and Bebbington, 2005). Disclosures are about ways of representation without showing evidence of actual practices. Previous studies indicate a range of questions about the reasons companies participate in responsible practices and the way they perform these practices (Aguinis and Glavas, 2012). For instance, previous studies have shown that stakeholders’ demands play a vital role for companies’ participation in responsible practices (Maignan and Ferrell, 2004). However, some studies indicate that organizations respond differently to the same social and environmental demands (Porter and Kramer, 2006; Heslin and Ochoa, 2008). It seems that various findings show some similarities between normative practices (such as similar CSR activities) of companies, but they also indicate that companies face multiple forces that make them react differently in the similar situation.
Silence can be categorized as untold, intentional and also, it is considered as another way that talks about an issue (Mazzei, 2004). A pilot study was conducted by using qualitative content analysis of corporate’s reports of four UK multinational companies. The following categories were produced from this analysis. Two main features of responsible practices are staging responsibility and silencing the irresponsibility. Drawing on Foucauldian perspective on silence the power of silence referring to four types of silence; the untold and the power of choosing remain silent; The power of making visible or hidden, the power of making silence (customers, general public); the power of reasoning.
As a method for further analysis within the organization, this paper uses Foucault’s discourse approach for understanding the mechanism underpinning responsible practices within organizations. Borrowing from Foucault’s terms as Panopticon, Organization, and Ethics (Burrell, 1988, Foucault, 1977); first, this study assumes contemporary organizations’ experience of modern communication era affects their representations of responsible practices and formation of the relevant discourse around responsible practice. The visibility of companies may have a role in influencing responsible management practices (For instance, representation of responsible practices in social and environmental reporting system). Second, this paper considers the role of discourse in leading, forming and internalizing responsible practices within organizations. In other words, responsible practice is seen as a phenomenon which comes into existence within the organizational process; the process of creating, constituting and organizing happenings and ways of acting (Weick 1997, Berger and Luckman, 1967).
In an attempt to address the above areas the current paper develops a methodological framework in order to explore discourse and practices around Responsibility at multiple levels: Surface (visible), Causes (Related Practices), Organizational Discourse, Grand Discourse, and Metaphor. Those five levels are ordered from less to more abstract ones. This framework is a reframing of Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) model introduced in the field of future studies (Inayatullah, 1998, 2004). CLA tries to discover visible and hidden aspects that rule a problem and then unravel causes of a persistent problem (Inayatullah, 2004). Developing Foucauldian discourse analysis model (FDA) is aimed at re-working of Inayatullah’s model towards pursuing a systematic inquiry of responsible practices inside organizations at individual and organizational level. Starting from the level of the surface, FDA Model uses genealogy to explore organizational practices regarding responsible practices at the visible surface. At further levels, this analytical model addresses organizational discourse and Grand discourse (Alvesson and Karreman, 2000). This also assesses participants (Hardy, et al 1998) and culturally adopted discourse in a particular social setting of organization (Miller, 1997) and inspect the situations that individuals within the organization have role in shaping, and making sense of responsible practices which are interwoven with morality values (Amaeshi et al., 2008; Weick, 1997).
The research applies a multiple case study approach within the UK companies. It uses multiple sources of data for an analysis of discourse in a variety of texts and forms including interviews, analysis of organizations’ documents and personal observations (Grant, Keenoy, & Oswick, 1998).

Keywords:organizational discourse, Discourse analysis, corporate social responsibility (CSR), Responsible management
Subjects:N Business and Administrative studies > N100 Business studies
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
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ID Code:24998
Deposited On:16 Nov 2016 16:41

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