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The Corporate Social Responsibility Report: The Hybridization of a “Confused” Genre (2007–2011)

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1 Author(s)
Aditi Bhatia ; Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Research problem: This study investigates the characteristics of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which are discursive attempts at creating positive impact and indicate to readers the process of business management in society. Research questions: (1) What is the intended purpose and function of the CSR reports taken from some of the most dominant corporations in the oil, banking, and aviation industries in the US and China, and how and to what extent do these reports meet the expectations of the international discourse community? (2) Are there any differences in the discursive construction of the CSR reports taken from the different industries? If so, what are these differences, and why might they exist? Literature review: Contrasting CSR practices in China and the US are appropriate because of their economic power, and rigorous CSR reporting practices. According to previous research, CSR practices in China are mandatory for state-owned enterprises, but voluntary in the US. Interdiscursivity, the appropriation of established generic resources across genres and practices to create new forms, provides a framework for exploring differences in reports between the countries. Critical discourse analysis (analyzing discourse as social practice) and genre analysis (analyzing discourse as genre), provide methods for exploring these differences. Methodology: Using discourse analysis, this study analyzed six samples of CSRs, three from Chinese corporations, three from American corporations. Samples were selected through rigorous online search for top companies in oil, aviation, and banking. The study involved a general content analysis of the overall CSR reports using genre and critical discourse analysis, and then more focused analysis of sections on the environment. Results and discussion: The main function of the CSR reports analyzed seems to be the promotion of the company image. Although all analyzed reports drew on the discourse of goodwill and promoted company en- agement with society, CSR reports from the oil industry employed discourse of self-justification more, attributing company actions to external constraints. CSR, as a generic construct in its hybrid form, seems a “typification” of three interdiscourses-discourses of promotion, goodwill, and self-justification-sociopragmatically co-constructed within an interdiscursive space. The purity of this genre lies in its hybridization, primarily in the integration of promotional cues in reporting genre, illustrating how interdiscursivity can explore the interrelationship between discursive and professional practices. The limitation of the study was the limited choice of countries and sample size. Future research could compare reporting practices of companies with newly instituted CSR practices with companies in countries with a longer history of CSR reporting.

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication  (Volume:55 ,  Issue: 3 )