Studies on corporate social responsibility in the Finnish small business context

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Title: Studies on corporate social responsibility in the Finnish small business context
Author: Lähdesmäki, Merja
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto Ruralia-instituutti
Date: 2012
Language: en
Belongs to series: Julkaisuja 26
ISBN: 978-952-10-6507-1
ISSN: 1796-0657
Abstract: This dissertation focuses on the role of business in society, more specifically corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the small business context. The discussion on social responsibility in business is currently very wide-ranging and intensive. Still, the contemporary academic discussion on CSR has been marginalising small businesses, although there is a need to focus on this group of businesses in their own right. As a result, this dissertation contributes to the knowledge of corporate social responsibility by examining what CSR means for small business owner-managers and how these meaning(s) are constructed in their stakeholder interaction descriptions. The study consists of two parts: an introductory essay and four research articles. The empirical data of the study is based on the interviews with 29 small business owner-managers and it is analysed by using qualitative research methods. The theoretical framework against which corporate social responsibility is discussed in this study is the stakeholder theory. It illustrates the way the relationship between business and society is understood by stressing the mutual dependence between a business and its stakeholders, and the interwovenness of their relationships. Stakeholder theory provides an appropriate framework for studying the construction of the meaning(s) of CSR, as it embeds the business within the larger web of social and community relations. Furthermore, this study adopts a constructionist approach. Accordingly, corporate social responsibility is understood as a result of an ongoing process of communication and social interaction through which managers, together with stakeholders, discuss and define the role of their businesses in society. The main argument of the study is that in the small business context, corporate social responsibility is produced as a contradictory phenomenon representing simultaneously a resource and a limitation for business. The results of this study emphasise that for small business owner-managers, constructing meaning(s) for corporate social responsibility is seldom a straightforward question of business case. Still, balancing economic and ethical aspects of business is not an easy task for an owner-manager, but it can require challenging compromises between personal and business values. Consequently, the economic and ethical aspects of business are often presented as being mutually exclusive when constructing the meaning(s) for CSR, and the owner-managers consider themselves as being forced to make a choice between being either economic or ethical in their business operations. This study further demonstrates that in the small business context, CSR is also often produced as a contradiction between entrepreneurial autonomy and stakeholders’ social control. This is an important finding as it points to the restrictive elements of corporate social responsibility, which have seldom been explicitly examined in the previous studies. It also shows that the process of construction of the meaning(s) for corporate social responsibility is not a value-free process, but more likely a discursive struggle where businesses and their stakeholders all have their own agendas to promote.
Subject: corporate
social responsibility
stakeholder theory
small business

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