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Title: Contesting corporate social responsibility : public challenges to the modern corporation in the 21st century
Author: Saad, Aisha
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 2161
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis argues that corporations have outgrown the theoretical frameworks that were devised to explain their dynamics at the turn of the 20th century. Contemporary conditions result in crises of legitimacy between corporations and their public contexts. With their amplified scales of operation and wide-reaching physical, economic, political, and social consequences, corporations of the 21st century demand revised theoretical, legal, and pragmatic interpretations that are better suited to grappling with present-day dynamics and to addressing critical challenges. This research examines contemporary controversies between corporations and publics from a critical legal perspective. Analysis of corporate dynamics is informed by geographically oriented themes of space and scale, contingency and attribution, and materiality and risk as they bear relevance to theoretical and real enactments of the corporation. This thesis grounds its claims with reference to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) discourse; taking advantage of its reach and popularity while maintaining enough distance to note its limitations and internal contradictions. This thesis finds that the present-day account of CSR is originated and advanced by an ideological orientation that is universalizing, materialist, positivist, formalist and rationalist. Such an orientation is confronted and contested in this work by a more critical rationality that is concerned with power dynamics, as well as questions of agency and self-determination. This rationality is elaborated through four empirical chapters which find that: 1) appeals to a CSR agenda as an effective mechanism for addressing the corporation’s public impacts assumes the existence of a modern, liberal political context; 2) community ‘materiality’ presents an opportunity to bridge the notional public/private divide that is a core tenet of liberal theory; 3) the global corporation extends into plural territorialities and legal jurisdictions, and its public identity as interpreted through legal text sets the parameters for the accountability regimes devised to manage its impacts 4) pragmatist and aspirational legal agendas might be coordinated to advance issue-focused as well as case-based corporate liability reform. This work advances an account of the corporate-public relationship that carries relevance to a range of actors; corporations, public communities, policy makers and legal scholars. Each group has an integral part to play in addressing the challenges presented by the modern corporate arrangement and devising regimes that contain its public implications.
Supervisor: Clark, Gordon Sponsor: American Rhodes Scholarship ; American Friends Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Legal philosophy ; Global economic governance ; multinational corporations ; corporate social responsibility