Theory and Society

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 131–166 | Cite as

The business-class case for corporate social responsibility: mobilization, diffusion, and institutionally transformative strategy in Venezuela and Britain

  • Rami KaplanEmail author
  • Daniel Kinderman


Scholars studying the global diffusion of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) practices and the associated rise of privatized forms of economic governance have tended to shift attention away from the role of corporations in motivating these processes to the one played by nonbusiness forces seeking social control of corporations. We bring corporate power back in by turning the spotlight to the agency of business classes, the business entities capable of pursuing transcorporate, societal-level, macro-political endeavors. Building on a comparative investigation of two of the world’s earliest mass CSR adoptions, in postwar Venezuela and Britain, we argue that business classes responding to anti-capitalist challenges were the original diffusers of CSR practices and, interrelatedly, promoters of CSR-based, privatized forms of regulation and governance. Organized by peak business associations, the purpose of these “business-class CSR mobilizations” was to weaken the state in its relation to corporations and increase the control of business over social trends. We discuss the contribution of our historical perspective and analytical approach to a more complete and balanced picture of the global rise of CSR in late capitalism.


Business class Corporate social responsibility Diffusion Governance Power Regulation 



We are indebted to Tim Bartley, Gregory Jackson, Phil Jones and David L. Levy for their very helpful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their feedback, and to Karen Lucas and Janet Gouldner for their guidance in the review process. The paper also benefitted from feedback from the audiences at the Business School and Center of Area Studies at the Free University of Berlin as well as conference participants at the 2015 meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, the 2015 European Sociological Association meeting, and the 2017 meeting of the American Sociological Association. Finally, we would like to thank our interviewees for their time and valuable insights.

Compliance with ethical standards


This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 393/14), the Dahlem Research School at Freie Universität Berlin, and the Minerva Stiftung of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communicationthe Open University of IsraelRaananaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Political Science & International RelationsUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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