Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 115, Issue 4, pp 741–754 | Cite as

CSR, Co-optation and Resistance: The Emergence of New Agonistic Relations Between Business and Civil Society



This article examines the theoretical implications of the changing relationships between NGOs and businesses that have emerged as a response to the evolving agenda around CSR and sustainable development. In particular, it focuses upon examining whether greater engagement from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in this area reflects a process of appropriation and co-optation of protest by the business community. To examine this process, the article considers two forms of appropriation—appropriation of language and appropriation via participation—as a basis for discussion. While co-optation pressures are identified within both areas, the article argues that co-optation is identified almost as an inevitable outcome of engagement without significant consideration of the ability of movements to identify and respond to these processes. In identifying an alternative approach, the article utilises Mouffe’s framework of agonistic pluralism. Mouffe’s framework, it is argued, provides an understanding of the way in which agonistic relationships are emerging between NGOs and businesses while highlighting the continuance of conflict between parties struggling to influence the contested interpretations of responsible business.


Agonistic pluralism Co-optation Corporate social responsibility Mouffe Sustainable development 



Corporate social responsibility


Sustainable development


Non-governmental organisations


Ecological modernisation


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Management School, University of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.University of HullHullUK

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