Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 131, Issue 3, pp 649–664 | Cite as

Rhetorical Construction of Narcissistic CSR Orientation



This paper takes a critical perspective on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and examines the ways in which an industry organization discursively manages the relationship between the industry and its stakeholders in a situation where the legitimacy of the industry is called into question. Drawing on the literature on organizational narcissism and sensemaking the paper develops the construct of narcissistic CSR orientation and empirically elaborates on three defensive rhetorical strategies through which the organization makes sense of the accountability and responsibility of the industry for the negative societal effects of their business. The paper advances knowledge in the field of critical CSR by proposing a new framework for critically examining organization-stakeholder relationships and organizational responses to stakeholder demands in contexts where the interests of organizations are in conflict with the public good.


Critical CSR Organizational narcissism Sensemaking Rhetoric Obesity Beverage industry Legitimacy 



American Beverage Association


Center for Science in the Public Interest


Corporate Social Responsibility


World Health Organization


  1. Agle, B., Donaldson, T., Freeman, R. E., Jensen, M. C., Mitchell, R., & Wood, D. (2008). Dialogue: Toward superior stakeholder theory. Business Ethics Quarterly, 18(2), 153–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvesson, M., & Deetz, S. (2000). Doing critical management research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2000). Taking the linguistic turn in organizational research: Challenges, responses, consequences. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 36(2), 134–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashforth, B. E., & Gibbs, B. W. (1990). The double-edge of organizational legitimation. Organization Science, 1(2), 177–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ashman, I., & Winstanley, D. (2007). For or against corporate identity? Personification and the problem of moral agency. Journal of Business Ethics, 76(1), 83–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Aula, P. (2010). Social media, reputation risk and ambient publicity management. Strategy & Leadership, 38(6), 43–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Banerjee, S. B. (2008). Corporate social responsibility: The good, the bad and the ugly. Critical Sociology, 34(1), 51–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Banerjee, S. B. (2010). Governing the global corporation: A critical perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20(2), 265–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barnett, M. L. (2006a). Finding a working balance between competitive and communal strategies. Journal of Management Studies, 43(8), 1753–1773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barnett, M. L. (2006b). Waves of collectivizing: A dynamic model of competition and cooperation over the life of an industry. Corporate Reputation Review, 8(4), 272–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Basu, K., & Palazzo, G. (2008). Corporate social responsibility: A process model of sensemaking. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 122–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bitzer, L. F. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 1, 1–14.Google Scholar
  13. Brickson, S. L. (2005). Organizational identity orientation: Forging a link between organizational identity and organizations’ relations with stakeholders. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(4), 576–609.Google Scholar
  14. Brickson, S. L. (2007). Organizational identity orientation: The genesis of the role of the firm and distinct forms of social value. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 864–888.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brown, A. D. (1997). Narcissism, identity, and legitimacy. Academy of Management Review, 22(3), 643–686.Google Scholar
  16. Brown, A. D., & Starkey, K. (2000). Organizational identity and learning: A psychodynamic perspective. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 102–120.Google Scholar
  17. Cai, Y., Jo, H., & Pan, C. (2012). Doing well while doing bad? CSR in controversial industry sectors. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(4), 467–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Campbell, W. K., Reeder, G. D., Sedikides, C., & Elliot, A. J. (2000). Narcissism and comparative self-enhancement strategies. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(3), 329–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Castelló, I., & Lozano, J. M. (2011). Searching for new forms of legitimacy through corporate responsibility rhetoric. Journal of Business Ethics, 100(1), 11–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Christensen, L. T., & Cheney, G. (2000). Self-absorption and self-seduction in the corporate identity game. In M. Schultz, M. J. Hatch, & M. Holten Larsen (Eds.), The expressive organization: Linking identity, reputation, and the corporate brand (pp. 256–270). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Craig, R., & Amernic, J. (2011). Detecting linguistic traces of destructive narcissism at-a-distance in a CEO’s letter to shareholders. Journal of Business Ethics, 101(4), 563–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. de Bakker, F. G. A., & den Hond, F. (2008). Introducing the politics of stakeholder influence. Business and Society, 47(1), 8–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Devinney, T. M. (2009). Is the socially responsible corporation a myth? The good, the bad, and the ugly of corporate social responsibility. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 23(2), 44–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Doane, D. (2005). Beyond corporate social responsibility: Minnows, mammoths and markets. Futures, 37, 215–229.Google Scholar
  25. Dorfman, L., Cheyne, A., Friedman, L. C., Wadud, A., & Gottlieb, M. (2012). Soda and tobacco industry corporate social responsibility campaigns: How do they compare? PLoS Medicine, 9, e1001241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dubois, A., & Gadde, L. E. (2002). Systematic combining: An abductive approach to case research. Journal of Business Research, 55(7), 553–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Duchon, D., & Burns, M. (2008). Organizational narcissism. Organizational Dynamics, 37(4), 354–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Duchon, D., & Drake, B. (2009). Organizational narcissism and virtuous behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(3), 301–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Edward, P., & Willmott, H. (2008). Corporate citizenship: Rise or demise of a myth? Academy of Management Review, 33(3), 771–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fieseler, C., Fleck, M., & Meckel, M. (2010). Corporate social responsibility in the blogosphere. Journal of Business Ethics, 91(4), 599–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fleming, P., & Jones, M. T. (2013). The end of corporate social responsibility: Crisis and critique. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Fleming, P., Roberts, J., & Garsten, C. (2013). In search of corporate social responsibility: Introduction to special issue. Organization, 20(3), 337–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ganesh, S. (2003). Organizational narcissism: Technology, legitimacy, and identity in an Indian NGO. Management Communication Quarterly, 16(4), 558–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gill, A. M., & Whedbee, K. (1997). Rhetoric. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as structure and process: Vol. 1. Discourse studies: A multidisciplinary introduction (pp. 157–184). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gioia, D. A., & Chittipeddi, K. (1991). Sensemaking and sensegiving in strategic change initiation. Strategic Management Journal, 12(6), 433–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greenfield, W. M. (2004). In the name of corporate social responsibility. Business Horizons, 47(1), 19–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Greenwood, M. (2007). Stakeholder engagement: Beyond the myth of corporate responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 74(4), 315–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Grunig, J. E. (2009). Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation. PRism, 6(2), 1–19.Google Scholar
  39. Heracleous, L. (2006). A tale of three discourses: The dominant, the strategic and the marginalized. Journal of Management Studies, 43(5), 2322–2380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hillman, A. J., & Hitt, M. A. (1999). Corporate political strategy formulation: A model of approach, participation, and strategy decisions. Academy of Management Review, 24(6), 825–842.Google Scholar
  41. Jones, T. M., Felps, W., & Bigley, G. A. (2007). Ethical theory and stakeholder-related decisions: The role of stakeholder culture. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jones, M. T., & Fleming, P. (2003). Unpacking complexity through critical stakeholder analysis: The case of globalization. Business and Society, 42(4), 430–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kelleher, T., & Miller, B. M. (2006). Organizational blogs and the human voice: Relational strategies and relational outcomes. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 395–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ketola, T. (2008). A holistic corporate responsibility model: Integrating values, discourses and actions. Journal of Business Ethics, 80(3), 419–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. King, G. (2007). Narcissism and effective crisis management: A review of potential problems and pitfalls. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 15(4), 183–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kotler, P., & Lee, N. (2004). Corporate social responsibility: Doing the most good for your company and your cause. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  47. Kuhn, T., & Deetz, S. (2008). Critical theory and corporate social responsibility: Can/should we get beyond cynical reasoning. In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. Siegel (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of corporate social responsibility (pp. 173–196). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Lindgreen, A., Maon, F., Reast, R., & Yani-De-Soriano, M. (2012). Guest editorial: Corporate social responsibility in controversial industry sectors. Journal of Business Ethics, 110(4), 393–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lindorff, M., Jonson, E. P., & McGuire, L. (2012). Strategic corporate social responsibility in controversial industry sectors: The social value of harm minimisation. Journal of Business Ethics, 110(4), 457–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lubit, R. (2002). The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers. Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), 127–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Maccoby, M. (2004). Narcissistic leaders: The incredible pros, the inevitable cons. Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 92–101.Google Scholar
  52. Maitlis, S. (2005). The social processes of organizational sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 48(1), 21–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Malik, V. S., Schulze, M. B., & Hu, F. B. (2006). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: A systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84(2), 274–288.Google Scholar
  54. Maon, F., Lindgreen, A., & Swaen, V. (2009). Designing and implementing corporate social responsibility: An integrative framework grounded in theory and practice. Journal of Business Ethics, 87(1), 71–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Maon, F., Lindgreen, A., & Swaen, V. (2010). Organizational stages and cultural phases: A critical review and a consolidative model of corporate social responsibility development. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12(1), 20–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Maon, F., Swaen, V., & Lindgreen, A. (2012). Make sense who may: Corporate social responsibility as a continuous multi-stakeholder co-construction process. In A. Lindgreen, P. Kotler, F. Maon, & J. Vanhamme (Eds.), A stakeholder approach to corporate social responsibility: Pressures, conflicts, and reconciliation (pp. 317–330). Aldershot: Gower. Google Scholar
  57. Matten, D. (2009). Review Essay: “It’s the politics, stupid!”: Reflections on the role of business in contemporary nonfiction. Business & Society, 48(4), 565–576. doi: 10.1177/0007650309337123
  58. Matten, D., Crane, A., & Chapple, W. (2003). Behind the mask: Revealing the true face of corporate citizenship. Journal of Business Ethics, 45(1–2), 109–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 33(2), 404–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Morf, C. C., Weir, C., & Davidov, M. (2000). Narcissism and intrinsic motivation: The role of goal congruence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36(4), 424–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nijhof, A., & Jeurissen, R. (2006). Editorial: A sensemaking perspective on corporate social responsibility: Introduction to the special issue. Business ethics: A European review, 15(4), 316–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. O’Higgins, E. R. E. (2010). Corporations, civil society, and stakeholders: An organizational conceptualization. Journal of Business Ethics, 94(2), 157–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K. & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity in the United States, 2009-2010. NCHS Data Brief No. 82. National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, MD.Google Scholar
  64. Palazzo, G., & Richter, U. (2005). CSR business as usual? The case of the tobacco industry. Journal of Business Ethics, 61(4), 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Phillips, N., & Oswick, C. (2012). Organizational discourse: Domains, debates, and directions. The Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 435–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Roberts, J. (2003). The manufacture of corporate social responsibility: Constructing corporate sensibility. Organization, 10(2), 249–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rosenthal, S. A., & Pittinsky, T. L. (2006). Narcissistic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 617–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rouleau, L. (2005). Micro-practices of strategic sensemaking and sensegiving: How middle managers interpret and sell change every day. Journal of Management Studies, 42(7), 1144–1413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Scherer, A. G., Palazzo, G., & Matten, D. (2009). Introduction to the special issue: Globalization as a challenge for business responsibilities. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19(3), 327–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sethi, S. P. (1979). A conceptual framework for environmental analysis of social issues and evaluation of business response patterns. Academy of Management Review, 4(1), 63–74.Google Scholar
  71. Sip & Savor (2013), American Beverage Association blog.
  72. Stein, M. (2003). Unbounded irrationality: Risk and organizational narcissism at Long Term Capital Management. Human Relations, 56(5), 523–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Suddaby, R., & Greenwood, R. (2005). Rhetoric strategies of legitimacy. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(1), 35–67.Google Scholar
  74. Sutherland Rahman, S., Waddock, S., Andriof, J., & Husted, B. (2003). Introduction. In J. Andriof, S. Waddock, B. Husted, & S. Sutherland Rahman (Eds.), Unfolding stakeholder thinking 2: Relationships, communication, reporting and performance (pp. 9–12). Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Vaara, E. (2010). Taking the linguistic turn seriously: Strategy as a multifaceted and interdiscursive phenomenon. Advances in Strategic Management, 27, 29–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Vaara, E., & Tienari, J. (2008). A discursive perspective on legitimation strategies in MNC’s. Academy of Management Review, 33(4), 985–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Van Dijk, T. A. (1998). Ideology: A multidisciplinary approach. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  78. Vartanian, L. R., Schwartz, M. B., & Brownell, K. D. (2007). Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 97(4), 667–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Watson, T. J. (1995). Rhetoric, discourse and argument in organizational sense making: A reflexive tale. Organization Studies, 16(5), 805–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sense-making in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  81. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wodak, R. (2004). Critical discourse analysis. In C. Seale, G. Gobo, J. F. Gubrium, & D. Silverman (Eds.), Qualitative research practice (pp. 197–213). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  83. World Health Organization (WHO). (2000). Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. Report of a WHO Consultation (WHO Technical Report Series 894). Geneva.Google Scholar
  84. World Health Organization (WHO) (2013). Obesity and overweight. Fact sheet No. 311. Updated March 2013. Accessed 11 Sept 2013.
  85. Yoon, S. and Lam, T. H. (2013). The illusion of righteousness: corporate social responsibility practices of the alcohol industry. BMC Public Health 13(1), 630. Accessed 28 Nov 2013.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management StudiesAalto University School of Business AaltoFinland

Personalised recommendations