Which intra-organizational factors affect the implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives within firms and make it
possible to carry out wide-scale business model transformations?
This question constitutes a critical hands-on issue, as more and more
firms are developing formal CSR strategies and policies for the benefits of their stakeholders (Aggeri, Pezet, Abrassart, & Acquier, 2005).
For these firms, CSR and sustainable development (SD) do not relate
exclusively to their leaders’ ethical orientation of the formulation of
corporate policy. Implementing CSR policies involves designing new
products, re-engineering production, incentive systems and assessment processes, and leading cross-functional organizational change.
Regardless of the commitment of top management, efforts to promote
CSR initiatives frequently face organizational resistance and inertia.
However, few academic works have explored the intra-organizational
dimensions of CSR programs. The ones which have can be categorized into two streams. This first stream is strategically anchored, focusing on the internal factors driving the adoption of socially responsible
practices and exploring the dimensions affecting the likelihood of the
adoption process: the presence of internal ‘champions’ (Andersson &
Bateman, 2000; Howard-Grenville, 2007), the importance of organizational values and context (Bansal, 2003; Ramus & Steger, 2000), the
role of managers in identifying and handling social and environmental
issues (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Sharma, 2000), the influence of management systems (Acquier, 2010; Boiral, 2007; Reverdy, 2005), and
the processes involved in coordinating various functional actors within
the firm (Aragon-Correa, 1998; Delmas & Toffel, 2008). This body of
research has assisted in bringing greater detail to our vision of the firm
as enacted by its executive management (Agle, Mitchell, & Sonnenfeld,
1999), but it falls short of a holistic, all-encompassing vision of how
process transformations are managed and coordinated. Furthermore,
there has been no attempt to tackle the sheer variety of managerial
processes at work within or between firms (Acquier, Daudigeos & Valiorgue, 2011).
The second stream is sociologically anchored. These works draw upon
organizational theory (discursive analysis, neoinstitutional theory, sensemaking processes) to decipher CSR- and SD-related practices. At
the macro level, this research underlines the influence of institutional
variables on corporate behavior (Aguilera, Rupp, Williams, & Ganapathi, 2007; Campbell, 2007). At the micro level (inside the firm), it
analyzes CSR discourse (Crane, 2000; Humphreys & Brown, 2008)
and describes how managerial practices are influenced by the firm’s
identity, its corporate values, and its managers’ conceptions (Basu &
Palazzo, 2008; Howard-Grenville, Nash, & Coglianese, 2008). Focusing on how responsibility is socially constructed, this predominantly
theory-based research pays limited attention to the role of formal structures and organizational systems in transforming the firm’s production
processes and business model. Furthermore, while researchers in this
strand strive to identify general laws modeled to predict how the firm
will behave, the analysis of real-world practices, how they evolve, and
their impact on a societal scale remains underdeveloped (Walsh, Weber, & Margolis, 2003). Questions related to the management and intra-organizational institutionalization dynamics of CSR or SD issues have
not yet been systematically explored.
It was this very same conclusion in the 1970s that prompted the Harvard Business School to launch a research program focused on Corporate Social Responsiveness. Robert Ackerman and Raymond Bauer,
the authors who pioneered the stream, premised that genuine commitments from executive management alone would not be enough, and
that the moral challenges associated with CSR initiatives should not
overshadow the organizational and managerial dilemmas engendered
by CSR-based policies (Ackerman, 1973; Ackerman & Bauer, 1976).
In the present context, this original position constitutes an intriguing
starting point, inviting us to revisit the Corporate Social Responsiveness research stream  The term Responsiveness is tough to unravelwith confidence,... and assess its relevance against contemporary
research and managerial practice.
Accordingly, this paper explores the origins, content and fate of this
research program. In so doing, we contribute to a wider movement exploring the history of CSR theory and practices (Acquier & Gond, 2007;
The value of this historical approach is threefold. The first is to offer an
historical background of CSR practices, which are often – falsely – presented as ‘new’. From this perspective, the North-American experience
of the 1970s, characterized by a surge in CSR-based departments
within firms, resonates strongly with contemporary developments: the
central managerial challenges encountered by US firms which tackled
social issues in the 1970s find their echo in the problems facing firms
which have developed structured CSR programs since the late 1990s
(Arjaliès-de la Lande, Péan, & Tinel, 2009; Oppenheim, Bonini, Bielak,
Kehm, & Lacy, 2007). This historical approach also makes it possible
to pinpoint a cyclical pattern in the diffusion and retreat of CSR-related
concepts and practices in the business world (Gond & Crane, 2010).
This paper’s second contribution is analytical and theoretical, as it provides a synthesis of the Corporate Social Responsiveness program
that can be used to assess the value and contribution to the fields of
Business and Society and strategic management. Although some of
the pioneering strategic management research has explicitly integrated CSR as one of the components shaping strategy-building (Learned,
Christensen, Andrews, & Guth, 1965; Mintzberg, 1990), Ackerman and
Bauer led the way in considering CSR approaches and solutions as a
central object of research while simultaneously analyzing them from a
strategic and organizational perspective. Their work is also one of the
rare approaches to account for the complexity of executive management's action on CSR-related issues, without considering the business
organization as a black box and instead looking deeper into how its
structure, processes, systems, and tools are involved in the integration
of social and environmental issues.
This article’s third and final asset is that it captures how the Corporate
Social Responsiveness research stream was fated to have relatively
little impact on later work. We explain the low influence of this research
program through a series of factors: the decline in business-led CSR
practices, which started in the late 1970s-; internal dynamics within
academic circles, both within the Business and Society and strategic
management disciplines; the personal career trajectories of the founders of the Responsiveness stream; and, on a more fundamental level, a
lack of epistemological identity.
The text is organized into three sections. We start with a review of the
historical context that marked the emergence of the Corporate Social
Responsiveness program (I). We then develop the content of this research stream (II). Third, we explain the ultimate fate of Corporate Social Responsiveness (III). The conclusion looks at possible ways of extending the model and highlights its potential contributions to the very
latest analytical developments.