Corporate Social Responsibility from an institutional-theory point of view: A review of the state of the art

Institutional theory-based research on corporate social responsibility: Bringing values back in

David Risi, Laurence Vigenau, Stephan Bohn & Christopher Wickert
Bern University of Applied Science, Newcastle University, Free University of Berlin, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Research applying institutional theory to corporate social responsibility (CSR) has experienced remarkable momentum. Institutional theory-based CSR research illustrates the role of values in guiding both agentic choices for CSR and the influence of institutional structures on CSR agency. Although values have been explored in this literature, systematic studies of values that seek to gain insights into the mutual relationship between agentic choices and structures are lacking. Such insights are crucial for exploring whether and how CSR is enabled or constrained. We thus ask two interrelated questions: (1) What is the role of values in institutional theory-based CSR research? (2) How and along which avenues should future institutional theory-based CSR research that focuses on values be mobilised? Based on our analysis of this line of literature from 1989 until 2021, first, we take stock of established institutional theory perspectives on CSR and disentangle what role values have played in this literature. Second, we outline how to mobilise values in future institutional CSR research based on four promising but under-investigated areas. From our literature analysis, two central functions emerge (which we label ‘bridging’ and ‘referencing’) that values can perform in the institutional analysis of CSR. Based on these two functions, our values-focused framework will help scholars examine the moral foundations that inform business–society interactions as well as understand how companies can responsibly manage those interactions with societal stakeholders.

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