Making the General Particular: Practising Corporate Social Responsibility in a UK Higher Education Institution
This research deals with the ways Corporate Social Responsibility is interpreted in a UK Higher Education Institution. It evolved from my initial curiosity about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), especially the way it is taken up in daily practices. Drawing on the pragmatic tradition of John Dewey (1859-1952), Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), which gives primacy to experience, I am paying attention to my daily interactions with others. I explore what is, rather what should be. I also draw on analogies from complexity sciences, as well as on insights from sociology, psychology, anthropology and philosophy, to reflect on how the everyday practice of CSR is evolving in the interactions of interdependent players. Reflecting on the assumptions that underpin my thinking about organisations and about research, and tracing my evolving beliefs and perceptions, I have become aware of my participation in the processes that sustain and at the same time disrupt the ‘community engagement’ narrative of my organisation. Iterating my reflective narratives reveals how change in practice and in ideas evolves. This research was prompted by my introduction to CSR early in my academic career. The idea of organisations being responsible to their stakeholders fitted with my personal values. The more I read about the topic, the more uncomfortable I became – CSR had usually been presented in vague, general and idealised terms. So, when faced with setting up a Unit that would address the CSR of my organisation, I was left with no manual for getting on with my work. Reflecting on the feeling of helplessness, revealed my assumption that such guidance should exist, and that CSR practitioners must know how to practice the generalised idea of CSR. Exposing this and other emotions, I demonstrate how assumptions and beliefs arise in society and in the individual simultaneously. This research contributes to knowledge in this field by establishing CSR not just as an abstract idea, but as a practice within an organisation. Many authors have called for exploring CSR at the individual level, yet this call seems to remain unanswered. My research addresses this gap in literature and explores CSR from my perspective as a practitioner, thus contributing to the nascent body of literature that focuses on individual and local practice. Exploring interdependence and the emergence of CSR meant understanding that my actions have consequences, and at the same time, neither I nor any one individually can control those 2 consequences. The outcomes of our working together are at times intended and at times unintended. But they are inevitably unpredictable, because they arise in complex webs of interactions. Thinking reflexively about practising CSR has had a significant impact on my practice. I believe that my reflections will resonate with other practitioners, thus contributing to their practice.