The Evolution of the Corporation: Organization, Finance, Knowledge and Corporate Social Responsibility
This paper, which selectively focuses on the contested concept of Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR], forms part of a larger research project on the evolution of corporate governance. This research posits the evolution of corporate governance along three historical paradigms: first, the economic/industrial organization paradigm, second, the financial paradigm, and third, the knowledge paradigm. With regard to CSR, the paper explores the promises and shortcomings of the concept against the background of an evolutionary theory of corporate governance. The identification of three historical-conceptual paradigms allows us to trace the development of the relation between a general discourse on corporate governance regulation [CGR] on the one hand and a more specialized, often polemic debate over corporate (social, environmental, human rights) responsibilities on the other. On the basis of the review of the three paradigms of CSR over the course of more than one hundred years, the paper concludes that there is no convincing justification to separate the general Corporate Governance from the more specific CSR discourse when assessing the nature of the corporation. Instead, it is argued that a more adequate understanding of what defines a corporation is gained when capturing its embedded nature in a continuously changing domestic, global and functional environment. Besides being both a legal fiction and an economic actor, the business corporation is assuming a host of other roles in a functionally differentiated global society. The paper suggests that the generation and dissemination of knowledge, both internally and externally, has become the defining feature of the firm. The corporation as a knowledge actor succeeds the prior stages of assessing it as a private, political or financial actor, without however erasing these dimensions of the firm. In that, the history of the corporation - as concept and reality - shares important features with that of the state - as concept and as fact.
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