Abstract: Surfing the Long Wave: The Academic Construction and Transformation of the Concept of Corporate Social Responsibility

Richard Marens


The history of the construct of "Corporate Social Responsibility" closely tracks the evolution of American hegemony in the twentieth century by following Arrighi's model, in which a hegemonic society emerges as the leading producer of tradable goods, crests as the world's dominant political power, and declines behind a hypertrophy of financial activity. Following World War I, the social responsibility of the American corporation was defined by a group of politicians, reformers, economists, and labor officials as promoting labor-management cooperation in the interests of promoting social peace and enhancing productivity. After World War II, academics at major universities with backgrounds in government service and Keynesian economics broadened the definition of corporate responsibility to include respect for a pluralistic political system and independent government, thus providing an alternative model to Communism. Finally, in the 1980s, after the ideological counterrevolution aimed at labor unions and government regulation, a new cadre of business philosophers promoted the nonconsequentialist ethics of Kant and Mill as a corporate social responsibility, thus conceding the power and autonomy of corporate executives in the interest of protecting corporate "stakeholders" from financial activists and their academic allies, a hope that remains unrealized as American economic hegemony has continued its decline.