The Gesture of the Gift: A Discourse-Centered Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility
In this paper, I approach corporate social responsibility as a discourse metadiscursively shaping the social relationship between corporations and society. Using a discourse-centered approach to culture, I examine how early discussions (involving legal disputes) on the rights of corporations to give evolved into a public sphere discussion as to how corporations can be viewed and redefined as social actors with capabilities to perform socially meaning actions, which here is “responsibility.” I discuss how corporate social responsibility currently operates as a metadiscourse of corporate personhood, ethics, and corporate citizenship. Then, using insights from Mauss, I analyze how corporate social responsibility might be comparable to a Maussian gift exchange. Corporate social responsibility actions that are performed, indeed, are gift exchanges in that they involve the ideology of the free gift and the implicit expectation of a return to the giver. In the meantime, I argue, that in the case of corporate social responsibility, it is not the act of giving gifts (e.g., grants) that can lead to social alliances but rather the talk of gift giving, a departure from the ceremonial gift exchanges observed by Mauss. That is, here, the talk of giving shapes social alliances, thus displacing this function from the act of giving itself. The PR strategies deploy talk of the gift as a metapragmatic strategy, inviting various forms of role alignment on the part of diverse, potential and actual, participants, in a framework of corporate-sponsored gift exchange in which potential recipients compete, again at the level of metapragmatic description, to become the chosen gift recipient.