University of St.Gallen
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Corporations as Political Actors - Normative Reflections and Empirical Explorations

abstract This research proposal sketches out my research for the next two years with which I aim to make a systematic contribution to the research nexus of corporations as political actors. The overall relevance of my research on the one hand derives directly from real-world events which continuously underline the enormous political significance of corporations. To name a recent example, consider Vodafone’s distribution of contentious text messages from pro-government actors while closing the network for regular users during the uprisings in Egypt in 2011. On the other hand my research also links very nicely to a recent scholarly debate about the political roles and responsibilities of corporations which has received considerable attention on an international level in business ethics and related fields.
My overarching concern is the critical reflection on the normative premises based on which we conceptualize corporations as political actors and the practical implications thereof. Three contexts are relevant for my research: first the political role corporations play in their interaction with governmental institutions, second their engagement in self-regulatory arrangements like multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), and third the context of corporate political advocacy which denotes the relatively new phenomenon of corporations taking a stance, politically, by showing public support for certain ideals or values with the aim of convincing others to embrace them as well. Such advocacy for example underlies Ben and Jerry’s active support of a law legalizing gay marriage in Vermont.
I aim to strengthen the ongoing debate by exposing selected research questions across these contexts to systematic critical reflection and empirical exploration. My research divides into two main themes: the first theme provides a critical assessment of competing normative models of democracy regarding the role of corporations in self-regulatory arrangements and a corresponding empirical exploration of the extent to which these normative conceptions inform real-world political activities of corporations. It thereby mainly relates to the second context mentioned above.
The second theme predominantly refers to the third context, i.e. the newly emerging problem area of ‘corporate political advocacy’. However, since advocacy shares characteristics with lobbying it also extends to the first context. Political advocacy represents an actual blind spot within the debate on corporations as political actors. Therefore my primary focus here is on developing systematic conceptual groundwork that provides guidance in answering questions such as what notion of moral responsibility can account for corporate political advocacy and under what circumstances and from what perspective it can be considered legitimate or even desirable.
Together the contributions set out to add robustness to the debate on the one hand by building theory that is able to provide a convincing normative account of the political roles and responsibilities of corporations across different contexts; on the other hand by empirically exploring how real-world settings of political activities and the normative standards set forth by theory interrelate.
keywords CSR, corporations as political actors, political theory, deliberative democracy
type fundamental research project
status ongoing
start of project 2012
end of project 2014
additional informations
topics Critique of Political CSR, Corporate advocacy
methods conceptual research
profile area SHSS - Kulturen, Institutionen, Märkte (KIM)
contact Dorothea Baur