Susana Esper HEC Montréal Contact: email@example.com Title: Controversies around CSR and sustainable development: How stakeholders contribute to the perpetuation of hypocrisy Abstract: Worldwide, pressures advocating for multinational corporations (MNC) to assume social and environmental responsibilities intensify; especially for firms belonging to industries accused of causing moral, social, and environmental harm (Reast et al., 2013; Parguel et al., 2011; Du and Vieira, 2012). This tension can give way to conflicting episodes during which corporations undergoing scrutiny may face irreconcilable demands. When these organizations are not able to provide answers for the multiple (and, even contradictory) requests that emerge during these conflicts, and coherent and visible tactics could imply the satisfaction of one group of claims at the expense of the others, they can choose to become hypocritical. Hypocrisy is a particular type of decoupling (Meyer and Rowan, 1977) through which organizations attempt to reduce conflict (Boxenbaum and Johnson, 2013). It consists of providing inconsistent (or, even, contradictory) responses tailored to the requests posed by different audiences or stakeholders: an organization can talk so as to meet one group of demands, decide according to another group, and then act consistently with a third group of requests (Brunsson, 2002). Furthermore, hypocritical actors can purposefully use discourse to distract less attentive audiences from the way in which they really act, with the ultimate objective of reducing questioning (Brown and Jones, 2000). How corporations may use corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a window-dressing for irresponsible practices has, as a matter of fact, attracted the attention of scholars (Shamir, 2004; Banerjee, 2008). A recent ‘political turn’ in CSR studies (Scherer and Palazzo, 2007 and 2011) allows us to approach CSR not anymore as merely a managerial tool or as a business-centered issue, but as a phenomenon in which interests, identities, and political processes are involved (Joutsenvirta and Vaara, 2015). Accordingly, we observe that firms increasingly engage in controversial undertakings. This generates contestation among social movements and leads to the proliferation of conflicting episodes (Joutsenvirta and Vaara, 2009), during which political power and legitimacy are at risk (Rojo and Van Dijk, 1997). Consequently, controversies have been characterized as “legitimacy tests” (Patriotta et al., 2011), due to the implication of a multiplicity of actors who question institutionalized arrangements. These stakeholders are of diverse natures (industrial, governmental, social), hold plural or irreconcilable definitions of what is responsible and what is sustainable, and compete for their interests to remain legitimate. Since legitimacy is closely related to power (Vaara et al., 2006), the more legitimate stakeholders appear to attentive audiences and to the society at large (Deephouse and Suchman, 2013), the greater the chance they have to impose their interests in the public agenda (Sabatier and Jenkins Smith, 1999; Cobb and Elder, 1999). The strategy of “organizational hypocrisy” (Brunsson, 2002), nevertheless, has been described in the literature as a unilateral and circumstantial tactic, eventually implemented by organizations in order to reduce questioning. Additionally, the concept of hypocrisy embraces a paradox: while it constitutes a legitimation strategy, it could lead to discredit if closer audiences are able to detect it (Wagner et al., 2009; Rodriguez and Rios, 2007; Cho et al., 2015). In so far, current understandings of hypocrisy do not explain how, during controversial episodes, the many stakeholders struggling for legitimation may be willing to exploit hypocrisy as well, instead of withdrawing. Moreover, it does not explain how, in an era of intense informational flow that facilitates scrutiny, actors who adopt hypocrisy are able to avoid the risk of delegitimation by reducing its detection. Therefore, we ask: how do stakeholders involved in controversies contribute to the perpetuation of hypocrisy by reducing their risk of delegitimation? Case and methods Through a qualitative research design, we analyze a controversy emerging from a project to establish a pulp mill in South America (2005-2010). This episode ignited an intense debate among a wide array of stakeholders in relation to the legitimacy of the activity, on its environmental consequences, and on the role of the state. We adopt a critical discourse analysis (CDA) approach (Fairclough, 1995) because of the advantages it brings to the study of how actors implement discursive strategies in order to become legitimate -and, thus, powerful- in the context of controversies (Joutsenvirta and Vaara, 2009; Vaara et al., 2006; Rojo and Van Dijk, 1997). Our ongoing analysis has comprised up to this moment the analysis of 200 articles published during the controversy (2005-2010) in Argentine newspapers, as well as 32 semi-structured interviews to key informants belonging to the industrial, the governmental and the social arena, in both countries. Preliminary findings If stakeholders competing to legitimize (and impose) their interests are willing to exploit hypocrisy and benefit from it in the long term, they have to face the challenge of reducing the perceived discrepancy between their discourses and their actions. Hypocritical stakeholders are able to conceal inconsistent discourse and actions by distracting bystanders (attentive audiences not directly involved in the conflict, Kriesi, 2004), ultimate source of legitimation during public controversies, through the construction of strong and legitimized subject positions (Hardy et al., 2000; Maguire et al., 2004; Maguire and Hardy, 2009). The more legitimate they seem in the eye of observers, the less suspicion they will raise in relation to their real hypocritical nature, and the longer the time they will be able to employ hypocrisy as a legitimation strategy, to its greatest possible advantage. Our preliminary analysis has revealed that actors build such subject positions through the deployment of three discursive legitimation strategies, in order to conceal hypocrisy: (1) agenda-setting, or the attempt to discursively recreate a “pseudo-agenda” that generates an impression or illusion of commitment in the eyes of audiences and therefore reduces questioning; (2) eluding, or talking about the reticence to engage in a conflict in order to deny or conceal real, concrete involvement; and (3) emancipating, or discursively constructing an independent position that emphasizes a renovation of traditional politics, but that is actually oriented to conceal implication in politics as usual. Through the deployment of these discursive legitimation strategies, actors are able to recreate strong and legitimized subject positions, as (1) environmentally committed; (2) neutral actors; or (3) autonomous from traditional interests, respectively, while these positions do not correspond to their concrete real behavior. Potential contributions With this research, we attempt to contribute to three main areas. Firstly, to institutional theory, we try to show how hypocrisy is not exclusively unilateral and circumstantial tactic that remains in the organizational level, but an actively co-constructed strategy that becomes a negotiated and persisting element in the societal level, that actors are able to exploit in the long term. Secondly, to Political CSR, we expect to show how wrongdoing is not exclusively the responsibility of corporations; stakeholders can be, as well, playing an active role in reproducing certain conditions that may stimulate wrongdoing (such as hypocrisy). Thirdly, to the literature in CDA and legitimation, we attempt to contribute by showing an alternative explanation to discursive legitimation strategies. This literature has used this concept to refer to justification (that is, using discourse in order to reduce the distance between what is acceptable and what looks unacceptable). However, hypocrisy is not about justification of who they are, but about using discourse to deny what they actually are. References Banerjee, Subhabrata Bobby (2008). “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Critical Sociology. Vol. 34. No. 1. Pages 51-79. Boxenbaum, Eva and Stefan Jonsson (2013). "Isomorphism, diffusion and decoupling". In: Greenwood, Royston; Oliver, Christine; Sahlin, Kerstin and Roy Suddaby (Eds.). The SAGE handbook of organizational institutionalism. UK: Sage Eds. 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