Journal of Business Ethics 109 (4):521-545 (2012)

Relations between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies have been the subject of a sharply increasing amount of publications in recent years within academic business journals. In this article, we critically assess this fast-developing body of literature, which we treat as forming a ‘business and society discourse’ on NGO–business relations. Drawing on discourse theory, we examine 199 academic articles in 11 business and society, international business, and management journals. Focusing on the dominant articulations on the NGO–business relationship and key signifiers they rely on, we analyze the problem-settings of articles in order to reveal the statements that are acceptable and appropriate within this field. Our threefold aim is to (1) identify dominant articulations of NGO–business relations in business and society discourse, (2) expose those articulations that are silenced or suppressed by these dominant articulations, and (3) critically assess possible power effects of these discursive dynamics in the field of discursivity. While business and society discourse on NGO–business relations overall remains open to many different articulations, we also find that those articulations that focus on NGO–business partnerships and governance initiatives tend to privilege collaborative and deliberative ways of engaging and marginalize more adversarial subject positions. We call for more recognition of the potentially constructive role that can be played by conflict.
Keywords NGO  Discourse theory  Business and society  Critical  Deliberative democracy  Agonistic pluralism
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-011-1143-z
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