Resonance tropes in corporate philanthropy discourse

Business Ethics 18 (4):372-388 (2009)
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Abstract

This paper explores corporate charitable giving disclosures in order to question the extent to which corporations can claim that their philanthropy activities are charitable at all. Exploration of these issues is carried out by means of a tropological analysis that focuses on the different linguistic tropes within the philanthropy disclosures of 52 companies, namely metaphor and synecdoche. The results reveal a number of complex and contradictory things. Primarily, the master metaphor of ‘altruism’ projected by the corporate disclosures is ideologically at odds with the more business case-oriented discourse that shapes the disclosures. This contradiction is put into starker contrast by the existence of a root metaphor, whereby the recipients of corporate philanthropy are presented as the ‘deserving poor’. Synecdochal devices are present within the corporate disclosures, whereby employee initiatives that are independent of corporate strategies are used to confer attributes onto the disclosures that bolster the master metaphor of ‘altruism’. As such, corporate philanthropy is presented by the paper as a structurally incoherent discourse and yet one that has implications for both extracting greater value from various societal groups and in defining, on behalf of civil society, what is a worthy cause.

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