Organizations everywhere work to self-govern in ways that balance transparency with promoting a positive self-image while shaping and being shaped by global rhetoric on sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This course uses rhetorical theory and social theory to unpack the underlying mechanisms of these developments. We will draw on contemporary social theory of globalization, traditional argumentation and modern policy deliberation theory, and analyses of influential documents that shape global rhetoric of CSR and sustainability to address these unifying questions: What is the role of business in society? How do we shape this role? How could we? Class discussions will focus on cornerstone readings in these conceptual fields, and we will pay detailed attention to analysis of the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) four Guidelines for Sustainability Reporting. Students will complete three (3) speaking presentations, write five (5) short reading critiques, and complete a final project in which they analyze and evaluate an organization's sustainability report from communication design and rhetorical perspectives.
Although the organizational practice of CSR has existed in some form dating back to the 1970's, it has become an important area of academic study and criticism across a wide variety of disciplines across the curriculum over the past 20 years. Scholars from fields as diverse as business, economics, accounting, sociology, environmental studies, communication studies, rhetoric studies, and technical writing have written extensively about sustainability and CSR. More recently, scholars have turned their gaze toward the practice of sustainability reporting, and the use of the GRI Guidelines by the vast majority of global companies to produce these reports. Some have found sustainability reporting to be a positive step in self-governance and transparency while others have been far more skeptical about the accuracy of such reporting and the lack of accountability. This course will examine these issues from both theoretical and applied perspectives.