Struggles at the summits: Discourse coalitions, field boundaries, and the shifting role of business in sustainable development

George Ferns, Kenneth Amaeshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This research explores the field dynamics that facilitated the emergence of a dominant understanding of business’ role in sustainable development (SD). Based on a study of the UN Earth Summits, we examine how actors meet every decade to battle for definitional control of what SD means for business, and what business means for SD. Through a discourse analysis of texts from business, policy, and civil society actors during each Summit, we illustrate how an ensuing discursive struggle shifts the role of business in SD from being largely undefined 1992, to being considered a SD partner in 2002, and finally to becoming a driver of SD by 2012. We contend that these shifts occurred largely due to two field dynamics: (1) rearranging of field boundaries; and (2) forming of a discourse coalition. Accordingly, our study highlights how disparate actors coalesce around a shared meaning system and collectively shape the role of business role in SD. However, we argue that despite the allure of a unified meaning-making process between once antagonistic actors, business-SD relations are underpinned by politicized interaction where certain actors come to dominate, and, in doing so, marginalize others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1533-1571
Number of pages39
JournalBusiness and Society
Volume58
Issue number8
Early online date28 Mar 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

Keywords

  • corporate sustainability
  • organizational discourse
  • strategic action fields
  • sustainable development
  • United Nations Earth Summits

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