Talk Title: The Relationship Between Business and Society in a Globalized World
Abstract: The role of business in society is in a state of change with societies increasingly expecting a more active role of businesses in the pursuit of societal goals, particularly related to sustainability. This project studies imaginaries of the relationship between business and society prevalent within nations—namely in Switzerland, South Africa, and China—and the renegotiation and adaptation of these imaginaries in cross-national collaborations. The latter is studied by means of comparing and contrasting the roles of Chinese corporations in Africa and China. Data for this project consists in essays, survey responses, and newspaper articles and is analyzed using a combination of multidimensional scaling and qualitative content within a Hermeneutic Content Analysis framework. The results show that conceptualizations of the relations between business and society differ between places and are closely intertwined with contextual and cultural factors, particularly related to political and economic systems, social issues, cultural values, and history. Expectations toward business are grounded in ideals and realities of business-society dynamics and are defined in relation to the roles of other societal actors, particularly government. Cross-national collaboration between actors is characterized by creation of new role models. Contemporary, Western-based theories account well for the roles and ideals prevalent in Western contexts (i.e., Switzerland) but not those found elsewhere (i.e., South Africa and China).