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Theories and methods in CSRC research: a systematic literature review

Annamaria Tuan (Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy)
Daniele Dalli (Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy)
Alessandro Gandolfo (Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy)
Anastasia Gravina (Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 25 January 2019

Issue publication date: 23 May 2019




The authors have systematically reviewed 534 corporate social responsibility communication (CSRC) papers, updating the current debate about the ontological and epistemological paradigms that characterize the field, and providing evidence of the interactions between these paradigms and the related methodological choices. The purpose of this paper is to provide theoretical and methodological implications for future research in the CSRC research domain.


The authors used the Scopus database to search for titles, abstracts and related keywords with two queries sets relating to corporate social responsibility (e.g. corporate ethical, corporate environmental, social responsibility, corporate accountability) and CSRC (e.g. reporting, disclosure, dialogue, sensemaking). The authors identified 534 empirical papers (2000–2016), which the authors coded manually to identify the research methods and research designs (Creswell, 2013). The authors then developed an ad hoc dictionary whose keywords relate to the three primary CSRC approaches (instrumental, normative and constitutive). Using the software Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, the authors undertook an automated content analysis in order to measure these approaches’ relative popularity and compare the methods employed in empirical research.


The authors found that the instrumental approach, which belongs to the functionalist paradigm, dominates the CSRC literature with its relative weight being constant over time. The normative approach also belongs to the functionalist paradigm, but plays a minor yet enduring role. The constitutive approach belongs to the interpretive paradigm and grew slightly over time, but still remains largely beyond the instrumental approach. In the instrumental approach, many papers report on descriptive empirical analyses. In the constitutive approach, theory-method relationships are in line with the various paradigmatic traits, while the normative approach presents critical issues. Regarding methodology, according to the findings, the literature review underlines three major limitations that characterize the existing empirical evidence and provides avenues for future research. While multi-paradigmatic research is promoted in the CRSC literature (Crane and Glozer, 2016; Morsing, 2017; Schoeneborn and Trittin, 2013), the authors found no empirical evidence.


This is the first paper to systematically review empirical research in the CSRC field and is also the first to address the relationship between research paradigms, theoretical approaches, and methods. Further, the authors suggest a novel way to develop systematic reviews (i.e. via quantitative, automated content analysis), which can now also be applied in other literature streams and in other contexts.



Tuan, A., Dalli, D., Gandolfo, A. and Gravina, A. (2019), "Theories and methods in CSRC research: a systematic literature review", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 212-231.



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