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“Pouring Politics down Our Throats”: Political CSR Communication and Consumer Catharsis

Redefining Corporate Social Responsibility

ISBN: 978-1-78756-162-5, eISBN: 978-1-78756-161-8

Publication date: 3 September 2018


This chapter theorizes the outrageous consumer response that may follow the communication of political corporate social responsibility (CSR). We consider two recent cases (Starbucks’s offer to hire refugees and Pepsi’s appropriation of protest movements in an ad) and how consumers-citizens reacted when these corporations communicated political issues. By drawing from psychoanalytic concepts, we illustrate how consumers’ outrage, expressed in angry social media comments, and in the creation and sharing of memes, is cathartic of unconscious repressed matter: the realization of their own powerless and the domination of corporations. We further note how these expressions of outrage may be understood to result from defense mechanisms such as denial, displacement, or more complex sublimation that help consumers maintain a position of passive domination by corporations. Like all psychoanalytic applications, our interpretation represents only a plausible metaphor that can explain the “irrational” behavior of consumers. Positivist traditions of CSR theorization may demand further causal studies to confirm the ideas we express. Our study is an original exploration of what underlies consumer responses to political CSR. These cases could inform academics and practitioners working in the business and society arena asking them to re-evaluate whether and how political CSR should be communicated, and the implications of the rapid diffusion of messages in social media that include mocking parody and offensive brand comments.



Grigore, G. and Molesworth, M. (2018), "“Pouring Politics down Our Throats”: Political CSR Communication and Consumer Catharsis", Redefining Corporate Social Responsibility (Developments in Corporate Governance and Responsibility, Vol. 13), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 71-86.



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