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Theoretical Framework

The following chapter will serve as a theoretic background for the study. Previous research has laid the foundation for this project and has not only been the cause for the work; it can also help answer some of the questions posed in the previous chapter. By taking a closer look at different communication theories, parts of the research questions can already be answered theoretically.
In the preliminary stages of this study, a gap was found in previous research about CSR. Many scholars had written about CSR, but most of this research was from the point of view of business. Furthermore, culture was featured in many articles, however the relationship between CSR and culture seemed to not have been explored yet. The combination of these two pieces of information led to the focus of this study: an investigation into the effect of culture on perception of CSR communication. To paint a clear picture of the previously done research, this coming section is divided into previous research on CSR and theories on audience perception and cultural identity.

Previous Research on CSR

CSR has proven a difficult concept for companies and their managers (Ismail, Kassim, Amit, Rasdi, 2014). While companies continuously try to balance stakeholders and their needs with corporate strategy and profit margins, sustainability seems an odd factor. Spending resources on sustainability initiatives while the connection to the stakeholders might not seem directly clear and return not directly countable, could appear to be a mere distraction from the commercial focus of a company. CSR is by definition voluntary but it does demand resources and this might be challenging to incorporate into business strategy. However, certain countries are already forcing companies to engage is some sort of CSR by, for example, making a statement about the company’s effect on planet and society mandatory. Robins (2005) takes the example of IKEA to show how fully embracing a CSR strategy makes sustainability commercially important. The company, as it is Swedish, is highly individualistic in corporate culture. However, they initiated a framework called ‘Natural Step’ to ensure the sustainability, both ecological and social, of their commercial activities. Especially for an industry largely dependent on timber CSR is both commercially important and environmentally relevant (Robins, 2005). While more and more companies are internationalising, they are forced to adopt CSR policies not only by the legislations in different countries but also, and sometimes mainly so, by the hard critique from the public that would otherwise follow. While the trend is towards CSR, the question is if companies should take the leading role in sustainability over the government (Robins, 2005).
When researching CSR in relation to business, a lot of studies can be found in the different business journals. One can take from this that studies have proven useful in determining the best use of CSR to increase revenue and strengthen position and corporate image. However, it seems that the other side of the medal has been overlooked. The perception of communication on CSR is just as crucial; a strong corporate CSR policy is dependent on a good understanding of the audience. This study therefore focuses on the audience. Dawkins (2005) shows that communications on corporate responsibility are “not yet being effectively tailored to different stakeholder audiences – and further, that these messages are not currently getting through to many stakeholders” (Dawkins, 2005, p. 110). This leads to believe that there is some serious work to be done in adjusting CSR communications to the audiences. She furthermore states that the expectations of opinion leaders on the subject of CSR show great variety when looked at on the international scale. That brings us back to the international component of the study.
While CSR policies are prevalent in any size company, nowhere is their role more complex than in multinational companies. However, nowhere is their role more contested either. Dobers and Springett address the need to include cultural dimensions into the discourse of CSR, albeit from an environmental business point of view (Dobers & Springett, 2010). The intercultural aspect of this work is partly inspired by this, while redirecting the focus to the communication aspect. This study will therefore compare the perception of CSR in audiences in two countries. Rick Nauert argues that in any situation, the perception of communication can be, and often unconsciously is, influenced by one’s culture (Nauert, 2007).
A major point of consideration when looking at any action related to CSR is that sustainability is a way of thinking and doing, rather than a singular activity. Sustainability as a goal might not be achieved 100 per cent (Packalén, 2010). While this should not be taken lightly, it should also not hold people back from still working on it. Sustainability is a topic, which should gradually be woven into daily life. Packalén (2010, p. 119) goes on discussing the importance of the cultural dimension when talking of CSR:
What is needed is that the concept of sustainable development should be more thoroughly thought through and extended so that the cultural dimension is on a par with, or rather permeates, the ecological, economic, and social dimensions like a red thread running through a thick rope, clearly visible for all to see.
Intercultural communication is one of the most important factors to improve the way the situation of socially sustainable development (Packalén, 2010). The only way in which sustainability has a future is if it appeals to their reason as well as their emotion. The way to understand how to do the latter is to understand one’s culture. Packalén (2010) argues that sustainability communication should steer away from traditional marketing and create engagement, a dialogue on the issue of sustainability. By using more artistic ways of communicating, one can genuinely commit the audience to sustainability. His firm belief is that culture should be used more to make the change that CSR and sustainability are about (Packalén, 2010).

Audience Perception Theory

Samovar et al. (2013) talk about how understanding perception is key in understanding intercultural communication. The way, in which people make sense of everyday life, is influenced strongly by culture. Perception is a culturally determined, learned behaviour, which means that the culture one grew up in has trained them to act and react to situations. As communication triggers a certain action or reaction, this communication should take the culture into account. While by no means perception is accurate or unbiased, a collective trend is to be found in culture (Samovar et al., 2013). This supports the hypothesis that culture is indeed an influential factor in the perception of CSR communications. As the audiences have been ‘trained’, unconsciously, by their native culture to perceive and thus behave in a certain way, a difference between cultures is expected in this study.
Whilst under exposed, some research on the perception of CSR has been conducted. Recognising the absence of empirical studies, Pfau et al. (2008) investigated the perceived positive influence CSR has on the public opinion. Although corporate resources are directed towards CSR initiatives, actual data supporting the positive effect on consumer behaviour are few and far beyond. While previous research had already shown a weak but positive correlation between a company’s CSR initiatives and corporate profitability, the research by Pfau et al. (2008) indicated the need for effective communication to improve the public awareness and perception. The strategic and financial benefits of CSR strategies are strongly dependent on systematic communication.

Multifaceted Cultural Identity Theory

Satoshi Moriizumi (2011) identified the strong attention there has been for the aspect of individualism/collectivism (I-C). While Hofstede had identified this as one of a few cultural dimensions, Moriizumi takes this specific phenomenon as a focal point and builds on it. The polarization of these two constructs has a strong ability of explaining cultural differences and at the same time I-C has a strong effect on communication. By integrating cultural identity theories to I-C, this new set of principles better offers a more complex understanding to the relationship between cultural characteristics and communication.

  1. All individuals have multiple identities because they belong to various social groups.
  2. I-C influences the salience of one’s personal and social identity: (a) In collectivistic cultures, one’s social identity tends to be more salient than in individualistic cultures; (b) In individualistic cultures, one’s personal identity tends to be more salient than in collectivistic cultures.
  3. I-C value constructs work as a value content dimension of cultural identity
  4. There are at least three constructs of I-C: Individualism, Relational Collectivism, and Group Collectivism.
  5. All cultures may have different conceptualizations to the common cultural values related to I-C.
  6. Competent intercultural communication emphasizes the importance of personal, situational, relational, and cultural identity-based knowledge, mindfulness, and skills. (Morrizumi, 2011, pp. 20-23)

The first principle makes us aware that even within a greater macro-culture, people belong to different categories. Cultural identity theory goes on saying that people have social (cultural, class, gender) and personal (unique personal attributes) identities and the second principle supposes that individualist societies will be more concerned with the latter. The next principle explains how, even though there are many cultural dimensions, I-C is the best in demonstrating communication styles. The fourth principle builds to this, separating I-C into three constructs. Collectivism is divided into relational collectivism, towards personal relations and small interpersonal networks, and group collectivism, towards a larger group. This explains how individualistic societies still have collectivistic characteristics. Principle 5 states that even though two cultures might both be collectivistic, their interpretation on what is collectivistic might differ. The last, and for this study most practical, principle emphasises the importance of mindfulness and skill when it comes to intercultural communication. By understanding the salience of their different cultural identities and how people view themselves, the impact of and effectiveness of intercultural communication is improved.

Sweden and Spain

Looking at the cultural dimensions as posed by Geert Hofstede, Sweden and Spain differ quite substantially (The Hofstede Centre, 2015).
In figure 1, the cultural dimensions of Sweden and Spain are compared. Sweden scores low on power distance, which means that the power in the country, and within organisations, is expected to be distributed equally. Equality and human rights are important to Swedes and along with this; communication is preferably direct and participative. On the other hand, Swedes score high on individualism. People are supposed to take care of themselves and their direct family and no further than that. Sweden has one of the lowest scores for the dimension of masculinity. This means that feminine cultural indicators are considered very important. Caring for others and ensuring a high quality of life is almost nowhere in the world as important as in here. Inclusion and involvement are key words in communication. It is important to put no one above others and solidarity, quality of life and above all equality are valued. Uncertainty avoidance is not important to Swedes. This means that the people are open to change and innovation, and practicality is put above the need for rules. When it comes to long-term orientation, Sweden has a moderate score. While it is somewhat important to retain traditions, a pragmatic approach to preparation for the future is the way to go. Finally, Swedish people are considered to be quite indulgent. They are willing to spend money on leisure and attach importance to enjoying life with a positive attitude (The Hofstede Centre, 2015).

The Influence of Culture on CSR Communication A Cross-National Comparative Study between Sweden and Spain

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