Is Sustainability Research Distorted? The fallacy of focusing on big and powerful
Jenny Ählström,¹ Monica Macquet,¹ Ulf Richter²
  1. SuRe, Sustainability Research Group, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
  2. HEC Lausanne, Switzerland
Welford (1998) called for more critical theory in the editorial of Business Strategy and the Environment, and this quest was taken up in an article by Cerin (2003) on corporate responses to sustainable development. A critical view on the ecological modernist paradigm will serve to shed light on research within environmental management. Does the continuous focus on shareholder value in management research lead researchers and governments to prefer studies of marginal adjustments to sustainability through ecological modernisation?
 This paper will approach this question by applying Habermas’ (1984; 1987; 1996; 2001) work on language and discourse. Habermas’ discourse theory is a normative approach to ethics for which the use of language is constitutive. The essential idea of discourse theory by Habermas is formulated in the principle of universalization and what it entails - namely, the principle of discourse. The so-called universal pragmatics aim at the identification, and reconstruction, of the necessary preconditions for understanding in discursive communication. This is carried out by concentrating on the most elementary communicative action: the speech act. The discourse is the pragmatic answer to the compelling fact that there is no self-evident truth. It has to be revealed by language games, and only when meaning and validity are internally related will communication be successful. Communication that is misled by powerful actors is called distorted.

 The goal of this paper is to ask if there is any distortion in the discourse on sustainability management research, and what the impact may be on corporate practice and policy making.
Keywords Sustainability, environmental studies, corporate responsibility, discourse theory
Cerin, P. 2003. Sustainability Hijacked by the Sociological Wall of Self-Evidence.
        Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management 10(4): 175-185.
Habermas, J. 1984. Theory of Communicative Action: Vol. 1. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
Habermas, J. 1987. Theory of Communicative Action: Vol. 2. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
Habermas, J. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Habermas, J. 2001. The Postnational Constellation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Welford, R. 1998. Editorial: Corporate environmental management, technology and
        sustainable development: postmodern perspectives and the need for a critical research
        agenda. Business Strategy and the Environment 10(6): 335-343.

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