Exploration of the arena for social steering with particular emphasis on corporate environmental strategies
Geerten J.I. Schrama
Center for Clean Technology and Environmental Policy
University of Twente
P.O. Box 217

NL 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands

This paper addresses the issue of “social steering”, which concerns the attempts of social actors to influence the behavior of other social actors. The purpose of the paper is to investigate the structure of the arena in which social steering takes places. Social steering involves exchange of incentives between “objects” and “subjects”. The paper is situated in the domain of governance studies and it elaborates on the fact that social steering is no longer the prerogative of governments (“multi-actor governance”), it is based on views derived from established fields of social science, while is applied to issues of sustainable development, in particular the issue of “driving business toward more sustainable strategies”.
The basic assumption is that social steering is an act of communication between object and subject. When the subject is engaged in certain behavior this is the result of a more or less deliberate choice from a number of behavioral options. When the object considers certain of these options as desirable and others as undesirable, he may undertake an attempt to increase the change that the subject selects a desirable option. This is exactly what “driving business toward more sustainable strategies” is about. Social steering basically comes down to convincing, paying off, imposing sanctions, or forcing the subject. The scope of the paper is limited to the public domain and the use of legal means (particular in relation to force).
Many established fields within social science are in fact addressing the issue of social steering. A number of them are briefly reviewed.
·         Policy science has yielded the basic categories of juridical, economical, and communicational steering strategies, or policy approaches or instruments.
·         Stakeholder theory explores the way various stakeholder groups are involved in social steering and the way companies (the subjects) respond.
·         The transaction cost approach explores the relative efficiency of three basic coordination mechanisms: hierarchy/bureaucracy, market, and clan.
·         Law offers us the distinction between public and private law. Under public law relations and exchanges between social actors are in principal based on equality. Public law is the basis of legal authority of some social actors (government) over others.
·         The classical author Max Weber has explored the concept of legal authority, for which he distinguished three basic types and the matching types of rationality.
Elaborating on this literature review we propose a compartmentalization of the arena for social steering along two dimension: (1) authority-equality and (2) type of rationality.
·         The domain of the state is characterized by relationships of authority and formal rationality (Weber).
·         The domain of the market is characterized by equality and formal rationality.
·         The domain of civil society is characterized by equality and a different kind of rationality.
·         The fourth domain is characterized by relationships of authority and a different kind of rationality.
Finally we try to reach some conclusions for the practice of social steering by analyzing the implications of this compartmentalization for the new fields of corporate social responsibility and corporate governance.

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The Netherlands 2005 Meeting