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Turning irresponsibility into responsibility - How communities can leverage collective memories of corporate irresponsibility to produce responsible actors

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  • Full or part time
    Dr H Foroughi
    Prof D Vazquez-Brust
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2019.

The work on this project could involve:
-Implementation of either traditional or virtual ethnographic fieldwork, depending on the core research skills of the PhD candidate.
-A comparative design to investigate how different communities commemorate events surrounding corporate irresponsibility to propose an explanation into why some initiatives are more successful than others.
-Collaborative work within and across the strategic research themes Sustainability and the Environment, and Security and Risk at the Faculty of Business and Law.

Project description
Corporate irresponsibility is understood as intentionally irresponsible strategies, decisions, or actions, which negatively affect an identifiable stakeholder or the environment (Keig et al. 2015, Strike et al. 2006). Some scholars argue that a growing international emphasis on sustainability will force businesses to abandon irresponsible practices and adopt social responsibility in their core strategy (Aguilera 2007, Othman et al. 2011).

Critical scholarship on the topic, however, argues that companies either lack the skills or motivation to effectively address sustainability challenges (Crilly et al, 2012). Their responses to isomorphic forces are often reduced to window-dressing (Lin, 2010, Shevchenko et al, 2016). They suggest that corporations change course only if they are subject to a stronger set of regulatory controls.

On the contrary, research on stakeholder engagement argues that community’s active involvement can compel organizations to react and transform their patterns of thought, behaviour and social relationships to pursue a more sustainable development model (Stephan et al. 2016). These studies encourage investigations into how communities can hold companies accountable by demanding a concrete change in corporate responsible behaviour. They highlight the role of reputational actors, who can leverage organizational concern for reputation to bring about a change in how organisations think about their responsibility (see Fine 2012) and engage in truly sustainable activities to rectify their reputation (Jackson et al. 2014) and neutralise public hostility (Lange & Washburn 2012).

One major challenge faced by reputational actors is that events of corporate irresponsibility are often forgotten soon after the immediate visible effects of the events are dissipated. Mena et al. (2016) argue that this is partly because corporations are actively involved in ‘forgetting work’; that is, attempts to erase or diffuse memories of corporate irresponsibility by attempting to discredit ‘mnemonic actors’, eliminate ‘mnemonic traces’ or to dissociate with the events. Their research highlights the need for future research to explore ‘memory work’- symbolic activities in order to maintain and propagate a public memory- in order to promote corporate responsibility.

Entry Requirements

General admissions criteria
You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum second class
or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate
subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or
Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
We welcome applications from highly motivated prospective students with a background in social sciences (e.g. anthropology, communication studies, critical management studies and other relevant disciplines) with an interest in corporate responsibility. A familiarity with qualitative and ethnographic methods is desirable (not essential). We are also interested in candidates who are familiar with social media analysis and software assisted textual analysis for an alternative research design, which focuses on virtual communication and virtual communities. We encourage prospective students to design their own research strategies depending on their interest and core skills.

If you have project specific enquiries, please contact Dr Hamid Foroughi ([Email Address Removed]) quoting the project code.

How to Apply
When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Business and Management’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BUSM4500219 when applying.

Funding Notes

Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for three years and a stipend in line with the RCUK rate (£14,777 for 2018/2019). As part of the bursary the Faculty of Business and Law may fund fieldwork expenses (currently £2,000) over the total period of PhD study. We also offer funding to attend conferences (currently £450), training (currently £450), and a work-based placement (currently a maximum of £3,000 tied up to the period of 12 weeks).


Crilly, D., Zollo, M., & Hansen, M. T. (2012). Faking it or muddling through? Understanding decoupling in response to stakeholder pressures. Academy of Management Journal, 55(6), 1429-1448.

Jackson, G., Brammer, S., Karpoff, J. M., & Lange, D., Zavyalova, A., Harrington, B. (2014). Grey areas: Irresponsible corporations and reputational dynamics. Socio-Economic Review, 12(1), 153-218.

Lange, D., & Washburn, N. T. (2012). Understanding attributions of corporate social irresponsibility. Academy of management review, 37(2), 300-326.

Mena, S., Rintamäki, J., Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2016). On the forgetting of corporate irresponsibility. Academy of management review, 41(4), 720-738.

Shevchenko, A., Lévesque, M., & Pagell, M. (2016). Why firms delay reaching true sustainability. Journal of Management Studies, 53(5), 911-935.

How good is research at University of Portsmouth in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 41.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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