Speech 36: Sustainability Rhetoric: Communication Design and Global Discourse of Corporate Social Responsibility

This course examines Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability reporting discourse through the lenses of communication design, rhetorical theory, and modern social theory. Discussions will focus on theory and analysis of relevant concepts of globalization, civil regulation, organizational discourse, and influential documents that shape global rhetoric of sustainability. Students will read, write, think, and talk through these unifying questions: “What is the role of business in society? How do we shape this role? How could we?”

No prerequisites. Limited enrollment.

Instructor: Grushina.

Not offered in the period from 16F through 18S.

Organizations everywhere work to self-govern in ways that balance transparency with promoting a positive self-image while shaping and being shaped by global rhetoric on sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This course uses rhetorical theory and social theory to unpack the underlying mechanisms of these developments. We will draw on contemporary social theory of globalization, traditional argumentation and modern policy deliberation theory, and analyses of influential documents that shape global rhetoric of CSR and sustainability to address these unifying questions: What is the role of business in society? How do we shape this role? How could we?  Class discussions will focus on cornerstone readings in these conceptual fields, and we will pay detailed attention to analysis of the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) four Guidelines for Sustainability Reporting. Students will complete three (3) speaking presentations, write five (5) short reading critiques, and complete a final project in which they analyze and evaluate an organization's sustainability report from communication design and rhetorical perspectives.

Although the organizational practice of CSR has existed in some form dating back to the 1970's, it has become an important area of academic study and criticism across a wide variety of disciplines across the curriculum over the past 20 years. Scholars from fields as diverse as business, economics, accounting, sociology, environmental studies, communication studies, rhetoric studies, and technical writing have written extensively about sustainability and CSR. More recently, scholars have turned their gaze toward the practice of sustainability reporting, and the use of the GRI Guidelines by the vast majority of global companies to produce these reports. Some have found sustainability reporting to be a positive step in self-governance and transparency while others have been far more skeptical about the accuracy of such reporting and the lack of accountability. This course will examine these issues from both theoretical and applied perspectives.

Course Goals:

The main goal of the course is to help you become a better critical thinker as you learn to apply the theoretical perspectives we discuss to global organizational practices and policy analyses that have major implications for economics, the environment, and the social well-being of individual, groups, communities, and societies. An important second objective is to help you become a better public speaker and a better writer.

To accomplish these objectives, I will help you do the following throughout the term:

1) critically analyze scholarly texts to

a) summarize key arguments,

b) evaluate academic evidence, and

c) critique research conclusions;

2) develop the ability to write a thesis-driven essay (using textual examples for support)

3) become skilled at enacting a close analysis of a text;

4) explore constitutive nature of discourse and communication;

5) apply rhetorical principles to analyses of contemporary CSR and sustainability rhetoric;

6) evaluate others’ and support own arguments through solid reasoning and communication of that reasoning;

7) expand your ideas of what it means to speak publicly;

8) test public speaking against criteria of good dialogue;

9) gain a more nuanced understanding of rhetorical goals;

10) evaluate and implement organizational strategies for speaking and writing and craft transitions that guide audience understanding;

11) use wording that is clear, concise, accurate, and interesting;

12) improve public listening;

13) create, prepare, and deliver more effective public speeches, individually and in a group;

14) develop a deeper understanding of thoughtfully informed and articulate speaking, writing, and thinking – by doing.