Should brands “nudge us for good”? Towards a critique of neuroliberal corporate social responsibility

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This article critically investigates the recent emergence of neuro-liberal corporate social responsibility (CSR). Neuro-liberal CSR is inspired by libertarian paternalism, a form of behavioural governance popularised by behavioural economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein in their bestseller Nudge (2008). Libertarian paternalism presumes humans to be “predictably irrational” due to hardwired cognitive biases and thus advocates the design of policy interventions that use human psychology for correcting these shortcomings in ways that benefit individuals and society. Although the use of “nudging” interventions has been critically scrutinised in the context of public policy, little attention has been paid to the adoption of libertarian paternalist principles in the corporate world. This paper uses Nudging for Good, an initiative by the European Brands Association (AIM), to illustrate how major corporations adopt and frame corporate nudging as a new and purportedly highly effective form of CSR. However, as this paper argues, neuro-liberal CSR raises concerns regarding its effectiveness, transparency, and its individualisation and de-politicisation of social ills.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1898
JournalJournal of Public Affairs
Issue number1
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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