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University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies


Ms Helen MussellCambridge Political Economy Society Trust Scholar

Care and Business: Can there be a Connection?

Supervisor: Professor Tony Lawson (Faculty of Economics)

 “The experiences to be gained from undertaking a PhD can never be fully known at the outset. It is always a leap into the dark in some respects, so the opportunity to reflect is invaluable. Academically speaking the doctorate programme in Gender Studies has been transformational. Having written and submitted my thesis within a three-year timeframe, defending it in early February 2016, I have progressed from reading papers in leading journals with awe, to successfully publishing in them. This would simply not have been possible without the inspiration and support of a core network of individuals I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by during my time at Cambridge. Teamed together with the generous financial support received from my sponsors - Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust - enabling international research trips and conference presentations - I consider my PhD to not only have been a professionally worthwhile adventure, but also one of great personal development. My future plans are to continue to publish, writing on core issues of gender in philosophy, economics, corporate governance and business ethics. And following the recommendations of my examiners, I am also developing the thesis into a monograph for publication, so hope to be able to contribute in some small way to the crucial feminist and gender studies canon. Finally, I wish to thank all of those insightful and inspirational individuals who have helped me over these past years. Everyone's support and encouragement has been so very much appreciated.” 

Peer reviewed publications:

Mussell, Helen. 2016. "The Truth of the Matter" in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, (Vol.31, Issue 3, pp. 537-553)

Mussell, Helen. 2016. "The Nature of Social Responsibility: Exploring Emancipatory Ends" in Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour (forthcoming Autumn 2016)


 The thesis engages in social scientific ontological analysis to investigate the nature of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The research is theoretical and philosophical in nature, and the thesis is structured over three main sections with a final conclusion drawing together the findings. Each section focuses on a separate question, which in turn contribute to answering the overarching research question addressed in the conclusion. The first part is concerned with identification. The focus is to determine why CSR is met with such strong scepticism, to identify the tension. These initial stages of the social ontological analysis indicate that crucial historical conceptual developments have taken place. These developments appear to point towards apparent dichotomous economic thinking. The analysis starts to suggest that a relational ontology originally underpinned CSR, and that this has been increasingly replaced by a more atomistic one. The second stage employs a tripartite theoretical framework to offer explanation for the conceptual developments identified in the first section. Feminist economic theory (revealing a psycho-sexual gender bias in economic thinking), feminist philosophy (specifically history of thought) and feminist care ethics (a body of ethical theory originating in moral developmental psychology), are shown to best explicate the ontological reorientation that CSR has undergone. The deep rooted scepticism directed towards CSR is identified as being a question of a corporate organisations capacity to care, claims to which are frequently used in organisational literature concerning CSR. The third section builds on the earlier parts to formulate a programme to facilitate a move towards a caring relational orientation in business. The focus in this part is on considering implications of the preceding stages. A two part programme is outlined including revisions to academic practice and proposals for business praxis and corporate governance. Suggested measures for the latter include theorising radical relational engagement (RRE) with feminist collective epistemological theory. The argument is made that through the innovation of the inherently relational feminist standpoint theory (FST) with realist ontology, then the need for the inclusion of the social point of view within business can start to be met. The thesis concludes by engaging with various contemporary developments within business education and legal studies which complement the project of facilitating a caring relational orientation in business.