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Corporate responsibility and sustainability tackle the relationship between business and society. However, the two fields of study have converged to become deeply entangled and blurred so that researchers from both research traditions now speak to the same business risks and opportunities. A field’s development is shaped by the clarity of its constructs and underlying assumptions; however, such clarity has eroded in responsibility and sustainability research. By tracing the development of these fields, we show that responsibility and sustainability were historically distinctive. Responsibility research took a normative position, railing against the amorality of business; sustainability research took a systems perspective, sounding the alarm of business-driven failures in natural systems. The convergence in responsibility and sustainability has not only confused constructs but has also vacated vast tracts of unexplored territory that can inform the relationship between business and society. By sharpening the distinctiveness between responsibility and sustainability, we call for further research to deepen the areas of research unique to each of these two fields of study and explore their complementarities and intersections.
- © Academy of Management Annals