We've just posted online our introduction to CSR from our 2008 text co-written with Laura Spence, Corporate Social Responsibility: Readings and Cases in a Global Context. It's available for free download here at the Social Science Research Network, albeit only in the pre-typeset version. In the paper we examine the nature and definition of CSR, and its emergence in different national and organizational contexts. It should be a good basic CSR 101 for anyone trying to get their head's around the subject.
So 'what is CSR' is a deceptively difficult question to answer. It almost immediately brings up questions of whether firms have particular types of responsibilities, what those repsonsibilities are, how much firms should be doing, for who, and why. In fact it is easier to come up with a list of questions rather than a simple short definition that pleases everyone.
Still, that's no excuse for ducking the question. Our approach in the CSR introduction paper is not to get too caught up in definitions, but to explore what unites the different definitions that are out there and use that to identify the core characteristics of CSR. In all, we identify six of these components, as shown in the figure below. To find out more, just take a read of the paper....
This figure is not actually in the chapter, but feel free to use and reproduce under a non-commercial creative commons licence, giving appropriate citation to the original source of the idea.