Academic interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be traced back to the 1930s. Since then an impressive body of empirical data and theory-building has been amassed, mainly located in the fields of management studies and business ethics. One of the most noteworthy recent conceptual contributions to the scholarship is Midttun’s (Corporate Governance 5(3):159–174, 2005) CSR-oriented embedded relational model of societal governance. It re-conceptualises the relationships between the state, business, and civil society. Other scholars (In Albareda et al. Corporate Governance 6(4):386–400, 2006; Business Ethics: A European Review 17(4):347–363, 2008; Lozano et al., Governments and Corporate Social Responsibility, 2008) have recently successfully used the model as the basis for their analytical framework for researching CSR activities in a large number of western European countries. While this research offers valuable insights into how CSR is operationalised, it also suffers from a number of significant limitations. To develop a stronger analytical framework with which to explore CSR, this article draws more deeply on political science literature concerned with governance and public policy analysis. This represents the main purpose of this article. In addition, this article also addresses a second and more modest aim: to reflect on the ways in which relational governance-inspired frameworks could be adapted and applied to politico-economic systems where state-industry-third sector relations differ from those found in North America and Western Europe. Both lines of argument are illustrated using vignettes from a case study of the Evenkia Hydro-Electric Station building project in the Russian Federation.