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Distinctions in Descriptive and Instrumental Stakeholder Theory: A Challenge for Empirical Research

15 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2009  

Niklas Egels-Zandén

Göteborg University

Joakim Sandberg

Göteborg University - Philosophy

Abstract

Stakeholder theory is one of the most influential theories in business ethics. It is perhaps not surprising that a theory as popular as stakeholder theory should be used in different ways, but when the disparity between different uses becomes too great, it is questionable whether all the ‘stakeholder research’ refers to the same underlying theory. This paper starts to clarify this definitional confusion by distinguishing between three different ways in which different lines of stakeholder research are connected with descriptive and instrumental stakeholder theory. First, a distinction is made between research connected with descriptive and with instrumental stakeholder theory as defined by Donaldson & Preston in the narrow or broad sense. Second, a distinction is made between research that interprets descriptive and instrumental stakeholder theories as either hypotheses or research areas. Third, a distinction is made between research that interprets Donaldson & Preston's central concept of ‘stakeholder management’ as either behaviour or rationale. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of these differences for empirical research into stakeholder theory.

Suggested Citation

Egels-Zandén, Niklas and Sandberg, Joakim, Distinctions in Descriptive and Instrumental Stakeholder Theory: A Challenge for Empirical Research. Business Ethics: A European Review, Vol. 19, Issue 1, pp. 35-49, January 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1527910 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8608.2009.01577.x

Niklas Egels-Zandén (Contact Author)

Göteborg University ( email )

Viktoriagatan 30
Goeteborg, 405 30
Sweden

Joakim Sandberg

Göteborg University - Philosophy ( email )

Viktoriagatan 30
41125 Goteborg, 405 30
Sweden

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