Where is the Theory in Stakeholder Theory? A Meta-Analysis of the Pluralism in Stakeholder Theory
IOU Working Paper No. 123
STAKEHOLDER THEORY, IMPACT AND PROSPECTS, pp. 140-162, R. Phillips, ed., Edward Elgar, 2011
31 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2010 Last revised: 19 Oct 2014
Stakeholder Theory is a very pluralistic field of research with a large variety of theoretical perspectives and empirical studies. On the one hand this pluralism is a valuable source of creativity, inspiration and innovation, but on the other hand the incoherent claims, messy theoretical foundations, and inconclusive results make it difficult to assess Stakeholder Theory’s contribution to research on Business and Society and Corporate Social Responsibility. We suggest that this pluralism is a result of at least two factors: First, proponents of Stakeholder Theory pursue different research interests prioritizing either the descriptive, the in-strumental, or the normative-ethical aspects of their studies. Second, in the course of their research projects scholars apply different philosophies and methods based on numerous paradigmatic assumptions about how to conduct social research and to develop knowledge on the business-society relationship. A careful analysis of these different research interests and paradigmatic assumptions helps us to better understand the pluralism of the field, to navigate between the various theories, to assess their contribution, and to explore the usefulness of pluralism and the possibility or necessity of theory integration.
Keywords: stakeholder theory, pluralism, theoretical foundation, business and society, corporate social responsibility
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