Critical management studies and stakeholder theory: possibilities for a critical stakeholder theory

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Despite being labeled as fearfully radical in its early days, stakeholder theory has grown up to be remarkably conservative. Depicted in its early days as being anti-managerial (an attempt to socialise business), it is increasing criticized as being managerialist (a vehicle for capitalist control and managerial opportunism). Indeed, in the intervening decades, the versions of stakeholder theory that have gained greatest purchase have been the most transactional, the most strategic, the most managerialist. Notwithstanding this history, we would argue, the seeds of transformation remain dormant in stakeholder theory waiting to be ignited. To this end we embark on an unusual endeavor, to develop critical stakeholder theory. We will engage the proposition that stakeholder theory can be made more meaningful if examined through a critical lens. For purposes of our analysis we draw explicitly on the scholarly oeuvre of critical management studies (CMS). We are not the first to be critical of stakeholder theory from this perspective, but we believe we are the first to invoke this critique to make stakeholder theory better rather than dismiss or destroy it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Stakeholder Theory
EditorsJeffrey S. Harrison, Jay B. Barney, R. Edward Freeman, Robert A. Phillips
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781108123495
ISBN (Print)9781107191464, 9781316642047
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • critical management studies
  • stakeholder theory
  • Feminism
  • Postcolonial theory
  • subjectivity

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