Ed Freeman

5 Challenges to Stakeholder Theory

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The purpose of this exploratory paper is to set forth five challenges to the line of research that has come to be known as stakeholder theory. Each challenge can be seen as a call for a shift in the main research currents in contemporary management theory. The challenges are philosophically based in a pragmatism that views management theory as more of a creative art than so-called “normal science”. The first challenge suggests that we need a new way to think about accounting, if businesses create value for stakeholders in addition to investors. The second challenge takes on the question of how to talk about the total performance of a business, if one believes (as stakeholder theory suggests) that profitability does not measure total performance. The third challenge argues that we need a more realistic view of stakeholder behavior and calls for a behavioral stakeholder theory. The fourth challenge explores the implications of stakeholder theory for public policy. The final challenge suggests that we need a radical rethinking of business ethics, ethical theory, and the way that we conceptualize human beings in business theory.