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date: 20 April 2024

Pathways in Stakeholder Researchlocked

Pathways in Stakeholder Researchlocked

  • Ronald K. Mitchell, Ronald K. MitchellJerry S. Rawls College of Business Administration, Texas Tech University
  • Bradley R. AgleBradley R. AgleMarriott School of Management, Brigham Young University
  •  and J. Robert MitchellJ. Robert MitchellCSU College of Business, Colorado State University


Stakeholder-focused research seeks to explain relationships among firms and stakeholders, using approaches that predominantly follow normative, instrumental, or descriptive pathways. Following circulation of the 1963 Stanford Memo and the 1984 publication of Freeman, the stakeholder perspective has become a sizable area of research in diverse fields, with growing influence in the business community as indicated in 2019 by the commitment of the US Business Roundtable to stakeholder principles. Still, the tendency to offer stakeholder theory as a replacement for neoclassical theories of the firm somewhat limits its adoption. An approach more likely to advance the trend toward an increasing stakeholder orientation is one of theory collaboration, in which researchers explore how self-interested action in the market system can be tempered by others-interested action. To this aim, the three stakeholder research pathways might be extended, as follows: (a) adding a moral and ethical leadership component to normative stakeholder theory research to move from a philosophy-centric literature toward one that better explains the how and why of normatively based actions toward stakeholders; (b) adopting a stakeholder-work-focused approach to instrumental stakeholder theory research to afford it the benefits of moral neutrality; and (c) returning the focus of descriptive stakeholder theory research to stakeholders as “natural persons,” as compared to corporations as “juristic persons.” With these extensions, scholars can encourage the ongoing reorientation in society toward the stakeholders of firms.


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