Impact and Prospects
Edited by Robert A. Phillips
Chapter 1: Bounding the World’s Miseries: Corporate Responsibility and Freeman’s Stakeholder Theory
1. Bounding the world’s miseries: corporate responsibility and Freeman’s stakeholder theory Heather Elms, Michael E. Johnson-Cramer and Shawn L. Berman Both academic and popular discussions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) commonly reference stakeholder theory as a foundational perspective. In doing so, many specifically cite R. Edward Freeman’s (1984) book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Much of this referential work, however, neglects Freeman’s critical analysis therein of the relationship between stakeholder theory and then-prevalent notions of CSR. Moreover, in his 1984 contribution and elsewhere, Freeman sets out a theoretical foundation that, though far-reaching, remains acutely aware of its boundary conditions. Many stakeholder theorists subsequently trying to build on Freeman’s foundation remain similarly circumspect and go to great lengths to delimit stakeholder theory in important ways, paying careful attention to ‘what stakeholder theory is not’ (for example, Phillips, Freeman and Wicks, 2003). At all turns, these theorists contend that Freeman’s stakeholder theory is not ‘a basket big enough to hold the world’s miseries’ (Clarkson, 1994: 9). To date, though, the boundaries between stakeholder research and CSR remain relatively uncharted. Using an empirical analysis of citations of Freeman (1984) as a foundation for CSR in the academic literature as a starting point, we explore these boundaries and identify the benefits of both establishing and crossing them. FREEMAN’S STAKEHOLDER THEORY AND CSR Freeman’s stakeholder theory has always been an explicitly strategic one (see also Harrison, this volume). Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach – his first comprehensive formulation of the theory (1984) – was written as a...
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