Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp 285–298 | Cite as

Stakeholder: Essentially Contested or Just Confused?

  • Samantha Miles


The concept of the ‘stakeholder’ has become central to business, yet there is no common consensus as to what the concept of a stakeholder means, with hundreds of different published definitions suggested. Whilst every concept is liable to be contested, for stakeholder research, this is problematic for both theoretical and empirical analysis. This article explores whether this lack of consensus is conceptual confusion, which would benefit from further debate to try to reach a higher degree of elucidation, or whether the stakeholder concept is essentially contested, rendering the quest to seek a singular definition unfeasible. The theory of essentially contested concepts was proposed by Gallie (Proc Aristot Soc 56:167–198, 1956). The seven criteria Gallie prescribes for evaluating essentially contested concepts are applied to the stakeholder concept. The analysis suggests that this concept is an essentially contested concept and this explains the degree of definitional variation.


Stakeholder Stakeholder definitions Essentially contested concepts 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Business SchoolOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK

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