Old Wine in New Bottles? Parentalism, Power, and Its Legitimacy in Business–Society Relations

  • Helen Etchanchu
  • Marie-Laure Djelic
Original Paper


This article proposes a theoretical re-conceptualization of power dynamics and their legitimation in contemporary business–society relations using the prism and metaphor of parentalism. The paper develops a typology of forms of parentalism along two structuring dimensions: care and control. Specifically, four ideal-types of parentalism are introduced with their associated practices and power-legitimation mechanisms. As we consider current private governance and authority through this analytical framework, we are able to provide a new perspective on the nature of the moral legitimation of power dynamics in contemporary business–society relations. And we weave the threads between this conceptual frame and historical antecedents, suggesting that business ethicists need to revive old debates on paternalism in light of the current pervasive trend of modernized and subtler forms of parentalism. Implications for business ethics and political CSR are discussed.


Parentalism Nudge Power Private governance Political CSR MSI 



We would like to thank the editor, Antonino Vaccaro, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments during the revision process. We would also like to acknowledge Professors Jan Lepoutre and Jeremy Moon, as well as participants in workshops at Cass and ESSEC Business School, the Society for Business Ethics and the GRONEN reading Group for their input on previous versions of this manuscript. Helen Etchanchu is member of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Chair, which is part of LabEx Entrepreneurship (University of Montpellier, France) and funded by the French government (Labex Entreprendre, ANR-10-Labex-11-01).


This study was partially funded by Institut Francilien de Recherche sur l’Innovation en Société (IFRIS), Domaine d’Intérêt Majeur Innovation, Sciences, Technique, Société (DIM-IS²IT).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Entrepreneurship & Strategy DepartmentMontpellier Business SchoolMontpellier Cedex 4France
  2. 2.School of Management and InnovationSciencesPoParis Cedex 07France

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