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Political Stakeholder Theory: The State, Legitimacy, and the Ethics of Microfinance in Emerging Economies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2016

Tricia D. Olsen*
University of Denver


How does the state influence stakeholder legitimacy? And how does this process affect an industry’s ethical challenges? Stakeholder theory adopts a forward-looking perspective and seeks to understand how managers can address stakeholders’ claims to improve the firm’s ability to create value. Yet, existing work does not adequately address the role of the state in defining the stakeholder universe nor the implications this may have for subsequent ethical challenges managers face. This article develops a political stakeholder theory (political ST) by weaving together the political economy, stakeholder theory, and legitimacy literatures. Political ST shows how state policies influence stakeholder legitimacy and, in turn, affect an industry’s ethical challenges. This article integrates the concept of agonism to address the perennial tension between markets and states and its implications for firms and their managers. Political ST is then applied to the case of microfinance, followed by a discussion of the contributions of this approach.

Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 2016 

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