Notes from Underground (Dostojevski) and Stakeholder Theory

Last week I was finally able to read Dostojevski’s ‘Notes from Underground’. It contains important considerations for scholars and practitioners interested in stakeholder theory, which is so popular in our society. The basic idea is that the private sector is primarily self-interested and that stakeholders like governmental organisations, NGO’s and civil society should be involved in the solution of the grand challenges of our time – climate change, poverty alleviation, obesity etc. – in order to balance economic (profit), social-cultural (people) and environmental (planet) interests in a better way. Dostojevski raises the fundamental question whether people and organizations are in the end self-interested at all: ‘man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one positively ought … One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be…, what man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead’. Notes from underground do not only raise questions with regard to the validity of popular distinctions between ‘self-interested’ and ‘common-interested’ or altruistic value frames etc. More important is that it raises the fundamental question whether people can primarily be understood in terms of their ‘stake’ or ‘interest’ at all. The big mistake of stakeholder theory is that the point of departure is exactly found in such a ‘stake’.


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