Against agency: A positional critique

Ismail Erturk, Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal, Adam Leaver, Karel Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper uses the changing historical and theoretical frames within which management pay and investor claims are considered to provide a critique of the functionalist approach of agency and to develop an alternative, positional explanation of rewards. The first part of the paper draws on the contrast between the pre-1940 critique of the rentier and the post-1980 discursive construction of the shareholder to raise important contemporary questions about position and reward. The second part develops the idea of positional rewards to challenge agency assumptions by arguing that both giant firm managers and the less visible, though larger, group of intermediaries use their position to skim value. In contrast, the experience of position is more mixed for shareholders, who are generally passive value surfers. The final section of the paper argues that a renewed emphasis on position will enable a problem shift from value creation to value capture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-77
Number of pages26
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007


  • Agency theory
  • Economic value
  • Intermediaries
  • Management pay
  • Position
  • Shareholders


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