When democratic principles are not enough: Tensions and temporalities of dialogic stakeholder engagement

Emilio Passetti, Lara Bianchi, Massimo Battaglia, Marco Frey

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Stakeholder engagement and dialogue have a central role in defining the relations between organisations and their internal and external interlocutors. Drawing upon the analysis of dialogic motifs, power-conflict dynamics and socio-political perspectives, and based on a set of interviews with the stakeholders of a consumer-owned co-operative, the research explores the dialogic potential of stakeholder engagement. The analysis revealed a fragmented picture where the co-design and co-implementation aspects were mainly related to the non-business areas of co-operative life, while business logic dominated the most central aspects. Stakeholder engagement was mainly related to consensus building, while dialogic engagement based on a pluralistic understanding was only partially considered and then neglected. The social capital in the local area, the growing size of the organisation and the related power structure embrace stakeholder engagement, influencing the orientation of the (un)dialogic dynamic. The analysis indicates that a dialogic exchange is a relative concept which depends on the interests involved and the topics discussed. It also reveals that the key factors in the democratisation of stakeholder engagement are a mutual understanding and long-term opportunities. Common sociopolitical aspects are also important, but they do not necessarily guarantee the creation of dialogism paths. The research contributes to the critical dialogic literature in revealing whether and how stakeholder engagement has been implemented in a specific setting. It also shows the limitations of voluntarist stakeholder engagement initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-190
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date14 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


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