Stakeholder theory is a “weak” theory, which suffers from a number of flaws. This article is based on the intuition that many of these problems are linked together, and that they are fundamentally due to the fact that stakeholder theory fails to appreciate the place of civil society as a stakeholder. It starts with an examination of the confusing status of society in stakeholder theory, and suggests that civil society should be on top of the stakeholder list. It then underlines the emergence of a global society, distinct from national societies. An extended classification system is presented, which comprises a binary categorization, an intermediate taxonomy, and a developed typology; this system is illustrated in the form of a mapping. The article then addresses the issue of the theory’s normative underpinnings: the concept of social cohesion is proposed as an alternative justification. The meaning of this concept is specified, and its relevance as a normative foundation is justified. Eventually, this reinterpretation of stakeholder theory, which emphasizes the importance of civil society and social cohesion, provides some rationales for the connection of its empirical and normative streams – thus rendering it more consistent and more robust.
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