Sub-theme 60: Stewardship as a Post-GFC Standard of Legitimacy

Walter P. Jarvis, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Miguel Pina e Cunha, Nova School of Business and Economics, Lisbon, Portugal
Stewart Clegg, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Call for Papers

Stewardship, as the responsible power to guide behaviour, is well founded as a critical element of organizational control. We believe it is time to reinvigorate it’s meaning and invest in its relevance for organizational behaviour. We propose renovating the construct of Stewardship as a timely, rallying, normative standard for enterprises and practitioners. Such a renovation would including restoring the central place afforded human values, such as respect for human dignity (Kant, 1784/2006; Dworkin, 2011) while extending the dedication to safe-guarding "the commons", as for example, in the UN principles of sustainable development (UN Compact, 2012). We envisage Stewardship as both a personal and organizational normative standard. Essential to that restoration would be research investment in understanding institutional conditions that foster dedication to what constitutes public wellbeing (Selznick, 2012).

The theme of the 2015 EGOS Colloquium presents a timely opportunity to reflect on organizational studies and practice – specifically in light of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). This sub-theme reconceptualises the place of Stewardship as an organizational and personal standard of public trust. Our ambition is to investigate possible synergistic benefits in making public commitments to such a standard on both national and a global scale.

While the concept of Stewardship has mixed origins and while over the last couple of decades it has gained reasonable traction in terms of sustainability the concept has not been translated for broader organizational or professional management purposes. A prominent exception is Peter Block's pioneering "Stewardship" (Block, 2013). In posing this sub-theme we seek to facilitate a dialogue exploring and assessing the merit of Stewardship for both organizational and personal purposes. At the enterprise level Stewardship would relate to practices around the use of natural resources but equally the salience of human wellbeing in those practices – both immediate and intergenerational (Elias, 1990/2011). We envisage equivalent concerns for individual practice – not least for those engaged in managing and leading within enterprises.

There has been considerable empirical work over the last decade exploring the merit of phronesis/practical wisdom (Flyvbjerg, 2001; Clegg & Pitsis, 2013). Further insights can be gleaned through work on cultivating moral judgement and accountability – notably via Kant's moral anthropology (Jarvis, 2009; 2011). Similarly, Rego, Cunha and Clegg (2012) have drawn together works under the rubric of the Virtues of Leadership. At the same time major inroads have been made into governance and sustainability (Benn, 2007).

While each of these perspectives can be seen as advancing aspects of Flyvbjerg's restoration of phronesis (practical wisdom) in organizational practices, we suggest that these various perspectives might be more influential if firstly recognized as parts of a larger related construction, and secondly, when clearly and openly professed. We are proposing Stewardship as a robust frame housing what might enhance and galvanize relevant perspectives – phronesis, Kant's moral anthropology, virtues of leadership and public accountability. Credibility demands that publicly professed dedication however would be needed at personal and institutional levels.

The following are some of the questions that could be addressed:

  • From a power perspective, how does Stewardship focus organizational attention on broader and temporal (intra and inter generational) consequences – irrespective of sector, maturity and scale of the enterprise?
  • Beyond serving as a framework to merely accommodate diverse perspectives how does Stewardship serve as a powerful action-guiding principle – for both individuals and organizations?
  • How might different philosophical approaches develop self-regulating maxims or standards for public accountability?
  • What is the role of specific forms of profession-like judgement and knowledge in facilitating or hindering public accountability?
  • What are the connections between Stewardship and various positions in organization theory and moral anthropology?
  • In what ways can the notion of Stewardship be a rallying focus for human dignity (Dworkin, 2011)?
  • Where do other species fit in to the picture of Stewardship? What are the organizational implications of existing practices of husbandry and slaughter? What obligations are owed not only to others, but also other species?

Accordingly we seek to create an opportunity for dialogue on interpretations and translations of Stewardship as a profession-like standard in the public interest. Such a standard would help to reinforce the essential context that all enterprises are embedded in society (Polanyi, 1944) and thus serve public wellbeing. In the wake of the GFC Stewardship may prove to be a rallying standard that helps to restore much needed dedication. Offsetting justifiable public scepticism of such a normative commitment is the kind of legitimacy challenge this post GFC generation of practitioners and educators alike need and, we sense, would welcome.




  • Block, P. (2013): Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  • Clegg, S.R., & Pitsis, T.S. (2012): "Phronesis, projects and power research." In: B. Flyvbjerg, T. Landman & S. Schram (eds.): Real Social Science. Oxford University Press, pp. 66–91.
  • Dworkin, R. (2011): Justice for Hedgehogs. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.
  • Flyvbjerg, B. (2001): Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jarvis, W.P. (2009): Moral Accountability in the MBA: A Kantian Response to a Public Problem. Sydney: University of Technology.
  • Jarvis, W.P. (2011): "Restoring public trust in the MBA: A road-tested Kantian approach." In: W. Aman (ed.): Business Schools Under Fire: Humanistic Management as the Way Forward. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 147–170.
  • Kant, I. (1874): Answer the Question: What is enlightment?
  • Rego, A., Cunha, M.P., & Clegg, S. (2012): The Virtues of Leadership. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Selznick, P.A. (2008): Humanist Science: Values and Ideals in Social Inquiry. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Walter P. Jarvis is is an early career researcher-educator in Management & Organisation Studies at the University of Technology Business School, Sydney, Australia. After extensive international experience as a senior executive he changed career paths to academic life. His research interests include pedagogy for cultivating profession-like judgement, philosophical hermeneutics and philosophy in organising. He serves as an advocate for the role of graduate attributes in curriculum design, while also researching and writing on German Mittlestand & Mitbestimmung (co-determination) and phronesis-praxis as valued sources of learning in directing management education and practice. He was a co-author of a recent paper: S.R. Clegg, W.P. Jarvis & T.S.Pitsis (2013): "Making strategy matter: Social theory, knowledge interests and business education." Business History, 55 (7), 1247–1264.
Miguel Pina e Cunha is Professor of Organization Studies at Nova School of Business and Economics, Lisbon, Portugal. He received his PhD from Tilburg University, The Netherlands. His research has been published in journals such as the 'Academy of Management Review', 'Applied Psychology: An International Review', 'Human Relations', 'Journal of Applied Behavioral Science', 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Organization', and 'Organization Studies', among others. He published or edited several books, including "Organizational Improvisation" (co-edited with K. Kamoche & J.V. Cunha, Routledge, 2002), "Creating Balance? International Perspectives on the Work-life Integration of Professionals" (co-edited with S. Kaiser, M.J. Ringlstetter & D.R. Eikhof, Springer, 2011) and "The Virtues of Leadership: Contemporary Challenge for Global Managers" (with A. Rego & S. Clegg, Oxford University Press, 2012).
Stewart Clegg is Professor at the University of Technology (UTS) Business School, Sydney, Australia, and Research Director of CMOS (Centre for Management and Organisation Studies) Research at UTS. He holds a small number of Visiting Professorships at prestigious European universities and research centres. Stewart is a well known organization theorist and social scientist; he is one of the most published and cited authors in the top-tier journals in the Organization Studies field. He was recently awarded the degree of D. Litt for career contributions. Stewart is a past Editor-in-Chief of 'Organization Studies'.