Aldo Matteucci   02 Nov 2012   Looking Sideways

Printer Friendly and PDF

Jovan has wondered whether my use of the term “multi-stakerism” signified a hidden agenda. In fact, any –ism being what it is, a mouthful, one can’t decently write about “multi-stakeholder-ism” without splattering everyone is sight with intellectual food crumbs. Even a jaded theorist might come down from on high of cloud-cuckoo land to mutter about misuse of language.

Jovan’s remark gives me the opportunity to revisit the concept of “stake-holder” and probe its silent assumptions.

“Stake-holders” have a “stake” – which implies that those who do not have a “stake” might be excluded. So the concept potentially is binary: it pits those who do hold a “stake” against those who don’t. Of course one may expand the boundary to the point where participation becomes universal, but that’s pushing the envelope until it breaks apart. For after the inclusion criterion has been exhausted there is the desert of subjectivity and arbitrariness until one reaches the shore of universality.

Where is the border defining the “stake”? Most would argue intuitively that “all those affected by the decision” might be entitled to join in accordance with the principle “no taxation without representation”.

By doing so one has replaced “collective intentionality” by the “brute fact” of cause and effect. This opens up participation to all sorts of beings who have no means of participating in “collective intentionality”  – simply because they have no intentionality, let alone a collective one.

The inanimate world is surely affected. Should it have a voice? Mmm… possibly my pet rock? What about the animate world? Animal lovers would argue that their pets should have a voice . I have not heard many complaints about the dastardly eradication of the smallpox virus, though the fate of the ghastly Guinea worm seems to raise some heckles . Beyond our inherent selectivity in deciding which animals are to be saved or left on the dustbin of history  there is the fundamental issue of formulation and representation of intentionality. As philosopher Thomas NAGEL aptly said: we do not know “how it feels to be a bat”  – let alone a stolid stone. We have no way of accessing the “goals and values” of inanimates or animates - we inevitably project our own values on them – sheer anthropomorphism. Adding insult to injury: who should speak from them? Here we get into the problem of representation – the “voice” just wraps itself in the mantel of self-righteousness and maternalism.

You feel it’s complicated? Just wait. Humans have the faculty to imagine the future. So we speak nowadays of the “rights of future generations”. Great, at least they are humans and potentially enjoy intentionality. Which time horizon? 50, 100, a thousand generations? How do we know their values and intentions, let alone how do we make trade-offs between future generations and their values – which have yet to be formed (and which we’ll be forming)? Tricky? It gets even trickier: do non-existent beings have the right to become existent? This is the question behind contraception. So presence of the “brute fact” of cause-effect is not a very good criterion. More problems are coming.

Democratic processes are based on the one-person-one-vote rule. Pragmatically one might justify the rule by indicating that the deliberative process involves innumerable collective intentionalities over extended periods of time. On balance the rules is a good approximation (though this opens up the Pandora’s box of instrumentally trading votes instrumental in a larger game of offsets and compromises ).

But we have left the world of multiple intentionalities for just one: we focus on just one kind of cause-effect. In this sectorial perspective some see their own survival at stake, others their own convenience – how to weigh their vote? Some may not be affected at all – except through the “principle of consistency” (aka as precedent): “like should be treated alike” is a fine criterion, until you put it into practice. The answer is not self-evident, and this is why sectorial discussions should eventually be legitimized by the overall democratic process.

“Stake” is a social construct, and hiding behind the brute reality on the ground won’t do. “Stake” is not in any sense objective, but the result of common intentionality as expressed in words and concepts. They may be changed at will. Humpty Dumpty put is quite well:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

So let’s be pragmatic.

This blog software is so lousy, it won't take footnotes. I've copied the in a revision, but it has deleted the footnote numbers. You match them...

The emphasis is on intentionality and the “collective” is subaltern. It’s put here to indicate the process by which the participants tackle the issue – by creating an informal/formal institution. So I’m skirting the thorny philosophical discussion whether intetionality may in principle be “collective” and different from a sum of intentionalities. See :

   See e.g. J. M. COETZEE (1999): The lives of animals. Princeton University Press, New Haven. Peter SINGER (2009): Animal liberation: the definitive classic of the animal liberation movement. Harper Perennial, New York; Gay A. BRADSHAW (2009): Elephants at the edge: what animals teach us about humanity. Yale University Press, New Haven. This is a site dedicated to saving the Guniea worm and other distasteful organisms. Is will soon be followed by the “save the avalanche” site, I presume.


   Thomas NAGEL (2012): Mortal Questions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

   Here an exemplary quote from the discussion: “Several of us have proposed various models of internet governance - and these models have all emphasized small, extremely limited, and clearly separated bodies, with extremely limited, if any, discretionary powers, each wrapped around exactly one highly and clearly defined internet governance issue.
That model of concise, tightly shrink-wrapped, and almost clerical bodies of governance would help eliminate the opportunity for a body to dance among the issues to leverage one issue against another to the tune played by whatever group of stakeholders has captured that body. We saw that happen with ICANN when it staved off insolvency some years ago by making an implicit pact with the address registries so that ICANN could have the cash to survive and assert its role over domain names.”

Leave a Reply

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • You may use [view:name=display=args] tags to display views.
CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.