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Abstract

This article proposes a theoretical re-conceptualization of power dynamics and their legitimation in contemporary business–society relations using the prism and metaphor of parentalism. The paper develops a typology of forms of parentalism along two structuring dimensions: care and control. Specifically, four ideal-types of parentalism are introduced with their associated practices and power-legitimation mechanisms. As we consider current private governance and authority through this analytical framework, we are able to provide a new perspective on the nature of the moral legitimation of power dynamics in contemporary business–society relations. And we weave the threads between this conceptual frame and historical antecedents, suggesting that business ethicists need to revive old debates on paternalism in light of the current pervasive trend of modernized and subtler forms of parentalism. Implications for business ethics and political CSR are discussed.

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