Corporate Subjects: An Intellectual History of the Corporation

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Abstract

The corporation is arguably the central subject of contemporary capitalism. Contrary to popular belief and economic textbooks, economic activity in contemporary capitalism is not dominated by individuals, but by firms, companies and corporations. Central for this functioning is the corporate form, which gives a collective the right to own property, to be an object and subject of law, to be a legal or fictitious person or subject. In short: to act as an individual. This paper argues that in order for the corporation to function in capitalism, it has been equated to and configurated as a person, as an individual, and as a subject. This personification, individualization and subjectivation goes beyond its rights and privileges as a juridical person, but has throughout the history of capitalism endowed the corporation with a number of duties, privileges and rights. As such, there is a contradiction in conventional economic thinking, which equates firm action with individual action (theory of the firm), which cannot explain the existence, dominance and political influence of corporations. Corporations today account for a dominant percentage of the world’s top 100 economies, responsible for the majority of global carbon emissions, increasingly politically influential, taking over more and more aspects of governance, and continue to be the driving force of value extraction and spreading of capitalism around the world. Consequently, critical scholarship on the corporation and the corporate form has sprouted in recent years within a number of different disciplines such as history, geography, legal studies, sociology, political science, and even Marxist studies. However, this paper argues, we need to understand how the corporation has been, and is continually being, constituted as constructed as a subject with particular rights (property, legal personality), privileges (limited liability, entity shielding, immortality) and duties (responsibility, fiduciary obligations, accountability, publicity).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventCapital, Crisis, Climate: The Sixth Annual Conference of the Society for Marxist Studies - Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark
Duration: 1 Feb 20212 Feb 2021

Conference

ConferenceCapital, Crisis, Climate
LocationAalborg Universitet
CountryDenmark
CityAalborg
Period01/02/202102/02/2021

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