CfP: Intellectual Histories of the Corporation
○ Workshop 7-8 December 2023
○ Department of Business Humanities and Law, Copenhagen Business School
○ Deadline for abstracts (300-500 words): 1 September 2023.
The research project Corporate Subjects: An Intellectual History of the Corporation, based at Copenhagen Business School, hosts a workshop in December 2023 exploring intellectual histories of the corporation. The workshop is aimed at working towards the publication of an edited volume or special issue with a leading publisher.
In public discourse as well as academic debate, we are constantly confronted with the political and economic power and influence of corporations. Corporations account for a dominant percentage of the world’s largest economies, not to mention global CO2 emissions, just as corporations are influential in political campaigns, elections, data-extraction, surveillance, and are increasingly taking over tasks which we have come to associate with the sovereign state such as prisons, war, security, health, social services, space travel, etc. Corporations are routinely involved in scandals and crises, from the role of banks, credit rating agencies and financial institutions in the Financial Crisis of 2007-8 to the numerous whitewashing, tax evasion and tax fraud schemes uncovered in recent years which have significant consequences for national revenues and rising inequality. Corporations are at the same time seen as crucial to the functioning of the world economy, witnessed by the swift handing out of bailout- and aid-packages in the wake of the Financial Crisis, and most recently in the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it could seem that corporate lives matter more than those of natural human beings. Moreover, corporations are not only seen as the main agents of economic growth, but also of social development through the doctrines of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Corporate Citizenship, The UN Global Compact and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance)-investments, as well as the EU Green Deal and EU Taxonomy for environmentally sustainable activities.
Especially in the US, debate over corporations and their political status is abundant with corporations having been granted the constitutional rights of free speech and religious liberties in US Supreme Court Rulings in 2010 and 2014. Recently, US Republicans have become very critical of ESG-investments, terming it ‘woke capitalism’ exactly because of the introduction of political aims in economic and corporate governance, which they believe should serve purely ‘economic’ interests.
Corporations thus occupy a paradoxical role in our current social and political order as both the (perceived) agents of growth, development and prosperity, as well as of inequality, poverty, whitewashing, tax evasion, climate crisis and environmental disasters. Recent developments have thus increasingly problematised the conception of the corporation as primarily an economic entity.
At the same time, critical scholarship on the corporation has sprouted in a number of disciplines where it has not earlier been a central focal point or a specific point of interest (of which the following is merely a selection): In history (Stern 2011; 2023), corporate law and legal history (Ireland 1996; 2010; Baars 2019), management and organization studies (Veldman 2013; Veldman and Willmott 2013); Geography (Barkan 2013), political theory (Ciepley 2013; Ferreras 2017; Singer 2019), and in two handbooks on the corporation published by Cambridge and Oxford University Press respectively (Baars and Spicer 2017; O’Brien, O’Kelley, and Clarke 2019). There is, in other words, an increasing interest in the corporation from disciplines other than economics and traditional corporate law, to which it has traditionally belonged.
A common trait in this literature is the ambition to understand the corporation not as an economic, but primarily as an historical, political and governmental entity. This workshop aims to contribute to this literature from the perspective of intellectual history in order to analyse and understand how the corporation is and has been understood, thought, legitimized and how the contestations over its nature, meaning and role has been the subject of struggle, fight and (re-)definitions.
“Intellectual history” is here understood broadly as the study of the history and actuality of human thought, of ideas and intellectual patterns and developments over time and of intellectuals (understood as people who conceptualize, discuss, write about, concern themselves with, and fight and struggle over ideas) (Gordon 2012). Intellectual history as understood here is concerned with thought not only as a way to understand and grasp the world, but as a way to act in it, focusing on ideas, concepts and thought both understood as thought and intellectual practice in itself, but also very centrally as a practice that is hindered, rationalised, made possible, structured, limited, (de-)legimitized and made legible by thought (Thorup 2012). It is important to stress that intellectual history in this sense is not only interested in uncovering the past, but also the present.
The workshop is interested in bringing together a wide variety of contributions on the intellectual history of the corporation, meaning the intellectual history of ‘corporation’ itself has been thought, conceptualized, (attempted) legitimized, and the meaning of the concept or idea has changed over time and has been, and is presently, used for a number of different political projects.