Political Theory of the Business Corporation


Chi Kwok (University of Utrecht); c.kwok@uu.nl

Rutger Claasen (University of Utrecht)

Tully Rector (University of Utrecht); t.f.rector@uu.nl

All Times are British Summer Time (BST)

September 7

1200 – 1730 – Session 1 : Economic Value, Capital, and the Corporation

1200-1230 – Opening and Welcome

1230-1330 – “Inventing the Multi-Capital Corporation: A Philosophical Assessment” – Rutger Claassen (Utrecht University) & Tully Rector (Utrecht University)

1330-1345 – Short Break

1345-1445 – “Advocacy, Multinational Corporations, and Cosmopolitan Sentiment” –Tadhg Ó Laoghaire (University of Gothenburg)

1445-1515 – Snack Break

1515-1615 – “The Semi-Sovereign Corporation in the Liberal State: Self-Colonization and Liberation” – Daniel J. Greenwood (Hofstra University)

1615-1630 – Short Break

1630-1730 – “The Good Jobs Approach: Business Ethics in a Winner-Take-All Economy” – Joshua Preiss (Minnesota State University)

September 8

1200 – 1730 – Session 2 : Democracy, Hierarchy, and the Corporation

1200-1230 – Optional Informal Pre-meeting

1230-1330 – “The Corporation as a Social Fact and a Social Group” – Joseph Conrad (University of Edinburgh)

1330-1345 – Short Break

1345-1445 – “Deliberative Democracy, Constitutionalism and Corporations” – Sandrine Blanc (INSEEC Grance Ecole)

1445-1515 – Snack Break

1515-1615 – “Relational Egalitarianism, Institutionalism, and Workplace Hierarchy” – Brian Berkey (University of Pennsylvania)

1615-1630 – Short Break

1630-1730 – “The Democratic Anatomy of Corporate Rights” – Katharine Jackson (University of Dayton)

September 9

1200 – 1730 – Session 3 : Corporate Power, Corporate Law, and Conflicts

1200-1230 – Optional Informal Pre-meeting

1230-1330 – “How Law Can Establish the Corporation as a Political Actor: An Analysis of French Recent Legal Reforms” – Blanche Segrestin (PSL University), Armand Hatchuel (PSL University) & Kevin Levillain (PSL University).

1330-1345 – Short Break

1345-1445 – “Harmony or Hostility? On Unions and the Concept of Conflict in Corporate Law” – Philipp Stehr (Utrecht University) & Chi Kwok (Utrecht University & Lingnan University)

1445-1515 – Snack Break

1515-1615 – “The Restructuring of Sovereignty by Global Business Firms and the Constitutional Deficit” – Jean-Philippe Robé (Science Po)

1615-1630 – Short Break

1630-1730 – “How Does Business Power Operate? A Framework for Its Working Mechanisms” – Milan Babic (Maastricht University), Jouke Huijzer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Javier Garcia-Bernardo (Universiteit van Amsterdam) & Diliara Valeeva (KU Leuven)

As the power of large business corporations like Google, Walmart, and Shell increasingly appears to threaten liberal democracy, political theorists have begun to theorize the role of the business firm in democratic societies. This recent work reflects a wide range of questions and approaches. For example, Elizabeth Anderson (2017) has conceptualized business corporations as “private governments” exercising unreasonable political power. David Ciepley (2013) argues that business corporations are franchise governments that cannot be engendered though contract, but only through acts of concession by the state. Abraham Singer (2019) argues that the firm exists because of market inefficiencies, hence political theorists must take the efficiency-functions of the firm seriously.

Despite the burgeoning literature in the political theory of the business corporation, many important questions remain to be addressed. For example, the social ontology of the firm is contested. Is it a political creation for the state to achieve certain public purposes? Or should it be understood as a “nexus of contracts” between private individuals? What kinds of power do corporations exercise, and can philosophical theories of power best account for them?
What, if anything, legitimates their exercise? How does the corporation fit into existing political theories, such as liberalism, republicanism, socialism and libertarianism? What constitutes just and unjust, democratic and undemocratic corporate governance structures? Should we have workplace democracy? Do corporations have obligations to protect human rights? Given that multinational corporations are global political actors, how should we theorize, and regulate, their specific form of power?

This workshop aims to facilitate dialogue among political theorists working on business corporations. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Philosophical theories of power and their applications to the business corporation.
  • Theories of legitimacy, democracy and justice, and their implications for the business corporation.
  • The business corporation in political theories, such as liberalism, republicanism, socialism and libertarianism.
  • The social ontology of the business corporation.
  • Corporate governance, workplace democracy, and workplace republicanism.
  • Globalization, multinational corporations, and global justice.
  • Human rights and business corporations.

We strongly encourage contributions addressing hitherto neglected topics, or that address established interpretations and arguments from a different angle. Abstracts should be 500-1000 words, prepared for blind review. Please send your abstract and
contact details to corpoerc@gmail.com, by 7 th May, 2021. Decision will be made by 24 th May, allowing graduate students who have been accepted to apply to the organizers for a bursary (the deadline for which is 15 th June).

Upon acceptance, we will ask all speakers to pre-circulate their papers amongst participants
two weeks before the workshop (24 th August, 2021). We will allocate around 60 minutes to
each paper, with presentations of 15 minutes and 45 minutes of Q&A.

Registration for the conference opens in May. All participants must register to attend.

This year’s fees are:
Academics: £45
Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20
Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Chi Kwok (c.kwok@uu.nl) or Tully Rector (t.f.rector@uu.nl).

Deadline for abstracts: 7 th May, 2021
Notification of acceptance: 24 th May, 2021
Deadline for bursary applications: 15 th June, 2021
Notification of bursary application results: 22 nd June, 2021