"Creatures of the State": Metaphor and Personhood in Legitimizing the American Corporation
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Knight, Carly R.
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CitationKnight, Carly R. 2018. "Creatures of the State": Metaphor and Personhood in Legitimizing the American Corporation. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHow did corporations become seen as natural market actors? When large, bureaucratic business organizations first began to consolidate in the 19th century, corporations were still largely considered “creatures of the state”—unnatural social organizations which, rather than being endowed with “natural rights,” were instead extended a series of revocable privileges by legislative fiat. Likened to monsters rather than men, only gradually did corporations become seen as natural market actors. In this dissertation, I trace the naturalization of corporations both in legal theory and in public media discourse. Contra institutional theories that posit corporate naturalization as automatically following on the heels of legal change, I focus on the role of language, metaphor, and moral discourse in naturalizing and legitimating growing corporate power. I show how legal theorists and politician increasingly conceptualized corporations as moral agents, and inadvertently symbolically severed corporations from the state. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the metaphor of the corporation as like a person continues to operate today: personifying corporations in speech—treating these collective institutions as moral agents and endowing them with mental states—has the power to alter our moral intuitions regarding corporate wrongdoing.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121208
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