Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture

Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture

Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture

Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture


Why and how has the business corporation come to exert such a powerful influence on American society? The essays here take up this question, offering a fresh perspective on the ways in which the business corporation has assumed an enduring place in the modern capitalist economy, and how it hasaffected American society, culture and politics over the past two centuries. The authors challenge standard assumptions about the business corporation's emergence and performance in the United States over the past two centuries. Reviewing in depth the different theoretical and historiographical traditions that have treated the corporation, the volume seeks a new departurethat can more fully explain this crucial institution of capitalism. Rejecting assertions that the corporation is dead, the essays show that in fact it has survived and even thrived down to the present in part because of the ways in which it has related to its social, political and culturalenvironmental. In doing so, the book breaks with older explanations ground in technology and economics, and treats the corporation for the first time as a fully social institution. Drawing on a variety of social theories and approaches, the essays help to point the way toward future studies of thispowerful and enduring institution, offering a new periodization and a new set of question for scholars to explore. The range of essays engages the legal and political position of the corporation, the ways in which the corporation has been shaped by and shaped American culture, the controversies overcorporate regulation and corporate power, and the efforts of minority and disadvantaged groups to gain access to the resources and opportunities that corporations control.



The corporation invokes strong associations — profit, efficiency, technology. It also conjures up a number of anxieties — about bureaucracy, economic power, insularity. For more than a century, the corporation has been the preeminent economic institution in the world's capitalist economies. It is the instrument used by most entrepreneurs and managers to marshal the resources needed to do business: the capital, the technology, the workers. Through the corporation, businesspeople market products, forge contracts with suppliers, and enter into strategic alliances with other firms. When successful, corporations are the wellspring of economic growth. Along with the market itself, the modern corporation has become the quintessential institution of capitalism.

Although business can take and has taken many forms, the corporation remains the most common way business is organized. This is especially so in the United States, which pioneered the modern managerial corporation. More economic activity in the United States is conducted under the corporate form than under alternatives such as sole proprietorships and partnerships. Although popular opinion has long been critical of traditional large firms and recently has celebrated small enterprise, the fact remains that large corporations continue to employ the majority of workers and earn the majority of profits in most sectors. Indeed, one of the most striking facts about the American economy is how important and powerful large-scale corporations remain. Through downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, acquisitions, re-engineering, and refocusing, big businesses were expected to become leaner, meaner, and more profitable. Many analysts predicted that bureaucratically organized business would be eclipsed by networks, alliances, entrepreneurial firms, and individual initiatives.

There is little doubt that corporations have changed substantially. But they have not disappeared. Indeed, many have thrived and expanded their global reach. In 1998, U.S. corporations garnered 73 percent of total business incomea modest 6 percent decrease on what they earned in 1980. The largest of the . . .

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