Corporate Power and Responsible Capitalism?

Corporate Power and Responsible Capitalism?

Towards Social Accountability

Bryn Jones

In this important book, Bryn Jones uses insights from political economy, historical analysis and sociological concepts of the corporation, as a socially disembedded but political actor, to address concerns over the over-reach of Anglo-Saxon corporations. These firms are compared with their continental European and East Asian counterparts, both in their social and economic functions and their institutional structures. Jones then draws on alternative models proposed by advocates of CSR, cooperative enterprise and corporate democratisation, to argue for key reforms for corporations’ greater social accountability.

Chapter 2: The ‘Anglo-Saxon’ business corporation: anatomy and evolution

Bryn Jones

Subjects: business and management, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, international business, organisation studies, economics and finance, corporate governance, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory

Extract

Critics often liken corporations to grotesque life forms: ‘monsters’, ‘predators’, ‘behemoths’ – dinosaurs even. Such analogies suggest key evolutionary phases when their distinctive features mutated. So, what specific traits have corporations developed that assured their alien separation from most of the rest of society? More particularly how did these features help make corporations seemingly so ‘disembedded’ from, yet also dominant over, society? To survive and function all social institutions require an element of autonomy. Yet most, if not all, are intimately enmeshed in, and subject to other social relationships. The one institution widely regarded as towering over and separated from the rest of society is the autonomous state. Otherwise, as with the structure and functioning of the contemporary family for example, institutions are subjected to pressure and change from cultural, economic and political forces. Even if its critics are only partially correct, the typical contemporary business corporation has acquired both economic dominance and substantial independence from social forces. As Polanyi’s thesis, described in the Introduction, holds, released from its social bonds the disembedded enterprise has the potential to devour the institutions to which it was originally tied. Radical perspectives, such as Marxism, proffer automatic answers to this question: equating corporate supremacy with the necessary dominance and hegemony of capitalist interests. But this equation doesn’t, by itself, explain why one particular form of business organisation comes to dominate all others.

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