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Christian May and Andreas Nölke

A ‘despotic’ idea of multinational corporations (MNCs) ‘ruling the world’ has been a common conception in international political economy (IPE) since the 1980s. However, once we investigate corporations more closely, we find that the view of absolute corporate power is exaggerated. Besides the problem of measuring power, some important limits to corporate power have emerged recently. These limits refer, firstly, to the significant costs of organizing transnational corporate structures. Secondly, financialization and shareholder value-oriented corporate governance heavily limits managerial autonomy. Thirdly, the rise of ‘pro-business’ economic policies and a general trend towards a more organized form of capitalism makes firms more dependent on public resources and gradually become quasi-public affairs. Such a ‘re-nationalization’ of business politics opens up new ways to think of the legitimacy and accountability of corporate power beyond the discussion of corporate social responsibility and towards a public (democratic) control of corporations. This chapter then sets the stage for the individual chapters with regard to the theme of corporate power.

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Edited by Andreas Nölke and Christian May

Over the past few decades, corporations have been neglected in studies of international political economy (IPE). Seeking to demystify them, what they are, how they behave and their goals and constraints, this Handbook introduces the corporation as a unit of analysis for students of IPE. Providing critical discussion of their global and domestic power, and highlighting the ways in which corporations interact with each other and with their socio-political environment, this Handbook presents a thorough and up-to-date overview of the main debates around the role of corporations in the global political economy.