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