[PAST EVENT] Anthropology Brown Bag: "The Corporation and the Corporate Form"
Many Americans today are concerned about the power of corporations. How can it be, they ask, that tremendous multinational corporations like ExxonMobil are treated as individuals? When seeking answers to such questions, people most often look to the fields of economics and law. But better answers require the perspective of anthropology. The first corporations arose before laws were codified, and corporate entities generally serve multiple functions in addition to economic ones. Corporate bodies have appeared in the course of history in widely disparate places. The corporate form is thus the heritage of many different societies. Diverse types of the corporation elaborate a common, underlying social pattern I will describe. The pattern consists of cultural conventions of action, thought, language, and material culture that individuals in many (but not all) societies learn interactively from others around them while growing up, becoming habits deeply ingrained. This pattern concentrates power as part of allowing for collective agency. It is the indispensable substratum on which the legal and economic functioning of modern corporations depends.
Ira Bashkow teaches cultural anthropology at the University of Virginia. His award-winning book The Meaning of Whitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World explores the entanglement of ideas of race with development and modernity in Papua New Guinea. His essays on the history of anthropology have been published in American Anthropologist, Histories of Anthropology Annual, History of Anthropology Review, and TLS: The Times Literary Supplement. Bashkow is currently writing a book tentatively titled The Corporate Form: History, Culture, Capital.