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Social ontology and the modern corporation

Veldman, J. & Willmott, H. (2017). Social ontology and the modern corporation. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 41(5), pp. 1489-1504. doi: 10.1093/cje/bex043


In an assessment of Lawson’s social ontological analysis of the modern corporation, we consider what is marginalized: the significance of the status and the effects of the separate legal entity (SLE). The SLE is conceived as a specific type of construct that is ascribed particular properties through its stabilization within and between different (legal and economic) discourses. By showing how the SLE, as a reified construct, is rendered meaningful, real and/or consequential, we illustrate how the ‘social ontology’ of the modern corporation is radically contingent and inescapably contested. Given that the social ontology of the corporation defies definitive specification, we regard the prospect of the completeness of its disclosure (e.g. by foregrounding a specific referent) as problematic. Indeed, any account of social ontology that foregrounds a specific referent is seen to obscure a political process in which the stabilization of the SLE rests on the contingent foregrounding of particular priorities. This leads us to reflect on the power-inflected social organization of knowledge generation. Key to the explication of social ontology, and with specific reference to the corporation, is not, as Lawson contends, the concept of ‘community’ but the inescapability of contestation within relations of power that translate ontological openness into specific but precarious forms of ontic closure.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Cambridge Journal of Economics following peer review. The version of record Jeroen Veldman, Hugh Willmott; Social ontology and the modern corporation, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 41, Issue 5, 1 August 2017, Pages 1489–1504 is available online at:
Publisher Keywords: Corporation, Corporate governance, Industrial relations, Board, Management, Board duties, Shareholder primacy, Corporate reform, Corporate architecture, Social ontology, Organization theory, Political economy
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
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