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Systemic unreason: A psychic history of states and corporations

Samman, A. ORCID: 0000-0003-4721-4877 & Palan, R. (2022). Systemic unreason: A psychic history of states and corporations. Global Society, 37(3), pp. 336-353. doi: 10.1080/13600826.2022.2113040


The history of capitalism has long been told as a story of structural laws and behavioural axioms. According to this view, the world is rationally ordered but occasionally falls into disarray, typically as part of a transition to some new integral state. In this essay, we sketch a alternative theory of order and change that instead foregrounds the path-shaping power of the fictive and the irrational. Our key claim is that any collective body or institution is underwritten by psychological investment in a foundational delusion and that this cuts two ways. Visions of wholeness and narratives of closure are what bind individuals to institutions, reproducing patterns of behaviour and thereby lending stability to the interactions that structure world affairs, yet these same fictions sometimes set disruptive processes into motion. Order and change can therefore be understood in terms of a grand historical psychodrama, wherein the mythical origins and shared hallucinations associated with modernity’s key institutions continually return to haunt and reshape the logics of the so-called world system. We illustrate the argument via a brief psycho-historical narrative covering the emergence of the sovereign state, the birth of the modern corporation, and their ongoing adjustment and adaptation to one another.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Publisher Keywords: Libidinal economy, evolutionary institutionalism, narrative closure, states, corporations
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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