Narrative, Myth and Morality in Corporate Legal Theory
Thomas Wuil Joo
University of California, Davis - School of Law
January 11, 2010
Michigan State Law Review, 2009
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 208
This article, prepared for the Michigan State Law Review's "Business Law and Narrative" symposium, analyzes corporate legal theory's use of myth as a rhetorical device. Corporate legal theories offer competing stories about how and why corporations originate and how they operate. The leading theories do so by maintaining that the abstraction we call a corporation can be decomposed into constituent human individuals, who serve as characters in stories of corporate origins and ongoing corporate action. Narratives that justify the existence of social institutions serve a rhetorical purpose sometimes referred to as "myth". Corporate legal theories serve to justify the existence of corporations and certain approaches to the role of regulation, the role of markets, and the relative roles of managers, directors, shareholders, and other corporate stakeholders.
Theories of the corporation perform this function by reference to fundamental moral preferences about the role of the state, the rights of the individual, and her relationship to society. The dominant corporate legal narratives in American law, then, have significant moral and ideological content. This analysis of legal theory as narrative myth shows that law does not simply impose ideology, but influences ideology through the use of rhetorical conventions. Law appeals to existing ideology, but also attempts to remake ideology, though it can only do so incrementally, in recursive fashion, by taking advantage of its relationship to existing beliefs.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 19
Keywords: Corporate governance, corporations, legal theory, rhetoric, narrative
JEL Classification: K22
Date posted: January 12, 2010 ; Last revised: March 9, 2010