Narrative, Myth and Morality in Corporate Legal Theory

19 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010 Last revised: 9 Mar 2010

See all articles by Thomas Wuil Joo

Thomas Wuil Joo

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: January 11, 2010


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.

Keywords: Corporate governance, corporations, legal theory, rhetoric, narrative

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Joo, Thomas Wuil, Narrative, Myth and Morality in Corporate Legal Theory (January 11, 2010). Michigan State Law Review, 2009; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 208. Available at SSRN:

Thomas Wuil Joo (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Dr.
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
(530) 754-6089 (Phone)
(530) 752-4704 (Fax)

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