The Corporation as Semiosis, 'Citizens United,' the Signification of the Corporate Enterprise and the Development of Law

CPE Working Paper No. 2012-2

42 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2012

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: February, 28 2012


The corporation, like the state from which it preceded and to some extent superseded, can be understood in its triadic sense — as sign, interpretant and object. Like the state, it serves as an incarnate abstraction, an object, the sign and interpretant which shimmers with meanings that from a distance appear solid and yet which, on closer inspection, dissolve into a dynamic complex of interlocking and interacting signification. This polycentricity, and its functional effect in law, was at the center of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This paper closely examines Citizens United as an expression of a complex polycentric semiosis. After an introduction, Part II examines the case closely. Part III then draws together the semiotic elements together. The incarnation of the corporation, and its representation as simultaneously political person and property, that is, as person and instrument, signifies both the entity and the person it now simultaneously signifies in ways that suppress and transform both. Citizens United illuminates the object of the corporation as a site of primacy and purpose and also as the place without place or meaning. Within this space of simmering meaning law assumes as fictive a solidity as the enterprise it means to capture through its own craft. What is left is primacy (of the corporation) and purpose within disorder and the absence of meaning, a state of affairs well illustrated in the aftermath of the decision, illustrated in Part IV.

Keywords: citizens United, corporations, corporate personality, semiotics, corporate personality

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, The Corporation as Semiosis, 'Citizens United,' the Signification of the Corporate Enterprise and the Development of Law (February, 28 2012). CPE Working Paper No. 2012-2. Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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