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Corporate Governance as a School of Social Reform

23 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2012 Last revised: 30 Oct 2012

Ciarán O'Kelly

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law

Date Written: June 15, 2012


This paper addresses itself to the following question: how is the company the personification of industrial (or financial) capital? My argument is that the company is personified through the generation of narratives of selfhood that define and stabilise the ‘practices and institutions’ of the firm. These narratives themselves draw on the conventions of ‘moral economy’ - struggles and conventions through which questions of distribution, desert and economic order in society are struggle over and resolved - so as to lend internal coherence to the productive and disciplinary practices of the firm and to provide external context for corporate action. Furthermore, ideas of the company in general act as ‘transmission mechanisms’ that explain and mediate the company and wider market imperatives in society at large. I explore these ideas through a review of corporate responsibility and sustainability reports, pointing to a switch from responsibility defined as ‘gift-giving’ to sustainability defined as ‘doing business well.’

Keywords: sustainability, corporate personhood, corporate governance

JEL Classification: K22, M14, G34, G38

Suggested Citation

O'Kelly, Ciarán, Corporate Governance as a School of Social Reform (June 15, 2012). Queen's University Belfast Law Research Paper No. 2012-11. Available at SSRN: or

Ciarán O'Kelly (Contact Author)

Queen's University Belfast - School of Law ( email )

School of Law
Belfast BT7 1NN, BT7 1NN

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