Macquarie University
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More nearly social institutions: legal regulation and the sociology of corporations

posted on 2022-03-28, 01:15 authored by Christina Jarron
Corporations are no longer simply a type of business structure; they are dominant social institutions. As institutions, corporations are archetypes of contemporary complex social organisation and should, therefore, be a central concern for sociology. Yet with few notable exceptions, sociologists have failed to address their increasingly dominant position in contemporary societies. In this thesis I argue the importance of a renewed sociological interest in corporations. This must acknowledge, but go beyond, the political-economic outcomes of corporations to address the profound consequences of the legal foundations of the corporate form. Corporations are created and regulated by legal doctrine; it is only with a legal mandate that corporations are able to act as employers, suppliers and investors. On this basis, I claim that any understanding of corporate dominance and its effects must commence with an appreciation of the laws that enable the corporation to exist and operate. -- While contributing significantly to wealth creation, corporate dominance also increases the potential for harm to occur to individuals and communities who fall within a corporation's scope. The contemporary proliferation of industrial illnesses is a prime example of this and is examined through a case study of the operations of an Australian asbestos corporation, James Hardie. This case study is timely and unique in its specification of the link between corporate activity and law in contemporary society. -- I argue that corporate activity such as that in the case study is enhanced and legitimated by the legal description of the corporation that assigns to it the capacities of a human individual through corporate legal personhood. Corporate personhood is examined as an example of the legal individualism endorsed in liberal common law countries. By exploring accounts of corporate structure, decision-making and work processes, I explain how the individualised description of the corporation is at odds with its collective realities; the largest and most successful corporations are collectives of human and monetary resources. -- In light of this, I question the extent to which the effective regulation of corporations can be achieved within existing legal frameworks. Building upon research into workplace health and safety in the United Kingdom, the regulation of workplace deaths in Australia is examined to demonstrate the various approaches to regulating corporations and to identify their shortcomings. This is a striking example of the problems law faces in regulating corporations by virtue of its individualistic design. -- The thesis concludes with an affirmation that sociology needs to grapple with issues of corporate activity and that an understanding of the legal basis of the corporation is the foundation of such studies.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Patterns of corporate activity as patterns of corporate dominance: legal, organisational, and economic features of corporations -- Representations of corporate dominance in insidious injuries -- The legal basis of corporate dominance: History of the corporation -- Legal individualism and corporate personhood -- Theories of the corporation -- The legal regulation of corporations - corporate liability laws -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: leaves 273-293 October 2008

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy, Dept. of Sociology 2009

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Michael Fine


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Christina Jarron 2009.




295 leaves

Former Identifiers

mq:8357 1370973