On November 3rd, 2017, Professor Joshua Barkan of the University of Georgia and Professor David Ciepley of the University of Denver presented Sawyer Seminar on Corporations and International Law at Duke University. Together, they broadly presented on the topic of corporations and sovereignty. Professor Ciepley specifically discussed his working paper Three Corporate Ages and the Dynamics of Western History while Professor Barkan presented partly on his working paper Property and Sovereignty: Political Territoriality and the Corporate Control of Land.
Professor Barkan presented first. His presentation was brief with him discussing his primary focus is on the relationship between corporations and sovereign power. Specifically, how corporations operate as a separate module of sovereignty from the traditional state sovereignty model. Within this broad topic, the question of territoriality is a primary interest of Professor Barkan. How do corporations territorialize space, both within a state but also distinct from the state space? Corporations fundamentally transcend space, Professor Barkan notes, but also have a real, physical presence. For professor Barkan, land grabs provide an interesting conceptual space to test and locate the differing structures of corporate and state territoriality. In a land grab, there can be a real shift of public lands held by a state that are transferred to a corporation for a private use, usually for resource-extraction purposes. The corporate acquisition of land, therefore, is an interesting realm to test and define the interactions of sovereignty for both the corporation and the state.
Professor Ciepley presented second also briefly. The article he presented on is a larger project he has been working on for some time. The thought behind the smaller paper and the larger project is about how corporations are organizing themselves into sovereigns. The corporation, according to Professor Ciepley, is a way to think though not just the private corporation form, but also a state. Modern states, including past states such as Rome, are forming themselves as a form of corporation. Another example for Professor Ciepley is the constitution. Constitutionalism is something distinctive that authorizes and limits rights to the government, which is taken directly from the corporate form. Historically, constitutionalism was not modeled on chartering corporations according to Professor Ciepley. This shift in constitutionalism, therefore, arises because of the increased strength of corporations in states. Ultimately, on the larger book project, the changing forms of corporations bring about both the private business corporation and the American conception of constitutionalism.
Having both presented briefly on their projects, the talk then turned to questions from the audience. The various questions had broad topical ranges, but one interesting question for Professor Ciepley included a discussion on the differences between a member corporation and a property corporation that appears in his writings. Professor Ciepley explained how in the English language, there is no distinction between these two corporate forms. However, there is a distinction in other languages, such as in Latin and German. For his project, it is important to note the distinction because it is the member corporate form that arrives in Europe is the form that leads to American constitutionalism. This distinction, according to Professor Ciepley, leads to the distinctly political thought about enumerating rights to the members, even as membership changes within the group.
Overall, this presentation by both Professor Ciepley and Barkan was highly enlightening and intellectually stimulating. Having two professors in two separate, but similar fields, helped draw out a broad and interesting discussion on corporate sovereignty in history, geography, and political theory.