Stewart on Barkan and Ciepley

Joshua Barkan, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Georgia, and David Ciepley, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver, joined us for the fourth meeting of the Sawyer Seminar on Corporations and International Law at Duke University this past Friday, November 3, 2017.  Each professor presented on a paper they had prepared for the seminar, then both professors took questions from audience members, which flowed naturally as part of the discussion.


Professor Barkan’s paper, Property and Sovereignty: Political Territoriality and the Corporate Control of Land, examined the role of corporate power in American public land sale and lease regimes.  During his presentation, he highlighted the importance of considering how space and territoriality operate as an aspect of corporate power.  He noted that while corporations have historically been rooted in a specific jurisdiction for a long period of time, the advent of a hyper increase in cross-jurisdictional transactions, especially in the forms of supply chains and the use of foreign subsidiaries, have complicated this dynamic.  He emphasized the importance of considering how the law has evolved and enabled these developments.  Professor Barkan also noted that his choice of corporate acquisition of public lands was influenced by the fact that the concept of the modern corporation is founded on colonization and conquest.  While Professor Barkan contended that the corporate form, in a vacuum, is not problematic, the corporate form as it intersects with capitalism is the fundamental issue that we should be concerned about.  He emphasized that we think critically about capitalist processes, contending that modern cosmopolitanism is okay with, and even premised on or justified by, capitalist processes.  He further contended that facilitating the movement of capital is one of the main motivating factors of the international legal order.


Professor Ciepley’s paper, Three Corporate Ages and the Dynamics of Western History, explained the history of the corporate form throughout history, identifying three distinct ages (with three waves in the third age).  In his presentation, he described the corporate aspect of the formation of the American state, as well as the concept of a written constitution in general.  He compared the U.S. Constitution to a corporate charter.  Despite these corporate aspects our founding, he emphasized the suspicions that our founders had toward corporations and corporatism, especially due to having witnessed the problems presented by the British East India Company.  He also emphasized some of the unique advantages that modern business corporations have, as compared to their historical corporate predecessors, such as guilds and towns.  These advantages include the ability to create and control a subsidiary, as well as the advent of the shareholders being able to use the corporation to govern not themselves, but the employees of the corporation.  Professor Ciepley also emphasized the importance of the combination of constitutions with a liberal self-conception and the corporate form when considering the rights that he corporations have acquired in our legal systems.  Finally, he noted that the concept of constitutional rights being granted to corporations is not a forgone conclusion, contending that this is still a new concept, unique to the United States.


Overall, a quality discussion occurred that brought together not only two incredible scholars from the geography and political science disciplines, but also a broader audience across a diversity of fields.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.