Gwendolyn Gordon, “The Contingent Corporation”


Friday, March 23, 2018    
11:30 am - 1:30 pm


Law School Room 4000
210 Science Drive, Durham, NC, 27705

Event Type

“The Contingent Corporation”

Many layers underlie corporate interactions that might be most easily and quickly framed as being solely or “really” about business. These register switches might be seen to signify the restriction of relations of responsibility between actors, serving as the tool by which to “cut” networks of responsibility. One’s skein of relationships might, as Marilyn Strathern has asserted, stretch out forever. Thus, “people must work to divide themselves from each other,” cutting the network, so to speak, down to manageable size (1995:70; 2001).

But this paper emphasizes the importance of deliberate weaving—moves made by peoples and groups to bind themselves to others in relationships of responsibility. Taking network weaving and cutting around the New Zealand Maori owned corporation as its ethnographic object, this paper will examine the effects of these acts of drawing lines of inclusion and exclusion upon the intersection of law and culture. It examines the way people’s understandings of corporations’ relational boundaries affect their governance behavior—their ideas regarding the proper role of the corporation in society. This method reveals what I call the “shifting stability” of the corporation’s social and ethical boundaries. I argue that these are constantly changing, but not just into anything; they change into patterns based on specific relationships and expectations.

This work uses anthropological methods and concepts to build upon legal theorizations of the nature of the firm, at once holding in view the theorization of corporate ontological boundaries and lived experiences of their construction and policing.

Gwendolyn Gordon (Business, University of Pennsylvania). Gwendolyn Gordon is an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An anthropologist and ethnographer by training, her research centers on an ethnographically-informed comparative corporate law, focusing specifically on the intersection of indigenous peoples’ cultural norms with issues of corporate governance and social responsibility.

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