Abstract: A Genealogy of the Corporate Person: Articulating Sovereign Power and Capital

Joshua Barkan


My dissertation traces a genealogical link between corporations and sovereign power. It explains how corporations have exercised prerogatives of sovereignty, such as territorial control, monopolies on the legitimate use of force and violence, and what the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has termed the power to decide "the originary inclusion of the living in the sphere of law"—in short, the power over life and death. This relationship, however, has been displaced over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a depoliticized and deterritorialized sphere of the private economy. To understand how it occurred, the dissertation investigates a series of "socio-legal technologies." These technologies, like the charter, the share, the natural entity theory of corporate personhood, and extraterritorial corporate law, each reframed what the corporation was, what powers it possessed, what physical spaces it could occupy, how it would act, and on whose authority. Examining these technologies shows that corporations are an effect of law's iterative statements and the link between capitalist accumulation and specific forms of governmental power.