Corporate Subjects: An Intellectual History of the Corporation

Name of applicant

Mathias Hein Jessen


Copenhagen Business School


DKK 3,900,938



Type of grant

Semper Ardens: Accelerate


The main aim of this project is to analyse how corporations are given existence and legitimacy as political subjects through similarities and analogies as well as delineations from human subjects and states. It argues that a central part of the existence and power of corporations is not only their status as legal persons, but that they are ascribed existence and legitimacy as political subjects. Understanding how corporations are legitimized as individuals is central to understanding how they wield political and economic power and influence. The project uses intellectual history to analyse how corporate subjects are constituted through notions of property, rights, citizenship, responsibility, liability and accountability.


Corporations are today powerful economic and political entities. As a result, critical research on the corporation has sprouted in a number of disciplines where it has not earlier been a focal point. This research has significantly increased the understanding of the corporation and corporate power. Intellectual history contributes to this understanding by analyzing how corporations are and have been ascribed existence and legitimacy through comparisons and similarities as well as distinctions and delineations from on the one hand human subjects, and on the other the state or political power. Intellectual history contributes by reading economic and legal texts and documents as political texts that produce and constitute political subjects.


The project consists of three work-packages (WPs). WP1 investigates the notion of the legal person in 19th century English and German historical-legal thought and its transmission into Anglo-American corporate law. WP2 investigates the notion of the corporation found in American economic 'theory of the firm' and 'agency theory', which have been central to dominant contemporary corporate governance theory and practice. WP3 investigates the specific Danish corporate subject of the foundation, which in distinction to other corporations is truly self-owning, and which through enterprise foundations is central to Danish economic life.

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