Corporations as Social Agents

Authors: Yuko Aoyama*, Clark University
Topics: Economic Geography, Business Geography, Development
Keywords: Corporations, Economic Geography, Governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Economic geographers have conceptualized corporations as representing private, not public, interests. The market-transactional view of the firm, starting with Coase’s work on The Nature of the Firm (1937), and Williamson’s revival of institutional economics in the 1980s, reinforced the transactional aspects of the firm. Although the resource based view of the firm (Penrose, 1959), or managerial view of the firm (Chandler, 1977) examine organizational behavior from different perspectives, the literature on industrial agglomerations with its micro-economic foundations typically situated corporations as homogeneous entities that stand at odds with public interests. Therefore, deep intellectual biases exist against firms that advocate the double (economic and social agenda) or triple (economic, social, and environmental) bottom-lines, resulting in skepticism, or outright dismissal, of the concept of the firm as social agents.

Yet the role of the firm as a social agent has a longstanding history; with its origin in entrepreneurship and family-run businesses, firms have served the functions of community organizing, social networking and financiers of social mission initiatives. More recently, the rise of social-entrepreneurship and others that combine social and economic missions call into question the previous assumptions. In this paper, we begin to develop a conceptual framework for the firms’ social agency, by re-examining Ostrom’s (1999) common property resource framework. We analyze the relevance of her framework in understanding social mission of corporations. Acknowledging that firms are diverse and heterogeneous agents, we demonstrate how public and private interests had become dichotomous categories.

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