Sub-theme 38: The Corporatization of Politics and the Politicization of Corporations

Christian De Cock
University of Essex, UK
Daniel Nyberg
Nottingham University Business School, UK
Christopher Wright
University of Sydney Business School, Australia

Call for Papers


"The neo-liberal turn of the last twenty years has not brought about a withering away of the state but its transformation on the model of the firm, to adjust itself to the new forms of capitalism..."

(Boltanski, 2011: 159).


"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are!"

(Mitt Romney, August 11, 2011)


The last US presidential election introduced us to a candidate very much 'forged in the laboratory of management' (Boltanski, 2011: 140). Mitt Romney was the perfect embodiment of the businessman-politician based on a faith in technocratic management, problem-focused governance, and a belief in the market economy as a model for social organization. While ultimately unsuccessful, Romney's candidacy highlights fundamental changes in the relationship between politics, corporations and civil society. In an era of economic, social and environmental crises, the growing power and influence of a 'corporate way of thinking' is central to understanding the changing modes of organization in all spheres of life.

In this sub-theme we aim to explore the way in which corporations are reshaping and re-imaging the political process and the texture of society more broadly. We are particularly interested in contributions which explore the following themes:

(1) The corporatization of politics: As the Romney example highlights, political parties increasingly rely on claims to managerial competence, with the desire for 'change' seen as best channeled through corporate experience, 'turnaround' skills, and the guidance of management gurus and business 'think-tanks'. This managerial view of political capability has become a common refrain on both the political Right and Left, symbolizing the increasingly 'empty space of politics' driven by populist discourses ('lower taxes', 'curbing immigration'), opinion polls and televised sound-bites. This raises a number of questions:

  • In what ways does the corporatization of politics occur? (e.g. the growing representation of corporate leaders in political office, use of corporate expertise in political campaigns – marketing, communications, project management)
  • What different subject positions and narratives are created in the growing interaction of corporate and political worlds? (e.g. how are discourses of corporate leadership used in political settings?)
  • How does the 'revolving door' between business and politics shape political discourse and policy agendas?
  • How complicit are 'we' working in business schools in the corporatization of politics?

(2) The politicization of corporations: Beyond the influence of corporations on politics, the growing power and influence of corporations also profoundly shapes public policy and civil society (Barley, 2010). While existing studies of corporate political activity have identified the role of corporations in lobbying governments and political parties (Epstein, 1969), in recent years corporate influence has expanded through the use of sophisticated public relations campaigns, and more explicit political activism (Dunlap and McCright, 2011). Questions here include:

  • How have the methods and influence of corporations over public opinion changed and with what effects? (e.g. corporate funding of faux social movements and the corporate use of social media);
  • Are there differences in the nature of corporate activism in different policy spaces? (e.g. health, education, financial regulation, energy, environment and national security);
  • To what extent organized counter-movements represent a source of countervailing power and challenge the growing influence of business elites? (e.g. the Occupy movement,,, and consumer boycotts)

Beyond these themes, we are also interested in theoretical and empirical papers that explore politics and corporations more broadly in terms of practices (e.g. crisis management, new public management, privatization), ideologies (e.g. neoliberalism), and consequences (e.g. climate change, the global financial crisis).



Barley, Stephen R. (2010): 'Building an Institutional Field to Corral a Government: A Case to Set an Agenda for Organization Studies.' Organization Studies, 31 (6), pp. 777–805.
Boltanski, Luc (2011): On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dunlap, Riley E. & Aaron M. McCright (2011): 'Organized Climate Change Denial.' In: John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard & David Schlosberg (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 144–160.
Epstein, Edwin M. (1969): The Corporation in American Politics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Christian De Cock is Professor of Management at the University of Essex, UK. He has a long-standing interest in the role of the arts, literature and social theory in thinking about organization. His current research concerns the imaginary institution of organizations.
Daniel Nyberg is Professor of Sustainability at Nottingham University Business School, UK. His main research interest focuses on how corporations shape how individuals, organizations and societies respond to global (e.g. climate change) and societal (e.g. public policies) issues.
Christopher Wright is Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School, Australia. His research focuses on identity, emotion and justification in organizational life; and the role of consultancy in organisational change and innovation. He is currently researching how businesses interpret and respond to climate change.