From black box to glocalised player? Corporate personality in the twenty-first century and the scope of law’s regulatory reach


  • Gary Wilson Nottingham Trent University


This article seeks to investigate the evolving notion of corporate personality from the nineteenth century to the present and the scope for the regulatory effect of law thereon especially in terms of the ongoing management of the relationship between the economic and the social spheres. Utilising the work of the economic historian Karl Polanyi on the rise of the self-regulating market in the nineteenth century, it will suggest that the most appropriate image underlying the dominant legal conception of the company in the twentieth century was that of a black box by which the company was largely isolated from its broader social and political environment as a result of the complex interaction of legal and economic discourses surrounding the emergence of a distinct market-based economic sphere. In the light of the current financial crisis, and even more pertinently against the backdrop of the risk of potentially irreversible environmental degradation, many of the fundamentals of the market-based economic paradigm are presently being called into question. Accordingly, it will be argued, drawing upon Polanyi’s notion of the double movement read in the light of Ulrich Beck’s account of reflexive modernity, that the black box model of the company is increasingly perceived as inappropriate for the twenty-first century and that to attain greater institutional legitimacy there is pressure for the legal conception of corporate personality to be reconfigured as that of a glocalised player open to its environment. The article will conclude by examining the scope of law’s regulatory power to construct such a holistic corporate personality capable of commanding such institutional legitimacy, with particular reference to the significance of s. 172 Companies Act 2006.





Part II: How to embed economic in social relationships?