Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRADUATE WORKSHOP - Democracy, Corporations, and Communities

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

College Hall, Room 209 (Accessibility)

Katharine Jackson, Columbia University Political Science
"Excavating the Corporate Person: The Autonomy Rights of Big Business"

Averill Leslie, University of Chicago Dept. of Anthropology
"Town Meetings Are Not Direct Democracy: Representative Democracy as Participatory Democracy"

THIS MONTH, the Graduate Workshop at The Mitchell Center presents two papers dealing with the nature of democracy and community.

Modern political thought has a pretty good handle on the liberty rights of natural persons. But not so the business corporation. Those of a liberal bent often black box it, registering only its impact on distributive justice. Thinkers shading towards the Marxist camp lump it into abstract “capital,” blinking at any moral implications arising from its institutional details: e.g., public share ownership, managerial control, and law’s foundational role. Republicans seek to ameliorate the corporation’s dominating aspects without accounting for the creative and liberating role it might play in contemporary life, and neo-republicans only have a vocabulary suited for intra-corporate, intersubjective domination. KATHARINE JACKSON seeks to fill the lacuna, locating the political standing of the corporation vis-à-vis the liberal democratic state by building upon the legal conceptions of corporate personhood invoked by jurists, activists, and legislators over the past century and a half of U.S. intellectual history.

In recent years, researchers and democratic practitioners have exhibited a surge of interest in participatory government and direct democracy. Critics, arguing that representative mechanisms are unavoidable and/or laudable, have dismissed the movement. AVERILL LESLIE uses a close reexamination of the New England town meeting – an archetypal institution of participatory direct democracy – to argue that the two positions are more compatible than previously thought. Using qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze “Northmont,” Vermont, he turns town meeting’s reputation on its head: in actual practice, town meetings involve hardly any direct democracy, and instead they primarily serve representative functions.