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Firms as Political Entities
Saving Democracy through Economic Bicameralism


  • Date Published: December 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108415941

£ 75.00

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About the Authors
  • When people go to work, they cease to be citizens. At their desks they are transformed into employees, subordinate to the hierarchy of the workplace. The degree of their sense of voicelessness may vary from employer to employer, but it is real and growing, inflamed by populist propaganda that ridicules democracy as weak and ineffective amid global capitalism. At the same time, corporations continue untouched and even unremarked as a major source of the problem. Relying on 'economic bicameralism' to consider firms as political entities, this book sheds new light on the institutions of industrial relations that have marked the twentieth century, and argues that it is time to recognize that firms are a peculiar institution that must be properly organized in order to unshackle workers' motivation and creativity, and begin nurturing democracy again. For more information, please visit the accompanying website:

    • Offers a new perspective on firms as political entities rather than purely economic organizations, giving readers a new way to look at the problems of the globalized world
    • Presents a new history of capitalist democracies and addresses the contradiction between democracy and capitalism by examining the distinction between corporations and firms
    • A groundbreaking proposal for governing the firm inspired by the history of political bicameralism
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Isabelle Ferreras presents a forceful case for a very big idea. Firms, she argues, are political entities, and democracy is the right kind of governance for political entities. So firms should be governed democratically - by a bicameral body, representing workers as well as owners of capital. We urgently need creative, ambitious, constructive thinking, and Isabelle Ferreras delivers it: clearly, gracefully, and with great intellectual power.' Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, Apple University and University of California, Berkeley, Editor of the Boston Review and University of Wisconsin, Madison, Director, COWS

    'Isabelle Ferreras presents a deeply original and provocative proposal for deepening and extending the ideals of democracy in capitalist economies by democratizing the governance of corporations. She provides a powerful, nuanced critique of the autocratic forms of rule that are taken-for-granted within capitalist firms as they exist, and a compelling model of an emancipatory alternative that could be realized in the future. The book is a brilliant contribution to the kind of progressive thought desperately needed for the twenty-first century.' Erik Olin Wright, Vilas Distinguished Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Past President, American Sociological Association 2011–12

    'An urgent and exciting contribution to the debate about corporate power and democracy: Ferreras pushes us to reach beyond the existing forms of the corporation to ask what democratic organization might look like in our workplaces.' David Singh Grewal, Yale Law School, Yale University

    'Democracy must not stop at the workplace door. While many have lamented the autocratic rule of corporations, Isabelle Ferreras offers a radical and exciting proposal on how democracy can be inserted into corporate governance. Arguing that workers, not just capital, are investors in enterprises, Ferreras demands that workers be granted the rights of citizenship and a role in the government of firms. With corporate power challenging democracy everywhere, Ferreras challenges workers, unions, and anyone interested in breathing life into democracy to recognize firms as political entities. She shows how to extend democratic structures into these authoritarian entities that play such a commanding role in our lives and economy.' Elaine Bernard, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, Harvard University

    'Economists have long been content to describe corporations as an abstract legal shell, a 'nexus of contracts' governed by narrowly constructed notions of property rights. Political scientist Isabelle Ferreras introduces us to an alternative view of the corporation as a political association comprised of stakeholders who expect to be governed according to democratic rules and norms. In times of skyrocketing inequality, a deeper debate about the 'theory of the firm' is urgent and timely. Ferreras has launched that debate.' Christopher Mackin, American Working Capital, LLC; Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

    'A simple and radical proposal - bicameral firms - supported by a powerful analogy with the history of political democracy and by an insightful analysis of the growing tension between corporate despotism and civic equality. This is the sort of smart interdisciplinary thinking that we need to shed light on the present and feed hope for the future.' Philippe Van Parijs, University of Louvain, Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics

    'All in all, the book is a refreshing addition to re-emerging debates on industrial democracy. It offers an exciting intellectual challenge and a creative spinning of theoretical arguments drawing on different disciplines and scholarly sources. With her brave and provocative policy contribution, Ferreras leans out from the academic ivory tower, engaging with burning social and political concerns. Her powerful and progressive language is also timely, at a moment when workers' participation is increasingly being reformulated and colonised by mainstream corporate governance and corporate social responsibility discourse. … The broader audience, particularly corporate managers, trade unionists and policy-makers of the reformist left, should welcome the publication and benefit from its engaging arguments. Be it the swansong of democracy at work, or the announcement of a social refounding of capitalism, this book guarantees food for thought and will leave the reader eager for the next instalment.' Sara Lafuente Hernández, Transfer: The European Review of Labour and Research

    '… the most interesting part of the book, at least for me, is the argument about why this new structure is desirable at all. That argument is built around a view of the changing nature of work in our society and the nature of the firm as an institution in which work is performed. In this sense, the book belongs to the burgeoning academic literature about the 'future of work', except that in the debate that has already become so stylized, almost ritualized, Ferreras's argument is refreshingly different and original.' Michael J. Piore, Industrial and Labor Relations Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2017
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108415941
    • length: 226 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 158 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • contains: 6 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: what about the workers?
    Part I. Critical History of Power in the Firm: The Slow Transition of Work from the Private to the Public Sphere:
    1. Stage one: the workplace and its emergence from the household
    2. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries: workers' movements and the invention of collective bargaining
    3. The twentieth century and the ambiguities of institutional innovations in the capitalist firm
    4. The twenty-first century service economy is bringing work fully into the public sphere
    Part II. What Is a Firm?:
    5. Obsolete vision: instrumental rationality as the firm's sole logic
    6. Foundations for the political theory of the firm
    Part III. Looking to the Future: From Political Bicameralism to Economic Bicameralism:
    7. Bicameral movements: a pivotal institutional innovation for governments in democratic transition
    8. Analogy: the executive of the firm answering to a two-chamber parliament
    Conclusions: a reader's guide for reflection and debate about economic bicameralism.

  • Author

    Isabelle Ferreras, Belgian National Science Foundation
    Isabelle Ferreras is a tenured fellow of the Belgian National Science Foundation, a professor of sociology at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium, and a senior research associate of the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, Massachusetts. A sociologist and political scientist by training, she is driven by the idea that the social sciences can make a difference. This book is the keystone of her long-term research into the tensions between capitalism and democracy.

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