Can Corporations Be Citizens? Corporate Citizenship as a Metaphor for Business Participation in Society

Business Ethics Quarterly 15 (3):429-453 (2005)

Abstract

This paper investigates whether, in theoretical terms, corporations can be citizens. The argument is based on the observation that thedebate on “corporate citizenship” (CC) has only paid limited attention to the actual notion of citizenship. Where it has been discussed, authors have either largely left the concept of CC unquestioned, or applied rather unidimensional and decontextualized notions of citizenship to the corporate sphere. The paper opens with a critical discussion of a major contribution to the CC literature, the work of Logsdon and Wood (Wood and Logsdon 2001; Logsdon and Wood 2002). It continues with a consideration of the nature and role of metaphors for business and of the contestable nature of the political concept of citizenship. It evaluates corporations as citizens through a four-dimensional framework of democratic citizenship offered by Stokes (2002). The analysis suggests that corporations do not easilyfit the “liberal minimalist” model of citizenship. It finds, however some possibilities for fit with the three more participatory models. The paper concludes by cautioning against basing corporate citizenship on legal and administrative status or identity, and mapping out specific criteria by which we might determine whether corporations could be considered as citizens by virtue of their participation in processes of governance

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