Please join us for a colloquium being given by Carly Knight from Harvard University.
"A Good Trust: The Moral Legitimation of Big Business by the American Press, 1880-1929"
An essential feature of American corporate capitalism is that corporations are considered to be natural market actors. In this talk, I argue that the process by which corporations transformed from unnatural “creatures of the state” into naturalized and taken-for-granted market actors represents an essential and yet puzzling case of organizational legitimation. Institutional approaches argue that new organizational forms become legitimated by complying, either symbolically or in fact, with pre-existing cultural norms. By contrast, I demonstrate how the legitimation of big business required a reconceptualization in the nature of the corporate entity. Using a mixed method approach involving text analysis and targeted close reading, I follow the changing language used to talk about large corporations in order to understand their legitimation. Drawing upon emerging work in morals and markets, my key insight is that corporate legitimation followed a process I term “moral bifurcation,” where moral argumentation legitimated an organizational form by drawing moral distinctions among particular organizational actors.