Now in print: The Corporate Commonwealth: Pluralism and Political Fictions in England, 1516-1651 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). $45. Cloth. 344 pages, 8 black-and-white illustrations. What if the dilemma of 21st century political life is not that we have too many corporations but that we have too few? Could a future for the “commons” be written inside a corporate form? The Corporate Commonwealth traces the evolution of corporations during the English Renaissance and explores the many types of corporations that once flourished. Along the way, the book offers important insights into our own definitions of fiction, politics, and value.
The book uses the resources of economic and political history, literary analysis, and political philosophy to demonstrate how a number of English institutions with corporate associations—including universities, guilds, towns and cities, and religious groups—were gradually narrowed to the commercial, for-profit corporation we know today, and how the joint-stock corporation, in turn, became both a template for the modern state and a political force that the state could no longer contain. Through innovative readings of works by Thomas More, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes, among others, Turner tracks the corporation from the courts to the stage, from commonwealth to colony, and from the object of utopian fiction to the subject of tragic violence. A provocative look at the corporation’s peculiar character as both an institution and a person, The Corporate Commonwealth uses the past to suggest ways in which today’s corporations might be refashioned into a source of progressive and collective public action.
Click here for a preview on Google Books.
In October 2015, I spoke about my work on corporations at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The CHI is the largest public humanities festival in the United States. You can watch the lecture on YouTube here.
I sat down with Jeffrey Gonzalez (BMCC, English) to talk about corporations in the Renaissance and today for a special issue of the journal NANO: New American Notes Online on “Corporations and Culture,” edited by Jeffrey and Adam Haley. Acting, legal personhood, logos and advertising, colonial corporations, the corporate ego: read the interview here.
Listen to an interview about The English Renaissance Stage with Robin MacKay of Urbanomic, conducted during his fascinating installation at the Kunsthall in Bergen, Norway. The installation, “The Ultimate Yarnwork,” explores the notion of “plot” in design, cinema, politics, and spatial theory. I talked with Robin about the history of the term “plot” and its origins in the early modern spatial arts. Diagrams, mapping, theatricality, public drama, playwrights as craftsmen, John Le Carré’s structural imagination, and many other topics. Punctuated by dramatic readings of key literary passages from The English Renaissance Stage.
A description of “The Ultimate Yarnwork” is here.
From the Urbanomic website: “Over the last few decades, conceptual and post-conceptual art has tended to colonise the space of philosophy, whilst philosophy has retreated into academic isolation, and the sciences have continued to become more specialized and inaccessible. Urbanomic proposes a renegotiation of the relationship between philosophy science and art, on the model of an interrupted relay in which thinkers offer their conceptual resources for reflection on artists’ practice, and artists in turn develop and synthesise them in unforeseen ways, stimulating a productive and unpredictable cycle of ‘research and development’ subordinated neither to the norms of academic thinking nor to the mainstream discourses of art criticism.”
Check the “Ongoing and Upcoming” page for more information about ongoing projects, upcoming events, and the PhD graduate program in English Literature at Rutgers.
If you’re interested in the history and theory of corporations, take a look at a new research project I’ve started and find out how to join: The Society for the Arts of Corporation.