Proposal: The Organizational Nexus Between State Development and Market

Proposal: The Organizational Nexus Between State Development and Market
Expansion: Early Modern Chartered Companies
Emily Erikson
24 May 2013
The Early Modern chartered companies were emergent organizations that developed as
early as the fourteenth century in order to coordinate the interests of numerous
individuals in the collective pursuit of commercial and political projects of an expanded
scale. By the seventeenth century the organizational form of the company had become the
favored method through which Europeans attempted to expand their overseas trade
networks. As such the chartered company form became deeply implicated in the related
processes of European market expansion and European imperial expansion.
The companies were both arenas for the negotiation of state and commercial interests and
eventually powerful actors embodying their own political and commercial objectives;
therefore histories of the companies are rich sites for understanding how imperial and
commercial goals held by state and private actors both conflicted and complemented each
other, and were eventually discarded, conjoined, or reconciled -- often also altered in the
process. Since these interactions took place within an organizational framework, the
negotiation and resolution of the various interests found their way into the organizational
structures of the companies and the state, thus shaping the institutional forms central to
both capitalism and imperialism.
The research presented at the recent conference, “The Companies: Continuities,
Transition or Disjuncture,” sheds a tremendous amount of light on these issues. Memo,
presentations, and discussion addressed the relationship between the commercial
practices of the Companies and the development of economic thought and policy,
particularly in the domestic sphere of the Dutch, English, and French states (Carruthers,
Gottman), European conceptions of corruption and self interest (Wilson, Davies), the
relationship between domestic political goals in Europe and the trajectory and character
of Company operations overseas (Devecka, Go, Norton, Stern), and how the
organizational shapes that took form affected economic development and patterns of
governance in Europe and Asia (Fellinger, Gaikwad, Goetzmann et al., Hodacs, Stern).
Many of the memos leverage the concept of principal-agent relations to dig into both the
organizational structure of the companies and their relationship to the nascent British
state. Others give significant attention to understanding and describing the overarching
organizational form itself, i.e. does monopoly adequately describe the complex
combinations of formal restrictions, legitimate and tacit privileges on the personal trade
of individuals outside of or employed by the various companies. Still others provide a
‘natural history’ of the evolution of the organizational form of the companies. Thus we
have a rich and multi-faceted set of papers that define the organizational form and the
networks that linked it to its host communities in Europe and Asia, identify many of the
generative process behind the production of these complex forms, and describe the
effects on Asia and Europe – all situated within and touching upon the larger historical
master narratives of capitalist global market expansion and European imperialism.
My sense is that the research and conversations begun at the recent conference offer an
opportunity to shed new light on old issues by diving into the mechanisms of commercial
and imperial expansion through the organizational lens of the companies. In particular, a
substantive research focus on the chartered companies as powerful actors, sites of
negotiation, and structures that encoded constellations of interests into organizational
routines and bylaws promises to provide fresh insights into the relationship between
capitalism and imperialism by focusing theoretically-informed inquiry at the meso-level.
I hope you feel the same and would be willing to contribute an existing paper that
addresses these themes or further develops the research memo presented at the
conference into a contribution suitable for a special edition of a comparative historical
journal devoted to these issues.