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The Triangle of Institutional Change: Public Discourse, Corporate Practice, and the Law

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The literature has struggled to explain why the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2008-09, has failed to translate into major change to the neoliberal model of capitalism. Arguably, this is due to the literature’s narrow conception of corporate power exerting itself through direct and purposive intervention in the policymaking process—the ’top-down’ view of institutional change. The answer may lie in a broader understanding of corporate influence, incorporating the role of firm practices in shaping the law—the ‘bottom-up’ perspective. Despite mounting consensus on the mechanisms of such change, our wider understanding of it is still limited. In order to explore the role of bottom-up change in times of major crisis, we need to explore its firm-level antecedents and contextualize the dynamics of bottom-up change processes, i.e. how it is mediated by public discourse and crisis situations. Building on actor-centered institutionalism and incorporating aspects of constructivist and sociological institutionalism, this study contributes to this endeavor by examining a set of interrelated relationships, conceptualized as constituting a triangle between public discourse, corporate practice, and the law. The comparative, mixed-methods research design combines macro-level analysis of legal and regulatory change, micro-level analysis of changes in corporate practice, and change in public discourse in three institutional spheres (finance & accounting, corporate governance, labor relations) across four countries (Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, United States) over a 19-year period (1995-2013). While bottom-up change may be limited in scope under ‘normal’ circumstances, it is found to take on a central role during major crises. Direct and purposive channels of corporate influence on legal change become less effective in such circumstances, but the indirect channels of bottom-up change appear to open up and enable the perpetuation of corporate power throughout such events.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2016

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