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Firms as Social Actors

Author

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  • Richard Adelstein

    () (Department of Economics, Wesleyan University)

Abstract

This essay asks what firms are, whether they are ‘real’ social actors, and whether their actions can be traced without remainder to the actions of living people or whether there is some irreducible aspect of their existence or operation that must be attributed to the organization itself. It describes firms as ongoing, multilateral relational contracts from whose operation, that is, from performance over time by specific individuals in the roles and relationships defined by the contract, emerge the firm’s idiosyncratic routines and capabilities. It emphasizes the role of entrepreneurs in the creation of firms and the close dependence of organizational capabilities on human performance, and argues that this account is consistent with a reasonable individualism that allows for social outcomes to be determined by the actions and interaction of individuals. It then proposes that firms are nonetheless institutional facts and thus ontologically subjective but epistemically objective components of reality, and concludes with directions for future work.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Adelstein, 2010. "Firms as Social Actors," Wesleyan Economics Working Papers 2013-003, Wesleyan University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:wes:weswpa:2010-003
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    File URL: http://repec.wesleyan.edu/pdf/radelstein/2010003_adelstein.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2003. "The hidden persuaders: institutions and individuals in economic theory," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(2), pages 159-175, March.
    2. Williamson, Oliver E, 1979. "Transaction-Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractural Relations," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(2), pages 233-261, October.
    3. Richard N. Langlois, 2003. "The vanishing hand: the changing dynamics of industrial capitalism," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(2), pages 351-385, April.
    4. Foss, Nicolai Juul, 1993. "Theories of the Firm: Contractual and Competence Perspectives," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 3(2), pages 127-144, May.
    5. Ulrich Witt, 1999. "Do Entrepreneurs Need Firms? A Contribution to a Missing Chapter in Austrian Economics," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 11(1), pages 99-109, January.
    6. Gindis, David, 2009. "From fictions and aggregates to real entities in the theory of the firm," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(01), pages 25-46, April.
    7. Searle, John R., 2005. "What is an institution?," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(01), pages 1-22, June.
    8. Dow, Gregory K., 1987. "The function of authority in transaction cost economics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 13-38, March.
    9. Nicolai J. Foss, 2003. "Bounded rationality and tacit knowledge in the organizational capabilities approach: an assessment and a re-evaluation," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(2), pages 185-201, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chassagnon, Virgile, 2012. "Une analyse historique de la nature juridique de la firme," Revue de la Régulation - Capitalisme, institutions, pouvoirs, Association Recherche et Régulation, vol. 12.
    2. Keck Markus & Bohle Hans-Georg & Zingel Wolfgang-Peter, 2012. "Dealing with insecurity," Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie, De Gruyter, vol. 56(1-2), pages 43-57, October.

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