William A. Pettigrew
William Pettigrew examines how corporations focussed debates about political economy – prevailing ideas about the relationships between commerce and governance – in their European and non-European fields of operation. From the outset, trading corporations had to justify their privileges with reference to the broader social and commercial advantages they generated for the state and public. In making their case, they developed a recognisable corporate discourse of political economy that proved formative for mercantilist ideologies and policies. The tropes of this discourse structured opposing arguments that proved formative for liberal political economies of the eighteenth century. A central focus of this discourse was the debate about monopoly, but the debate also confronted questions about sociability, the civility of non- European peoples, and theories of economic growth. The corporation’s inherent calibration of commercial and governmental agendas sustained a role for constitutional and political variables in economic outcomes. As structures that gave individual personality to dynamic networks of individuals, the corporation helped to absorb and shape writing about political economy and gave that writing a public role. As an intermediary institution between cultures, these debates about political economy channeled the experiences of international contexts into domestic public debates. In this way, corporations can help us to demonstrate the global contexts in which mercantilist doctrine emerged and altered and can show how non-Europeans peoples interactions with European corporations prompted and structured transnational debates about political economy.