The past as prologue: Purpose dynamics in the history of the Aktiengesellschaft

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Institutions are collective responses to collective concerns, with the underlying link between concern and response being the purpose of the institution. With this conceptual lens, we analyze the history of the Aktiengesellschaft (AG), which emerged in Austria and Germany around 1800. While any analysis of the organizational features of the form would have diagnosed marked stability over the past two centuries, our historical study reveals significant shifts of the AG’s purpose and meaning: from a vehicle in the service of the public interest, shareholders, and employees to a persona with legitimate selfinterests and the will to survive. We suggest to regard such purpose drifts as distinct variant of institutional change. In addition, we conclude that the AG’s essentially political actorhood institutionalizes the ever fragile and delicate quest for a balance between the different legitimate interests on whose behalf a corporation acts (including those of the self). Such a view, we argue, can offer a future for the corporation as organizational form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97 - 120
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Cite this