Big Business and the State

Historical Transitions and Corporate Transformations, 1880s-1990s

By Harland Prechel

Subjects: Economics
Series: SUNY series in the Sociology of Work and Organizations
Paperback : 9780791445945, 317 pages, May 2000
Hardcover : 9780791445938, 317 pages, May 2000

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Table of contents

List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations

1. Capital Dependence, Historical Transitions, and Corporate Transformations

Part I: Corporate Transformation in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

2. The Federalist State and the Emergence of the Modern Corporation

3. Restructuring the Business Enterprise to Obtain Market Control, 1890–1905

4. Political Capitalism: The Rise and Demise of the Industrial Holding Company

Part II: Transformation of the Managerial Process

5. From Product Cost Controls to Financial Controls

6. The Management of Managers at American Steel, 1920–1970s

Part III: Historical Transitions in Corporations' Institutional Arrangements, 1940s–1990s

7. More Political Capitalism: Changing Economic Conditions and Corporate Political Behavior, 1940–1985

8. Transformation of the Managerial Process, 1980s

9. Changing Institutional Arrangements and Transformation to the Multilayered Subsidiary Form

10. Tranformation to the Multilayered Subsidiary Form among the Largest Industrial Parent Companies

11. Conclusion: Historical Transitions and Corporate Transformations


Examines the evolution of corporate form and managerial process from the 1880s to the 1990s, detailing how corporations influenced government to affect changes in response to economic transitions.


In Big Business and the State Harland Prechel develops a conceptual framework that contrasts with prevailing definitions of the corporation. His analysis shows that corporate property rights and the legal basis of ownership are crucial to understanding corporate behavior. The book examines how historical transitions affected the three most significant corporate transformations in the last 110 years (1880s–1900s, 1920s–1930s, 1980s–1990s). During each period, in response to economic crisis, big business engaged in political behavior to pressure state managers to realign the institutional arrangements in which corporations were embedded. The historical multicausal method shows that economic crisis, managerial inefficiencies, dependence on external capital markets, and the political processes of redefining corporate property rights and corporate tax laws are crucial to understanding corporate transformation.

Harland Prechel is Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University, and the author of Corporate and Class Restructuring.


"With its broad sweep, this book … will challenge and inform sociologists and business historians." — CHOICE

"This book is essential reading for sociologists interested in state theory or organizational theory. Also, the author's integration of historical case method and quantitative analysis and his ability to move easily between micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis make this book a model of sociological research that any sociologist would gain from reading." — Contemporary Sociology

"Harland Prechel, in Big Business and the State, helps move beyond embeddedness to develop an account of precisely how the relationship between corporations and the state actually shapes each of them. He synthesizes the classical organization theory concept of dependence with the foundational concept of political economy, capital, as the centerpiece of this important and potentially influential book … Prechel's empirical discussion of the difference between rationalization and efficiency is one of the best I've seen, making the book one of the sharpest critiques of efficiency theory in recent years." — Administrative Science Quarterly

"This book tackles a complex set of historical, economic, political, and sociological issues with great energy and enthusiasm. The two things I like best are the author's attention to issues of law, legislation, and the legal form of corporations, and his explicit awareness and treatment of the historical differences between nineteenth-century dynamics of economic-corporate development and the contemporary phase of economic globalization." — Wolf Heydebrand, coauthor of Rationalizing Justice: The Political Economy of Federal District Courts

"This volume takes on large and important questions. Well-written and compelling, this is good sociology. I think it has the potential to be a very important book; it's a fine piece of scholarship." — David Bills, editor of The New Modern Times: Factors Reshaping the World of Work