Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

M. Lane Bruner


The power of the corporation is pervasive in every aspect of human life. This situation initiates a question: how did the modern corporation become so powerful? To answer this question, as well as to understand the implications of the modern corporate form and its power in contemporary society, this dissertation explores how the corporation’s power stems from three historical developments that have had lasting significance: 1) its legal personification under the Fourteenth Amendment; 2) the development of its “voice” in the form of public relations and; 3) the acquisition of First Amendment political speech rights. Independently and collectively, each of these developments contributed to the corporation’s rise to dominance within society and to its hegemony in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, the growth and expansion of corporate power is also connected to several landmark Supreme Court rulings on corporate rights. Thus, this dissertation provides a rhetorical, ideological analysis of Supreme Court rulings that have contributed to the ongoing protection and expansion of corporate rights and power under the law. These rulings include Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), which endowed the corporation with Constitutional personhood rights; and Buckley v. Valeo (1976), First National Bank v. Boston (1978), Nike v. Kasky (2003) and Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), which all enabled, granted or protected corporate First Amendment rights. The analysis is guided by a close reading of these judicial texts. In sum, this study aims to uncover the ideological underpinnings of these Supreme Court decisions as it shows what interests are served through these rulings. It also describes how these rulings contribute to the expansion of corporate power and shape the relations between human beings and corporations in our society, in ways that are ontologically controversial.