Backstage orchestration: The problem of the corporation in the public sphere

Jensen Sass, University of Canberra

Tue 6 August 2019

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


The legal and organizational reality of corporations is hard to reconcile with democratic rule. Corporations exercise vast influence on society and yet their internal administration and external politics rarely heed democratic principles. Although the problem of the corporation is widely recognized, democratic theorists have seldom considered its manifestations across different institutional settings. This paper begins to address this omission; it sets out the idea of ‘backstage orchestration’, a normatively problematic set of tactics deployed by corporations in the public sphere. In backstage orchestration, corporations act as principals, directing a multitude of non-state agents to shape public opinion and thus regulatory and legislative decisions. In contrast to frontstage orchestration, where a relatively transparent and accountable governmental entity coordinates non-state actors to achieve a public purpose, a backstage orchestrator prosecutes a manipulative agenda in secret. Given the professionalization and proliferation of such campaigns, backstage orchestration represents an acute risk to the proper functioning of the public sphere; its resolution is to be found in the fullerapplication of democratic principles to the public sphere itself.

About the speaker

Jensen Sass completed his PhD at Yale University in 2016 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. He works at the intersection of political sociology and normative political theory with a particular focus on public deliberation, democratic institutions, and the organisational analysis of corporate power.