Neil Fligstein


My goal here is twofold. First, I want to introduce the theory of strategic action fields to the law audience. The main idea in field theory in sociology is that most social action occurs in social arenas where actors know one another and take one another into account in their action. Scholars use the field construct to make sense of how and why social orders emerge, reproduce, and transform. Underlying this formulation is the idea that a field is an ongoing game where actors have to understand what others are doing in order to frame their actions. Second, I want to argue that there is a great deal of theoretical leverage to be gained by considering law as a field. To make all of this more concrete, I use field theory to offer a stylized account of the rise of the “shareholder value” movement of the 1980s and the use of agency theory as the dominant theory of corporate governance to justify the shareholder value revolt. I end by considering whether or not field theory has normative implications useful for the law.