Secret Societies, Opaque Routes: Advancing Corporate Politics through the World Economic Forum

Christina Garsten, Adrienne Sörbom

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


    This paper departs from an interest in the involvement of business leaders in the sphere of politics, in the broad sense. At a general level, we are seeing a proliferation of usages of non-market corporate strategies, such as testimony, lobbying, interlocking of positions and other means to influence policymakers at all levels of government and international institutions as an adjunct to the firm’s market strategies. This paper brings to the fore the role of corporations in the World Economic Forum (WEF), and how firms act through the WEF to advance their interests, financial as well as political. What is the role of business in the WEF, and how do business corporations advance their interests through the WEF?
    Inspired by Stephen Barley's (2010) work on how corporations have systematically built an institutional field to exert greater influence on the US Federal government, we aim to enhance knowledge on how the WEF and the 1,000 corporations that are active within it influence the larger socio-cultural context in which they are embedded. Empirically we depart from ethnographic field studies of the World Economic Forum, drawing on observations from WEF-events and interviews with participants and organizers. Theoretically we will employ an organizational perspective, using the concept of "partial organization" as introduced by Göran Ahrne and Nils Brunsson (2011).
    The results show that corporations find a strategically positioned amplifier for their non-market interests in the WEF. The WEF functions to enhance and gain leverage for their ideas and priorities in a highly selective and resourceful environment. In the long run, both the market priorities and the political interests of business may be served by engagement in the WEF.
    However, the WEF cannot only be conceived as the extended voice of corporations. The WEF also makes strategic use of the corporations to organize and expand their own agency, which not necessarily coincides with the interests of multinational corporations. By way of corporate financial resources, the tapping of knowledge and expertise, and access to vast networks of business relations, the WEF is also able to amplify its own voice. The organized network, in the format of partial organization, which is the preferred form of organization of the WEF, comes with weakened power in the form of oversight and sanctions for the member corporations, but may allow for a concentration of resources at the center. The periphery has little sanctioned insight into the core of the organization, and a weak voice in influencing the operations of the organization. Actors in the partially organized environment thus have to rely on the goodwill of the leadership.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2014
    Number of pages27
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    EventThe 5th Latin American and European Meeting on Organizational Studies. LAEMOS 2014 - Havanna, Cuba
    Duration: 2 Apr 20145 Apr 2014
    Conference number: 5


    ConferenceThe 5th Latin American and European Meeting on Organizational Studies. LAEMOS 2014
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