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Big Data

Promise, Application and Pitfalls

Edited by John Storm Pedersen and Adrian Wilkinson

Big data and 'the package' of the digital society is de-mystified in this important book. A group of international experts frame the debates around big data and analyse its impact in different sectors in practice. They also examine whether big data and the digital society can deliver on its promises.
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Marie-Laure Salles-Djelic

Marie Laure Djelic presents the role of Atlas Transnational, the mother of neo-liberal think tanks. Over the last 40 years neoliberalism has become the ‘new dominant regime of truth’ with a significant performative impact both nationally and transnationally. Of particular interest is the carrier and boundary-spanning role of the dense ecology of neoliberal think tanks and research institutes constructed during these last 40 years. These think tanks espouse a market- and business-friendly ideology and have made it their mission to champion, spread, defend and entrench, as widely and deeply as possible and in a multiplicity of contexts, this ideology and its associated politics. Djelic explores the role of Atlas, that was created to ‘litter the world’ with free-market think tanks, with a particular interest for the process through which the organizational form of the ‘neoliberal think tank’ came to be constructed, diffused, and progressively institutionalized during that period.

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Mikkel Flyverbom

Mikkel Flyverbom sets out to expand the conception of corporate advocacy by pointing to the growing importance of knowledge, data and visualizations. Drawing on insights from the literature on the politics of knowledge and the importance of knowledge in governance Flyverbom develops a conceptual entry point for enhancing the understanding of how Internet companies engage multiple forms of knowledge and visualizations as resources in their efforts to shape public perceptions, politics and regulation. To this end, the chapter uses illustrations from a study of Google and Facebook showing various forms of corporate advocacy that play out in this field: relationship building, message crafting and data provision. Based on this typology and the empirical illustrations Flyverborn discusses the role of conceptual and contextual embedding of visual numbers- and data-based forms of knowledge production and advocacy, in relation to prevalent forms and understandings of corporate political activities.

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Hervé Dumez and Alain Jeunemaître

Hervé Dumez and Alain Jeunema"tre analyse political strategies of firms, based on public documents and interviews from the US-based company Boeing. The traditional view of firms’ political strategies is that, by acting on the state, they will protect and expand firms’ interests. But whereas in the classic game (to prevent the vote of an adverse law for example) corporate interests from the outset were seen as clearly defined in the new game companies frequently seen as identifying their interest in the course of actions and interactions with politicians. Boeing’s strategy in the late 1990s and early 2000s serves as an illustrating case of how the traditional opposition between market and non-market strategies today is less sharp. In the late 1990s, the company developed new strategies aimed at building influence rents. These strategies failed, but based on the case the authors identify new types of relationships between firms and the state.

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Christina Garsten and Adrienne Sörbom

Departing from an interest in the involvement of business leaders in the sphere of politics, in the broad sense, Garsten and Sörbom analyse the role of business within the World Economic Forum (WEF). Many global business leaders today do much more than engage narrowly in the own corporation and its search for profit, and the WEF is one arena through which firms act to advance their interests, financial as well as political. The chapter indicates a number of conduits through which business may draw upon the WEF and its platforms for their non-market interests. However, the WEF cannot merely be conceived as the extended voice of corporations. The WEF also makes use of the corporations to organize and expand its own agency. Garsten and Sörbom introduce the notion of policy bricolage as a way to capture the ambiguous, creative and agile role of WEF and its relation to corporations.

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Christina Garsten and Adrienne Sörbom

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Sébastien Picard, Véronique Steyer, Xavier Philippe and Mar Pérezts

In this chapter Mar Pérezts, Xavier Philippe, Sébastien Picard and Véronique Steyer offer a broad vision of corporate political activities, highlighting its institutional reach, and describing its concrete institutionalizing effects. Drawing on Lallement (2008) the authors attempt at opening the black box of the institutionalization processes of corporate political activities and the institutional dynamics associated to this type of activities. Using data from an in-depth ethnography in VaxCorp, a leading corporation in the vaccine industry, the authors analyse how the company shapes its institutional field by imposing the dominant ‘vaccinology’ imaginary. In practice this takes shape in a modus operandi that goes beyond the mere maximization of VaxCorp’s interests to organize actions and behaviours of other institutional actors (for example, State, WHO). The analysis indicates that this dominant imaginary emerges from but also intertwines institutionalizing processes into a larger and coherent pattern, which eventually legitimizes corporations’ dominance in an institutional field.

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Anna Tyllström

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork from the realm of public affairs consultancy, Anna Tyllström provides insights into the practical nature of corporate lobbying, as well as a discussion of the role lobbying may have in politics and markets. The case describes how a powerful industry player, wishing to influence policy, hires a consultant who uses classical tools to gain political influence. In generalized terms, the chapter shows the lobbying of public affairs consultants to revolve around five practices; information-gathering, contact management, visibility management, role-switching and ideological proactivity. These practices are distinctly observable aspects of lobbying work, but they also feed into and amplify each other. The switching roles facilitate the establishment of contacts, which in turn enables the gathering of more valuable information. Furthermore, the constant management of boundaries, the rich contact networks and the adjustment of identities together makes it possible for consultants to launch own political ideas.

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Mélodie Cartel, Eva Boxenbaum, Franck Aggeri and Jean-Yves Caneill

Drawing on the case of construction of the European carbon market (EU-ETS) Cartel, Boxenbaum , Aggeri and Caneill address the question of how public policies can be designed and implemented when facing strong reluctance from both politicians and private corporations. The EU-ETS was adopted in 2003 as the corner stone of the European climate policy. The authors analyse the collective dynamics of the making of the European carbon market. Based on a rich set of archival data and interviews, the analysis reconstitutes the original strategy deployed by the electricity sector to implement a carbon market in Europe. From 1999 to 2001, a handful of actors in the sector organized two successive experiments where they invited industrial companies to build and test various carbon market prototypes. The chapter indicates that these experiments triggered an intellectual shift among participants and considerably fuelled the policymaking process that led to the EU-ETS.

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Renita Thedvall

Based on ethnographic insights of the attempts by a since long-established chocolate factory to develop a product in line with the fairtrade standard Renita Thedvall studies how the world views and ideals in Fairtrade International’s standards are negotiated, navigated and embedded in relation to issues of marketability and political ideals. The factory’s choice to use an ethical label on one of its products brought a whole set of political discussions, as well as new priorities within the factory. The words and the values in the standards documents and compliance criteria were translated and adjusted, turning the fairtrade labelled products into a political affair matching the chocolate factory’s political ideals. Still, the negotiated fairtrade ideals did not carve out a space in the milk chocolate segment. Thus, making a business out of being fairtrade opened a space for politics within the factory but not for economic success. In the end, the fairtrade labelled bar was discarded.