Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Labor
Secondary Theme: The Political
The ethnography and critical anthropological study of corporations is a growing field that has yielded important findings regarding the cultural dynamics, politics, and effects of corporate hierarchy, organization, and practice, corporate power and strategy, and corporate social responsibility campaigns and initiatives around the world. In spite of careful attention to the “corporate values” (Rajak 2011) and corporate “culture” (Ho 2009) that shape capitalist market systems, there has been less emphasis in anthropology on the embeddedness and entanglements of corporate employees in broader social networks and fields of scientific and political practice that shape the conduct of business in essential ways. Taking a cue from prior anthropological work that interrogated ideological categories of “state” and “society” presumed to have their own internal logics, propulsions, and inertias apart from the everyday actions and interactions of the individuals comprising them, this panel approaches the corporation as an institutional form that is porous, connected, and malleable. It appreciates that corporations are comprised of people who are caught up in personal networks and social obligations that exceed, enable, and powerfully inform their professional work and, therefore, corporate functions and activities.
In other words, if anthropologists have usefully questioned the “state effect” that enables bureaucrats’ “mundane material practices to take on abstract, nonmaterial form” in the guise of a state separate from “society” and “the economy” (Mitchell 2006: 170), this panel asks parallel questions regarding a “corporation effect” (cf. Shever 2012) that risks obscuring the relationship of corporate practice and strategy to the mundane life worlds of corporate employees and the extra-corporate networks of influence and broader social, scientific, and political formations that undergird and inform particular ways of doing business. Papers will consider how formal structures of decision making and reporting in global corporations are implicated with personal connections and cliental networks of obligation that modulate, modify, or enable company function, as well as how corporate practice is shaped by social movements, modes of identity politics, and/or logics of ethics and morality that come to define citizenship and belonging in the particular locales where corporate professionals reside. Papers also explore the back-and-forth of broad social formations and corporate strategy by asking how logics and practices of scientific research and knowledge production transform when put to use by corporate employees, only to later influence public perceptions of science and truth through their strategic disseminations in marketing and public relations. In sum, this panel calls into question the notion of “corporations” as bounded entities and challenges boundary-making discourses (cf. Welker 2014) about what is happening “inside” or “outside” the corporation in order to advance a critical understanding of corporate strategies and practices as implicated in wider matrices of social and political power.