SCANCOR at the Weatherhead Center, launched in the fall of 2016, explores the role of corporations—and other formal organizations—in the creation of international, social, environmental, economic, and political conventions and norms. The project is based on a visiting scholars program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University that welcomes faculty who use the tools of organizational science to work on international topics.
This eight-year project, led by Sociology Professor Frank Dobbin and Government Professor Torben Iversen, partners the Weatherhead Center with the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research (SCANCOR)—a membership-supported nonprofit organization funded by leading universities and business schools in Scandinavia.
In recent years, the boundaries of the state have changed dramatically around the world, with the privatization of state activities, from transport services to pension provision to education. As a result, corporations and nonprofits have expanded and even adapted their operations and relationships with state entities. For example, multinational firms and global corporate networks have increasingly worked to define civil rights, environmental norms, labor practices, and economic ideals globally. Social and educational services are also increasingly provided by private actors, resulting in segmentation and differentiation of what used to be universal public benefits.
There has also been dramatic change in the structure of the corporation, with transnational outsourcing of activities ranging from production to software development to legal services. Some describe this as the atomization of the corporation, as the headquarters of multinational firms—often in the industrialized Global North—direct commodity chains through contracts that extend around the world—especially in the Global South.
The fixed boundaries of corporations, nonprofits, and nation-states that characterized the global postwar ontology have given way to fuzziness and flux. Corporations themselves have become alternatively monolithic, as in the case of global auto manufacturing, and atomized through contracting and outsourcing, as in the case of global footwear production. Meanwhile states, investors, and NGO regulators have started establishing global standards for corporations, in arenas ranging from work conditions and accounting rules to tax codes.
The proliferation of multinational corporations, transnational corporate networks, and nonstate organizations in recent decades has complicated the field of international affairs. The relations across corporations, NGOs, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and their relations with governments, have become increasingly important to the development of norms and soft law. For instance, the national units of corporations and NGOs interact across borders to respond to economic and human-rights crises, develop new technologies and management practices, negotiate terms of international exchange, and monitor labor rights. The activities of multinational corporations, transnational corporate networks, and INGOs often define global norms and shape public policies.
Yet even as production becomes more globalized, the advanced activities of MNCs remain deeply embedded in local knowledge clusters, which expose them to national regulations and policies. Nation-states therefore remain strong players, and partisan governments and electoral politics will shape policies and distributive outcomes in the new economy.
SCANCOR at the Weatherhead Center connects visitors with scholars and graduate students from across the Harvard campus in workshops and conferences. It brings a small number of scholars to work at Harvard for up to one year on international projects based in organizational scholarship. The partnership provides office space, basic administrative services, and a formal affiliation to visitors. Visitors are supported by their own sabbatical funds, research grants, and leave fellowships.
The partnership between SCANCOR and the Weatherhead Center is intended to bring an organizational—and frequently corporate—lens to the study of international norms and conventions. We expect many visitors to undertake truly global projects using the tools of organizational social science. Projects may include the study of:
- the role of corporations in producing new business norms in areas such as civil rights and the environment;
- how new public policy ideas spread through multinationals;
- how social movements change corporate behavior around the world;
- how states, elections, international institutions, and social movements affect firms and are affected by them;
- the creation of soft law and regulations between corporations, NGOs, INGOs, and IGOs;
- how NGOs and corporations shape national regulations and political systems; and
- how corporate management norms shape public sector organizations.
In addition to providing space and resources to visitors, the project sponsors speakers and conferences on topics of interest to both project visitors and the Weatherhead Center’s Harvard affiliates.
Visitors also participate in other events and seminars organized by Weatherhead Center programs, as well as the several organizational research symposia throughout the Boston metropolitan area, including the Economic Sociology Seminar and research workshops in the Harvard Sociology and Government Departments, the Center for European Studies, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and MIT.
Visitors are selected through an application process that is held twice yearly. To apply, please visit the SCANCOR website. Should you have any questions, please contact Catherine Nehring for assistance.