Transnational Business Actors in Dispute

Catégorie :Appels à communication

Date :du jeudi, 14 janvier 2021 à 14:00 au vendredi, 15 janvier 2021 à 17:00

Date limite : mardi, 15 septembre 2020

Lieu :Lille (France)

Contact :

Source: Yohann Morival (

Résumé :

This international symposium will focus on transnational business actors (TBA) by analysing their divisions and the disputes in which there are involved in past and present times. Focusing on divisions and the ways TBA manage to overcome them, this symposium aims to unveil an important yet overlooked dimension of the political activities of TBA.

Détails :

Transnational Business Actors in Dispute

International Symposium
Lille University
14-15 January 2021

Call for papers

Convenors: Marieke Louis (Sciences Po Grenoble, PACTE) and Yohann Morival (University of Lille, CERAPS)

Scientific committee: Guillaume Courty, Nana de Graaf, Simon Godard, Pierre Eichenberger, Jean-Christophe Graz, Claire Lemercier, Marieke Louis, Frédéric Mérand, Hélène Michel, Yohann Morival, Michel Offerlé, Antoine Roger, Karsten Ronit, Jérôme Sgard


This international symposium will focus on transnational business actors (TBA) by analysing their divisions and the disputes in which there are involved in past and present times. Focusing on divisions and the ways TBA manage to overcome them, this symposium aims to unveil an important yet overlooked dimension of the political activities of TBA.

TBA are diverse and include peak organisations relying on their members (Ronit 2018) such as the International Chamber of Commerce, or more informal settings such as the Business 20 (B20), transnational corporations or transnational economic networks like the Bilderberg group. But they are also similar to the extent that they represent non-national private economic interests at the global scale, and are mobilized to defend them.

TBA are often analysed through their political activities, notably the diversities of their lobbying practices (Curran and Eckhardt 2017) despite the polysemy of the concept (Courty 2018). The focus on logic of access or on expertise is of major interest, but it limits the political activities of TBA to relations with political institutions. Some have also analysed TBA as part of a broader transnational corporate elite (de Graaf and van Apeldoorn 2016, Kauppi and Madsen 2014, Sklair 2016) and transnational capitalist class (Staples 2012) which defends the supposed “common interest” of business.

In order to develop a better understanding of TBA’s political activities, this symposium will focus on competition, rivalries even conflicts existing among them. The existence of conflicts is of particular interest when it comes to TBA as literature tends to minimize and underestimate their existence. Far from being fully homogeneous, TBA’s activities are shaped by at least three types of conflicts:

- First, competitions occur within the organisation or the firms as TBA are often large and complex collective entities, sometimes gathering a plurality of interests (Offerlé, 2009). For example, BusinessEurope, the main peak European employers’ organization, was shaped by divisions between its members on essential activities (agenda, resource allocation, representation, etc.) thereby highlighting internal legitimacy conflicts (Morival 2017). At firm level, it is also possible to identify conflicts on strategic orientations and activities. Thus, unveiling internal competitions could give precious information on their functioning and legitimacy-building processes;
- Second, competitions between different groups of firms or business organizations are another relevant aspect of the conflictual dynamics at play among TBA. For example, transnational corporations could compete over the definition of economic norms as shown by the conflict between Microsoft and IBM within the International Standardization Organization (ISO) (Vion and al. 2013). Tensions also arise between international peak employers’ organisations over their representativeness and core values (Louis 2016). Such competition is of particular interest as it does not only involve TBA but also representatives of others international organisations, such as the ISO for instance, when it comes to standardization processes, or the International Labour Organization (ILO) when labour standard or certain human rights are concerned. In order to fully grasp these conflictual dynamics, attention should also be paid to processes of conciliation like private arbitration (Lemercier, Sgard 2015) or individual mediation. Thus, our goal through this symposium is not only to analyse the mechanisms established to mitigate tensions, but also what these divisions tell us about international organizations as well.
- Third, competition and conflicts also occur between TBA and non-business actors such as transnational social movements, non-governmental organizations or international organizations. These groups can either challenge the legitimacy of business to be represented within institutions of global governance, by insisting on power abuses or conflicts of interests. They can engage into apparently more cooperative relationships, like in the ILO (Louis 2016), by integrating adversarial positions into the dynamic of multilateral negotiations (Compagnon and Orsini 2011). Understanding such conflicts eventually leads to question the increasing normalization of the political role endorsed by TBA.
These conflicts should not be solely regarded as a limit to TBA’s power but as another way to highlight the political dimension of TBA’s activities. Studying conflicts as well as their regulation and the way TBA manage to preserve the unity of the group, this call aims to address three more general questions:
1) How do these conflicts contribute to the resilience of a neo-liberal order (Ferguson 2005, Dreiler and Darves 2016, Overbeek and van Apeldoorn 2012) by regularly redefining the interest of business and the main rationales of (neo)liberalism? To the extent that we can actually identify such neoliberal logic, how does it translate, concretely, into the ideas and practices performed by TBA?
2) While the integration of TBA within the international political system is not a new phenomenon, it still remains quite recent and therefore controversial. To what extent do conflicts, both between and within TBAs, illuminate the lack of consensus on the role of business as a political actor at both the national and international level (Guilbaud 2015, Kelly 2001, Nay 2017)? Should we rather consider these disputes as a sign of their de facto, though non-linear, integration to the international political field? What do these conflicts tell us about the political legitimacy of TBA? How should we analyse, for instance, the support and loyalty shown by peak business organizations such as the IOE or the ICC towards the action of the ILO and WHO during the Covid-crisis?
3) A last set of questions relate to the effects of these conflicts on the definition what is “public” or “private” and on the functioning of global governance such as the growing resort to arbitration as a dispute settlement which challenge more traditional and state-centered mechanisms, or the production of normative standards (like ISO norms (Gasnier 2017, Louis and Ruwet 2017)). In other words how do these conflictual dynamics eventually lead to more hybrid forms of governance (Graz 2006) and collective action repertoires?
The scientific committee is open to both quantitative and qualitative proposals as long as they focus on a specific field study, whether it is past or present (from the beginning of the 20th century onwards), local, regional or global, monographic or comparative.
Symposium’s key deadlines
- Submission of abstracts: 15 September 2020
Abstracts (max. 500 words) and contributors’ C.V. (max. 1 page) should be written either in English or French and sent at: and
- Program announcement: October 2020
- Submission of final papers: December 2020
Practical note: considering the sanitary situation and its consequences on international travels, we already plan to organize part of the symposium remotely.

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