Call for essays on the Corporation for State of Power 2020

10 June 2019
Article

The Transnational Institute (TNI) in the Netherlands is issuing an open call for essays, accessible papers, infographics and artistic collaborations for its forthcoming State of Power report launched in late January 2020 to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos. The focus for our ninth annual edition is on 'The Corporation'.

TNI’s annual State of Power reports have, since their launch in 2012, become a must-see reference point for citizens, activists and academics concerned with understanding the nature of power in our globalised world in order to inform struggles for justice. With a mixture of compelling infographics and insightful essays, State of Power has examined dimensions of power (economic, political, social), exposed the key players who control power, and highlighted movements of counter-power seeking to transform our world. Recent State of Power reports have been widely praised for their inspiring essays and brilliant art.

The Corporation

Corporations today have become the defining actor of capitalism. With more money than most governments, entrenched at every level of political power, treated legally as people and entities with rights, involved in ever more provision of social services, their power seems insurmountable. Their success, in other words their profits, has become the indicator of whether an economy or society is succeeding. Their brands on, in or around our bodies are a reflection as to whether we as individuals are perceived as successful.

On one level, this is no surprise. The giant corporations of today are immensely impressive entities: capable of managing highly complex global supply chains, delivering readily-available products sought after by millions, constantly adapting and responding to social changes, and in every continent succeeding in winning political and often social support for their role. They have become truly hegemonic.

Yet legally this Leviathan has no ethical or social purpose beyond profits, and many corporations are destroying the very planet we live on. It has been described by psychologists as an entity with a pathology of a psychopath.  

The corporate form has long roots, dating back to the colonial era when modern day corporations were first established.  But it is also a constantly mutating entity too. The old corporations’ rise depended on exploitation of labour and nature and the support of a colonizing power. Under neoliberalism, corporations thrive on their capacity to globalise operations to minimise costs and maximise returns. Now with recent technological shifts some of today’s giant corporations don’t even technically employ most workers; others seek to turn the activities and data of their customers and users into value for themselves; others such as hedge funds exist merely to capitalize on other businesses’, individuals’ and states’ need for cash flow. Corporations have meanwhile have become ever more complex legally as they seek to evade taxes and escape liability for their operations – and frequent human rights violations - creating a culture of impunity and obfuscation. The rising economic power of state-owned corporations is also changing the dynamic and relations between corporations and states. The traditional popular understanding of the corporation as a privately-owned factory producing goods with CEO, managers and workers seems ever less true, at least in the Global North.

Yet the impunity and accumulation of ever more power by more corporations does create its own backlash, with politicians today across the political spectrum forced to respond to popular demands to rein in corporate power. Affected communities, social and labour movements  are finding new ways to mobilise and organise to challenge corporate power – seeking to break up corporate monopolies, to revive the public sector,  to introduce new national and international laws to hold corporations liable for their operations, to explore new participatory democratic models of business. Will these movements effectively challenge or change the corporation? Will states adopt, and courts enforce, such new laws? How will corporations respond? What can we strategically do to defeat corporate power?

A lot has been written about corporations – including by Transnational Institute - so we are particularly interested in proposals that explore little-understood areas or approach the issues in creative ways that help deepen understanding and improve social movement strategies. We believe it is critical to have a deep, clear and up-to-date analysis of corporations if we are to successfully confront them. We are therefore keen for reflections on corporations from different disciplinary fields in order to create as rounded a picture of the modern corporation as possible. We are also interested in producing some infographics or artwork that help penetrate the power of the corporation and our own power to take back control.

Our ultimate goal is not analysis for its own sake but rather to empower activists and movements to more successfully challenge, confront and overcome corporate power and impunity.

These are some questions – but by no means an exclusive list – that we are interested in exploring:
 

  • What is corporate power exactly, and what forms does it take? Which are the the most powerful corporations today and why? How has this changed and why and how  is this likely to change in the future?

  • What is the implication of the Tech Giants (Google, Facebook, Amazon) becoming some of the world’s biggest global corporations (possibly overtaking the traditional sectors of finance, automobile and fossil fuel giants) for society and social movements?
  •  What is the significance of Chinese corporations rising to become some of the largest international corporations? How do they continue or transform the nature of the modern corporation and corporate power?
  •  Who owns corporations? What influence do the owners of corporations (people or other corporations) have? What are multinational corporate groups and how are they structured? How have mergers and acquisitions and the increasing monopolisation of corporations shaped corporate power?
  •  Why have corporations become hegemonic – economically, politically, culturally? What is at the heart of their social power?  And where are the fractures in that hegemony that social movements can exploit?
  •  What are the legal/financial/structural reasons for their economic and political success? What’s the difference between national and global contexts? How is the corporation treated in international law? How does international law help build, protect or restrain corporate power?
  •  What is the relation of the modern corporation to the modern state? What is the relationship between the corporation and demos? How has corporate power shaped, undermined, replaced democracy?
  •  How do corporations evade responsibility for their operations – in particular their violations of human rights and destruction of the environment? What are the best ways to hold corporations to account for their actions?
  •  What is the role of media and social media in legitimating corporate power?
  •  How do modern corporations – in specific sectors - work and function?  Does the internal reality of power dynamics within corporations challenge the external perception?
  •  How is platform capitalism changing corporations and corporate power? What is the power of labour organizing in the new platform economies?
  •  What are the potential weaknesses or fractures in the modern corporation? In general and also sectorally.
  •  How will rapid technological change shape the future corporation? Will it consolidate power or do they offer opportunities for holding the corporation to account?
  •  Will the corporation as we know survive the coming socioeconomic and ecological transformations or is this model a relic of fossil-fueled capitalism?
  •  What are the best strategies for tackling corporate power? What models or experiences can we draw on? What social movements tactics have worked well in the past and how can we improve on those experiences?
  •  Can we end the corporate form as it currently is? How would we do it? What would be the implications?
  •  Is it possible to create an emancipatory, bottom-up democratic firm? Do Benefit Corporations offer a real alternative? What other models or alternatives can we draw on?

As well as analysis, TNI would also be interested in specific case-studies that draw out general lessons as well as stories and artwork and films that help us understand the corporation in creative and imaginative ways.

We welcome a wide range of perspectives and analysis on the broad theme, however TNI does appreciate submissions that relate to areas we most closely work on such as corporate impunity, drug reform, trade and investment policies, land, agrarian and environmental justice, resource grabbing, public services, war and pacification, social movements and counter-power (see https://www.tni.org/en/programmes)

TNI has a small number of grants of 250-500 euros – to be prioritized for activists with low-incomes and those working on these topics in the Global South. Please mention in your submission if you wish to apply for this grant which will be awarded if your essay is published in the main report.

Format and Style

Our goal ultimately is to provide accessible analysis that can be read and used by a broad range of activists and social movements that will help movements confront entrenched power and injustice. TNI produces its essays in the format of a long-read, illustrated by international artists. We also try to syndicate the pieces to other online magazines to maximise readership. We are therefore looking for pieces written as journalistic long-reads that make information accessible and that can be pitched to other media.

In 2020, we also plan to accompany the essays with a podcast or two for our State of Power series, providing a new way for our audience to engage with the ideas in the essays.

For both essays and podcasts, the following are important for communication:
    • stories
    • concrete examples
    • metaphors
    • journalistic techniques

We also welcome suggestions of photos, videos, artwork, songs and other ways to illustrate essays. You can see examples of this here. We discourage the overuse of academic jargon literature analysis and academic debates that mean little to the public.

While essays are the main focus of the report, TNI is also open to proposals for artistic explorations that examine the same themes that could accompany and complement the essays. The process will be different for these, so please just email stateofpower AT tni.org with any proposals or suggestions.

Eligibility

While TNI is proud of our high standard of scholarship, this call does not require any specific academic qualifications. Contributors to earlier editions of State of Power have included students, professors, journalists, activists and artists - all at different stages of their careers and lives. TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.

Process

The final report will be made up of a mixture of essays from this open call and a number of pre-commissioned essays, which will also be packaged into a number of podcasts. We have designed a process to feature what we consider the best essays in the main report. The decision on which papers are featured will be decided by an Editorial Panel made up of the Director and the editors of the report. The selection process will follow three stages:

1. In the first stage, researchers will be asked to send in a

a) pitch for your long-read essay
b) a short bio and
c) some links to previous work. It will help your application if your previous work is not just limited to academic texts but includes some more accessible journalistic pieces.

Pitches should include:
    • the main argument you are trying to make
    • the key points you would include
    • stories or examples that illustrate it  

The pitch can be based on existing papers or be provisional ideas of what you hope to  explore. If you would like to apply for the grant – available to low-income participants –  please indicate this at this stage.

2. Those whose pitches are chosen will be asked to submit an essay. The top 3-4 essays will be selected for the report by the Editorial Panel.

3. The selected essays will go through a final round of revisions based on feedback by the Editorial Panel, and subject to final copyedit.

4. Essays that do not make the top eight – and are considered good essays by the Editorial Panel - will be available as downloadable PDFs linked from the main report. Grants unfortunately won’t be available though for these essays that don’t appear in the main report.

Instructions for submission

Pitches must be emailed to stateofpower AT tni.org by 10 July 2019. Full draft essays will be due on 22 October. Approved final essays will go through a process of review and editing until the final version is approved on 4 December.
 

  • Pitches/essays must address the nature of  corporate power from a critical  progressive perspective, seeking to provide useful knowledge and analysis for movements engaged in the struggle for social and environmental justice
  • Pitches/essays can be based on reworked versions of existing or previously published essays/papers or extracts of books but must be made accessible to a non-academic audience
  • TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.
  • Pitches and essays can be written in English, Spanish or French.
  • Pitches must be a maximum of 800 words. They do not need to be of continuous prose but must capture the main arguments of the essay and can be expanded outlines. Bios should be 200 words or less.
  • Final Essay length: 3000-5000 words. Shorter essays are acceptable, but no longer than 5000 words.
  • Style: TNI has five basic criteria for its research and publications that will also be used to assess the pitches and essays:
    -Credible: Well researched and evidence-based
    - Accessible: Readable by a broad non-specialist audience (in other words please avoid too much academic jargon) and try to use stories, examples
    - Additional: Adds depth, new insights or detail to existing knowledge/research
    - Radical: Tackles the structural roots of critical issues
    - Propositional: Does not just critique, but also puts forward just alternatives where relevant
  • TNI's styleguide can be found here in English and here in Spanish
  • Do not include references in brackets within the text eg (Abramson, 2011) in the academic style. As we first publish online and then as a printable PDF, please hyperlink the text pointing to the reference AND provide an endnote with the full reference, preferably in Harvard style. You may also provide a bibliography at end of essay instead.
  • Please do not overdo it on the endnotes (no more than 40 for each essay)– use it mainly for referring to facts/evidence that may be surprising, questioned or challenged.
  • Please send as .doc file or .docx file or Open/Libre Office equivalent for written texts, pdf for artistic submissions
  • The decision of the Editorial Panel is final. If your pitch or essay is chosen, please be ready to respond to peer reviews and copy editing comments based on the timeline below.

Timeline

10 July             Submission of pitches
15 July             Pitches approved for submission of full essay
22 October    Submission of full essay
30 October    Decision on whether essay to be approved for final report or published as PDF
November     Review, second draft, final copyedits
Mid Nov         Podcast recording
14-18 January  Publication of essays