Firms, geopolitics and territories conference, Nancy 2010

Venue: Nancy

Location: Nancy, France

Event Date/Time: Sep 09, 2010 End Date/Time: Sep 10, 2010
Early Registration Date: Jan 31, 2009
Abstract Submission Date: Jan 31, 2010
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Conference organised by the Geography department of the University of Nancy 2 and the French National Committee of Geography (“Industry and Work” commission and “Political Geography and Geopolitics” commission), member of International Geographical Union (IGU)

Scientific committee : Mark Bailoni (Université Nancy 2), Alexis Bautzmann (Magazine Diplomatie), Giuseppe Bettoni (Università di Roma 2), Laurent Carroué (Institut Français de Géopolitique), Sylvie Daviet (Université de Provence), Michel Deshaies (Université Nancy 2), Simon Edelblutte (Université Nancy 2), Jacques Fache (Université de Nantes), Jennifer Heurley (Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et Européennes), Pascal Lorot (Institut Choiseul), Paul Reuber (Universität Münster), Stéphane Rosière (Université de Reims), Philippe Subra (Institut Français de Géopolitique), Richard A. Walker (University of California, Berkeley).

Organisation committee : Mark Bailoni (Université Nancy 2), Sylvie Daviet (Université de Provence), Michel Deshaies (Université Nancy 2), Stéphane Rosière (Université de Reims).

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The seventh conference of the “Industry and Work” commission of the French National Committee of Geography (CNFG), organized in partnership with the “Political geography and geopolitics” commission will be held for the first time at the University of Nancy 2. The deadlines for the papers will proceed as follows.
This conference will take place over two days, on the 9th and the 10th of September 2010. Il will be splited into four half days (three half days of workshops and one half day devoted to a visit).
Issued in June 2009, this call for papers will close on the 31st of December 2009. The final program of the conference will be finalised by the international scientific committee in spring 2010.


Geopolitics, political economy, geoeconomy : which meaning ?

Undoubtedly the relationships between politics and economy have come to form a quest, which led to several concepts at the heart of our research questions. The spirit of Political economy was born with Adam Smith’s famous book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which contributed to State intervention. In this case, geopolitics studies the building of the territories by the political or economic power. Finally the multinational firms, particularly studied in the issues of economic geography, are imposing themselves as key actors in the economy and the power of territories. In the post Second World War context, the leading American companies – from United Fruit to Paramount Pictures in essence embody the leadership of the United States on the globe, but also a policy of power, in which the State interests are closely interlinked with the interests of its major companies. With the end of the Cold War, the stakes of power seem encroaching significantly on the ground of the economy. Pascal Lorot underlines that “the conquest of markets and the control of the most advanced technologies have overriden those of the territories”. Edward Luttwak pondered over this evolution by announcing the switch from geopolitics to geoeconomy. The aims of this emerging geoeconomy are the focus of new scientific works leaving a large void for debate (Luttwak, 1990 ; Nye, 1992 ; Cohen, 1996 ; Lorot, 1999). For Jacques Levy (2003), geoeconomy is a geopolitical reading of the economy. After a period of intense globalisation, in a context of an unprecedented international economic crisis, the aim of this conference is to question the triptych formed by firms, power and territory.

Indeed the contemporary world is typified by the increasing role of firms and more generaly economic actors. This role is partly the result of a kind of “retreat of the State” as Susan Strange put it in the 1990’s. This “retreat” was expressed as much inside the States by the withdrawal of central powers in a perspective of structural adjustment advocated by international financial institutions, as by the new activity of transnational actors, such as NGOs, which alter the traditional approach of international relations. Will the current crisis sanction “a return of the State”? It is probably too early to draw such conclusions at this stage, but the policy to reduce the State intervention seems less and less relevant. What is the role of firms within territories? What are their global strategies and their ability to invest in places of power? To what extent can they be related to national ambitions? How are they implicated in the conflicts, issues of defence and security?

This conference will attempt to provide answers to these central questions, welcoming works within the field of Geography and other disciplines involved in these problematics (Economy, History, Politics, etc.). Cross-interdisciplinary approaches are also most welcome.

I. The role of firms on the territories

The role of firms will be taken into consideration here as they are key actors of the “globalisation”, in particular the so-called “transnational” firms (Dollfus, 1997 ; Carroué, 2002). They also hold a significant influence over the geography of trade and production: their decision of location or relocation of economic activities, in their permanent search for competitiveness, can rapidly alter the distribution and the importance of wealth creation. However, firms play a multiscalar role and their action can be analyzed both at a minor and at a wider scale.

They play an important part, but an unequal one, to run and plan the territories. Indeed, the advent of major indutrial and mining companies can suddenly transform the political balances of some territories. Their departure can entail other significant geopolitical disruptions in economically sophisticated regions. Thus creating new stakes of power between local actors upon the reconversion of sites, causing on a national or an international scale a new kind of rivalry between industrial territories. This, to attract new activities (competition between La Rochelle and Sarreguemines to attract the Smart plant, competition between Scotland, Wales and North East England to attract a LG plant, etc.), or launching social ricochets. The consequences of the decisions on the location or the closure of motor or steel plants are all the more severe regarding these territories since they depend on low-diversified activities. The case of peripheric territories is extreme, as in the Canadian Great North, the Australian desert or in a part of the American West, where the territory is totally dependent on one company, which entirely controls the exploitation of mining or energy ressources.

II. Global strategies of the firms, lobbys and places of power

The strategies of firms in search of relevant locations always depend on an extreme selectivity of territories. Companies favour free trade zones and tax havens to prosper discreetly and under close protection of the bank secrecies. They, sometimes even through mailboxes, conglomerate in places where law is favourable to them. The logic of a firm’s location lies notably in an ideal positioning of its head office or of one of its subsidiary companies. How is the spatial strategy of the firms elaborated ? While the current events of the global financial crisis highlight the “black holes” within the international banking system, we will attempt to analyse the last developments in the geography of free trade zones and tax havens.

However upstream, major firms feel the need to watch over the development of new legislations. This, indeed in order to influence their content, or even to elaborate an entirely favourable legislation for such or such an industry. The big companies and industrial associations must be present in Brussels as well as Washington, in order to “infiltrate” as much as possible the places and the circles of political, economic and sometimes scientific power. How do lobbies organise themselves to control the places of power? How do they keep themselves well-informed? How do they manage to follow the rumours from the corridors of Davos or the major stock-exchanges? It is time to shed some light on these essential queries taking into account the fact that in some cases the strategic places remain the laboratories where the next innovations are to be found. How to make sure that the call for project of a random scientific program targets the right research question? The current big firms undoubtedly need to know more about the details of the scientific landscape, where budgets are potentially made available and where strategic patents could be released.

Eventually, the concept of economic intelligence linked to the strategic forsight lies within this geopolitical and geoeconomic approach. In France one has raised the question has over the “Gemplus case”. This French company, which excelled in cryptology and smart card industries in the 1990’s, has been taken over by a US pension fund in the early 2000’s. It has been shown that its new chairman, a former member of the ATT board, was moreover a member of the BENS (Business Executives for National Securities) board, that is a body which advises the CIA and the Pentagon on new technologies. Since the early 1990’s, economic intelligence along with specialised consultancies has become a market on its own. Altogether political and strategic, economic intelligence is implemented by companies and States. But since the release of the alarmist B.Carayon’s report in 2003, have France and Europe made up for lost time? What is the current state of this new market of economic intelligence?

III. The firms in the logic of the national ambitions and the identity symbols

Conversely, firms can be dependent on power and can be taken over unless the limits of political and economic are not distinguishable. It is quite common that a group of industrialists accompanies a head of State on a diplomatic travel and ending with the signing of contracts. In this case, the nationality of the company is clearly identified, but is it always that easy to define the nationality of multinational firms? The approach is often questioned. Politics is also initiated in WTO or heads of State meetings, when the running of a market or the rules on environment are being negotiated. States pay attention to their economic interests on all fronts: cultural exception against liberalisation of the service industry, grants for farming production, protection or no of seals or whales!...

In fact, the role of the States has never stopped existing. From the cut of the Russian gas to the oil price set by producing countries, set by the CFIUS (Commitee on Foreign Investment in the United States), the links between the political and economic powers remain closely intertwined and therefore complex. The rise of firms from emerging markets in international ranking is the expression of the new international power relationships. Lenovo is located in United-States, Mittal in Europe, and their access to such privileged positions (that is the IBM’s computer branch or the Arcelor’s steel-production) typify a symbol of power acquired by these new giants. They also correlatively act as a proof of more redefined international power relationships and of the new global geoeconomic balance. Laurent Carroué has recently highlighted how the emergence of sovereign wealth funds reflects the irreversible rise of multipolar global geoeconomic structures.

The international influence of a firm enhances the prestige of a nation, and this allthrough the different stages of globalisation. The acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover by Indian’s Tata Motors is highly symbolic: a company belonging to a former colony is taking over by one of the industrial jewels of the aforementioned former colonial metropolis. The emergence of Chinese and Indian firms cause anxiety in Europe and contest the prestige of the “Old World”, at least in mentalities. The bond between firm and identity is a tight one. It can be measured at the state level, but also on a larger scale: many regional or local areas relate to a firm. Any economic change leads to a disruption of consciousness and therefore to geopolitical balances, predominantly noticeable in the changes of electoral geography.

IV. Firms, conflicts and defense

In some states, including the poorest ones, foreign companies play a decisive role that goes far beyond their economic function. For example, one can mention at this stage oil companies in the least developed countries, or in Russia, which are crucial for the survival of governments in power. In some conflicts, firms may also play a fundamental role: such was the case of the Biafran War (1967-70), in which oil firms supported the federal government of Nigeria or the Biafran rebels. The role of industrial lobbies of armaments in triggering some wars is also well known, i.e. in Vietnam in 1964 or else in Iraq in 2003.

Armed conflicts have also turned into a market and the security firms, or “turnkey war” companies, have become major actors (Renou, 2005). In Iraq, President Bush has relied more on companies under contract than the armed forces to ensure security and reconstruction since 2007. Blackwater company has acquired a certain «reputation», before becoming unwanted in the country since January 2009. But the security market only oversteps the armed conflicts: a subsidiary of BOEING (Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Unit) has developed on the security market and now leads the consortium of companies selected for the establishment of the fence decided under the Secure Border Initiative in 2006. Moreover, all conflicts are not armed. Firms exploiting the resources of the planet are also increasingly heavily involved in environmental conflicts between themselves and local people, who are supported by NGOs seeking to challenge major projects’ investment on behalf of sustainable development. Progressively more firms have to “cultivate” their image and present a respectable attitude regarding environmental issues, otherwise the States under the pressure of public opinion could come to expel them from their most ambitious projects.

Thus, in a multifaceted and multiscalar way, one can question the geopolitical role of firms, laying the emphasis on the double permeability of categories of actors within the international system. But one can also question the status of geopolitics that can not be reduced to a mere “geographic” relationship between the States (Rosière, 2008).

Proposed papers should be sent before the 31st of December to the Conference Secretary, preferably by email or by post :

Mark Bailoni
Département de Géographie - Campus Lettres et Sciences Humaines
3 place Godefroi de Bouillon - BP 3317
54015 Nancy cedex

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