Corporate Social Responsibility or Corporate Diplomacy

The abstract below to an event in London brings up the interesting question if we are in an age of extractive industry conversation where CSR is over, and being replaced by what Gilbert calls “corporate diplomacy”, very restricted to few persons, who make the crucial decisions. What do you think about the idea that this diplomacy does not replace the CSR efforts, but – as Gilbert claims – emphasizes its hierarchies?  This reminds me of Arthur Mason’s “fieldwork” at those big oil and gas VIP meetings. You can check out his work here.

But here is the abstract by Gilbert, part of the RAI Research in Progress seminar series especially for post-graduates and early career researchers.

The Royal Anthropological Institute Friday, 16 January 2015 from 16:30 to 18:00 (GMT) London, United Kingdom

The extractive industries and the ‘Age of Conversation’: from corporate social responsibility to corporate diplomacy
Speaker: Paul Robert Gilbert, University of Sussex


Around the turn of the century, the extractive industries announced their renaissance. A series of high-profile international initiatives, toolkits and councils placed the most vilified of companies among the vanguard of an emergent corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. Anthropologists attuned to the subtleties of The Gift have presented CSR programmes undertaken by extractive industry corporations as exercises in indebtedness engineering, or as anti-social instances of ‘failed exchange’. Drawing on ethnography of London’s market for mining finance, this paper examines a shift in emphasis from CSR to ‘corporate diplomacy,’ taking as a starting point another canonical work on exchange in economic anthropology: The Fame of Gawa.  The interplay of fame, influence and strategic control in the mining market comes to the fore even as the professionalised reputation managers employed by major extractive industry corporations insist that they have “left the citadel” and joined an “Age of Conversation.” The Age of Conversation, they argue, sees their employers absolutely disciplined by a digitally networked panopticon of the subaltern. Yet when corporate diplomats mount a mission, only a select few “influencers” are admitted into any meaningful conversation. The rise of corporate diplomacy does not signal the end of corporate social responsibility as anthropologists have come to understand it. Instead, corporate diplomacy both entrenches and makes more explicit the distinctly hierarchical social imagination that organizes extractive industry approaches to reputation and responsibility.