Accepted paper:

Corporate sovereignty and social contracts in the coalmining sector in Colombia


Line Jespersgaard Jakobsen (Roskilde University and DIIS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how efforts to assure a social license to operate of an extractive corporation in the Colombian coal sector are built on both hard and soft security practices. As these practices work in a continuum they become productive of corporate sovereignty and reconfigure social contracts.

Paper long abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork from the coal sector in the northern Colombia this paper addresses the way extractive corporations work to create consent and assure 'a social license to operate' (Prno and Slocombe 2012). The paper argues that in attempting to create consent, the corporation, through the assistance of different security practices and 'managers of consent', gradually become a local sovereign (Barkan 2013). 'Managers of consent' covers actors that work to protect the corporation, which include key employees of the corporations, state agencies, interest organizations, NGOs and certain public 'experts'. The configuration of corporate sovereignty happens as the corporation attempts to shape certain imaginaries of the past and the future, fund health services, infrastructure, education and build public spaces and take on a 'democratizing' role through dialogue roundtables and training of civil servants. Alongside these 'soft' expressions of security comes the use of private and public security forces, secret intelligence work as well as divide and conquer techniques. In the paper it will be discussed how these hard and soft dynamics - working in a continuum - are productive for expressions of political subjectivities (Schramm and Krause 2011) and social contracts, different from the formal-legal definitions of these. The paper argues that what 'managers of consent' present as being dialogue, sustainable development and responsible mining, are in practice different technologies of governance that make people embody certain conducts that function as securing the wellbeing of the company. Combined with a complex assemblage of security actors corporate sovereignty is being established.

panel A12
Global capital as a local challenge: the anthropology of corporations