A Study of the Role of Corporations in Developing Societies

This is a research project about the unintended consequences of corporate activity in developing societies, conducted in collaboration with the Centre on Development and Enterprise (CDE) in South Africa. The project has a long history. Its core idea emerged during CURA’s multi-country study of business and democracy when one of the researchers, Gordon Redding (then at the University of Hongkong), did a study of the inadvertent social consequences of the founding of a stock exchange in Shanghai. He summarized these consequences under the heading of “the thickening of civil society”; in later discussions the term “invisible corporate citizenship” was used. What is at issue here is the societal changes induced by corporate activity which are neither directly economic nor deliberately philanthropic – in other words, changes that are not planned and organized at corporate headquarters. These involve both institutional developments (such as the appearance of information media independent of government) and more diffuse ones (such as changes in gender relations due to the employment of women). The project uses researchers in South Africa and the U.S., and it will eventuate in a monograph by Ann Bernstein, the director of CDE.