GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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CSR in Oman's rentier state: the social and political role of private sector 'social responsibility'
Paper Proposal Text :
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a transnational business trend that has started to play a prominent role in the activities of businesses in Oman’s private sector. In a global business environment characterized since the 1990s by decreasing regulation and increasing requirements for audit and transparency, CSR has served to safeguard the reputation and brand image of businesses while providing social goods to local communities. In contexts around the world, anthropologists and other social scientists have pointed out that the discourse and practices of CSR have enabled self-interested corporations to replace the state as a provider of social goods and a driver of development. Insofar as CSR represents the provision of welfare by actors other then the state, CSR has additionally been linked to a rolling back of the welfare state and to a new dependence on business interests and market mechanisms to guarantee the wellbeing of local citizens and communities. In Oman, a popular discourse surrounding the ‘social responsibility’ of businesses has developed alongside elaborate and well-publicized CSR campaigns, initiatives, and programs of private sector companies directed at supporting national goals and development objectives. Within the context of Oman’s rentier development, what role is played by private sector CSR? Is CSR in Oman—like CSR elsewhere—a sign of a diffusion of centralized state power into the private sector and a dismantling of the oil based welfare state? Or has CSR in Oman been taken up in a different way which strengths the power of the state by enacting a corporatist arrangement in which organizations vie against one another to support state goals and objectives?

Using Foucault’s (2003) concept of governmentality, in this paper I take a post-structural approach to Oman’s rentier development that examines how power and relations of power are constituted through systems of knowledge, practice, and their arrangement into institutions. As Krause (2008) points out in her work on ‘rentier governmentality’ in the UAE, one of the primary benefits of approaching rentier development through the framework of governmentality is that it draws attention away from the state itself and towards the day to day discourses, practices and arrangements that allow state objectives to be taken up by actors outside the state apparatus. Such an approach allows for an assessment of how CSR as a transnational system of knowledge and practice is mobilized to support or undermine the centralized power of the state. Drawing on interviews with CSR managers in Omani companies, consultants, state officials, and Omani citizens; as well as participant observation at CSR related events; and newspaper and magazine articles collected as part of my dissertation fieldwork (February 2013—July 2014), in this paper I examine the role played by private sector CSR in Oman. I explore why private sector Omani businesses take up CSR projects and initiatives, how private sector businesses conceive of their ‘social responsibility,’ and the sorts of returns or benefits that businesses anticipate from their CSR programs. Second, I investigate the expectations that Omani citizens have about the ‘social responsibility’ of the private sector, and specifically the claim that businesses ‘aren’t doing enough’ to build the nation or to support Oman. Ultimately, I argue that CSR is mobilized in Oman to do a different kind of work then it does elsewhere; rather then diffusing the power of the state to the private sector, CSR in Oman strengthens the centralized control of the state by leveraging private sector organizations to competitively pursue state defined objectives.

I propose that a careful analysis of the role of CSR in Oman’s private sector is a useful contribution to the research on Gulf States for a number of reasons. First of all, by examining how private sector businesses utilize CSR to pursue state objectives, this research examines how non-state economic institutions are used in a rentier setting to pursue the political and social objectives of the state. Second, solutions to some of the central challenges that face Gulf States—including employment nationalization and economic diversification—are often framed in terms of the ‘social responsibility’ of private sector organizations. By examining how the ‘social responsibility’ of the private sector is constituted, this paper may offer some useful insights into the sorts of expectations, motives and limits businesses face when pursuing national objectives. Finally, by investigating how transnational CSR expertise and practice is localized into Oman, this paper continues a theme in my own research on how pro-market neoliberal technologies—practices used to promote the use of markets and competition in shaping human conduct—are recycled to do different kinds of work in rentier environments.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel
2003 Governmentality. In The essential Foucault: selections from essential works of Foucault, 1954-1984. P. Rabinow and N.S. Rose, eds. Pp. 229-245. New York: New Press.

Krause, Wanda
2008 Women in Civil Society: the state, Islamism, and networks in the UAE. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.