Business, Management, and Economics

The high-quality academic books, upper-level student texts and journal articles on our Business, Management and Economics list offer fresh perspectives on the economy, the future of work and organisations, and the relationship between business and addressing global social challenges.  

The list is home to a number of series including Organizations and Activism and Feminist Perspectives on Work and Organization, all of which are edited by leading scholars from the field, along with our journals in the area: Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice, Work in the Global Economy and Global Political Economy.

Business, Management and Economics

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Where do the various crises of property in the seed industry leave us? This concluding chapter argues that the power of property to solve social problems has largely been exhausted: every new form of property we add to plant breeding will rather lead to more, rather than less politization. In this respect, the seed sector is paradigmatic for a wider trend. From property in personal data to the enclosure of cultural heritage, property fails to live up to our expectations. At the same time, however, there is no convincing alternative in sight to take over property’s role in our society. In the face of the ubiquity and persistence of property, this chapter thus pleads for treating property pragmatically – continually asking ourselves what it can realistically achieve while remaining wary of its shortcomings as a social institution.

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Patents, Plants and the Crisis of Propertization
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Recent decades have witnessed the creation of new types of property systems, ranging from data ownership to national control over genetic resources. This trend has significant implications for wealth distribution and our understanding of who can own what.

This book explores the idea of ownership in the realm of plant breeding, revealing how plants have been legally and materially transformed into property. It highlights the controversial aspects of turning seeds, plants and genes into property and how this endangers the viability of the seed industry.

Examining ownership not simply as a legal concept, but as a bundle of laws, practices and technologies, this is a valuable contribution that will interest scholars of intellectual property studies, the anthropology of markets, science and technology studies and related fields.

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This chapter develops a more-than-legal concept of property. It starts from a discussion of three competing understandings of property: as a thing, as a person-thing relation and as a relation between people mediated by things. While each of these understanding have their merits, they also have specific drawbacks and blind spots and are usually formulated as mutually exclusive. The chapter argues that a synthesis between them is needed that allows to highlight different dimensions of property without defining what it is made of from the outset. For this purpose, the notion of the ‘bundle of rights’ is introduced and subsequently expanded to also exclude social practices and technologies. Illustrating this conceptual expansion through the ethnographic example of a wheat harvest, the text makes the case for understanding property pragmatically: as a ‘bundle of scripts’, which are identified through their effects on property relations, subjects and objects, rather than their materiality as texts, practices or devices.

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Starting from the Broccoli/Tomatoes II landmark case, this introductory chapter lays out the core question of the book: why is it that the advance of property seems unstoppable and running in circles at the same time? Drawing from Hannes Siegrist’s concept of ‘propertization’, it looks at the particular case of plant breeding, where property has become increasingly politicized. The chapter outlines two key strands of property critique, a political-economic one questioning access and distribution and a moral-ontological one criticizing its misapplication to subjects. Subsequently, it proposes a third, cultural type of critique that examines the appeal and the limits of property as a way of organizing life. To this end, this introduction makes the case for a ‘more-than-legal’ concept of property that does not simply rely on legal texts and authority but equally on technologies, practices and the materiality of property objects themselves. The chapter further provides an overview over key traditions that think about property along these lines and gives an outline of the following chapters.

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Alienability is often cited as a key characteristic of private property. As such, however, it is all too often taken for granted: when property is sold in a market transaction, the implication is that is also appropriated by someone else. Drawing from the past and present of commercial seed development in Germany, this chapter seeks to provide the reader with an understanding of applied plant breeding and the particular difficulties seed companies encounter when they try to sell their seeds. Alienating seed as a commodity presupposes a product that can be appropriated by farmers, that is, practically and materially made part of farm operations. At the same time, breeders must not alienate to much but retain one crucial script, that is, the ability to multiply and sell seed. The chapter details how European plant varieties were turned into ‘quasi-commodities’ in the years after World War II, resulting in seed that could be sold and appropriated but was never fully alienated. The new property regime of plant variety protection thus allowed two distinct groups – farmers and breeders – to own the same object in different ways.

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This chapter explains how plants became patentable property objects. While European plant variety protection propertized seed as a uniform, tradeable farm input, contemporary US legislation focused on new and unique plant characteristics. With the molecular turn in plant breeding, however, new possibilities for propertizing plants emerged: DNA as a molecule gave rise to an understanding life along the lines of chemistry while the Bayh-Dole Act and the Diamond v. Chakrabarty ruling led to a surge in biopatents. Genetic manipulation finally allowed for appropriating plant genes materially, which prompted European countries to introduce another layer of intellectual property on top of plant variety protection. Genes and biotechnology served as catalysts for a legal and economic paradigm change: even after the demise of transgenic plants in Europe, patents persisted as a complementary yet contradictory form of property. This development eventually culminated in the Broccoli/Tomatoes II case, in which the patentability of conventional seed was affirmed, threatening to disrupt established breeding practices and seed markets.

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In discussing two other forms of property that have recently emerged as problematic, this chapter makes the case that the seed industry is not just suffering from a misapplication of patent law but a much wider ‘property condition’. It follows the German seed industry’s attempts to renegotiate the post-war arrangement between breeders and farmers: as the preconditions for the success of plant variety protection started to fade in the 1990s, seed companies sought to extend their property claims to farm-saved seed, leading to a clash with farmers. Although the industry’s lobbying efforts succeeded in revising European PVP law, the state and other actors in the seed industry refused to enforce it. To stop farmers from reproducing self-fertilized varieties, breeders thus sought to remodel the biology of their plants, with limited success. Meanwhile, seed producers suddenly face property claims by countries all over the world who demand their share in genetic resources under the Nagoya Protocol. The chapter argues that these clashes cannot be overcome by financial compensation alone: property is used by owners to reassert themselves and demand respect from others; a fact that stands in the way of simply getting rid of property.

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Both mainstream economics and political economy often assume that property erects a fence around value that would otherwise be accessible to others. This chapter seeks to complicate the idea that there is value ‘in’ property by asking different stakeholders in the Broccoli/Tomatoes II debate how they draw value, positive or negative, from their or others’ patents. While for some companies patents indeed enclose the results of investments in plant breeding, other firms instead use them as a bulwark against hostile business practices. But patents can also be monopoly machines, bargaining chips, signals of innovativeness, vehicles for financialization and speculation or assets that extract lasting revenues from farmers. The difficulty of judging their value for the plant breeding industry and society as a whole stems from this multiplicity of patent values and their mutual entanglement: reigning in one specific way of making value from patents will also affect other business practices that have emerged around them over time.

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Labour platforms such as UBER, PeoplePerHour and Rappi have become a global phenomenon. Their business model is affecting global labour markets and disrupting service industries such as ride hailing, cognitive work and food delivery. Labour platforms not only rely on a flexible labour supply but are also at the forefront of utilising new technologies such as algorithms to control labour. For this reason, scholarly analyses of labour platforms are increasingly employing an integrated approach that accounts for the different layers of control intersecting at the point of production. Following such an approach, an ethnographic case study in platform food delivery was conducted, aided by semi-structured interviews and digital artifacts. This case study shows that algorithmic control is able to reduce effort indeterminacy but is less equipped to cope with indeterminacy of mobility induced by flexible labour supply. As such, algorithmic control was integrated with two additional control mechanisms: first, core workers were put into a position of controlling peripheral workers; and second, attempts were made to craft a community that offered strategic managerial avenues. Altogether, given the interplay between effort and mobility power, the study contributes to an understanding of technological control internal to social and institutional relations.

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In the years following Qatar’s successful 2010 bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, there has been a significant shift in its engagement with the migrant labour rights discourse, and subsequent embarkment on significant reforms as the result of intense international scrutiny and advocacy action. The core feature of Qatar’s historically evolved transnational labour management system, Kafala, has become a key focal point of international advocacy efforts. The objective of this article is to assess the extent to which the reforms constitute a break in Qatar’s historical (that is, pre-FIFA 2022) labour management system, and thus a meaningful disruption to the social reproduction regime that allowed the Kafala system to persist. We do so by probing the institutionalisation of those reforms, with a particular focus on the agency of labour through collective worker empowerment. Drawing on interviews with key transnational actors involved in the reform process in situ, we employ the ‘established-outsider’ relations concept in our analysis of the reforms, while highlighting the remaining challenges. Our ultimate argument is that although the reforms in Qatar seek to provide more labour rights and protections, they fall short of loosening the absolute control of sponsors (kafeels) over their employees. This is due to two main reasons: the absence of strong and effective institutions to convert the legal reforms into rights in practice; and the fact that laws outside of the labour ministry, that fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, are the foundation of the relationship between citizens and migrants and remain largely untouched. These double-edged limitations guarantee the social reproduction of the highly unequal labour mobility system by firmly keeping in place ‘established-outsider’ relations.

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