Research Projects

‘Businessmen of the World, Unite!’ The International Chamber of Commerce and the Rise of Global Capitalism in the Twentieth Century

Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School for Social Research, 03.2019 – 02. 2021

“The International Chamber of Commerce [ICC] has helped me more than anything else I ever did. It has enabled me to make acquaintances and friendships in the interests of our business that will help our men in every corner of this world”. This quotation from Thomas J. Watson, IBM chairman and ICC president at the end of the 1930s, underscores how useful the Chamber, founded in 1920, had been for his firm. It also suggests that the ICC may have played an important role in the development of global economic exchanges during the 20th century.
This project aims to uncover the contributions of this unique non-governmental international organization to the rise of global capitalism in the 20th century. In doing so, it contributes to closing the research gaps in knowledge of the ICC and in the way that leading business people meet internationally to promote their interests.

The project is supported by a Postdoc.Mobility fellowship awared by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

I have recently presented on the ICC on the Swiss History Days in Zurich in the panels, The International Brokers of the Wealthy I, and II (June 5th; please see two excellent conference reports by Jonas Plüss and Eva Kocher), at a conference at the University of Lausanne, Les Etats-Unis et l’Europe depuis 1945 : réseaux économiques, philanthropiques et scientifiques (June 20th-21th). I have also presented outputs of this project at the University of Sydney, in the New Economic Thinking Winter School (July 13th-17th), and at a conference at the Melbourne Law School, The League of Nations Decentred: Law, Crises and Legacies (July 17th-19th).

« Businessmen of the World, Unite! », builds on earlier research conducted at the University of Glasgow in 2015, dealing with employers’ transnational actions in reaction to strikes and labour militancy during the first half of the twentieth century: An International for the employers? The International Organization of Industrial Employers from the 1920s to the 1950s. Publications on the International Organization of Employers will follow. See for exemple work done in the context of Matteo Millan’s ERC project PREWAsAs and the conference Industrial vigilantism, strikebreaking and patterns of anti-labour violence, 1890s-1930s. A comparative and transnational perspective convened in Oxford.

Collaborative project Sinergia

Local power structures and transnational connections. New perspectives on elites in Switzerland, 1890-2020

Swiss Elites Observatory (OBELIS), University of Lausanne

Recent literature on elites has provided, at first sight, contradictory findings. On the one hand, studies in sociology, management, political science and economic history have underscored the central importance of local elite and governance structures for a successful economic and political development. Such an observation is particularly relevant for the Swiss case; because of the political and economic decentralization of the country, local elites have played a crucial role in local development. On the other hand, recent research has shown that elites, and especially business ones, have become increasingly internationalized. In Switzerland, foreigners now constitute a significant part of business and academic elites while both groups are characterized by the internationalization of their educational and career trajectories. Elites are thus often considered as increasingly disconnected from their local social background.

These contrasting results, stressing both the growing internationalization of elites and the importance of their local rootedness, raise multiple questions concerning the scales of activities and roles of local elites. While recent research has investigated Swiss national elites, this project starts from a local perspective that will allow us to go beyond methodological nationalism and to analyze how elites have been active beyond their involvement in local power structures. Already at the end of the 19th century, Swiss elites were characterized by their multi-level implication at the local, national and transnational levels. However, following long-term shifts in the scale of political and economic life (such as the centralization of the national state or economic globalization), their spheres of activities have undergone profound changes. The project will focus on local elites in the three main Swiss cities (Zurich, Geneva and Basel) and will address two research axes: a) the transformations of local power structures; b) the multi-level implication of local elites: from local to transnational connections. On the basis of a long-term comparison of the three local trajectories, these two research axes will be developed in four subprojects focused on specific local elites and institutions: 1) economic elites active in local chambers of commerce; 2) business elites of leading economic sectors and companies; 3) leading members of local art societies and their role in the promotion of cultural institutions; 4) universities and academic elites between local rootedness and international reputation.

More on the project here