About Governing the World: Research on the World Economic Forum

In a globalized economy states as well as multilateral organizations face tremendous challenges in governing and shaping the market in the desired direction. Other actors than states have come to assume crucial roles in the regulation of markets and new ‘soft’ forms of governance are being tried out to motivate corporations to regulate themselves. The World Economic Forum is an important organization for these ‘soft’ forms of governance. Departing from the motto ‘Committed to improving the state of the world’, the WEF organizes activities for its members (transnational corporations) aiming to enhance market dynamics and develop forms for social responsibility. By way of a large number of activities, all year round, and in different part of the world, the Forum seeks to find solutions to global problems, in order to spur financial and social development. The organization runs activities around free trade, deregulation/reregulation of markets and market based solutions as basic answers to the many problems in focus, but is at base religiously and politically independent.

The project studies the WEF as an actor aiming to influence the shaping of global markets by way of its authority. The aim of the project is to increase understanding of the type of activities that the WEF are engaged in. How is authority for their activities created? How does the WEF create influence for itself as a political actor? What significance can this kind of organization have on the shaping of markets at global level? The World Economic Forum is not unique in its interest in influencing global politics by way of informal channels, but it is an organization with a uniquely influential role. The project aims to contribute to knowledge about the kinds of influence that these types of organizations may have in global politics at large.

Christina Garsten leads the project in collaboration with Adrienne Sörbom. The project is financed by the Swedish Research Council and located at Score.


Christina Garsten
Professor of Social Anthropology

Christina Garsten’s research is focused on corporate globalization processes. Corporations are often drivers of globalization, and their role in shaping contemporary society – politics, economics, and culture – is significant. How does corporate globalization take place? What are the implications, the advantages and challenges of such processes? And how do corporations engage in the shaping of future societies?

Christina’s current interest is focused on the role that think tanks play in the shaping of global markets, more specifically in the US, Sweden, and France. A pivotal case in point here is the World Economic Forum, and its efforts to shape the agenda of global development. From a broader perspective, this entails understanding the role that organizations such as think tanks, the WEF, and the ‘policy intellectuals’ who work there, play in political decision making processes, in the diffusion of knowledge and ideology, and in the fashioning of society.

Adrienne Sörbom
Associate Professor of Sociology

Adrienne Sörbom’s research examines political globalization. How is it possible to globalize politics? To lift politics from the frame of the nation state, and yet be able to make authoritative decisions, is that an idea that has any kind of potential? Can we see this already taking place? If so, where and in what forms?

Seen out of these questions, organizational forms for politics, such as think tanks, forums and foundations are of specific interest to Adrienne. The World Economic Forum is a pivotal case in point. Adrienne’s other research interests include the labor movement, environmental sociology, youth politics, and new forms of political action.