‘Power' in Global Value Chains

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
83 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Mark Dallas, Union College, Schenectady, NY
Stefano Ponte, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tim Sturgeon, MIT, Cambridge, MA
‘Power’ is a central concept in the global value chains (GVC) literature.  Over time its usage and meaning (both implicit and explicit) has diversified.  Originally, the concept of power was utilized to describe the bargaining relationships between firms.  This form of power is commonly thought of as a form of ‘bargaining’ power, in which each actor utilizes incentives (and sanctions) to directly compel another actor to act in a way they otherwise would not.  It has the characteristics of being intentional, relational, and resource-centric. However, as the analytic lens of GVCs has expanded, new conceptualizations of power have proliferated.  GVC research now considers various forms of institutional power, which run a wide gamut from formal to informal.  For instance, through different routes, firms and other actors increasingly come to agreement over explicit and formal industrial standards and certifications, and the construction of various more informal conventions.  While the creation of standards and conventions has elements of cooperation and collective action, they are also highly contentious, and when they become fully consolidated, they can embody and can fix power relationships in ways that systematically create winners and losers.  In other instances, such as the processes of financialization and network organization in GVCs, power is exerted in even more ‘distant’ and non-intentional ways, in which there may not be clearly defined ‘lead’ actors that exert influence, leading to emergent outcomes generated ‘by human action, but not by human design.’  Still other forms of ideational power have been raised, and the construction of norms can sometimes be quite diffused, though no less important in structuring the context of GVCs. While the concepts of power are widely utilized in GVC scholarship today, and well beyond their original inter-firm contexts, the topic has not been systematically theorized.  This paper reviews the varied usages of power in GVC and GVC-adjacent literatures and offers an analytic framework to systematize this core concept.  It also explores new forms of power that are sometimes implicit in the literature, but have been less thoroughly considered.