Article 18 of 20 – “Fueling Climate (In)Action: How organizations engage in hegemonization to avoid transformational action on climate change”

Another corker! BP has turned up already in my 20 articles reading (see Nye and Owens 2008)- where it was leading the charge against a climate change levy). And they’ve been up to their necks in pushing “personal carbon footprints.” In this

Ferns, G. Kenneth Amaeshi  2019. Fueling Climate (In)Action: How organizations engage in hegemonization to avoid transformational action on climate change. Organization Studies

examine their “CEO speak” and framings of themselves (including the notorious “Beyond Petroleum” thing…

Here’s the abstract-

As per Crawley et al. (2020), methodologically, these guys are not mucking around. It is pains-taking detailed and longitudinal work…

We analysed 283 news articles amassed from a Factiva media database search of articles referencing BP in relation to climate change. We focused, in particular, on the Financial Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, given their extensive coverage of the climate change debate over the past 25 years from both from European and American perspectives. These media are also ideologically diverse – i.e. centre left (Guardian and New York Times) and more conservative (FT and WSJ) – and therefore reduce bias toward either side of the political spectrum (Carvalho, 2007). (Ferns and Amaeshi, 2019: 6)

We analysed the data in four phases. The first involved immersing ourselves in the data to familiarize ourselves with BP’s narrative around climate change focusing both on media articles and CEO-speak. We then constructed an event timeline (van de Ven & Poole, 1995) to establish ‘who did what, and when’ and ‘who said what, and when’ (Maguire & Hardy, 2009, p. 153). We engaged in a close reading of the text and noted key events occurring each year regarding BP and climate change. These events were plotted on a timeline (see Figure 1) (Ferns and Amaeshi, 2019: 6)

I could (and elsewhere will) quote from their conceptual background work, results and discussion, at great length. If you care about the mechanics of discourse, of cultural hegemony, then you gotta gotta read this paper.

I will restrict myself to this slab –

But how does the accumulative nature of incorporating critique more broadly inform our understanding of hegemonization as a process in organization studies? Here, we offer two key contributions. First, we contribute to the literature on hegemony in organization studies (Banerjee, 2012; Levy & Egan, 2003; Nyberg et al., 2018; Okereke, Bulkeley, & Schroeder, 2009; Wittneben et al., 2012) by adopting a process-based approach to illustrate how an organization engaged in constructing hegemonic discourse over an extended period of time from the ‘bottom up’. Surprisingly, with the exception of some studies of hegemony (e.g. Levy, Reinecke, & Manning, 2016), this ‘bottom up’ perspective of hegemonic construction is largely overlooked; most studies consider hegemony as an inert state of domination rather than a continuously crafted structure embedded within rich historical contexts (e.g. Prasad & Elmes, 2005). By ‘bottom’ we mean the historical point at which an organization radically altered its discursive practices in response to a serious threat – Laclau and Mouffe (2001) refer to this as a ‘period of dislocation’. By ‘up’ we focus on the accumulative, step-by-step arrangement of signifying chain, which exposes both micro-linguistic practices of arranging signifiers within a chain (e.g. BP dropping the signifier ‘markets’ and adding ‘policy’ to create a new nodal point), and the evolution of this arrangement vis-a-vis broader changes in the organization’s ever-shifting environment. Future studies of hegemony would benefit from closely analysing how hegemonic structures are constructed from their inception, including the emergence of hegemony based on political struggles between organizations and multiple critiquing stakeholders over time. Second, our process-based perspective implicates literature regarding the construction and function of a historical bloc (Levy & Egan, 2003; Levy & Scully, 2007; Nyberg et al., 2013). Studies of hegemony often frame powerholders as dominant enforcers of an ideology – maintaining a hegemonic bloc from the top down in coalitions with other well-resourced elites (e.g. Banerjee, 2012). In contrast, dissidents and challenger actors are often caricaturized as wilfully consenting subordinates with ‘limited […] reach and efficacy’ (Nyberg et al., 2018, p. 247). Our analysis, however, suggests more nuanced dynamics. For instance, apart from certain exceptional instances (e.g. Browne’s Stanford speech and the rebranding of BP as Beyond Petroleum), an organization’s hegemonization activity may manifest as rather subtle – e.g. making minor tweaks to signifiers, briefly ‘sharing platforms’ with a challenger organization (Greenpeace, 2002), signing a communiqué (CPSL, 2009), or joining a multi-stakeholder coalition (Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, 2016). (Ferns and Amaeshi, 2019: 17)

This reminds me of David Cameron’s much shorter efforts to “detoxify” the Conservatives by hugging polar bears and the like, from December 2005 to mid 2008, before the pushback from his Conservative colleagues got started (it didn’t really kick in till after he became PM: see Carter and Clements (2015) for details)

Uh, okay, I lied, one last short slab, which captures the protean, shifting, flux of it all (at least on the presentational side)-

Therefore, organizations able to evade severe public scrutiny regarding climate change despite significant carbon footprints, e.g. the cement industry or state-owned fossil fuel companies (Heede, 2014), may not require a particularly ‘fluid’ hegemonization process. Hence, how processual dynamics – e.g. flow, speed, malleability – implicate the construction of hegemonic discourses over time (Langley et al., 2013) must be explored. After all, based on our findings, maintaining the dynamic flow of climate change discourses is important to evading counter-hegemonic threats (Ferns and Amaeshi, 2019: 18)

Loads of references, of course, among which these stand out for me.

Ansari, S., Wijen, F., & Gray, B. (2013). Constructing a climage change logic: An institutional perspective on the ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’ Organization Science, 24, 1014–1040

Cowell, A. (1998, September 18). British Petroleum planning ‘firm’ cuts in emissions. New York Times. Retrieved from

Ferns, G., Amaeshi, K., & Lambert, A. (2017). Drilling their own graves: How the European oil and gas supermajors avoid sustainability tensions through mythmaking. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:https://

Ferns, G., & Amaeshi, K. (2017). Struggles at the summits: discourse coalitions, field boundaries, and the shifting role of business in sustainable development. Business & Society. F

Langley, A., Smallman, C., Tsoukas, H., & Van de Ven, A. H. (2013). Process studies of change in organization and management: Unveiling temporality, activity and flow. Academy of Management Journal, 56, 1–13

Stavrakakis, Y. (1997). Green ideology: A discursive reading. Journal of Political Ideologies, 2, 259–279

Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. (2017). An inconvenient truth: How organizations translate climate change into business as usual. Academy of Management Journal, 60, 1633–1661

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