What does Davos do? Schulich study finds World Economic Forum shifts burden of problems from governments, corporations to individual consumers


TORONTO, January 21, 2015 – What does Davos do? In the first in-depth investigation of the World Economic Forum, Schulich School of Business researchers find that the Forum actively shifts the burden for the solution of problems from governments and corporations to individual consumers, with significant personal and societal costs.

Published in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, the study, "Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity,” sheds light on the annual proceedings at the World Economic Forum, currently underway in Davos, Switzerland, where hundreds of politicians, CEOs, scientific experts, and celebrities have gathered to "improve the state of the world."

"The World Economic Forum claims that it is solving some of the most vexing issues of our time such as poverty or youth unemployment. But what are the solutions and how do they affect our lives?" write authors Markus Giesler, Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business, and Ela Veresiu, a visiting doctoral student at Schulich and a Doctoral Candidate in Marketing at Witten/Herdecke University, Germany.

"Previous portraits of Davos delegates as uprooted jetsetters or global networkers easily overlook their influence on society. Our findings reveal that the forum actively shifts the burden for the solution of problems from governments and corporations to individual consumers, with significant personal and societal costs," the authors conclude.

In the study, the authors undertook the first ethnographic analysis of the World Economic Forum. Ethnographic analysis is the study of social interactions, behaviour, and perceptions in real-time through open discussions and interviews, as well as careful observation of real-life situations and environments. For eight years, they conducted in-depth interviews with Davos delegates about their activities, their beliefs, and their self-understanding.

The interviews revealed that Davos delegates understand themselves to be an enlightened elite guided by ethical considerations and called upon to preserve the common good from populist temptations to move toward a more socialist society. At the heart of World Economic Forum activities is the solution of global issues through what the authors describe as a four-step moral reform process. First, Davos delegates shift the issue at hand to the level of individual consumption: For example, inequality is not the result of unregulated markets but rather stems from consumers' unethical choice-making. Next, Davos delegates promote the idea that the only way to teach consumers ethics is through greater market inclusion. Third, governments are encouraged to enable the creation of new markets to foster this inclusion. Finally, inequality is no longer a matter of balancing between rich and poor but rather a matter of how responsibly the poor act as consumers. For example, instead of governments proving adequate streetlight infrastructure in poor rural African neighbourhoods, poor Africans are instead encouraged to buy high-efficiency lanterns.

This research is just one of 27 leading research projects being presented at the 2nd Schulich Research Day on Wednesday, January 28, 2015. To attend, please register at http://www.schulich.yorku.ca/ssbresearchdayregister.

A Q&A with the study authors, Markus Giesler and Ela Veresiu, can be found at this link https://giesler.squarespace.com/davos.

For more information about the study in the Journal of Consumer Research, please visit: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-01/uocp-wdd012015.php

About Schulich
Known as Canada’s Global Business School™, the Schulich School of Business in Toronto is ranked among the world’s leading business schools by a number of global surveys. Schulich’s MBA program is ranked #1 in the world by Corporate Knights, the world’s largest circulation magazine with an explicit focus on Corporate Social Responsibility, and #2 in the world by the Aspen Institute (a Washington, DC-based leadership think tank) in global surveys that identify which schools are doing the best job of preparing future business leaders for the environmental, social and ethical complexities of modern-day business. Schulich’s MBA program is also ranked among the world’s leading schools by The Economist, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek and Expansión, Mexico’s leading business publication. The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program is ranked #1 in the world by The Economist, and #1 in Canada by the Financial Times of London. For complete ranking details, please visit www.schulich.yorku.ca.

For more information, please contact:
Markus Giesler, Associate Professor of Marketing
Schulich School of Business
York University
Email: mgiesler@schulich.yorku.ca
Phone: 647-274-4807

For more information about the 2nd Schulich Research Day on January 28, please contact:
Dirk Matten, Associate Dean, Research
Professor of Strategy Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility |
Email: dmatten@schulich.yorku.ca