Danger and Security in Business History: How did Enterprises Represent and Negotiate Threats?

Marburg an der Lahn
Sonderforschungsbereich/Transregio 138 "Dynamiken der Sicherheit" Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte, Philipps-Universität Marburg
17.06.2020 - 19.06.2020
Dr. Mark Jakob

The relationship between the modern business enterprise and security is ambiguous. Business companies can protect or harm, provide relief or cause distress to their employees, their customers and populations in their vicinity. On the one hand, businesses are consumers and providers of security. Enterprises are vulnerable to natural, political, and technological threats and require secure environments for their existence and profitable operation. Goods and services are sold by enterprises to private and public customers with the promise to directly or indirectly provide a measure of security. On the other hand, enterprises themselves can become veritable sources of risks and dangers to society and environment. Their products and production processes can cause extreme pollution, cause disease and injuries, or fuel violent conflicts, thus making enterprises the object of security regulations. In the past and present, enterprises collaborated with dictatorial regimes or were directly involved in crimes. Security thus has been a constant factor in the relation between enterprise and society. Although security is a necessary condition and constant factor for the development of enterprises, and numerous case studies refer to the problem, business history has not systematically examined the role of “security” so far.

The lack of systematization might be related to the variety and elusiveness of “security” as a concept. What exactly does constitute a security problem for and in relation to enterprises? The SFB/TRR 138 at the universities of Gießen and Marburg devotes itself to research on the forms, methods, and consequences of the creation of “security”, for which the term “securitization” is used (which in this context is not to be confused with the homonymous financial term). From a historical perspective, the notion of “security” itself has changed dynamically between the past and present. Not only was the classic 19th century distinction between national security and internal security blurred in recent decades, but also more and more areas were declared security-relevant in the public discourse. If the language and logic of security can be expanded to areas beyond the military and foreign relations, the denotation of a subject as a security problem should be regarded from a constructivist viewpoint as the result of complex social negotiations and the application of political power.

Although state and public actors come to mind as protagonists of securitization, enterprises were and are not only objects, but also actors in the construction of threats and the development of responses. Private business has assumed an indispensable position in the modern world as a provider of infrastructure, products, and expertise at least since the Industrial Revolution. Enterprises not only scan their environment for dangers to their operations and develop responses, but are also connected to the political sphere and participate in the construction of threats and security policies. Political actions like trade treaties, tariffs, boycotts, terrorism, and war affect the operation of domestic and international enterprises. The increase of national economic security for domestic companies through tariffs and trade policies inversely increases insecurity in the international economy, leading to paradoxes and dilemmas. Media corporations shape opinions by their decision what and how to report as threats, but themselves have been the object of ”securitization” in dictatorial as well as democratic states.

The workshop is to explore the many facets of security in relation to enterprises and attempt a first systematization and periodization of the dynamics of security. The focus is on the time period between the late 18th century and the present, but contributions dealing with earlier periods are welcome as well. There is no geographic limitation.
Contributions are preferred that deal explicitly with the perception, construction, negotiation, and propagation of dangers and risks in the business sphere. Papers can address questions contained in, but are not limited to, the following set:

A) Enterprises’ Perception and Evaluation of Threats, Dangers, and Risks

Did enterprises’ perception of dangers change over time? When and how were various sources of danger (war, terrorism, riots, revolution, social change, natural or man-made disasters) perceived as threatening the existence of the enterprise or as manageable problems?

What strategies were devised and employed by business companies facing above-mentioned threats?

What was the relation between entrepreneurial risk-taking and perceived security?

How did enterprises form expectations towards future security threats? What repertoires were at their disposal when anticipating potentially dangerous areas? Did enterprises learn over time to cope with dangers and increase their resilience?

B) Enterprises as security providers

How did companies position themselves on markets as providers of security? What social or political need for security was addressed or aroused by them, e.g. by private security firms? Did the advertised need for security products increase perceived insecurity in the customer base?

In how far were enterprises involved in the creation of national and international security orders?

C) Business companies and their relation to state and society

How did enterprises interact with politics for the provision of security? What forms of security were demanded from which public actors? Did enterprises use public or private channels to communicate their security demands? Did their language change in response to perceived threats?

When and how did enterprises become the objects of “securitization” themselves? Which actors and which audiences were involved in marking enterprises as a threat to security? How was a consensus achieved that security measures must be applied to private companies?

What were the political and legal implications for national security of the rise of major and increasingly international corporations? Was a successful “securitization” of companies and their conduct a prerequisite for achieving their compliance with rules and laws?

D) Methodology and periodization

Can “business cycles” of securitization be identified? How did the perception of enterprises as threats and firms’ perceptions of external threats differ in relation to economic, political, and social change? What role did economic crises play in the perception of danger and security for companies and society?

How can case studies from business history contribute to (historical) security studies? In how far can examples from business history yield more general insights into the dynamics of dangers, risks, security, and prevention?

The deadline for proposals is 31 October 2019. Please send a single PDF file to mark.jakob@staff.uni-marburg.de. Your proposal must contain: a covering letter stating your name, affiliation, contact information, and fields of research, and a proposal of 500 words maximum (excluding bibliography). We will notify you about the acceptance of your proposal within four weeks.

We will publish the contributions in an edited volume and therefore will ask accepted contributors for the timely submission of a draft paper until summer 2020. Details will be provided with the acceptance notification.

Travel and accommodation costs will be covered within the limits of German travel costs regulations.

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Christian Kleinschmidt (christian.kleinschmidt@staff.uni-marburg.de) and/or Dr. Mark Jakob (mark.jakob@staff.uni-marburg.de) and/or Dr. Nina Kleinöder (nina.kleinoeder@staff.uni-marburg.de).


Mark Jakob

Philipps-Universität, FB 06, Inst. f. Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte
Wilhelm Röpke-Str. 6C, 35032 Marburg


Danger and Security in Business History: How did Enterprises Represent and Negotiate Threats?, 17.06.2020 – 19.06.2020 Marburg an der Lahn, in: H-Soz-Kult, 20.08.2019, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-40972>.