A special few head to Davos each year for four days of hobnobbing with world leaders, enjoying Alpine views and putting the world to rights.
But attendees at the World Economic Forum see themselves as holding a special place in the world, according to researchers Markus Giesler and Ela Veresiu, who conducted interviews on different types of delegate over an eight year period. Apparently, the participants view themselves as an “enlightened elite guided by ethical considerations and called upon to preserve the common good from populist temptations".
In the research paper Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity, Giesler and Veresiu reveal what actually goes on at Davos and how the delegates view themselves and their roles.
While there is always a lot of media hype around the event, few people know what actually goes on or the methods adopted to tackle world problems. The researchers aimed to uncover this information.
"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 the two authors.
They carried out the first ever ethnographic analysis of the World Economic Forum – a study of the people going and the cultural norms there. For eight years, they asked delegates in-depth questions about their activities, their beliefs and their self-understanding.
Based on the results, they claim that a very definite four stage process of “moral reform” is adopted year after year for every problem, and it involves identifying where the individual consumer is going wrong. They provide the example of the issue of market inequality.
First, the delegates considering a problem shift the issue at hand to the level of individual consumption. In the example provided, inequality is caused by unethical decision making by consumers.
Next, they discuss how to correct the problem with the individual – in this case a lack of ethical consideration. They agree that the best way to teach consumers how to be ethical is to have greater market inclusion.
Thirdly, the governments are encouraged to enable the creation of new markets to foster this inclusion, and finally the delegates agree that inequality if no longer a matter of balancing between rich and poor but a matter of how responsible the poor act as consumers.
"Previous portraits of Davos delegates as uprooted jetsetters or global networkers easily overlook their influence on society," the authors explain.