The Global Studies Seminar welcomes Mariana Saavedra Espinosa, presenting “The Social Unit of Capital: Governance and Discipline in the Reproduction of Colombian Family Capitalism.” Saavedra-Espinosa is an Assistant Professor in Global Commerce Program at Denison University whose teaching and research interests broadly focus on the intersection of economy, society, and culture. Her dissertation and current book project explore how increasingly popular mechanisms of family business governance are reinvigorating and transforming kinship relations among business-owning families in Colombia. Recently, she expands her research focus on notions of responsibility in different forms of contemporary corporate governance.
In Colombia, where local families own and control more than 40 out of the largest 100 businesses and over 60% of total companies, family-ownership plays an outsized role in the economy. In the last two decades, many of these business-owning families have been implementing strategies of corporate governance that seek to “rationalize” and “professionalize” business practices. In addition to standard corporate governance measures like setting up boards of directors and convening shareholders meetings, many families have also begun applying rule-based structures and procedures to regulate relationships between family members.
In “The Social Unit of Capital: Governance and Discipline in the Reproduction of Colombian Family Capitalism,” Saavedra-Espinosa explores “family governance” as an emergent modular form (Appel 2012) of corporate governance strategies predominant in metropolitan financial centers, and considers how it molds a local reality to the logics and legibility of transparency, while incorporating economic and social relations generally conceived as outside of business –namely those of family. Drawing on Schuster’s (2014) notion of the social unit of debt, Saavedra-Espinosa explores how family governance in Colombia seeks to extend and reproduce the social unit of capital for these businesses. Through fostering family values that promote hard work, stewardship, cooperation, and frugal lifestyles, Colombian families strive to create a kind of shareholder discipline that ultimately lowers the cost of capital for businesses. In addition, Saavedra-Espinosa considers how the models implemented in Colombia are exported back to the ‘global north’ in the form of case studies that contribute to a burgeoning international industry of family business consultancy and a rapidly consolidating field of academic research on the topic.