Corporations and the State in the Global Era: The Case of Seaboard Farms and Texas*


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    Names of authors are listed in alphabetical order, not as indication of seniority of authorship. This paper is the result of joint collaboration between colleagues. Address all correspondence to Alessandro Bonanno, Department of Sociology, Sam Houston State University, Box 2446, Huntsville, TX. 77341-2446. E-mail:


Abstract  Employing the case of the expansion and regulation of hog confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) in Texas combined with the actions of the transnational agri-food corporation Seaboard Farms, Inc., this paper probes the relationship between the state and corporations in the global era. It specifically investigates the ability of the state to control agri-food corporations in a context in which the hyper-mobility of capital has increasingly allowed corporations to by-pass state regulations and requirements. Salient literature is reviewed by grouping it into three camps: the first views the state as largely controlled by corporations; the second stresses the powers left to the state and the fact that corporations need state assistance to successfully operate in the current global economy; and the third acknowledges the crisis of the nation-state under globalization but maintains that the state has retained some ability to resist globalization forces. The case study documents the expansion of Seaboard Farms' hog operations in the Panhandle Region of Texas and nearby states and its interaction with local and state governments and agencies. The article indicates that the relationship between transnational corporations and the state is contradictory. Its source rests on the fracture between varying postures maintained by the state and the relatively homogenous behavior of the CAFO corporations. The case also reveals that the state's limited control of corporate actions is facilitated by state strategies; that corporate actions are successful if corporations enlist the cooperation of the state; and the state is able to control resistance and legitimize its actions to its constituencies. These conditions, however, do not prevent the emergence of anti-corporate resistance at local and state levels. In the search for new forms of socioeconomic development, local residents and their leaders should be aware of corporations' ability to affect state action, state postures that favor corporate designs, and the fact that successful opposition to corporate designs can be, and is, carried out.