Maha Rafi Atal: “When Companies Rule”

Maha Rafi Atal recently became Post Doc at VELUX Endowed Chair in Sustainability. She wrote a succesful PhD project which we have asked her a few questions about to understand the objective and background for her thesis.


Maha Rafi Atal recently completed a PhD thesis at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge entitled “When Companies Rule”. Her doctoral research focused on corporations as governing authorities, examining “corporate social responsibility” as a system of Company Rule in India, Kenya and South Africa: “In particular, my project looks at communities where a single corporation, through the provision of services and infrastructure as part of “corporate social responsibility” programs, has assumed control for the complete governance of the area, from schools and hospitals to housing and policing”, Maha explains about her PhD thesis. She is interested in why companies do this, whether local people consider this to be politically legitimate, and in the parallels between contemporary examples of this and historical examples, for example, in colonial settlements and paternalistic factory towns.

Her PhD project was a direct extension of work she did in her previous career as a business journalist where she investigated the social and political impact of company actions around the world, including significant time as a foreign correspondent in Asia: “As part of that work, I came across cases of companies taking on political roles that could not be simply explained as being strategically good for the bottom line and I went back to university for a PhD in order to understand those processes better”, Maha tells about the connection between her career and PhD project. 

In terms of future projects, Maha is currently writing a book based on her PhD thesis, and also working on two other projects on related aspects of corporate political power: one on corporate influence in the media and one on corporate accountability under international law.

Maha tweets at @MahaRafiAtal. 

The page was last edited by: CBS Sustainability // 10/08/2019