The role of symbolic capital in stakeholder disputes: Decision-making concerning intractable wastes

Suzanne Benn*, Richard Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines almost 30 years of disputation concerning the disposal of the world's largest stockpile of the toxic organochlorine, hexachlorbenzene. It describes the study of a chemicals company in its attempt to manage the disposal of the toxic waste in a collaborative fashion with government, environmentalists and the local community. The study describes the new processes and structures specifically designed to address the decision-making and the issues of stakeholder perception and identity construction which have influenced the outcomes. Decision-making in such disputes is often theorized from the perspective of the emergence of highly individualized and reflexive risk communities and changing modes and expectations of corporate responsibility as a result of detraditionalization. We argue that the stakeholder interaction in this study reflects competing discourses in which corporate actors prioritize the building and maintaining of identity and symbolic capital rather than an active collaboration to solve the ongoing issue of the waste. As well, issues of access to expert knowledge highlight the relationship between conditions of uncertainty, technoscientific expertise and identity. The events of the study highlight the challenges faced by contemporary technoscientific corporations such as chemicals companies as they must deliver on requirements of transparency and openness, while maintaining technoscientific capacity and strong internal identity. We conclude that the study demonstrates the co-existence of social processes of individualization and detraditionalization with quasi-traditions which maintain authority, thus challenging the radical distinctions made in the literature between modernity and late or reflexive modernity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1593-1604
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Risk society
  • Stakeholder interaction
  • Symbolic capital


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