Departmental Speaker: Antoinette Handley

You are invited to attend the event for Dr. Antoinette Handley’s departmental speaking seminar.


Title: Doing business like a state?  AIDS, violence and the construction of business autonomy



In moments of intense social crisis, why do some firms respond in a way that assists the broader society to resolve that crisis, while others act much more ruthlessly to protect only their own interests, in the process defining those interests both narrowly and in the short term? More broadly speaking, what kind of political economy is being constructed in each case, with what kind of capacity to construct a broader public good in the face of society-wide challenges? This paper introduces the idea of business autonomy as analogous to but distinct from the idea of state autonomy. It considers also the conditions under which business autonomy may arise via an examination of two instances of broad-based, complex, society-wide crises: the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a broader violent, political convulsion in Kenya and South Africa respectively. The paper argues that labour is a key mechanism, along with the institutions that connect (or not) the interests of the country’s economic elites to those of ordinary citizens and the broader society.


Antoinette Handley is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. South African born, her research interests take her back regularly to the sub-continent for her research on state-business relations and the nature of the capitalist class in Africa. Her first book on this subject was published by Cambridge University Press. Prof Handley’s second book, just published with CUP, considers how African economic elites respond to key moments of social and political crisis. Antoinette has begun work on a new project which seeks to develop a political economy account of state formation in Africa.

After an undergraduate degree at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, Antoinette read for her MPhil in International Relations at Oxford University (1995). She earned her PhD in Political Science at Princeton University (2003). She has been the recipient of a number of scholarships and research grants including the Rhodes (1993), Fulbright (1998 – she served as the Amy Biehl Fulbright Fellow in that year),  SSHRC (2007) and was the World Politics Visiting Research Fellow at Princeton University (2016-17). Before joining academia, she served as the Latin America Research Fellow and then the Director of Studies at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) in Johannesburg, South Africa.