Multinational Monitor

OCT 2000
VOL 21 No. 10


Star Wars, Continued: The Boondoggle that Won't Stop, and the Corporate Money that Keeps it Going
by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca

Fueling Genocide: Talisman Energy and the Sudanese Slaughter
by Gabe Katsh

Corporate Farming Comes to Pakistan: The Harvest of Globalization & Business Influence
by Muddassir Rizvi

The Money Trail: Corporate Investments in U.S. Elections Since 1990
by Robert Weissman


The Injudicious Judiciary: Private Judicial Seminars and the Public Trust
an interview with
Doug Kendall


Behind the Lines

The Failure of the Academy

The Front
Melbourne Mobilization
- Jungle 2000

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News



The Failure of the Academy

Criticism of corporate power is on the rise (witness Business Week's September 11 cover story, "Too Much Corporate Power?," not to mention Al Gore's faux populist attacks on big business) and a vibrant movement against corporate globalization has emerged.

This is as it should be. Corporations are now the most powerful institution in the world, and, as readers of Multinational Monitor are well aware, multinationals are responsible in whole or part for many of the world's ills.

Yet contrasting with the growing public attention to excessive corporate power is a paucity of academic theoretical or empirical investigation of corporations and corporate power, at least outside of the law and management schools.

The absence of attention to corporate power is particularly glaring in political science.

The American Political Science Association has conveniently posted on its website approximately a thousand of the papers presented at its recent annual convention, and the site has a good search engine.

Searching through these thousand abstracts for the word "corporation" yields two hits. For "corporate," there are 11 hits. A search for the word "business," after eliminating abstracts that use the word "business" in a context where it means something other than corporations (i.e., a reference to Congressional business), yields 23 hits.

In total, three dozen abstracts even mention the words "corporation," "corporate," or "business" - 3.6 percent of the roughly thousand abstracts. This is only a rough approximation of the number that actually discuss corporate power. The vast majority of the 36 papers did not have corporate power as their focus. On the other hand, this search process undoubtedly misses some papers that implicitly discuss corporate power - say, with a focus on labor relations - but did not use the terms "corporation," "corporate" or "business."

Still, limitations of the search notwithstanding, these are stunning results.

Scott Pegg, an assistant professor in the Department of International Relations at Bilkent University, in Ankara, Turkey, was one of the few who presented a paper at the conference with a corporate focus. (Pegg's paper topic: "Corporate Armies for States and State Armies for Corporations: Addressing the Challenges of Globalization and Natural Resource Conflict.")

Pegg agrees that the findings of the survey are remarkable. "The three largest subfields of [U.S.] political science are American government/politics, comparative politics and international relations. The study of transnational corporations is relevant to all three of them," Pegg says.

"In particular, in an election year, I find it stunning that the huge numbers of people working on the American electoral system and presidential politics would be neglecting the corporate role in bankrolling politicians to such a degree."

Asked to account for the corporate studies vacuum, Pegg suggests several explanations. Corporations may fall through disciplinary cracks, he says - they are not the traditional political actors on which political scientists focus. Corporations are reluctant to share information that academics need to conduct their research, he points out, and information that is available tends to come from nongovernmental organizations with which many academics are not familiar. Academics tend to reward theoretical inquiries over empirical investigations. And, he says, "many academics are interested in securing outside funding for their research projects. Corporate funding is available for some projects, but probably not for those that critically assess corporate crimes or corporate human rights violations."

There is no question that other disciplines focus more on corporations. There are not insignificant numbers of sociologists and anthropologists who study problems related to corporate power. But the overall numbers do not appear overwhelming.

A search through all U.S. dissertations published in the last two years yields 75 dissertations that included the word "corporation" in their abstract (not counting those that mentioned corporations in completely irrelevant contexts - e.g., thanking a nonprofit funder with corporation in its name, or mentioning that a corporation had invented a scientific process used in the dissertation).

As a point of comparison, 43 dissertations used the word "baseball" in their abstract, and 1,008 included the word "war."

All of this suggests a massive failure at the academy. The dominant political and social culture directs people's attention away from assessing the many ways that corporations shape the contours of politics, life opportunities, even leisure time. Universities should be a place where, among many other projects, researchers seek to break through corporate hegemony, and undertake empirical and theoretical investigations of the manifestations and consequences of concentrated corporate power.

Of course, these hopes may someday be realized. If protests challenging corporate power continue their recent upsurge, academic inquiry will, eventually, follow.

But for now, when it comes to intellectual leadership on corporate power issues, it seems better to rely on undergraduates in the streets, not the professoriate.

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