Jonathan Prince on 20 Sep 2000 04:02:48 -0000

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<nettime> A Not So Academic Oversight

Published on Tuesday, September 19, 2000

A Not So Academic Oversight
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

The American Political Science Association's annual convention 
recently came through town, filling up Washington, D.C. hotels with 
thousands of academics ready to present their latest research 

Browsing through the convention's program, we hoped to learn of new 
findings on the role of corporations in the political process. 
Instead, we found that there appeared to be virtually no papers on or 
even referencing corporate power.

That's a little strange, we thought. After all, it is hardly a 
controversial claim these days that corporations exert a major if not 
decisive influence over politics, in the United States and around the 

We decided to make sure our impression that corporations were absent 
from the convention papers was correct. The American Political 
Science Association has conveniently posted on its website 
approximately a thousand of the papers presented at the conference, 
and the site has a good search engine.

We searched through these thousand abstracts for the word 
"corporation." Two hits.

We tried again, this time using the word "corporate." This time we 
came up with 11 hits. We did another 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), we wound up with 23 hits.

In total, three dozen abstracts even mention the words "corporation," 
"corporate," or "business" -- 3.6 percent of the roughly thousand 
abstracts we searched. This is only a rough approximation of the 
number that actually discuss corporate power. The vast majority of 
those we found refer to corporations, but don't have corporate power 
as their focus. On the other hand, our search undoubtedly missed some 
papers that implicitly discuss corporate power -- say, with a focus 
on labor relations -- but don't use any of our key words.

Disturbed by the results of this survey, we asked some of those who 
had presented papers that discuss corporations to ruminate on our 

Scott Pegg, an assistant professor in the Department of International 
Relations at Bilkent University, in Ankara, Turkey, shared some 
particularly interesting reactions. (Pegg's paper topic: "Corporate 
Armies for States and State Armies for Corporations: Addressing the 
Challenges of Globalization and Natural Resource Conflict.")

First, he validated our sense that the findings of our survey 
constituted a remarkable oversight. "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." Our sentiments exactly.

Asked to account for the corporate studies vacuum, Pegg suggests 
several explanations. Corporations may fall through disciplinary 
cracks, he says -- they aren't 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."

To check that the results of our survey were not a fluke, we did a 
similar search on all U.S. dissertations published in the last two 
years. The results were similar. After we eliminated 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) we found 75 dissertations that included the word 
"corporation" in their abstract. As a point of comparison, 43 
dissertations used the word "baseball" in their abstract, and 1,008 
included the word "war."

We can't help but draw depressing conclusions from our surveys.

One of the sources of corporate power is that corporations appear 
both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. With the commercialism 
explosion of recent years, there are fewer and fewer public spaces 
free from corporate logos. At the same time, the dominant political 
and social culture orients us away from assessing the many ways that 
corporations shape the contours of our politics, life opportunities, 
even our leisure time.

We would hope that the academy might be a place where researchers 
would 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 intellectual leadership, it appears we should look to the 
undergraduates in the streets, not the professoriate.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate 
Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, 
D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate 
Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy 
(Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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jonathan prince
   web editor/designer
   washington dc

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