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Oversight?


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 findings.

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 world.

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 findings.

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).

  

 

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