and Robert Weissman
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.
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.
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.
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.
searched through these thousand abstracts for the word "corporation."
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.
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.
by the results of this survey, we asked some of those who had presented papers
that discuss corporations to ruminate on our findings.
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
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.
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."
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."
can’t help but draw depressing conclusions from our surveys.
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.
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
course, these hopes may someday be realized. If protests challenging corporate
power continue their recent upsurge, academic inquiry will, eventually, follow.
for intellectual leadership, it appears we should look to the undergraduates in
the streets, not the professoriate.
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).