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
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."
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
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
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
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,
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