Staying Mindful during the Giving Season
The winter holidays account for one of the largest shopping seasons each year. Many people will—often unknowingly—purchase gifts made in countries where corporations do not follow regulations to protect their employees, which raises questions of human rights. During this season of giving, how can we bear in mind the people whose labor creates the gifts we give?
In her 2012 Social Research article, “Regulation at Work: Globalization, Labor Rights, and Development,” Gay W. Seidman discusses problems with labor regulations, the difficulties of changing and improving on them, and what some possible solutions for those problems might be. Maintenance of labor regulations is often a challenge, even for well-intentioned international corporations, which can make their good efforts less altruistic. Seidman explains that this is due to the difficulty of monitoring work from stage one to the final product, which can happen when the lifecycle of a product is scattered across the globe and goods do not follow a single, consistent path to stores.
As consumers, we often have no way of knowing which companies are making an effort to follow ethical practices, even if their products are marked with a label—there is potential for corruption in both self-regulated and “independent monitoring” systems, and some companies don’t bother with regulation at all.
Misleading product labeling, however, is not unheard of, and some companies take advantage of this as a public relations exercise. Holiday shoppers should be cautious of fancy labels, even from independent organizations, that say a product was ethically made, and should research what the label language means. Why? Because “[a]s long as monitoring remains ‘stateless,’” Seidman explains, “any employer determined to cut corners can probably find ways to mislead ‘voluntary’ monitoring programs as well as consumers.” The main interest of most corporations is profit, and sometimes that means pretending to be more honorable than they really are.
What is left then if corporations can get away with being corrupt, we are given little information on which to base an ethical decision, and independent organizations fall short of being able to enforce their principles? Hope may be found in the national governments of the countries where these worksites are located, Seidman says, noting that “transnational activism should be viewed in terms of a movement to strengthen national regulatory efforts rather than replace them.” Essentially, industry- and labor-based programs are only a temporary solution. They can serve as a guide to encourage governments to enforce or create labor laws, which tend to be more transparent in operation.
Gift-giving, then, can begin with activist purse power. By doing one’s research and knowing about the labor practices of the companies and countries whose products we buy to give as gifts, consumers can help support the countries and companies whose labor regulations are truly protective of their workers. This season, be mindful of the impact your spending can make when choosing one brand over another.
For more information, see “Human rights and the Global Economy” (Social Research 79 (4) Winter 2012)
— Nina Rosenberg
Recycle Scholarly Journals: Donate Back Issues to a Library in Need
At St. Kings Tamar University of the Patriarchate of Georgia, students work toward Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees in medicine and the social sciences. Key to their studies are the resources they can access through their library—and since early 2000, those resources have included periodicals supplied to them through the Journal Donation Project (JDP), a Social Research initiative housed at the New School for Social Research.
Since 1990, the JDP has been helping scholarly and university libraries around the world obtain current subscriptions to scholarly journals. The libraries aided by the project are located in more than 40 countries that were, for political reasons, prevented for many years from uninhibited participation in research-related and intellectual exchange. Georgia’s universities, after decades under Soviet control, emerged in the 1990s to find themselves facing ongoing scholarly projects from which they had been entirely isolated.
That was when the JDP stepped in. Under the direction of Arien Mack, Alfred and Monette Marrow Professor of Psychology at the New School, also the editor of Social Research and the director of the Center of Public Scholarship, the JDP arranged for St Kings Tamar University to begin receiving subsidized subscriptions to scholarly journals in medicine and the social sciences Slowly, the university began to reintegrate its faculty and students into the global dialogue.
As Georgia and St Kings Tamar University found their way to economic stability, the JDP scaled back its aid. The university now pays for its own journal subscriptions. Its library’s holdings, however, continue to be augmented by the JDP, which solicits donations of journal back issues in full volumes. (The JDP’s donors pay to have the volumes shipped to recipient libraries.) St Kings Tamar University, which shares its library resources with University of Georgia, National Parliamentary Library in Georgia, Tbilisi State University Library, and the Georgian National Library of the Academy of Science, among others, has recently received donations of the Law & Society Review (1966 to 2000), Alternatives Journal (2004-2014), and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1976-2016). These journals fill gaps in the university’s collection and are actively used by researchers, students, and lecturers for work ranging from term papers to conducting research to keeping abreast of scholarly trends.
In this season of giving, if you or your institution’s library have complete volumes of a periodical that you no longer need, please consider donating them to the JDP for placement with a recipient library. In doing so, you will make a real difference by helping these institutions improve their scholarship and play a meaningful role in the global intellectual community. For more information, please contact the Journal Donation Project by email at email@example.com, phone at (212) 229-5789), or visit their website at https://www.newschool.edu/cps/jdp/.
— Beatrice Wainaina
Refugee Scholarship: The Cross-Fertilization of Culture
[Excerpt from the guest editors' introduction to forthcoming Social Research issue]
With this special issue of Social Research, the journal returns to its roots, casting a contemporary eye on the international movement of intellectuals in the twentieth century. It was this journal that, in the 1930s, became one of the main intellectual outlets in the United States for refugee scholars who had been persecuted in Europe and were finding their voices in their new country.
Inevitably, these voices would be altered by the forced movement from one country to another, from one scholarly home to another, from one political environment to another. And of course such movement itself can profoundly affect the scholar’s worldview. In his foreword to the first issue of Social Research in 1934, Alvin Johnson, president of the New School and founder of the University in Exile, celebrated the possibility of how the emigration of thinkers, even when it is a forced emigration, can change thinking:
When the Greek scholars were expelled from Constantinople in the fifteenth century they
were not able to set up in the western world exactly the same scheme of literary education, of training in art, of criticism and philosophy as had been established in the old Byzantine Empire. They were forced to widen their views, to apply Greek methods to Italian and Austrian and French materials. The consequence was a cross-fertilization of cultures, a renaissance that definitely closed the Dark Ages. The German and Italian and Russian scholars residing abroad will inevitably be subject to a similar process of adjustment to a new environment. Form and material share equally in creation, and though the form of the scholar's mind may be German or Russian or Italian, the material on which he must work is world material. What is striving for expression in the collective mind of the continental scholars abroad is not the kind of thinking to which they were formerly devoted, but a new kind of thinking. And there can be little doubt that when the integration of form and material has been completely effected new and potent forces will have been set in operation in the intellectual world. (emphasis added)
Johnson’s lofty ambitions for intellectual cross-fertilization almost a century ago were only partially realized. One of the goals of this forthcoming collection of essays is to revisit these early claims with a new gaze—the gaze of the twenty-first century, with its new refugee crises and its new challenges to liberal democracy....
Forthcoming issue: “Refugee Scholarship: The Cross-Fertilization of Culture”
Harald Hagemann and WillIam Milberg, Guest Editors (Social Research 84 (4) Winter 2017)
—Harald Hagemann and William Milberg, Guest Editors
Fifty-nine Years Ago This Season in Social Research
"It is undeniably the case that the Russian military threat survives the death of Stalin.... But the countless moves and counter-moves on the political and economic front are equally real, and, with Soviet tactics of advance and retreat, the contest shifts almost imperceptibly from one type of warfare to another, or sometimes is joined simultaneously on all sides. The greatest risk an observer can run is to exclude one or the other dimension of the crisis in his zeal to describe reality in shades of black and white."
— “National Security in a Nuclear Age,” Kenneth W. Thompson Social Research, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Winter 1958)