Balancing Detached Inquiry with Pressure for Action

    Lawrence S. Root

    Globalization and labor present particular intellectual challenges for universities in that unlike other areas of academic interest, universities are participants rather than simply observers. Larger universities receive royalties from companies that sell sweatshirts and hats emblazoned with their names or symbols. Smaller schools commission the manufacture of their own college apparel that they sell through campus bookstores. In both cases, they participate in commercial relationships that link them to companies and manufacturing supply chains throughout the world. Although university production is a very small part of the apparel market, it is highly visible and symbolic for those institutions. The involvement of universities creates an imperative not to be a part of a process based on exploitative labor conditions. For universities, this role of "player" adds an unaccustomed dimension to their traditional role of observer and analyst, a role fraught with the practical challenges of taking action.

    The public debate also raises several other challenges. First, the arguments are highly charged, often focusing on ethical issues and argued in terms of moral absolutes. Second, different theoretical lenses direct us to contradictory courses of action. And, third, our empirical understanding of the globalization phenomenon is incomplete. A closer look at these three areas suggests important dimensions for developing both intellectual and practical directions for a university.

    For many advocates, a range of images creates a graphic indictment of the human costs of "globalization": young children knotting rugs or sewing soccer balls; shantytowns of people drawn to new industrial centers; row upon row of workers stitching athletic shoes; export zones surrounded by razor-wire; and youthful protesters confronting riot police in Star Wars armor in the streets of Seattle or Prague.

    While such images are compelling, they provide but one snapshot of a complex situation. Some interventions appear to offer promising models. For example, the "Rugmark" campaign to certify carpets as made without child labor offers a way to link consumer decisions with labor conditions and increases pressure to reduce the exploitation of children. When accompanied by the creation of educational opportunities and support, these programs can make a difference. On the other hand, it is difficult to determine the extent to which such remedial programs compensate for the loss of income for families deeply in poverty.

    Interventions may also have unintended consequences. For example, efforts in Pakistan to reduce child labor in the manufacture of soccer balls shifted production from a home-based "cottage industry" to centralized stitching sites where labor standards could be monitored. Parents who previously worked at home now commute to the central site. The program has reduced that element of child labor, but it may have worsened poverty for the families affected and increased the involvement of those children in the underground economy and sex trade.

    Advocates often use emblematic messages that appear to embody fundamental, but competing, truths about globalization and labor. Those who indict international companies for their labor practices may encapsulate their arguments in statements such as: "It is clearly exploitation to pay a worker 10 cents for sewing a sweatshirt that sells for $35."

    On the other side of the debate is the kind of message from those who believe these manufacturing jobs represent valued opportunities and a crucial economic step forward for poor countries: "So-called 'sweatshops' are a rung on the ladder of economic development and long lines of job applicants are testimony that they are the best jobs available."

    Both of these statements have power. Their role in the debate on globalization and labor, however, depends on one's particular theoretical orientation as well as a set of empirical assertions. From the perspective of free-market economics, external efforts to improve jobs that are already better than the average in a producing country are misplaced. Economists traditionally see non-market efforts to improve pay as protectionist and, at best, counterproductive in terms of future economic development. While this theoretical orientation addresses the overall operation of competitive markets, it offers little guidance on issues of equity and the distribution of economic resources. Theories of justice and traditions of both domestic and international law argue against leaving wage determination solely to market forces and hold that companies have a responsibility for ethical behavior and for the impact of their policies on employees, communities and the environment.

    Empirical questions present a third area of intellectual challenge. There is no clear agreement on fundamental questions, such as whether trade liberalization increases or decreases the standard of living in producing countries. The answer depends on the specific examples selected, definitions, and the time period studied, as well as on the extent to which any change can be explained by other factors. Even straightforward questions, such as the wage level in factories, may be elusive. Official wage rates may not be the same as the wage actually paid. Hidden factors may reduce the wages for workers and piecework rates can complicate hourly wage standards. On the positive side, incentive pay, bonuses and in-kind remuneration (in the form of housing, services and meals) may increase the effective wages of workers.

    Assertions underlying positions taken by advocates on both sides of the globalization debate may rest on unproven assumptions. For example, jobs in export manufacturing are often described as the best jobs available in poor, producing countries. While this is surely true in many situations, it may not be universally true. Reports of protests by workers in privatized factories in China, for example, suggest that conditions and wages in the export sector are not always better than those in other local jobs.

    These factors challenge universities to address theoretical and empirical issues in a highly charged environment in which the university plays an operational role. Successfully addressing these challenges will require drawing upon the best academic traditions of openness, objectivity and free debate.

    Lawrence S. Root, Professor, School of Social Work and Director, Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations http://www.ilir.umich.edu/


    Entering the Inter-zones

    By Fatma Muge Gocek, Sociology and Women's Studies

    Half a century ago, in the aftermath of the political and economic transformations following the Second World War, Western social scientists discussed the modernization blueprint, where they assumed that all "traditional" societies would want to shed their past to progress to a bright future, and where they measured progress almost exclusively in material terms determined by the marketplace. In due time, however, the failure of societies to achieve this envisioned progress revealed the Western value judgments, power relations and national interests.

    Now, the possibilities of a similar transformation are upon us as globalization has emerged to capture the knowledge transformation the world is undergoing. The issue once again seems to center on the marketplace's hegemony and the wealth it could bring all societies. The scholarly discussions around globalization and its consequences are much more cautious, however. Many scholars have noted the way globalization generates, transmits and sustains power inequalities across societies. Others note the difficulty of identifying and eliminating globalization's deleterious impact of because of the complexities involved in the endeavor.

    The University of Michigan is uniquely situated to meet this intellectual challenge, however, because of three factors: its traditional strength in the social sciences, its unique combination of area studies centers, and its burgeoning research institutes on social issues such as those surrounding gender, race and the natural environment. The strong social science tradition makes possible the rigorous critique of the proposed scenarios for globalization. Michigan's many area centers present, in turn, the opportunity to test these scenarios in a multiplicity of contexts throughout the world.

    What makes the combination analytically very rigorous is the third factor that was not there before, but has now been added: the establishment of research institutes on specific social issues. These institutes are crucial in developing the new necessary condition in conducting research: the necessity of scholars to maintain a critical engagement with their location in a particular society. Let me provide an example of this condition since it is relatively new: these research institutes provide scholars with the opportunity to analyze globalization through the lens of gender or race or the environment. Such an analysis quickly reveals in turn the deep connection between power, knowledge and human interests that often shapes not only the scholar's research project but his or her interpretations as well.

    The extraordinary research capacity provided by these three factors only works in combination. The intellectual challenge of globalization can only be met through inter-disciplinary, inter-area and inter-issue collaboration. While this collaboration has been on the University's agenda for some time, actualizing it has been more challenging. The most significant obstacle has been the institutional the University's structure, which continues to collect and distribute both material and human resources according to disciplinary divides. Even though research institutes have flourished alongside these disciplines, problems surrounding resource sharing often force scholars to retreat to the safe confines of their own disciplines; the disciplinary divides and the turf control that naturally follows then seeps in to undermine inter-area and inter-subjective collaboration.

    The problems that emerge in the "inter-zones," namely those new inter-disciplinary, inter-area, inter-issue territories, are very exciting, but uncharted and therefore very unexpected. Solving them requires more strength of vision and courage than specialized knowledge. In this new inter-zone space conditions such as being untenured, having joint appointments among units, needing to fulfill extra-academic obligations all act as impediments.

    In spite of these impediments, the University has accomplished a great deal as exemplified by three projects in which I am involved. These projects have the support of the Sociology Department, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and the International Institute, with the special contribution of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, the Center for Russian and East European Studies, and the Center for Chinese Studies.

    The first project compares cultural politics in Poland, Turkey and the United States. After focusing on the two developing countries, it organizes an annual workshop in each country with the participation of scholars and graduate students from all three. The second project centers on the development of teaching and research programs on gender in China, where the Michigan units jointly develop a workshop agenda with the input of interested scholars from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The ensuing four-day workshop in Ann Arbor enables the American and Chinese scholars to exchange ideas and discuss the feasibility of various scenarios. The third project approaches modernity from the vantage point of gender and secularism within the context of three countries that profess to have a secular stand, namely India, Turkey and China. Michigan scholars are joined by their international colleagues in a one-day workshop to map out the larger research project. In all three projects, the unique collaboration across disciplines, area centers and research institutes at the University, the unconventional combination of countries that are compared, and the critical choice of social issues that are analyzed provide a perspective on globalization that is able to escape the hegemony of the marketplace both in its rhetoric and its impact.

    Fatma Muge Gocek, Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies

    http://www.umich.edu/~womenstd/

    http://www.umich.edu/~socdept/


    Science, Technology and Concepts of the Global World

    By Paul N. Edwards, School of Information

    A major intellectual challenge of globalization is to understand the far-reaching implications of scientific conceptions of global processes. Studying planetary processes involves conceiving the world as a unified and comprehensible whole; scientists have been doing this for hundreds of years. In a sense, science is responsible for the very idea of globality. Furthermore, as a system of knowledge, science has been uniquely successful at building widely shared understandings that transcend political and cultural differences.

    Yet proponents have drastically exaggerated the degree to which scientific worldviews have become genuinely universal. Probably a large majority of the world's population does not see the world through the lens of science at all. Even in the developed world, alternative knowledge systems such as chiropractic, acupuncture, astrology and yoga flourish, often side-by-side with scientific ones. And as science becomes intertwined with global politics, its ability to build shared understanding will come under increasing pressure as it collides with alternative forms of knowledge. In the political arena, science can appear to be just one interest among others, competing for resources, attention and the right to serve as ultimate arbiter of truth.

    As an example of these themes, consider the problem of global climate change. How do we know that the world is getting warmer? Global warming has no correlate in direct experience. Even the most traveled, cosmopolitan citizen cannot directly perceive a global average temperature change because this change is much smaller than weather's natural variability.

    Nevertheless, the majority of people in the developed world today know what global climate change is, believe it is underway and think it will directly affect them. Recent polls show that fewer than 15 percent of Americans dismiss the threat of global warming. Europeans are even more committed to the reality of global climate change; several European governments have established firm limits on allowable greenhouse gas production. At the dawn of the third millennium, global warming is thus an established fact-one we know only through science.

    This fact was produced by an enormous and very old scientific and technological infrastructure. International organizations for sharing weather data date to the 17th century, and genuinely global (though sparse) observing networks were well established by the late 1800s. Computers revolutionized meteorology and climatology in the 1950s by making possible the processing of vast quantities of data in real time and the modeling of global dynamic processes. Since the 1970s, satellites have allowed the construction of an observing system that surveys the entire planet on a twice-daily basis. Hand in hand with these developments came a growing social and institutional infrastructure that has evolved into the first truly global real-time information processing system. Today it remains the largest such dedicated system outside the U.S. military.

    Without climate science and its sociotechnical infrastructure, global warming simply would not exist as a political issue. By studying global natural systems, and by linking people and nations across the planet through the vast weather information network, science and technology have helped to create shared understanding of "the world" as a whole. Thus, science is among the oldest and most fundamental armatures of globalization.

    Yet climate change also illustrates the limits of science. Important uncertainties and even basic theoretical differences remain, and political opponents of action on global warming have learned to exploit these. More importantly, as with most global processes, the causes and effects of climate change are non-uniform in both geographical and human terms. The North's voracious and unrestrained appetite for carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels remains the most important driver of climatic change. But other significant causes include deforestation and rice-paddy agriculture (which produces methane, another greenhouse gas).

    On the planetary scale, most of this is happening in the South. Economic development in the South will exacerbate the greenhouse effect. Though the specific regional effects of climate change remain uncertain, high latitudes will very likely be far more strongly affected than equatorial regions. While rich nations may be able to afford expensive mitigations of outcomes such as rising sea levels and droughts, poor countries will not. Possible results might include famine, exacerbation of poverty and increasing flows of "environmental refugees."

    Science cannot yet tell us exactly how the effects of climate change will manifest themselves in different places, and it may never be able to do so. Further, while modeling can suggest possible mitigation strategies and map their probable effects, it can neither resolve the differences among rich and poor nor produce the political will to carry out painful changes. In addition to the local, regional and national differentials in causes and human impacts, powerful political interests work to corrode shared understandings of climate change.

    These processes will only become more important as the 21st century progresses. The University of Michigan's dedication to taking on "an identification with people outside of our own borders," in President Lee Bollinger's phrase ( II Journal, 8,2: 4), should include a strong commitment to learn about these processes in alliance with other universities around the world. Part of this mission should include building an awareness of the widely differing perspectives on apparently "global" issues, especially outside the developed world. American undergraduates notoriously lack the abilities-such as foreign language fluency and experience with non-Western cultures-required to grasp the full force of these perspectival differences. For this reason, study-abroad programs should play a major part in the U-M's strategy for educating global citizens. The curricula of these programs should extend particularly to the study of science, technology and politics as practiced and understood beyond the U.S borders.

    Paul N. Edwards, Associate Professor, School of Information and Residential College Chair, U-M Program on Science, Technology & Society http://www.umich.edu/~umsts


    Teaching "Global Product Realization" Globally

    By Deba Dutta, College of Engineering

    After months of preparations and multiple travels between Ann Arbor (USA), Delft (The Netherlands) and Seoul (South Korea), a new course, "Global Product Realization," was launched in September 2000 and concluded three and a half months later. This course, the first of its kind at any of the participating institutions, and probably one of only very few of its kind in the world, proved that it is possible for professors in three different countries to team-teach a group of students located in three very distant places, and make it feel as if it were all happening in a single classroom.

    In our minds, the course was a success on many levels; pedagogical: students collaborated and innovated in virtual teams across cultures to generate product concepts and carry them through to physical prototypes; technological: sophisticated technologies worked seamlessly together, without major failures; logistical: navigation proceeded skillfully through different educational calendars, different sets of institutional requirements and varying levels of technical support; perceptual: an overwhelming majority of students considered this course a highly valuable experience and were willing to take more courses like it in the future.

    Globalization and advanced communications technologies continue to alter the way businesses and societies conduct themselves and interact with each other. Today's engineers are expected to work globally-collaborating with team members located in various countries with diverse languages and business cultures to engineer products and services that insure the company's competitiveness in the global economy. Beyond the engineering fundamentals in which a Michigan engineer excels, a good understanding of the global issues is key to personal growth and success. By global issues I am collectively referring to the host of topics (legal, socio-economic, communications, team-work, etc.) that need to be considered in the cross-cultural context.

    Global Product Realization was neither a conventional product development class nor a glorified distance learning class. It was a synergistic combination of technology and content. We simulated the environment in which today's leading corporations develop products. Collaborative engineering across time zones and geographic regions lies at the core of this new area. Technology did not just enhance this course, but it was the tool that insured the course's global character by creating a virtual classroom for the "live" lectures. It allowed the students to work in global teams. Using the Internet, videoconferencing and collaborative CAD tools, project teams (two each from Technical University of Delft, Seoul National University and the U-M) worked on their semester design projects around the clock.

    Personally, this course was my first major global project. It was an unprecedented cooperation between three professors of the participating universities that involved collaboration on all levels: not just lectures, logistics and working groups but the development of content, writing of case studies, grading, etc. An impressive array of international experts from the three universities gave guest lectures in the course. The students produced impressive results, learning a great deal (from the lectures and from each other) in the process. They gained experience working in an environment none of them have encountered before, but are most likely to encounter in their future professional lives.

    In conjunction with the final project exhibit at the U-M on December 8, 2000, a global education forum was also organized to put the course in perspective. A panel of speakers, including consular representatives from the Dutch and Korean embassies, remarked on the importance of global awareness among students and the need for cross-cultural collaborative experiences prior to entering industry.

    The College of Engineering has been proactive in establishing and enhancing opportunities for global experiences for our students. The undergraduate program in Global Engineering is a key feature that will have a broad based impact on Michigan Engineering. For graduate students, courses like Global Product Realization will enhance cultural awareness and enrich the assumption elicitation process that is critical in product innovation and development. In the information age, information is free (or at least cheap), but insights are not. And the understanding of the world around us is necessary for that insight.

    Deba Dutta, Professor, Mechanical Engineering Director, InterPro, College of Engineering http://www.interpro.engin.umich.edu/


    By Lawrence S. Root, School of Social Work, and Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations