Last year, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein organized an academic conference on Wal-Mart at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Experts held forth on the Wal-Mart phenomenon, and what it revealed about contemporary American capitalism. (Nothing good, most concluded.) Many of the conference papers have now been organized into a book, edited by Lichtenstein, forthcoming from the New Press late this year. Wal-Mart did not send a representative to Santa Barbara, though Lichtenstein invited the company to do so. Instead, more than a year later, Wal-Mart is sponsoring a scholarly conference of its own “to discuss the economic impact of Wal-Mart on the US economy.”
Clearly timed to coincide with the release of Robert Greenwald’s muckraking documentary on Wal-Mart, the conference is scheduled for November 4, 2005. “Independent oversight” will be provided by Global Insight, a financial forecasting firm, which claims on its website that the “positive or negative findings” of the papers “will not be used as selection criteria.”
Kind of hard to believe! But if you’re a scholar doing critical research on the company, why not take Wal-Mart at its word and respond to its call for papers? Spread the word about this, and let us know what happens.
The company’s eagerness to buy the approval of the intellectual elite is surprising, since most intellectuals are far less powerful than Wal-Mart. Yet this isn’t Wal-Mart’s first effort to court them: earlier this year the company bought ad space in the New York Review of Books, not the most obvious place to reach Wal-Mart shoppers. After all, not only is Manhattan still Wal-Mart-free, Wellfleet and Martha’s Vineyard are as well–so far.
But enough snarky populism. Those of us lacking such fabulous summer real estate can still have seasonal fun at Wal-Mart’s expense. Wal-Mart Watch is encouraging people to organize educational anti-Wal-Mart barbeques in a new “Grill Wal-Mart” campaign. And Wake Up Wal-Mart has a back-to-school campaign; if you’re a student or parent, pledge to buy your school supplies anywhere but at Wal-Mart.