Anyone who has tried to teach about globalization knows how daunting this can be. What is it? Where is it? The concept itself can overwhelm: It's everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time.
But ironically, the ubiquitous character of globalization may be just the thing that allows students to see its nature and to recognize ways that they can make a difference in the world.
This was brought home to me this summer while reading Liza Featherstone's book, Students Against Sweatshops (Verso, 2002), a slender volume chronicling the origin and activities of United Students Against Sweatshops (www.usanet.org).
The book shows that because globalization is everywhere, it's also in school, and that fact offers students numerous opportunities to act for global justice and to make a difference in the lives of people halfway around the world. As Featherstone writes, "Universities' cozy ties to large companies are, paradoxically, a boon to the global economic justice movement because they bring corporatism into students' daily lives - and, perversely, lend students power as consumers in the 'academicindustrial complex.'" For example, Featherstone notes that students at the University of Oregon led a campus tour of various sites illustrating the university's many ties to corporations that exploited workers around the world - especially Nike, as exemplified in the Knight Library, named for billionaire Nike owner, Phil Knight. Students at Oregon and around the country have put Nike on the defensive and have forced the company to change in ways that it wouldn't have considered without such pressure.
Sodexho-Marriott is a French transnational that provides campus dining services. It also is a "notorious union buster," according to Featherstone, and was the largest investor in U.S. private prisons, where prisoners are exploited as cheap labor. Students at schools as diverse as Arizona State, University of Texas, Xavier, Florida State, SUNY-Binghampton, Fordham, American University, Evergreen State, and Oberlin protested these links, sometimes killing university contracts with Sodexho-Marriott. Ultimately, students forced the company to drop its holdings in Corrections Corporation of America.