14.1096, Disc: New: Academic Boycotts

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Mon Apr 14 13:01:33 UTC 2003


LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1096. Mon Apr 14 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1096, Disc: New: Academic Boycotts

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1)
Date:  Thu, 10 Apr 2003 15:32:08 +0200
From:  Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at eva.mpg.de>
Subject:  Academic boycotts

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 10 Apr 2003 15:32:08 +0200
From:  Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at eva.mpg.de>
Subject:  Academic boycotts

The Executive Committee of the Linguistic Society of America has
submitted to its members a resolution against academic boycotts. I
think it would be useful if this were discussed on a broader basis,
and LINGUIST seems a good forum for this.

I am against the proposed resolution (which states that "the LSA
opposes all discrimination and political sanctions against
scholars..., where such discrimination is based not on the conduct of
the scholars themselves, but solely on...the actions or policies of
the countries in which these scholars live and work...), because

- boycotts have often proved an effective way in which groups of
individuals can make a difference when governments fail to act as they
should (and in fact the LSA itself boycotts certain states in the
U.S.)
- while science boycotts do indeed violate the principle of free
scientific interaction (just like economic boycotts violate the
principle of free trade), everyone agrees that their only purpose is
to fight the violation of even higher ranking principles
-  boycotts need to target entire societies, not just governments, when
these societies are reasonably free and government policies can be
changed by public opinion in these societies

A well-known case in point is South Africa, where not only economic
divestment, but also boycotts at various other levels of the society
(such as sport and science) helped to liberate the country from
apartheid. The Western boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980 was
less effective, because public opinion had little impact on Soviet
government policies, but its symbolic significance should not be
underestimated. Boycotts often also work if they are not really
effective, because of their symbolic value.

The LSA's "background" statement says that the proposed resolution
"addresses discrimination against individuals and institutions whose
fates are of little interest to the governments against which the
boycotts are ultimately directed". This may be true of linguistics,
but the resolution opposes all scientific boycotts, and it can hardly
be argued that science is of little interest to governments or
societies.

Martin Haspelmath

-
Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at eva.mpg.de)
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig

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