A recent exhibition of photography by Brazilian artist Sebastião Salgado at London’s Barbican Gallery, titled Exodus, captured the desperate plight of migrants and refugees across the world. From Africa to the Balkans, the Middle East, Latin America, Afghanistan and the Far East, Salgado’s work documented the human cost of globalisation, namely war, terror, famine and exploitation. His work of epic proportions showcased the dispossessed amid cruel and beautiful landscapes, while his intimate portraits of migrant and refugee children are by far the most compelling.
Salgado’s work poses a poignant question: "what is to be done?" The wealthy world, which enjoys free-market globalisation, must inevitably deal with the fallout of its human casualties. But universities, once mighty bastions of development studies and liberation movements, have shown little concern for these issues. Instead, universities have succumbed to the new race to increase their market share of the global knowledge economy, with far less attention placed on the needs of struggling nations. Consequently, universities have failed the Third World, failing to offer meaningful research and deep understanding into economic development in Africa or Latin America.
Furthermore, universities have been unable to provide an honest narrative on globalisation and its consequences. Instead, they promote a partial discourse on globalisation, focused solely on the advantages and threats to the Western world. This narrow-minded approach fails to address the human costs of globalisation and the many global solidarities and resistances that have emerged in response. Finally, universities must rekindle their unique role as social critics, using their intellectual might and insight to conjure new visions and worlds and promote real change.
Peter Scott holds the esteemed position of Vice-Chancellor at Kingston University.