Need suggestions on how to research for a paper on imperialism.
November 9, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I need to write a paper for school showing that Amazon.com is an empire based on several criteria of classic empires, like the Roman empire, Portuguese empire, etc. I'm feeling overwhelmed and unfocused on how to find what I need.

I'm focusing on just a few points, unless more are suggested: if and how Amazon.com has forced other commercial vendors (especially brick-and-morter) out of business, its negative or oppressive treatment of its sellers (the small vendors that sell to customers through Amazon.com), rhetoric used by Amazon.com to customers and sellers to further it's imperial mission, and maybe the concept of cultural appropriation on the part of Amazon.com. It's easy to get information on its size and reach (universal imperial traits), but I'm having trouble beyond that.

I'm feeling blocked on how to research this. I have done a little searching of specialized scholarly articles from academic business journals (not the type published for laypeople, such as Forbes, etc.), but the jargon and specialized language has me completely stymied--I just plain cannot understand what they're talking about. I am allowed to use journalistic sources for ideas or to get steered in a particular direction, but I must use as evidence only the primary sources cited by these articles, not the articles themselves.

I'm feeling overwhelmed when I'm googling various phrases--they'll pull up so many sources, and I don't know where to start or how to judge reliability. Can anyone suggest good, more focused search terms, and even more helpfully, sources to check?

By the way, this is for an anthropology class on empire and imperialism.
posted by primate moon to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If I'm understanding you correctly, you're not trying to see if Amazon is a business empire, but if it fits into the definition of traditional/historical state empires?

If so, perhaps instead of researching it fro a business standpoint, research what anthropological definitions of imperialism is. Then, you can see if Amazon fits into those definitions using evidence from primary sources.
posted by cyml at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, cyml, that's how I'm approaching it. I am already familiar with the criteria which define an empire (several listed in my question), but I need to learn about Amazon to see if I can apply some or all of these criteria.

By the way, I am NOT looking for opinions on whether Amazon.com is an empire or not, but for help in finding evidence about Amazon.com that helps me identify several criteria of imperialism.

Would Amazon.com's annual reports be in the public domain? Online? That could be one source, though certainly I need other, objective sources too.
posted by primate moon at 2:34 PM on November 9, 2014


IF this was the assigned prompt, you should really meet with your instructor about this. Generally we try to have y'all work in course material and concepts into this sort of thing. IAAP, IANYP
posted by k8t at 2:48 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


In addition to talking to your instructor, go see a librarian at your school. They can help you refine search terms and suggest specific databases to look at. Depending on your school, there may even be a specialist anthropology and/or business librarian you can talk to. Just ask at the information desk.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would look at annual reports, strategic plan, any sort of literature that Amazon produces for its investors, and possibly staff training materials/manuals if you can locate them - these types of documents usually review an institution/organization's mission, vision, values, timeline for future achievements, rhetoric, strategy, etc.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:18 PM on November 9, 2014


Does your school have a writing center/writing tutor program? I worked at my school's tutoring center in college and this is the kind of thing we helped people with a lot. I would say to seek them out if they exist.

If I was your tutor, here is how I would tell you how to proceed. The secret is to start with a plan. Without a plan you're lost. A plan for a paper is an outline. Get your definitions and break them down into individual points.
1. First criteria for empire
1a. Discussion of criteria, historical examples, etc.
1b. Does Amazon meet criteria?
1b1. Ways it does meet criteria
1b2. Ways it does not meet criteria
Etc.

Don't do any more googling until you have the full outline.

Then make sure you're fully up to speed on how to use your school's scholarly journal resources.

Once the outline is complete it should be easier to research because you will have a set of concrete questions to find answers for.

Finally, once all of this is in place, when you come across resources you think are trying to answer your concrete questions but you just don't understand them, open up Wikipedia (not to cite, but to get background learnings) and if that doesn't help, bring them to your instructor's office hours.
posted by bleep at 3:18 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


You probably know this, but you should not necessarily be using Google for searching here. See about meeting with your school's research librarian. There may even be a subject area specialist.

You probably want to find some articles on imperialism that would be classified as a review. If you have access to Scopus through your school, get on there and limit your search to social science / humanities, search keywords "imperialism" AND "corporat*" (that's the Boolean AND mind) and refine from there. You will probably find some good results- I am looking at a couple that might be promising based on their abstracts.

You will still run into jargon. My best advice is to use Wikipedia and other free reference sources to look up words you don't know, seriously. The first few scholarly articles you read in a subject are the hardest. Then you start to gain the vocab necessary to roll with it.

Good luck. Sounds like a tough prompt.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:24 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Forgot to add a few more tips:
Write up the historical aspects of each criteria first, plugging directly into your outline. You will feel a lot less overwhelmed as the paper starts to feel more solid and you will have a clearer mind reading through the modern business resources because you'll have a strong idea of what you're looking for.

When you do start the modern research plug each piece of for/against evidence into actual paragraphs directly into your outline this way you can immediately forget it and keep a clear head for the next thing.
posted by bleep at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2014


It sounds to me like you may not be looking for academic articles, but rather for material about Amazon specifically, to which you can apply the theory.

You can get a lot of primary material from their investor relations page: this includes their annual reports. For more objective information you could try a company information database like Passport or MarketLine (I don't know if you have access to those, but your subject librarian should be able to help you with this one, and suggest alternatives).

Because you're looking for actual examples of Amazon's business practice, I wonder if checking out the more popular journals might be the way to go, rather than the strictly academic? You mentioned Forbes, but there's Harvard Business Review, Wall St Journal, Financial Times, The Economist...(most of those are subscription-only but you should have electronic access through your library).
posted by Pink Frost at 3:43 PM on November 9, 2014


To second what some here have written, yes, meeting with the instructor when you're struggling with an assignment (and have already made an effort to sort things out on your own--which you appear to done) is always a good idea. You could outline the ways you're thinking of approaching the problem and they might give you an idea of whether you're on the right track or whether alternative approaches would be better.

And as others have also said (since I drafted this) you may also want to consult a research librarian. They can help you find the best search terms and venues for what you want to find out. Most university libraries have a walk-up or appointment-based system for students to get one-on-one help with research projects.

Amazon's annual financial reports are here, although I don't know how much those sort of results will help you make your case.
posted by col_pogo at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2014


Empires are classically defined as a single state formed by the conquest or union of many nations and ruled by the founding or metropolitan nation as opposed to some form of collective governance by the constituent nations.

Your challenge here is going to be analogizing the market verticals Amazon dominates to subordinate nations of an empire ... so you'll most benefit from a few works of scholarship which define subject imperial nations in a broad, even metaphorical way. Maybe something about the British Raj or the Soviet Communists?
posted by MattD at 7:49 PM on November 9, 2014


Perhaps check out Lenin's Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism for one theoretical reference point
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:30 PM on November 9, 2014


I don't know how much time you have but The Everything Store book goes into great detail about how Amazon's logistics programs work. Which, if you think about was all the Roman Empire really was too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2014


Seconding "The Everything Store." Read it.
posted by ewiar at 12:29 PM on November 10, 2014


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