Throughout the discussions, there is a fault line running between two views. The first revolves around the idea of a fundamentally spatial conception of globalisation – the stretching, intensification and speeding up of worldwide patterns of interconnectedness. Globalisation, on this account, lies on a spectrum with the local and national at one end, and the regional and global at the other. It is about the stretching of connections, relations and networks between human communities, an increase in the intensity of these and a general speeding up of all these phenomena. The second, in contrast to this position is a view expounded which stresses that while international trade and investment levels have undoubtedly been increasing in recent years, these do not of themselves constitute globalisation. Rather than a global economic system in which there are no borders or other significant obstacles to the activities of transnational corporations, we have an inter-national economic system in which links of trade, production and finance between economies are still subject to the possible controls of states and their agencies. Moreover, key links between national economies still focus on a small group of wealthy states. They conclude, accordingly, that globalisation is one of the great myths of our time; we live in an international, not a global, order.
One way of looking at these debates is to identify a difference in the way the term globalisation is being used. For globalists and transformationalists, there is a focus on globalisation as a set of processes, which is altering the spatial form of social activity. They then identify a great deal of evidence of cultural and economic activity and restrictions on the power of states to control events to support their view. For inter-nationalists there is a focus on the globalists’ perceived outcome of the process – a fully developed global system. Inter-nationalists, in contrast, challenge the globalists’ perceived outcome to show that the extent of change is limited and that, at present, such a system is far from being extant.
There are arguments for each of these positions and one needs to be attentive to them. In addition it is useful to consider whether these ways of approaching globalisation – one yielding an understanding of processes of change over space and time; the other highlighting the nature and limits of these processes when judged against a set model of the global order – might each help illuminate different aspects of the problem of understanding global transformations.
How distinctive is contemporary globalisation ?
The second set of issues found throughout this essay address the distinctive qualities of contemporary globalisation. Clearly, responses to this concern depend on the position taken in the first place about the very nature of globalisation. If one is sceptical of the idea of globalisation then one will not find it very useful in demarcating different phases or stages of social change. We find major divisions in the positions taken by the debaters, starting with how to set out grounds for raising serious doubts about the strong globalisation thesis, that is, the globalist position. For them the present world, judged in historical terms, remains far from closely integrated. They point out that the actual net flows between major economies are considerably less than a century ago. But they argue that the key test of economic globalisation is whether world economic trends confirm the existence of a single global economy. In this respect, they suggest, the evidence falls far short of the overestimated claims of many globalists. They argue that the national economy persists and so does the possibility of national and international economic management.
We should also explore those reasons for scepticism in regard to strong claims about the degree of change in global patterns of culture and communications today. Here the case study of the telegraph and the internet is particularly apposite. Many of the exaggerated claims about the growth of cultural flows and transnational communications patterns fail to take account of how unremarkable certain technological changes may be if judged in historical terms. Many of the claims made about the novelty of the Internet today were made in the late nineteenth century about the invention and growth of the telegraph. This fascinating case study raises questions about the extent to which networks of communication have been altered by the information revolution. The challenge is not simply to affirm that either everything or nothing has changed but, rather, to be precise about what has, and in what ways. Hugh Mackay emphasizes that the scale, intensity, speed and volume of global cultural communications today are unsurpassed. The accelerating diffusion of television, the Internet, satellite and digital technologies have made instant communications possible across vast areas as never before, involving growing numbers of people. But he also stresses that cultural space and cultural systems are more contested than ever and that, accordingly, the future is uncertain, dependent on negotiations and conflicts among nation states, media corporations, technical developments and the preferences of ordinary citizens. Evidence in this account can, therefore, be used to support each of the three competing positions, although the thrust is to reject the more extreme interpretations of globalists and inter-nationalists.
We can contrast the development of the Westphalian system of states and the contemporary system of world politics, with the development from the late seventeenth century of the states system, which humankind became organized into discrete territorial political communities, the present period – especially since 1945 – has, he contends, seen a remarkable internationalization of the state and transnationalization of political activity. What is new about the contemporary phase of political activity is the emergence of a distinctive, multi-layered system of global governance and the diffusion of political authority. McGrew argues that this is not to say that all state power is simply being eroded and that the interstate system is in terminal decline. That would be to misunderstand what has happened. What is occurring, he suggests, is an ongoing transformation and reconfiguration of political power. National governments – increasingly sandwiched between global forces and local demands – are reconsidering their roles and functions. States today remain very powerful, if not more powerful than their predecessors in earlier centuries. On fundamental measures of political power – from the ability to raise taxes to the capacity to wage war – many states remain very strong, especially in the OECD world. But they must increasingly work together to pursue the public good – to prevent recession or to protect the environment. And transnational agreements, for example dealing with acid rain or economic crises, will often force national governments to adopt changes in domestic policy. Increasingly, McGrew argues, global politics alter the nature of domestic and international politics, although the exact contours of the changes remain far from clear.
What are we to make of these different accounts of what is distinctive about the contemporary historical period? In the first instance, it is important to stress that we cannot understand globalisation as a singular condition or as a linear process. It is best thought of as a multi-dimensional phenomenon involving diverse domains of activity and interaction, including the economic, political, technological, cultural and environmental. Each of these spheres involves different patterns of relations and activity, and before we can make strong claims about globalisation we need to dissect what is happening in them. Second, it is clear that a general account of globalisation cannot simply ‘read off’ or project from one domain of activity what has occurred or is likely to occur in another. It is important to build a theory of globalisation from an understanding of what is happening in each area. The interpretation of the debates leads to considerable scepticism which may be justified in the economic sphere, while different accounts of the nature and dynamics of globalisation may be more appropriate to the cultural and political. There is no reason to assume – in fact, it would he quite wrong to do so, that globalisation involves a single historical narrative or logic with all realms moving in sequence. Different processes of globalisation may have developed at different times, followed different trajectories and tempos. In order to elaborate an account of globalisation, therefore, it is necessary to pursue an examination of the distinctive domains of activity and interaction in and through which global processes can evolve. A full account of globalisation can only hope to be built up through these discrete analyses.
What is the impact of globalisation?
A third area which dominates current discussion is the impact of globalisation on the sovereignty and autonomy of nation-states. Here again, not surprisingly, there is a diversity of judgement. The inter-nationalist approach holds that the debate about globalisation has exaggerated the extent to which the sovereignty and autonomy of nation states has been eroded. It can he argued, importantly, that such exaggeration can actually handicap the capacity and undermine the confidence of policy makers who have responsibility for creating and administering national economic policy. For a strong globalist position mistakenly attacks the idea that nation-stales are still important in the world economy and can manage their own affairs. The national and international economy can still be managed; and states remain major actors in this process. We do not live in a runaway world.
By contrast, another position taken is that globalisation simply leads to the demise of sovereignty and autonomy which in many cases it has. The ever increasing power and structure of the EU is a formidable example. But the overall argument is that there has been a reconfiguration of cultural and political power. As McGrew puts it the sovereign power and autonomy of national governments is being redefined; the sovereignty and autonomy of national governments is locked into a multi-layered system of governance. In this system, states no longer use sovereignty simply as a legal claim to supreme power but, rather, as a resource to be drawn upon in negotiations with transnational and international agencies and forces. States deploy their sovereignty and autonomy as ‘bargaining chips’ in multilateral and transnational negotiations, as they collaborate and co-ordinate actions in shifting regional and global networks. The right of most states to rule within circumscribed territories – their sovereignty – is not on the edge collapse; however the practical nature of this entitlement – the actual capacity of states to rule – is changing its shape and form. In this account, globalisation involves an historic shift in power away from national governments and national electorates toward more complex systems of regional and global governance. As a result, politics is becoming more transnational and global; and the regional and global deployment of political power is becoming a routine feature of a more uncertain and unruly world.
There are significant differences of interpretation and emphasis in the internationalist, globalist and transformationalist accounts of the consequences of globalisation for the modern state; and these should not he underestimated. But having said this, all three positions recognize that there has been an expansion of international governance at regional and global levels – from the EU to the WTO – which pose major analytical and normative questions about the changing nature of the world order unfolding at the present time. What kind of world order it is and might be and whose interests it serves and ought to serve, are pressing questions across all perspectives.
Winners and losers?
The fourth area of cross-cutting concerns involves whether or not globalisation generates new patterns of power and inequality in the global order. Again there are differences in emphasis as well as some continuities. It is worthwhile to explore the way the dominance of multinational corporations in global cultural networks can threaten the integrity of peripheral cultures and the position of more marginal cultural groups. But we should wary to warn against too simplistic a view of this thesis. In the first instance, major cultural and communication flows from the west to the rest of the world do not simply demonstrate power or domination. Flows can be regional as well as global and flows per se tell us little about impact. Further to this, people, independently of their position and culture, do not simply passively consume the cultural products of multinational corporations. On the contrary, most people creatively engage with these products; they are made sense of through the lens of local and national cultural resources. There is a creative interface between the diffusion of global media products and their localized appropriation. Moreover, national institutions remain central to public life while national audiences constantly reinterpret foreign products in novel ways. There is, thus no overwhelming evidence of a simple pattern of cultural imperialism or cultural homogenisation in the world. The empirical position – including criss-crossing cultural flows hybridity and multiculturalism – is more differentiated.
Likewise there is a complex pattern of winners and losers emerging in the global economic system. The development of regional trade and investment blocs, particularly the Triad (NAFTA, the EU and Japan), has concentrated economic transactions within and between these areas. The Triad accounts for two-thirds to three-quarters of the world’s economic activity, with shifting patterns of resources across each region. However, one element of inequality is particularly apparent: a significant proportion of the world’s population remains marginal or excluded from these networks. Recent research findings reinforce this point. Contrast the fact that over the last four decades, the world’s total product (the sum of all domestic products or GDPs) has quadrupled and the real per capita world product has doubled, with the fact that a large proportion of humankind hardly participates in the world economic system and economic prosperity. As one author has recently summarized their conditions:
1.3 billion persons – that is 22 percent of the worlds population, lives below the poverty line. As a consequence of such severe poverty 841 million persons (14 percent) are today malnourished; 880 million (15 percent) are without access to health services; one billion (17 percent) are without adequate shelter. 1.3 billion (22 percent) are without access to safe drinking water. 2 billion (33 per cent) are without electricity; and 2.6 billion (43 percent) are without access to sanitation.
Kelly and Prokhovnik’s account indicates a range of possible interpretations of ‘winners and losers’ from globalisation, ranging from everyone benefiting in the long run to us all being put at risk by international pollution, terrorism and the drugs trade. In particular though, they highlight the particular vulnerabilities that have been identified to the peoples of the poor ‘south’ from exploitative corporations, the unskilled and semi-skilled manual workers of the ‘north’ whose jobs may be exported in the search for cheap labour and women who may become the victims of a global sex trade as well as exploitative employers.
But the patterns of inequality and stratification which dominate today are not just economic or cultural. Political factors are at play as well. It is also interesting to study how and why globalisation is creating new forms of political inequality as some states and powers lie at the heart of the contemporary system of regional and global governance and others – essentially those excluded from the G7 and G8 – remain at the edge of involvement. McGrew stresses the way in which the contemporary global order can divide nations, exacerbate inequalities, intensify social exclusion and reinforce cultural clashes. In other words it can encourage and create a more fragmented and unruly world. He also raises the additional question of in whose interests the new regional and global systems govern; and he implies there is ‘a fatal flaw’ at the heart of the existing system of multi-layered global governance – namely, its lack of democratic credentials and legitimacy.
The upshot of the analyses found in the on-going debates on the question of winners and losers in the contemporary world order is that inequalities and stratification patterns are not just economic – profound as these are – but multi-dimensional. That is to say, culture, politics and other social factors interlace with economic factors to produce and reproduce diverse forms of inequalities, major social divisions and conflicts. These phenomena are deeply rooted with highly complicated origins and pose many serious demands – locally, nationally, regionally and globally. If these and related problems are to be addressed seriously, then politics will have to be rethought in certain respects. For we need to take our established ideas about political equality, social justice and liberty – ideas all rooted in the nation-state and the privileged territorial political community – and refashion these into a coherent political project which is robust enough for a world where power is exercised not just locally and nationally but also on a transnational scale, and where the consequence of political and economic decisions in one community can ramify across the globe. On this matter, there might he some agreement among the proponents in the various positions taken, although the limits of such agreement, concerning many of the details involved are only too apparent.
The debate about globalisation raises profound questions for the social sciences. There are issues of interpretation substance and value different theoretical positions tend to emphasize a different range of issues in the explication of what globalisation means in the world today. The deployment of different theories, and the focus of different domains of activity, can generate different narratives of the complex world before us. But it would be quite wrong to deduce from this that there is simply an irreconcilable clash of perspectives.
The differences among the interpretative frameworks (internationalism, globalism and tranformationalism) are important and they certainly do highlight that ‘facts and evidence’ don’t simply speak for themselves. Facts and evidence have to be interpreted and are made sense of in theoretical schemes. But the foci of these schemes and their marshalled evidence, is important to assess as well. The questions that can be raised about the arguments developed about globalisation suggest that we always need to probe critically the coherence, empirical adequacy and comprehensiveness of arguments in social science. For while there are clashes of conceptualisation concerning some of the evidence (for instance, how to measure and make sense of trade and finance statistics), these different positions also emphasize the relevance of different kinds of evidence.
For example inter-nationalists express their scepticism about the whole globalisation thesis by laying particular emphasis on the organization of production and trade – stressing how multinational companies, for example remain rooted in particular nation-states and how marginal changes in trade should not be exaggerated into a new account of the global economic order. Against this, if the focus had been on the changing nature and form of global financial markets, it is conceivable that a different story about the changing growth of financial activity and its impact on the world economic system might have been told. Likewise we could say that the argument made by Anthony McGrew about the importance of transformations in the world political system gives too little attention to their exact impact on the sovereignty and autonomy of states. For example, it may well be that the sovereignty of states is being reshaped fundamentally in the European Union – where EU law-making directly impinges upon and determines legal and policy outcomes in member states – but it is not clear that similar processes exist outside the EU. The weaknesses in international law and human rights agreements – in particular, their patchy application and enforcement – could tell a different story. The coherence, comprehensiveness and empirical adequacy of theories must always be explored.
But despite the limits and different emphases of the positions set out, there is also some interesting common ground. Some of this has already been explored; I have sought to stress that much can be learned from all sides. A great deal of what has been said is complementary, and offers profound insights into different aspects and problems connected with globalisation. Furthermore, it should he noted that all sides would accept that there has been a significant shift in the links and relations among political communities. That is to say, there has been a growth in cultural, economic and political interconnectedness within and among states and regions, albeit with uneven consequences for different countries and locales; that transnational and trans-border problems such as those posed by the regulation of trade or financial flows, have become pressing across the world; that there has been an expansion in the number and role of intergovernmental organizations and international NGOs, and diverse social movements in regional and global affairs: and that existing political mechanisms and institutions, anchored in nation-states, will be insufficient in the future to handle alone the pressing challenges of regional and global problems centred, for instance, on poverty and social justice. What they do not all accept, of course, is the ultimate sense to be made of these points and their many implications?
Finally, it is important to add that the debate about globalisation is not simply an academic one. It is also a political debate about the profound transformations going on in the world today. At stake are questions about the ethical and institutional principles, which might or should structure the organisation of human affairs and the future form of world order.
These questions need to be thought through against a backdrop of change and often of conflict. Irrespective of how it is interpreted exactly, the local, national, regional and global now intermingle in new and complex ways. To this extent, there is a more uncertain and risk laden environment for citizens and governments – an environment in which new kinds actors and structures shape, constrain and enable political life. This creates new opportunities and possibilities, as well the potential for new dangers and risks. The political terrain is being re-illuminated.
Is the rise of so called ‘popularism’ a long term trend or a temporary blip along the ‘elites’ incessant drive toward globalisation. Who for example, would ever have imagined Donald Trump a natural right-wing businessman would garner support from blue collar workers in the US, once the sole preserve of the ‘Democrats’ He was correct in saying China has stolen many of the jobs in the ‘rust belt’ states in the USA . Whilst our national debt continues to grow at an alarming rate The US national debt has reached frightening levels and much can be put down the severe loss of manufacturing jobs in the oil, automotive , mining and power industries .
What is very enlightening in view of this and the manic globalists is that they still and vehemently insist it still the right way forward. Just as Democrats in the US have lost the support of blue collar workers in the US , so has the north London Labourites and Lib Dems lost the support of so many of their ‘natural’ supporters in the Midlands, North East and North West of the UK .
The COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION 2020 movement would now appear to be the only political force left in the UK which actually recognises this and more over is prepared to fight for working class people? COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION movement has a once in a lifetime chance to really capitalise on this dilemma.
The arrogance of certain sections of society is quite outrageous as they still feel it is better for power to reside with the highly intelligent and intellectual elites intertwined with the universities, big business and influential politicians.. We even now witness this intense and on-going desire to wrestle power away from the people and subvert the referendum result. We still not know if Mrs May has the courage to stand up to them? I for one suspect she has not and with collude with them eventually. The undue and corrupt influence of those “with power without authority” in other words the ‘Common Purpose’ organisation must be exposed for what it is.
History is riddled with evidence where faced with this elitist arrogance the ‘people’ will rise up again it and I really can see it happening again, can you ? Join Us Help Us
Malcolm Bint BSc. (Hons), Cert Soc Sci, MIET, MIRSE