The Sociology of Globalization
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The Sociology of Globalization

Luke Martell

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The Sociology of Globalization

Luke Martell

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The new edition of this accessible and wide-ranging book demonstrates the distinctive insights that sociology has to bring to the study of globalization. Taking in the cultural, political and economic dimensions of globalization, the book provides a thorough introduction to key debates and critically evaluates the causes and consequences of a globalizing world. Bringing the discussion right up to date, the new edition includes an increased emphasis on the rise of China, the aftermath of the financial crisis and austerity, the benefits of migration and open borders, and the changing structure of global inequality. Data and literature have been updated throughout the book, with new sections on global cities, the environment and international protests, and expanded discussion of gender. Martell argues that globalization offers many opportunities for greater interaction and participation in societies throughout the world, for instance through the media and migration, but also has dark sides such as conflict, global poverty, climate change and economic insecurity. This book will continue to be an ideal companion to students across the social sciences taking courses that cover globalization, and the sociology of globalization in particular.

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Perspectives on Globalization: Divergence or Convergence?

Perspectives on globalization have been separated into four waves. Three waves initially identified in discussions of globalization were globalist, sceptical, and postsceptical or transformationalist (e.g., Held et al. 1999 and Holton 2005). More recently it has been argued that there is a fourth perspective that goes beyond these. However, the three waves need to be looked at again rather than seen as redundant or out of touch. The fourth wave is important, but not as novel as its advocates argue.
Contributors to the third wave defend the idea of globalization from criticism by second-wave sceptics. They also try to construct a more complex and qualified theory of globalization than provided by the first wave. But the third wave defends the idea of globalization while including qualifications that unwittingly reaffirm sceptical arguments. This has political implications. Third-wavers propose globalist cosmopolitan democracy, but their arguments in practice bolster a sceptical view of politics. The latter involves inequality and conflict, nation-states and regional blocs, and alliances of common interest or ideology, rather than cosmopolitan global structures.
Globalization theory, seen to have emerged about the 1980s, is said to have begun with strong accounts of the globalization of economy, politics and culture, along with the sweeping away of the significance of territorial boundaries and national economies, states and cultures. Ohmae (1990, 1996) is picked out as an example of this approach, and other proponents are said to include writers such as Reich (1992) and Albrow (1996), as well as discourses in the business world, media and politics (Hay and Marsh 2000: 4; one example is Blair 1997). The first wave in globalization theory is said to have a ‘hyper’-globalist account of the economy where national economies are much less significant, or even no longer exist, because of the free movement of capital, MNCs and economic interdependency. Reduced political restrictions on the movement of money, and technological change in the form of the computerization of financial transactions, mean that large amounts of money can be moved almost instantly with little to constrain it within national boundaries. Many corporations are seen now to be multinational in their ownership and worldwide production facilities, workforces and consumers, from Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to News Corporation. Consequently, the global economy has opened up, integrated and included more parts of the world, although whether this has been a positive thing or not is debated. Marxists and economic liberals have agreed that the world is globalized, while disagreeing on whether it is a good thing (e.g., Sklair 2002; Wolf 2004).
The globalist perspective is sometimes seen as economistic (Held et al. 1999: 3–4), with economic changes having political and cultural effects. Nation-states lose power and influence or even sovereignty because they tailor their policies to the needs of mobile capital. Social democracy and the welfare state are curtailed to fit in with the wishes of business interests (e.g., Gray 1996; Cerny and Evans 2004). Nation-states are superseded by international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), social movements that are global, or even a global civil society (e.g., Gill 2000; Keane 2003). Globalization is said to lead to homogenized or hybridized global cultures, where national differences become less marked as people consume culture from around the world rather than exclusively from their own nation (e.g., Tomlinson 1999). This is facilitated by global electronic communications, such as the Internet, globalized TV broadcasts, migration and tourism. The role of new technologies has made globalization seem to some a relatively recent thing, perhaps of the post-1960s or post-1980s periods (e.g., Scholte 2005). Economically, politically and culturally, globalists see transnational, global forces taking over from nations as the main sources of economy, sovereignty and identity. For some, this means that social science has to move away from methodological nationalism, even from ideas of society, to more cosmopolitan and global perspectives on social relations (e.g., Beck 2006; Urry 2000; but see a response from Outhwaite 2006).
Then, it is said by writers on the three waves, there was a more sober set of accounts. These reacted with scepticism to argue that globalization is not new and that the processes being described are not very global either (e.g., Hirst et al. 2009; Krugman 1996). Sceptics argue that globalist perspectives can be quite abstract and thin on empirical substantiation, making sweeping claims about processes as if they affect all areas of the world evenly and with the same responses. The sceptics see evidence of the continuing role of nation-states, within their own boundaries and as agents of globalization, through which they both lose and maintain power. In the case of core countries, for instance in North America and Europe, states continue to be very powerful in global affairs. National identities have a history and a hold on popular imagination that global identities cannot replace, evolving rather than being swept away. There may even be evidence of a resurgence of nationalism as old nations come under challenge, but from strongly held smaller nationalisms, for instance in Spain, Scotland and Canada, as much as from transnationalism (e.g., see Smith 1990; Kennedy and Danks 2001).
Sceptics want to test the claims of globalism against evidence, and when they have done so have sometimes found it wanting. They are also concerned to see whether globalization is received evenly and with the same response everywhere and, not surprisingly, have found signs of differentiation in its spread. Sceptics tend to see the global economy as not globally inclusive. For instance, areas of sub-Saharan Africa are much less integrated than East Asia, Europe and North America. Global inequality is rising and protectionism still rife, for example, in Europe and the USA in response to imports from growing Asian economies. As we shall see, sceptics argue that the global economy is inter-nationalized and triadic rather than global, and that its internationalization in recent years is not unprecedented. In fact, it may even have been more internationalized in the early twentieth century than now.
It is questioned whether globalization or free trade, insofar as it really is free, is the answer to global poverty. Liberal policies and integration into the global economy may have helped some parts of the world, such as China, India and other parts of Asia. But in these places protectionism and state intervention have also been part of the success. Other parts of the world – parts of Africa, for example – remain afflicted by inequality and poverty while globalization has progressed. These areas are less likely to stand a chance against stronger competitors in the open global economy which some see as the solution to their problems (e.g., Wolf and Wade 2002; Kaplinsky 2005).
Politically, the effects of globalization are uneven – states have gained as well as lost power in processes of globalization. Many states are more globally powerful than others, and some are able to continue with more social democratic policies despite hyperglobalist perspectives that see globalization requiring compliance with neoliberalism (Mann 1997; Mosley 2005). This suggests nation-states retain autonomy and sovereignty in some ways, and unevenly so. Bodies like the UN seem to be as much inter-national as transnational, composed of nation-states and driven by them. Global bodies can be seen as being determined by the balance between competing interests as much as above such interests. This happens in cases of global governance from the UN Security Council to agreements on global warming, nuclear proliferation and international justice. The UN is seen as the tool of the most powerful nations, which bypass or exempt themselves from its rules when it doesn’t suit them, and which use such bodies to impose their will for their own benefit when it does (Zolo 1997, 2002).
Culturally, it is said that nations respond to globalization differently. McDonald’s may have proliferated around the world, but the ingredients vary to fit in with local customs (from shrimp burgers in Japan to kosher burgers for Jewish customers). Depending on location, the consumers of individual outlets are either mainly working class or middle class, while eating customs vary from fast to leisurely in different contexts. From France to parts of the Middle East not everyone responds positively to the globalization of American culture. In fact, in some places, a retreat to fundamentalism and greater rather than less nationalism are seen to be notable reactions to globalization (Robins 1997). It is the culture of one nation, the USA, that is often talked about in relation to cultural globalization, as much as culture originating from all around the world (Beck et al. 2003). As such it is not very global. There have even been (flawed) predictions of clashes of culture arising from globalization, against hyperglobalist assumptions about the homogenization or hybridization of culture (Barber 1996; Huntington 1996).
There has been another set of reactions alongside and in response to the sceptics. There are those who share the concerns of the sceptics about evidence and differentiation but despite this can’t help but see globalization before their eyes, moving ahead at unprecedented levels in recent times. Economic interdependency, for instance, is seen as having grown significantly so that national economies are no longer contained within national territorial boundaries. Third-wavers have been keen to critically reassess the claims of globalism, but without throwing out the baby with the bathwater (e.g., Held et al. 1999, and Held and McGrew 2003, who call themselves ‘transformationalists’). The outcome of this has been a departure from some conclusions of the sceptics, with instead a more complex picture of globalization in which it is seen to occur without just sweeping all away, as hyperglobalists have pictured it.
The global nature of structures such as finance, environmental problems, drugs and crime, and developments in international communications and transport, have led to more global political forms to deal with these issues. National economic, political and cultural forces are transformed and have to share their sovereignty with other entities of global governance and international law, as well as with mobile capital, MNCs and global social movements. But they are not removed. Globalization may have a differentiated effect depending on type (e.g., economic, cultural or political) or location where it is experienced, while still being a force. Global inequality is seen as having moved from a simple core–periphery shape, discussed in chapter 3, to more of a three-tier structure, including a middle group of rising economies from Brazil to China. All of these involve both the continuation and transformation of existing structures, something in between what is described by sceptics and by hyperglobalists.
Globalization’s future may be uncertain and open-ended. It could take different forms (perhaps more neoliberal or more social democratic) or even be reversed, rather than the future being unavoidable globalization or just continuity with unaffected nation-state structures. With recognition of uncertainty comes an acknowledgement of the importance of agency in deciding what happens to globalization, rather than an assumption that it is predetermined or inevitable as suggested in some first-wave accounts (Holton 2005).
In short, the third-wave contributions are critical of hyperglobalism and wish to formulate a more sophisticated picture but feel, contrary to scepticism, that globalization is changing the world. They do not go as far as the sceptics in that they say that real, significant changes have happened. Third-wavers acknowledge the reality of globalizing changes and so defend a globalist position but one that is modified to be more complex than that of the hyperglobalists.
Table 1.1 summarizes the three waves. These are models. Individual contributors do not always fit only into one wave, and, as we shall see, although the third wave presents itself in one way, when looked at more closely it seems to actually reinforce the sceptical wave it seeks to criticize. So the emphasis in this table is on models of the three waves (see also Held et al. 1999: 10).

Beyond the second wave?

Kofman and Youngs (1996) made an early outline of perspectives on globalization but discussed two waves rather than three. In their outline, transformationalist and sceptical views are combined. This relates to a problem I wish to highlight, that third-wave theories reinforce the scepticism they seek to undermine. I will focus here more (but not only) on economic and political dimensions of globalization that are a main emphasis of authors I am looking at, and will discuss cultural dimensions more fully in chapters 3 and 4.
Third-wave theorists distance themselves from both radical globalists and outright sceptics. They defend an idea of globalization, and so separate themselves from the sceptics. But they do so in a more complicated way than put forward in the first wave. However, in doing this they add qualifications and complexities that actually bolster second-wave sceptic arguments. This is not always the case and there are differences between third-wavers and sceptics. But if it transpires that third-wavers are confirming the second wave, intentionally or not, then it is important that the sceptical view is validated rather than seen as less adequate. Getting a correct understanding of what the third wave is actually saying is important to understanding globalization properly.
This has political implications. In reaching globalist conclusions, albeit more complex ones, and arguing they have shown the flaws in scepticism, third-wavers conclude that globalist forms of politics such as cosmopolitan democracy, discussed in chapter 10, are the most appropriate way for directing globalization along more progressive paths. This is against the sceptical analysis of politics that has a more realist view of a world where such global forms are not possible. This is because of the superior power of advanced states, especially rich core states, the conflicting interests and ideologies of global actors, and the importance of politics at the level of nation-states, regional blocs and other alliances.
Table 1.1 Three waves in globalization theory
Sceptics stress power, inequality, conflict and the importance of the nation-state. These point to a politics other than, or in addition to, global democracy. This might involve states. Or it could involve alliances below the global level between states with similar objectives or interests, for instance a shared antipathy to neoliberalism or US imperialism, and with global social movements that have related objectives. This is rather than, or as well as, global universal structures in which common agreement may not be possible and which are liable to being hijacked by more powerful actors. If third-wave analysis leads more in the direction of the sceptics’ findings than it says it does then an analysis of global power inequalities and nation-state power in political strategy, of the sort highlighted by the sceptics, should become more part of the picture, and the outlook for global democracy seems more problematic.
To look at the implications that third-wave arguments have for the second wave, I will set out in more detail some of the claims of the second wave. Hirst and Thompson are frequently cited as leading proponents of the sceptical point of view (see Hirst et al. 2009) and have engaged directly in discussions with third-wavers, for instance in Paul Hirst’s debate with David Held (Held and Hirst 2002).
Hirst and Thompson’s analysis of globalization claims is mainly economic and uses empirical data to test an ideal type of globalization. The ideal type they use is, they say, an extreme one. But it represents what globalization would be if it were occurring, and they say it is one that shapes discussions in business and political circles. What are their main points?
  • There has been internationalization of financial markets, technology and some sections of manufacturing and services, especially since the 1970s. This puts constraints on radical policies b...

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Citation styles for The Sociology of Globalization
APA 6 Citation
Martell, L. (2016). The Sociology of Globalization (2nd ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2016)
Chicago Citation
Martell, Luke. (2016) 2016. The Sociology of Globalization. 2nd ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Martell, L. (2016) The Sociology of Globalization. 2nd edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Martell, Luke. The Sociology of Globalization. 2nd ed. Wiley, 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.