Globalization as a Research Agenda
presented at: European Sociological Association , Third Conference,
University of Essex, Colchester , Semi-plenary Theme Lecture: Globalisation
August 27 - 30, 1997
See Texts , Concepts, Teune's paper and a paper by Riggs.
Excerpt from the Paper:
Sociology is one of the last of the social sciences to take up the subject of the globalisation of society although - given the inclusive nature of its subject-matter - it could have been the first. As a general and generalising social science which encompasses all spheres of social life in all periods of time (and as such comes in the category of the nomothetic as distinct from idiographic sciences) it offers the most suitable starting-point for study of the emerging world society, as the society with the highest level of complexity. Sociological study of social change has, however, so far mainly presupposed only society in a national-state framework and has not come as far as political science with ‘international relations’ and later ‘world politics’, or economists who are advancing ‘integrated global political economy’ (Gill, Law, 1988).
The literature on globalisation is dominated by exemplificatory and fragmentary descriptions of supposedly indicative changes. However it is precisely at the highest level of complexity that it becomes obvious that we will not arrive at the ‘whole’ merely by listing and adding innumerable particularities or fragments. Even the most widely accepted World-Systems Theory, which however did not go beyond its sectoral (economic) bounds, is more a perspective encompassing great blocks of aggregated particularities, than a groundwork for a high degree of organised complexity in the cognitive process. What we need is not simply an extension to the world as a whole, to world-system with a crude notion of internal structure (core, semi-per iphery, periphery) which cannot take into account much of its internal complexity. What we rather need is the simultaneity of both more wholistic as well as individualistic analytical approaches and the study of the changing relationships be tween the two encompased spheres.
It is becoming plain that globalisation is not an ‘out there’ phenomenon "….far removed from the concerns of everyday life"… that "might appear as another field of study………globalisation is an ‘ in here’ matter which affects or rather is dialectically related to even the most intimate aspects of our lives" (Giddens in: Beck, Giddens, Lash, 1994, 95 - Italics ZM). This also presents a challenge to the established (sub)disciplina ry fields to reinterpret their subject from the standpoint of the newly-emerging society and contribute to the enrichment of sociology by the analysis in the cross-level perspective.
2.2 Globalisation as deja vu?
One of the reasons for the present void is the attitude towards the past. Is globalisation really something so new that we have to start from the beginning? Irrespective of which of the numerous explanations of the beginning of this pro cess we adopt sociology still has to reassess its own heritage from the new point of view. Globalisation cannot be discussed in isolation; it has to be placed in the context of sociology’s tradition of Grand Theories which wrestled with the questions of l ongterm development processes and regularities (Teune, Mlinar, forthcoming). In this sense many things seem like deja vu even though the new terminology creates the impression of discontinuity. At this very time distance from the past is influenced by ide ological swings and simplifications. It does not seem appropriate today to invoke Marxist interpretations of ‘societalization’ on a world scale, for example, since praxis in the ‘socialist states’ failed to confirm it.
But Marx had already pointed out the global tendencies of the capitalist system. Established local and national self-sufficiency and limitations are giving way to all-round transport connectedness and the interdependence of nations, as well as the declining role of nations. Capital and goods know no borders, homeland or nation and presuppose the growing role of the world market. A world literature arises from the many national and local literatures. Marx saw man’s emancipation in ‘so cietalized mankind’, as a pan-human community in which people become citizens of the world who are no longer subject to boundedness to class, nation or state.
The paradox is that at the very time Marxism was discarded, at least in the ‘socialist’ countries’ praxis, some of the rejected ideas are only assuming their proper significance in the emerging situation. For example the idea of the wi thering-away of the nation state, which has become a central preoccupation. Then the idea of societalization, which in practice was reduced to and equated with nationalisation, is actually only now being realised on a world scale, within the process of gl obalisation.
Consequently, in dealing with globalisation there is a whole series of issues, which sociological theory generally had already raised in connection with the longterm development of society, about its antinomies, developmental stages, it s ‘driving forces’, and relations between the micro and macro spheres of society, and so forth. Today’s changes are to a great extent already implied in Spencer’s interpretation of the differentiation of the homogeneous and assimilation of the heterogeneo us. Even in his work in rural sociology between the world wars, Sorokin pointed to a transition from territorial, ‘cumulative’ communities to the networked interlinking of actors (‘functional associations’) which today is becoming the fundamental model of interconnectedness on a world scale. A great deal has been transcended today; but it may help, at least as a challenge, to more easily establish what is the diferentia specifica of the globalisation process.
2.3. Globalisation as a process or epoch?
This broaches the question of continuity and discontinuity. Albrow (1996) also raises the question whether globalisation constitutes a process that is a continuation of social evolution to date, or whether a new type of society is invol ved which he labels the Global Age. But even if there are qualitatively different types of society this does not necessarily mean that the emerging global society can in no way be placed within the explanatory framework of the theory of soci al development. Rather it may be that their commonalties have to be sought at a more general level of analysis.
In connection with this another debate has been evolving these past few decades which is related to the present discussions of globalisation and is continued in various ways. This is the controversy over neoevolutionism (Nisbet 1969, Le nski, 1976, Becker…., AJS, Vol. 84). The objection to neoevolutionism is that it gives too little room for the multitude of essentially indeterminate developments - ‘random events’, ‘unique occurrences’, ‘the purely fortuitous’, the ‘wilful’ and the ‘adve ntitious’ (Nisbet, 1969, p.171). Lenski argued that in sociology evolutionary theory has moved from deterministic to probabilistic interpretations. Thus he rebutted the thesis that the future course of events is necessary and predetermined and hence quite predictable, as well as the thesis that no predictions whatsoever are possible. The probabilistic viewpoint is that not all possible future developments are equally probable.
But what is overlooked here is that the answer differs with respect to the level of development, particularly from the standpoint of the autonomization of subsystems and individuals (to be dealt with later).
Albrow (1996) has objections to treating globalisation as a process, that is, the way urbanisation and other ‘-isation’ terms associated with modernity have been for decades. "Using the term ‘process’ for historical change e lides the difference between open-ended transformations and repeatable, predictable sequences" (italics Z.M.). Consequently he introduces the concept of the ‘Global Age’ as an age of globality, that is, a new level of organisation " ;to which any agent can relate, but which has no organising agent … Yet the lack of central organisation is not disintegration." (121).
It has to be borne in mind here that not all processes have the same time span; man’s emancipation (individualisation) for example is not restricted to just a certain historical epoch and the empirical evidence shows its continuation in the Global Age (leaving aside for the moment ecological finites). The ‘end of the Grand Narratives’ does not mean the end of the (meaningfulness) of seeking regularities in general, since understanding why this (disorder) comes about may also be related to the process of individualisation in the context of globalisation.
One of the main reasons for the numerous misunderstandings and a certain disorientation amongst sociologists is that ‘developmental logic’ is not distinguished sufficiently from concrete experiential reality, which in some parts of the world reveals the most diverse ‘admixtures’ of different stages of social development. The assumption underlying ideal types is precisely that they are never fully realised; but this does not diminish their heuristic value.
2.4. Generalising past experience
The foregoing also leads to the question: to what extent can we draw on the wealth of experience that is available, with regard to changes within national societies, in view of all the dilemmas and great divergence in interpretations of what will be the outcome of present changes on a world scale? Will national homogenisation at the expense of local particularities, such as the adoption of a standardized literary language and the parallel extinction of dialects, be the pattern that is r epeated at the level of national languages and the ‘global language’ that English is now becoming? Or are circumstances different now, and such generalisations impermissible? Besides empirical research, this question calls above all for a general explica tion of the relationships between levels of territorial organisation of society, which shall be dealt with in particular further below.
In principle the greater complexity of society at the global level also constitutes its greater capacity to absorb territorial particularities that have already become established at ‘lower’ levels. This signals a shift from the prevail ing ‘zero sum game’ logic to a ‘positive sum’ logic.
Precisely the most popular metaphor, ‘the global village’ (McLuhan, 1962), shows how misleading and sociologically unfounded mechanical comparisons between global society and traditional local communities can be (se e Mlinar 1997, 6).
If the ‘global village’ metaphor was intended to contribute to understanding the emerging world scale society by means of the familiar village community it has to be noted that this analogy actually does the opposite. Namely, in many re spects it conceals essential differences (Mlinar, 1997) which are presented in the following table:
village community global society
spatial aggregation selective association
predominant loyalty multiple loyalties
Inasmuch as the term ‘global village’ or ‘global neighbourhood’ is used to mainly stress the drawing nearer that occurs through ‘time-space compression’, this neglects the fundamental structural transformation takin g place from a community based on relative internal homogeneity and the subordination of the individual within it, to a global society which can only arise through the autonomous interlinking of a great diversity of groups and individuals.
>3. SOME CONCEPTUAL AND THEORETICAL DIMENSIONS
3.1. Globalization and individualization
In order to contribute to the theoretical embedding of the concept of globalization we can consider its meaning in terms of two analytical dimensions and interpret the changes in both of them from the point of view of the contradictory relationship between globalization and individualization.
3.1.1. Two analytical dimensions:
First, the distinction between distributions of people, goods and ideas world-wide, including the comparison of their attributes (similarities, differences) on the one hand and
secondly, their interconnectedness on the worldscale in terms of the (increasing) probability that change in one unit will effectuate some changes in the others.
From the first point of view we can account for the widely discussed issues of homogenization and diversification; from the second, issues of increasing autonomy and dependency. Both of them at the same tim e represent the dimensions of individualization implying the strengthening of autonomous and unique actors (world citizens) in the context of the emerging world society. But as we will see, uniqueness and autonomy are not alternatives to uniformity and dependency. Individualization is not an alternative to globalization. They represent a unity of opposites in the course of socio-spatial change.
3.1.2. Unity of opposites
While the predominant preoccupations with globalization today are still one-sided, there are also some attempts of considering the contradicting and at the same time interdependent changes like the strengthening of both increasingly lar ger and increasingly smaller units (e.g. Naisbitt’s popular version of ‘Global Paradox’, 1994) or globalization and fragmentation (Clark, 1997), subnational autonomy and supranational integration.
Homogenization of the world contradicts diversification but it is at the same time a condition for it. In order for this to be understood a distinction has to be introduced between two kinds of diversity:
Territorial diversity which was formed on the basis of exclusion or separation (like different dialects) contradicts with increasing connectedness and decreases as far as it limits the free flow of people, goods and ideas, which requires a certain underlying homogenization (EU - harmonization) world-wide. On the other hand, higher connectedness implies wider access to variety and creation of new combinations of it, thus contributing to diversification. We can thus observe both more standardization (or ‘harmonization’) as well as an increasing number of unique phenomena.
A great variety of separate, ‘peacefully coexisting’ observations on opposing trends of change can thus be better understood, like e.g. the ones concerning ‘community decline’ and ‘new localism’; ‘the destruction of regional cultures’ a nd ‘revival of regionalism’, ‘the loss of national identity’ and ‘new nationalism’ etc. (Mlinar, 1992). The old identities formed on the basis of isolation, the new ones on the basis of selective communication.
Diversity which arised in the form of territorial exclusivities, (limited communication) is declining but at the same time tends to be purposefully and selectively incorporated as an enrichment of the total fund of diversity of the glob al society.
From the point of view of interconnectedness again we can observe both increasing and declining autonomy of the actors/individuals. There is no simple shift from autonomy to dependency (implied by "dependistas" in Latin Americ a) or vice versa. The two are not alternatives. Globalization implies both increasing autonomy of actors in terms of their expanding range of choice as well as increasing dependency on society as a whole. The autonomy of actors increases as their independence decreases. In other words, the process of globalization implies the transition from autonomy with exclusion (autarchy) to autonomy with inclusion. The logic of zero sum which well applied to empires, great po wers, power politics, economic and cultural imperialism, ‘independent state’ etc. is losing its explanatory power.
In today’s globalizing world political decisions on frontal separation (secession) are less and less important and increasingly illusionary. Discretionary power in this sense is more and more restricted, and so is the discretion concer ning universal human rights.
3.2. Globalisation and internationalisation
There is quite a bit of confusion and inconsistency in the use of the terms globalisation and internationalisation. In the disciplinary field of ‘international relations’ especially, we witness a highly redundant repetition of the debate between the advocates of the ‘realistic’ and ‘idealistic’ schools and a long line of critics trying to scupper both. The former reflect the hitherto and the latter the prospective, that is declining, role of the nation state. A rapprocheme nt of the two is also indicated in that the strengthening of the global does not entail the simple end of the nation state but rather its changing role. It is also becoming clear that it is not just a matter of relati ons between nations but also the growing diversity of territorial and non-territorial actors that have become independent and are linking up on a world scale. It would then be quite wrong to assume that internationalisation preserves the internally homogeneous structure of society, as exemplified by the ‘billiard ball’ metaphor. Internationalisation rests on relations between nations and hence on the assumption of a lower level of differentiation and individualisation than with globalisa tion.
3.3. Globalisation and universalism
While the concept of globalisation has temporal and spatial parameters, universalism is a characteristic of principles which are applicable irrespective of time and place. However even universal principles are manifested and observable only in concretely defined times and places. "Globalisation is an extension of the application of universal principles everywhere ….But, the spread of universal principles, does not mean homogenisation, everything the same everywhere. Rather they can appear in practically limitless unique combination" (Teune, Mlinar, forthcoming).
In view of this there is a misunderstanding when some sociologists call for the ‘abandoning of universalism for true indigenisation’ (Park 1998, 161). For it incorrectly presupposes that these are alternatives, mutually exclusive states. In fact it is more a matter of differences of approach by nomothetic and idiographic sciences. The question is rather in how much a generalisation is based on the limited evidence from the developed world, e.g. ‘Eurocentric’.
3.4. Territorial inclusiveness and selectiveness of actors: the question of scale
Local and global are usually synonyms for the small and the large. But this parallel is true only in terms of the geographical, territorial inclusiveness. Typically this overlooks the fact that expanding accessibility both necessitates and enables increasing selectivity which results in the formation of various groups, organisations or networks made up of a small number of actors. These groups have no necessary territorial base nor do they act territorially discriminatory.
It may be concluded then that the size of a group, in terms of the number of members, is not necessarily an indicator of the globalisation process. Even the territorial dimension has to be understood more as potential world accessibility than actual, complete territorial ‘coverage’. Before us then is not a society with ever-bigger groupings as with the territorial expansion of integration processes (e.g. EU, NAFTA, etc.) but a society made up of increasingly smaller or di verse groups and individuals, linked up on a world scale.
3.5. ’Globalization’ by sectors and beyond
A convenient way of presenting the issues of globalization is by sectors (functional, issue areas). A large part of the sociological discussion on globalization focuses either on individual sectors (e.g. Wallerstein on economy, Robertson on culture etc.), or considers several of them simultaneously (Sklair: economy, polity, culture - ideology).
While this may suit more pragmatic or short term preoccupations it at the same time by-passes the basic long-term restructuring and ‘de-structuring’ resulting from individualization/globalization. The sectoral approach assumes the struc ture to be constant and focuses on changes within it. This is inconsistent both conceptually with the holistic nature of globalization as well as empirically with the evidence on ‘melting structures’ (e.g. Lash and Urry, 1994, p. 94, 97, on melting econom y and culture in the time when the production process is basically a design process; Delors et al. 1996 on education in the sense of ‘learning by interacting’, Castells on reintegration of education and production etc.)
The sectoral model will increasingly tend to hide rather than disclose the actual process of globalization. The trends toward high diversity and unique actors operating in the ‘space of flows’ increasingly departs from the notion of a segmentalized society.
See Texts , Concepts, Teune's paper and a paper by Riggs.