The world got smaller, meaning more connected; the world grew, meaning more people and things. The physical size of the world is not measurably different, although its sheer weight probably is more, but not worth making estimations of it. Then there are evaluative characterizations of the world as a physical entity: it is warmer, maybe; smoother, hard to assess; more polluted, but that depends on for what and whom; older, for sure; closer or farther from other celestial objects, how to tell. All of these express change over time in its elemental form of before and after, a real constant, only reversible by the mental acts of fantasy or logic.
What we do know is that the human system is becoming, for practical concerns, has become global, a total system. It has also become more complex. Both terms refer to the world as a human, social system increasing by magnitudes of scale with defined physical limits. The world has always been a global system physically and certainly has become more complex with the arrival of living entities, but that took a very long time compared to the global development of the human social system.
The scale of the world's human system has become bigger and can become
much bigger very quickly without its population becoming larger. Its
human system can expand without either growth in numbers of people or
things with its present surface physical limits. Indeed, the size of the
world's population can shrink or the numbers of things on it can diminish
and the world can still have a human social system that is rapidly getting
bigger and more global, even without significantly hanging the world as
#A version of this paper was presented to
the International Seminar on Autonomy and Interdependence: Approaches to
the Study of Local- Global Relations of the Thematic Group # 6, the
Sociology of Local-Global Relations, International Sociological
Association, Pultusk, Poland, June 27-29 1997.
The World as Physical and Social Space
Physical spaces are dimensions of relationships among objects. Social space must be defined
by cognitive mapping of defined social objects and activities, which will also contain at least
implications about their physical dimensions. Both social and physical space involve relational
properties. Both express distance/proximity and sequence/time. The concepts of social space
use the logic of the physical, as is routine in statistical analysis, where proximity of properties
of objects is "mapped" for inferences. In a general sense, knowledge is the mediator defining
social space as relationships of distance and time among human societies, organizations, and
individuals as well as to physical spaces and things arrayed across them.
All societies, organizations, and individuals occupy both social and physical space and history.
In this sense, all human acts have spatial and temporal coordinates, but those include social
spaces, whose absence is noted by a random distribution in a logical space. All observations
have stipulated and unspecified coordinates. "This was a vote in the last Italian election" is such
an observation without a specific designation of the place it was observed, but such a place is
known to "exist", even if outside of Italy. Hence, all observations have unique standings in
physical, social, and temporal places. Under certain circumstances, it is sufficient to know one
of these to know another. If an object had only one social niche, which had a specific temporal
one, by knowing the social niche, the object can be dated. In practice, approximations are
made to identify one coordnate, a place, from knowledge of another, a period in history, a
common exercise in archeology.#
# It took a long time to map the earth in terms of universal spatial coordinates. The first step
was the surface, the earth as a spherical plane constructed from various composites, the most
crude of which were water and land. As the map became more sophisticated in terms of
composites and ups and downs, these coordinates also acquired more social spatial meaning,
including those of economics and politics, and, finally, specialized maps of all kinds. Today the
physical spatial frontiers are below and above the surface, extending outward into "real space.
These cognitive extensions remain socially trivial, except in fiction.
Macro-Micro, Multiple Levels, and Global-Local
The core logic of social science analysis is across levels of human aggregation and
organization and of all the sciences, across time. Macro-micro is a relational analytical concept
used to refer to what is including and what is included and admits two levels. Except for the
rule of inclusion, its application is arbitrary just as the concept of "to the left and right of"
depends on where one stands. In economics the nation-state is generally the designated macro
level for industries, sectors, regions, and individuals. The global economy is the macro for the
Multiple levels parallel the concept of macro-micro but with intermediate "macros", each of
which are also "micros", except for the most inclusive one, which is either a logical point in
analysis or an empirical one, the world as a whole. In the logic of aggregation, a higher level,
the macro, always must include everything at a lower level plus one other "thing". The tightest
of the multi-level logics in the strict sense of inclusiveness are a symmetrical pyramid or a cone.#
# The concept of global-local implies physical empirical referents of territory, unlike the logical
concepts of macro-micro and levels. It can also refer to the mst encompassing spatial
aggregation and the last point of its de-aggregation. The concept of place is a unique location
in time and space. For individuals with territorial social and political systems, residences, with
the proper names of individuals attached to them, are among the most fixed physical locational
coordinates in the world of states. #
# Precise locations in social and now electronic spaces are now also common. Unlike most
human-physical spatial coordinates that, as a practical matter, can be relatively free of time
dimensions because they do not change very much or do so very infrequently, social and
electronic spaces require temporal coordinates, including movements both in time and in
physical space. People change jobs, join different organizations, connect to more than one
electronic system, and travel. A technical possibility that would identify the individual with only
one location is the cell phone grafted into the body and integrated into a total global electronic
network, from which escape could be achieved only by deep burial in the earth or launch into
outer space. That thought aside, most spatial social and physical coordinates are becoming more
complex and dynamic for more people.
Territorial-Political Dimensions of Space
Physical space and its composites have always been controlling forces in human evolution and
behavior, for most of human history determining ones. Human settlements, social units
occupying physical niches, have been at the heart of human social order and organization for
nearly all of historically traceable societies. The social and political organization of space have
defined human civilizations and development, indeed shaped the configurations of the evolution
of the genetic structures of the human race. These are described in anthropological research as
universal patterns of relationships between human nature and physical space across all cultures
and in psychology as ubiquitous comfort zones of distances from strangers and ofspring.
The main avenue of human development has been the expansion of individual freedom.
Liberation from the fortunes of the immediate offerings of food, shelter, and security within
walking distances came with agriculture and subsequent serfdom to land with hierarchical
control of access to its yields. Mass production and improved transportation freed people from
land and yet put them into the bigger cages of states with capacities to tax, incarcerate, and kill
but also to assure accumulation for investments that could increase the scale of organization for
defense, conquest, and stability in the use of land. Higher levels of territorial political
organization provided more freedom from the constraints of the immediate physical
environment, almost always at the cost of a different kind of social and political subordination,
but generally with better and more reliable benefits. The principle of state subordination,
sovereignty, was constrained by local realities in two ways. The first recognized past differences
among localities in production, culture, language, often overlaid with a dynamic meshing and
mixing of these into ethnic and national identities. The most formalized of this necessary
compromise between control and local autonomy was the political federation, a compact
between several lesser and one greater, not necessarily stronger, entities. The second
recognized the necessity of adjusting to local traditions in order to dominate the local. Local
people were appointed as political authorities with some discretion but were controlled by the
center, with the expectation that deviance would be punished, often brutally.
These two accommodations between higher level authority and local variations often resulted
in mixed patterns of local political autonomy and an enduring dynamic of conflict fixed in the
structure of the politics of all territorial states--center-local. Nonetheless, the hierarchal
impulse to control with its push to the political center redced social diversity within its physical
space. The public secular justifications for reducing those differences during the past few
centuries or so of state formation was social justice through authoritative allocation of resources
and the imperatives of size to enable collective achievements of both wealth and cultural
development. To this was added the fear of neighbors aspiring to impose their values or
exploit for gain.
Political consolidation and cultural homogenization were the hallmarks of the modern
nation-state, euphemistically so named. From about 5,000 identifiable political entities in the
15th century, Europe was consolidated into about 25 by the middle of this one. Contiguous
areas sharing a common pattern of culture of settlement came together in large states. All of
North America became three countries, and Japan, Germany, and Italy were unified in the 19th
century. India, Pakistan, and Indonesia were put together in a process of de-colonization in the
20th. The divide to rule principle prevailed in Africa and the Caribbean, more accurately, to
share the rule. Then, there were the poly ethnic empires of Austria and Turkey and the twice
assertive 20th century imperial political systems of Germany and Russia, the stories of whose
demise must include the forces of global developments.
With industrialization and urbanization from the middle of the 19th century until the 1980s,
the centers gained authority and resource capacity relative to the local. Wealth based on land,
accessible to local authorities, shifted to those in transactions, buying and selling, favoring the
regional, to manufacture favoring the national level of government to observe and tax. The
record of those countries whose economies more or less consistently grew during this period
shows that national governmental revenues grew even faster. Their administrative/bureaucratic
structures also expanded in activities and assertions of providing benefits faster than lower levels
of government justified by claims of defense against threats from others or nature. Regulation
supplemented taxes and expenditures as the means of state control.
By the beginning of the 20th century contiguous territory had become the primary foundation
of the state with colonies with histories of mixed motives and losers and winners. The economic
successes by the 1950s of a smaller Germany and Japan and the rise of strong economies on
little pieces of Asian territory in the 1970s put to rest ideas of territorial expansion as the path to
wealth and world power. By then it was clear that knowledge, skills, and organization, coupled
with access to resources and markets, could make little places big players.
After the momentum of central control began to diminish in the wealthier states in the 1970s in
part because the state lost control to global and regional forces and institutions which opened up
channels for localities to the global, most states adjusted their national-local relations. The
centers also approached the limits of appropriation of national resources for re-distribution,
about half of the estimates of their annual production of monetarized wealth. To take more
converged on resistance from both investors and consumers, risking declining economic growth
as well as political discontent. The new local-higher level relationship acquiring political
attention today is the local with the global, including transnational regions.
The secular justification for governance has shifted from collective well-being and
achievements through rulership to individual opportunity through democracy, undermining the
rationale for subordination of individuals, localities, and groups to the state. In so far as the
ideology of democracy must be inclusive and, hence, global, the structure of conflict between the
global and the state, the local and the national, has been re-cast as one of multiple competing and
conflicting levels. The stories of weak states with poor economies are differnt from the
successful consolidators. They never were able to extract much more than a fifth of reckoned
annual economic production, bureaucratically reaching but rarely penetrating their localities.
Those economies, with a few exceptions, will never become national. Further, the collapsed
communist states did not attain anything like complete state formation and many localities
either broke away and went their own ways. More small states can be expected and they will
start fresh as locals in the global.
State creation and consolidation brought the globe into a single, little system, an international
system of states with about the level of complexity of a modest village. Personalities mattered,
relationships were driven by liking and hating, barter exchanges prevailed, resentments
accumulated against the big guys, goods were stolen, and bad guys were scolded and
occasionally were beaten up. From time to time fights broke out and opportunities for revenge
taken, "tit for tat". This is not to say that the players in the international system of states were
stupid but rather their game was rather simple, even if intensely played for high stakes. Of
course, exclusive possession of physical space was crucial to status and territorially inspired
conflicts. But others began to engage in activities that would develop into more complex,
interesting, and satisfying systems. .
A World of Cities
The other side of the emergence of states into an international territorial system with its "laws
of war and peace" was the growth and expansion of cities, undermining land as the primary basis
of economic and political power and then becoming a foundation for a global political
economy. Not only have cities grown in sheer size and scale but the number of large ones, over
a million people, has increased during the past 40 years from about a hundred to over 300 today.
About half of the new ones are agglomerations of people and organizations in China and India
and do not approximate anyting like political communities, but they are composed of economic
interdependencies in a physical locality and share a common fate. In addition, there are
thousands of smaller entities absorbing population from rural areas and linking with these larger
cities. Although the majority of the world's population remains rural and millions of villages
persist, their share of the world's population is not increasing and will decrease. As farming as a
way of life disappears in those areas with increasing agricultural productivity and if, as seems
likely, the world's population will stabilize in 20-30 years prior to some decrease, then it is likely
that the main stratum of the world will be in middle sized urban places and in a larger number of
very large but not "mega" cities.
At the present time various cities are being positioned in a hierarchy of cities. One tier is
clearly global--London, New York, Tokyo with a few contenders, among them Singapore,
Shanghai, and San Paulo. A more inclusive definition could put the number at a politically
pretentious 50 or so. A second tier is transnational-regional, Berlin, Chicago, Milan, and
Vienna being examples. A third is those of national dominance with a strong international
presence, Paris, Moscow, Lagos among them. Then there is the fourth tier of cities of about a
million or less population that are regional entities, linked to established national centers as well
as directly to national, transnational, and global cities.
During the development of strong states and the establishment of about 100 weak ones in the
20th century, dialogues about the state carried notions about size, autonomy, and viability.
Diminutive states or those isolated in their neighborhoods would require special protection
from the international system of states, including formal recognition of neutrality. Along the
same lines, a "people", politically identified as such, would be protected as minorities and
supported in their quest for "ultimate" securty, whether false or not, in a state.
One difference between the "new" global economy and the "old" international system of states
is both the economic viability and political autonomy of small states. The turning point in state
consolidation in the late 20th century was the collapse of its last great empire and the growth in
the number of smaller states. Past ideological resistance against small states by the leading ones,
including the doctrine of "willing and capable" to meet international oblations as criteria for
recognition as a state. During the past few years countries with less than five million population
have not only acquired formal recognition but also have semblances of economic viability. These
countries have the international measure of "city-states" in a world of nearly six thousand
The political system of the world is now made up of two conflicting systems, one of cities and
political communities within them as well as their organizations and associations with
counterparts in other countries in a global political economy and the other the international
system of states--the new and the old. The elite of the first is a loose association of business
leaders trained in a common curriculum, professionals with various knowledge and amusement
based activities, and regional and local public officials dealing with problems of transportation,
education, the environment; that of the second are national political party leaders, trade union
officials, military officers. The first rests on weak institutions and habits; the second on
interests tied to place, including farming and "in-place" industries with a strong presence in the
recruitment of political leaders, embedded in territorial principles, including elections, and local
traditions of political organization and articulation.
The new, of course, threatens and disrupts the old. It restrains the options of national
governments in taxation, economic distribution, and subsidies to old industries and he poor and
marginalized. Differences in national political party platforms and programs diminish among
countries in international agreements on issues of the environment, investment, immigration
advocated by localities and of trade, exchange of information, and free flow of capital and human
resources, supported by transnational groups. National governments are squeezed from both
above and below, by local-global political alliances. Publicized cases are cities seeking athletic
contests, allying with international sports interests, lobbying other international groups, including
legislatures of other states, and then pressing their own national government to grant subsidies
and tax exemptions.
A Variety of Places#
# The world has become bigger in thousands of places through the processes of their being
integrated into global system of expanding scale. One obvious consequence is that production
has been decentralized and made into a system integrating productive activities everywhere
along with distribution in a flow spanning continents. But integration requires standardization
of information and components.
The downsides of globalization are the appearances of everything the same everywhere, losses
in cultural diversity, and a shrinking of the social repertoire for adaptations to unforeseen
changes in viruses, weather, or extra-territorial intrusions. A global culture emerges in
response to a global system, obliterating cultures reflecting centuries of human social evolution.
Exchanges and transactions, however, require variety distributed across social and physical
space. If everything in Place A were the same as Place B, then any exchange between them
would have no consequence except as performance of ritual. Why do places become different,
differentiate, as they increase their contact with each other and become integrated?
First any social unit, including the individual, seeks out variety at low or convenient cost.
They do so because acquiring variety and incorpoating it increases the chances of that social unit
becoming more valuable to others, more likely to exchange with it. By combining something
different with what it has, it is possible to become different from others. To the extent that a
component of a social system is different in standardized ways is the extent to which it increases
its attractiveness to others and acquires more worth or status. For physical places this includes
things, ideas, experiences, and appearances.
Second, the more traffic in and out of an organization or place, the cheaper the unit costs of
importing and exporting or sending and receiving. To this must be added the long term declines
in the transporting goods and transmitting ideas, which on the whole have reduced the
time/cost/distance restraints on movements across space to near zero. The main costs remain
the encoding and decoding of items for movement or transmission rather than their actual
Third, as variety increases and becomes easily available, the ultimate act of fitting something
new onto something else or one's self is eyeballing the item in multi-dimensional contexts of its
origins and production. This becomes more important as abundance increases requiring
responses to marginally diminishing differences among things, ideas, and experiences.
Standardized electronic communication has not reduced business travel, exhibitions, face-to-face
meetings, indeed, automobile and fashion shows, where small differences in presentations can
have huge consequences in earnings.
Fourth, places and organizations become attractive to the extent that they innovate. That
requires interaction among special kinds of people, usually those with up-scale preferences for
variety. They operate in unstandardized environments to facilitate discovery and are accustomed
to demand special consumption opportunities readily accessible in near physical and social
# An important general theorem "discovered" in social science in the 1920s an still being
expounded today is Hotelling's to explain why the same product retailed in the same
place--jewelry, automobiles, clothing being familiar examples that can be multiplied. This
despite cheaper occupancy costs elsewhere and locations available without competitors. The
reason is that customers make a categoric decision to purchase something and then search for
the most preferred item in that category. The theorem has been applied to other arenas,
including ideological positioning of political parties in elections.
The theorem can be extended to "high-tech" global organizations. Because they are linked in
electronic communication networks, it could be expected that they would be geographically
dispersed to have cheap land and to secure themselves from unwanted invaders. And yet similar
creative organizations are found in enclaves using expensive space. The reason is that the
members of these organizations want a variety of specialized amenities which require
aggregating people in sufficient numbers to provide them with some efficiency and at the same
time to have access to historical centers in large cities associated with "culture". The
configurations of location with access to these amenities not only attracts unique configurations
of variety in particular place but also stimulates upgrading their quality. That is why quality
products and experiences are found in large places.
Finally, not only is their a need, a necessity for variety to prosper and develop but also a
counter-balancing one for familiarity. Thus all places must offer some things that are the same in
order to attract those that are different. The standardization of hotels in strange places is an
example. Those that try to be different do so in familiar places. In attracting people and
organizations that are different, localities must also re-assure or comfort them with what they
have experienced to make encounters with the "new" more tolerable. Large aggregations of
populations thus have "cutural", sometimes residential ghettoes, their versions "China" towns,
American clubs, and French schools. But these become part of the place, making it different as
peoples of many cultures commingle. Rather than every place being the same, every place has a
little bit of whatever other place has but it is never quite the same. Large places will have social
and physical enclaves of other places, bundling together similar things into something different.
The World as a City
Democracy has become a single, global ideology for authority. There are no credible
alternatives at this time. There will be contested interpretations of democracy, a search for
African democracy, social democracy, and others. Democracy, however, requires small political
spaces for familiarity based trust. National democracy at best is approximate representation of
group interests. Complex, cross-cutting interests and individual quests for dignity are difficult to
accommodate in few political parties necessary for a majority or a single national policy for
equity. These differences which multiply with social development necessitate at least as unique
a social standing and a political opportunity as each individual's genetic composition and
Just as 19th century institutions of representative democracy--political parties, elections, and
legislatures--are being established in the new democracies, they are being abandoned in the old
ones by withdrawal of individual trust and participation in them. Political organizations in the
cities of industrializing countries were stories of political elites often controlling changing
populations through corruption by political parties, as is happening today in the local politics of
new democracies in poor countries.
New forms of political community are being formed in urban places--neighborhood
organizations, residential associations, affinity based residential blocks or areas. Higher
educational institutions produce thousands of self-identified coorts each year, increasingly made
up of many peoples and cultures. Industrial and research parks offer life-styles as well as work.
Economic organizations take on political activities, supporting political parties or candidates or
"volunteering" to help others.
Democracy as a process requires negotiation of differences for collective action. Negotiations
require trust or arbitration by third parties. Both are based on small social and physical spaces
affording repetition to generate familiarity to trust others or to entrust third parties to guarantee
a "fair" process.
The fears from past experiences with small units are that they exclude the unfamiliar and
become maladaptive. They run down as closed countries do. Burma, Cuba, and North Korea
stand as instructive examples. The deadly structural dynamic in reforming the Soviet Union was
that to maintain hierarchical control by a single party, the country had to remain closed. To
grow it had to import variety as all human systems do, just as families have to import genes.
Opening the system destroyed encompassing hierarchical control of information. New
information accelerated the de-legitimatization of the big Soviet political system.
Democracy requires openness and inclusion. Those are values which must be learned to offset those of fear and closure to the unknown. If the system, no matter how small, is open then it will be open to the global system. Although perhaps a matter of faith, the technologies of closure are not sufficient to offset those of penetration. Of course, democracies can and should have the right to fail. If they are small democracies, the scale of the global system will be affected no more than the world's physical size is by bombardments from outer space. New social spaces, new places, can be easily established and integrated into the global system, a very big place made up of a lot of big places and little ones that are getting bigger.
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