What do sociologists mean by the term ‘globalization’ and how have they tried to explain it

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Globalisation is one of the hottest debates in sociology today. There are numerous factors that could be considered within this essay, the rise of ‘global media’ the advancement of technology and the effects of ‘Americanisation’ or western ‘cultural imperialism’, to name a few. Instead this essay will first explore the two main arguments central to the causation of globalisation, the ‘single casual logic’ and ‘complex multi-casual logic’ (Hall 1991, p. 9) and then it will focus on two main themes that are Intercorrelated and seen as central to the globalisation debate, the ‘global economy’ and the ‘nation state’. It will evaluate, using Britain as an example, if the concept of a global economy is a truism within the contemporary world, and if so, what effect does this have on the heads of nation states. It will then question whether nation states are declining in favour of a ‘global nation’. There are three leading authors, who fit David Helds’ paradigm of the single casual logic explanation of globalisation, Wallerstein, Rosenau and Gilpin.

They all believe globalisation is caused by one factor however they all see that factor as different. Wallerstein considers the development of the capitalism ideology, or free market economy, to be the main instigating factor, of the so called global world, “The driving force behind globalisation is located within the logic of capitalist world economy” (Hall 1991, p. 70). Rosenau regards the advancements of technology and its ability to bring us together as the centrifugal point of globalisation, “It is technology… hat has so greatly diminished geographical and social distance, through the jet powered airline, the computer, the orbiting satellite”, (Hall 1991, p. 71). Gilpin views contemporary society not as a global world, but as a series of interconnected nation states, that has been brought about by international stability on a global front that he directly associates to Americas military might, or power politics “during the era of Pax Americana globalisation processes intensified underwritten by stable security order and U S military might (Hall 1991, p. 72).

Complex multi-casual logic is a paradigm that suggests globalisation is a many factored social phenomenon. There are two leading authorities within this school of theorizing, Robertson and Giddens. Giddens believes that there are four aspects that are important to consider when analysing globalisation: capitalism; industrialism; the inter-state system; and militarism. However he sees them as an integrated whole whose parts influence and effect each other, “Globalisation… is driven by a number of distinct but intersecting logics” (Giddens 1990, p. 175).

Robertson similarly judges globalisation to be a many factored phenomenon, however, the way he differs from Giddens is in how he sees these factors should be treated. He believes that each factor, for analysis purpose should be distinguished and treated in isolation, “systematic comprehension of the structuration of world order… must involve analytical separation of the factors that have facilitated the shift towards a single world” (Robertson 1996, p55) One factor that reoccurs in all but two of the leading theories on globalisation, and is taken as de facto is the idea that the world has a global economy. Read Q&A about satellite nations

This global economy is a difficult thing for sociologists to prove, primarily because no one can define exactly what it is. There is certainly evidence to shows that capital and labour are becoming more mobile and spreading throughout the world, foreign direct investment has risen since the 1970’s, and there is an international battle for certain staff “Britain is losing in the global battle for nurses… Latest figures show the numbers leaving for work in the US has risen more than fourfold in two years” (The Guardian 05/01/04).

However, the total amount that has been invested by developed countries in foreign parts is, compared to the gross wealth, minute “the entire net outflow of investment between 1990 and 1994 has reduced the total capital stock of the advanced world by a mere 0. 5%” (Hirst 1996, p. 32).

Similarly it is only a certain type of labour that is wanted in certain countries; immigrants for example are feared and discriminated against. Hirst believes that there is proof not of a global economy but of an ‘international market’ (Hirst 1996, p. 0). Another criticism of the ‘conceptual’ global market is the lack of standardization between states, with regards to the national monetary market. Currently the British government takes 36% of the gross domestic product compared to Denmark’s 50%, interest rates are variable from state to state and the mortgage rates and terms are different between even Britain and France. Globalisers would argue that these differences will slowly fade with time and, with regards to the mortgage terms and interest rates, may be correct.

Currently there is financial talk of introducing a 25 year fixed term mortgage that already exists in many parts of Europe, Similarly if Britain joins Europe there is the possibility of a European interest rate. This evidence does lend the globalisers argument a certain amount of validity, for at least the idea of a developing global economy. Hirst on the other hand would argue that “the three most wealthy regions in the world (Europe, Japan and America) will retain their dominance of output, investment and trade, and will have the capacity to regulate the world economy” (Hirst 1996, p. 2). Sociologists believe that this developing global economy will have large effects upon the heads of the nation states. On one extreme, the radical republicans believe that it will be a return to Darwinism, survival of the fittest will rule, with drastic negative effects upon the governments, “Local loyalties make more sense to the successful than a continued commitment to communities based on a powerless national state” (Hirst 1996 pg). The government, in their view, is seen as an outdated limiting organisation that will have to adapt to this new competitive free market economy.

The cause of this development has been blamed on three main factors; the rise of trans-national companies “trans-national companies have risen from 176 in 1905 to 4615 in 1984” (Billing 1995 p. 131), the development of the mobile capital market and the change from a centralised independent national economy to an international ‘global’ economy “In the days of modernity industry and capital were nationally based and in consequence governments were able to exert direct influence over the economic life of nations”(Billing 1995 p. 31). On the other hand, it could be argued that, with a taxation system, aimed at the one trillion dollars a day traded by multi-national companies the government could gain a measurement of control. Similarly with advent of such “supra-national” (Billing 1995 p. 130) organisations such as Europe and the UN, governments are eking back power albeit in a unified manor. However, Tony Blair in his Mais lecture in 1995 said that the current global market was placing “strict limits” on its taxation policies.

An interesting counter argument to the concept of globalisation is that of nationalism. There still exists today a large amount of in-group homogeneity. Nationalism, and this is meant in the banal way not the far right extremist sense, still occurs with daily regularity, the British news papers continual remind us of issues that concern ‘our’ country and American school pupils still sing the national anthem each morning in school “In so many little ways, the citizenry are daily reminded of their national place in a world of nations” (Billing 1995 p. ). This nationalism has the opposite effect of creating a global community; rather it causes fractions and divides within the world of nations, it is not just within the ‘masses’ either but is inherently ingrained within the political structure of governments, for example currently the American government is outsourcing 3. 3 million service jobs to less developed nations, and in response Dun Curley the republican administrator said “when jobs move over seas it is bad for both the economy and the American people” (CNN).

This nationalism, or public outrage, was also seen in Britain when the 3000 telephone jobs were outsourced to India. Another point that shows nationalism is not declining as fast as globalisers think, is the national military that all nations own, “nations still maintain their massive armouries… and this weaponry still remains the property of nations” (Billing 1995 p. 139). Globalisers would argue that the UN peacekeeping force is a global army owned by a global world; however this would be forgetting that this army, although it fights under a unified banner, has never engaged in hostilities under a single commander. As the end of the twentieth century approaches, reinforced by satellites … together with the intensification of economic, financial and technological interdependence have signalled to many observers the final clearing away of the old world order, and the inauguration of a new world order” (Hall 1991 p. 62)

This quote embodies prevalent sociological thinking on the theory of globalisation. It would seem though that globalisers have a selectively short term memory.

If comparisons are made, between the economy, in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 21st century, it is possible to argue that the international market is no more mobile or open today than it was then “Capital was highly mobile in the decades leading up to the first world war; even now foreign direct investment still remains at half the level of 1913” (Hirst 1996 p. 31). Similarly submarine cables allowed the transfer of money for over 100 years.

In the face of this evidence it seems unlikely that the current day idea of globalisation, being a new phenomenon, is exact or entirely correct. It is true though that the contemporary world in many ways is coming together in unified manner, however nationalism and inequality between nations is still rife and is unlikely to vanish in the foreseeable future. Two things are for certain though; the east is rising as an economic force, and in current economic climate governments are going to have to adapt and change if they want to continue their despotic reign on the people.

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