Sustainable Development

This post defines sustainable development, summarises the environmental challenges we face and contrasts technocentric and ecocentric views on the relationship between economic growth and sustainability.

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The above definition comes from a landmark report called ‘Our Common Future’ (Oxford University Press, 1987) which was authored by the World Commission on Environment and Development and represents the first serious attempt to assess the impact human development has had on the natural world at a global level.

The Concept of Sustainable Development has two elements –

Firstly, the ‘development’ part recognises that people have basic needs and that there is a need for further economic development because there are still hundreds of millions of people who lack access to sufficient food, water, sanitation and social services for example.

Secondly, the ‘Sustainable’ aspect recognises that there are ‘limits to growth’ – the earth has finite resources and a limited capacity to soak up the waste and pollution associated with economic growth.

These ‘limits to growth’ are manifest in a number of environmental problems – namely

1. The burning of fossil of fuels which leads to global warming and sea level rise

2. Deforestation

3. Desertification

4. Toxic Pollution and waste

5. Resource Depletion

6. Species Extinction

One outcome of the above report was the first Earth Summit, held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro (known as the Rio Summit). At the time this was the largest meeting of world leaders in history, attended by 172 governments under the auspices of the United Nations. Various earth summits have led to various global agreements to tackle environmental problems –

  • Agenda 21 – in which signatories agreed in principal to the concept of sustainable development – finding ways to combat poverty and develop without depleting resources or harming the environment
  • The 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity which commits nations to finding ways to develop which avoid destroying natural ecosystems
  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, in which 192 nations eventually committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the basis that global warming was man made and the burning of fossil fuels was the main cause.
  • In 2015 – The Sustainable Development Goals – A set of 17 goals which look forward to 2030, approximately half of which are explicitly to do with sustainability, a much stronger commitment than the previous Millennium Development Goals.

However, whether or not these commitments are met remains to be seen.

Criticisms of International Agreements on Climate Change

Many environmentalists suggest that the above global agreements on Climate Change are too little too late because…

1. Many of the treaties above are voluntary – Agenda 21 for example. There are very few legally binding agreements about climate change which come attached with sanctions.

2. Two of the world’s biggest polluters – China and India were not required to sign up to reducing CO2 emissions (globally we emit more now than we did in 1992).

3. Greenpeace suggests that big oil companies have played a role in PREVENTING a global move towards more sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

 

Competing Ideas about what to do about environmental decline 

Although 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree that human activity is changing the planet (the other 3% work for the oil industry) there is little agreement over what we should actually do about this, and so many different ideas about what ‘sustainable development’ looks like. There are numerous reasons for this: firstly we are in uncharted territory: we’ve never faced climate change before, we have little prior knowledge about what effects human activity has on the planet, secondly, climate science is complex – think how difficult it is to predict the weather tomorrow, let alone global warming trends over 10 years or more, and finally, new technologies are evolving all the time which may enable us to offset some of the problems of climate change and environmental decline.

It is these uncertainties that allow for different ideas about how we should relate to the earth. Timothy O’Riordan suggests that there are different theories as to how humans should relate to the earth, some of which he says place ecological laws at the centre of their approach and identify that humans are subject to these laws (he classifies these approaches as ‘eco-centric’) and others which place humans and their capacity to adapt the world to their needs at the centre of the approach (he classifies these as ‘technocentric’).

NB What’s below only summarises aspects of these two approaches to sustainable development.

A Technocentric Approach to Development and Environmental Decline 

The Technocentric ‘solution’ to climate change is associated with neoliberalism, and is a view that many leaders of big business subscribe to. It is popular amongst 10-30% of the population. Technocentrics basically believe that economic growth is the primary goal and that efforts to combat climate change should not compromise economic development.

Technocentric thinkers believe that humans have the right to exploit the earth’s resources and that the earth is generally robust enough to be able to handle resource extraction and a degree of pollution. They believe that when resources (such as oil for example) become scarce, the laws of supply and demand will kick in, prices will go up, and so demand will be reduced.

The resulting scarcity of resources will create a market-niche, and new business will be set up in order to meet demand. For example, as oil runs out, it will become more profitable for businesses to innovate and invest in renewable technologies such as solar, wind and nuclear power.

Technocentrics believe that there is no need to change the current neoliberal economic system – solutions to the current environmental crisis can be found within the system.

Some Technocentric Solutions to Climate Change

Technocentric thinkers tend to emphasise market-solutions, and rely on a fusion of science, engineering and big business to manage environmental problems. Below we consider just two of these – Carbon Trading Schemes and Geo-Engineering Projects

Carbon Trading

Carbon Trading works around an exchange of credits between nations designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The carbon trade allows countries that have higher carbon emissions to purchase the right to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from countries that have lower carbon emissions. The carbon trade originated with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and is intended to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions to 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Geo-engineering

Geo-engineering refers to artificial efforts to mitigate global warming by manipulating weather patterns, oceans, currents, soils and atmosphere to reduce the amount of greenhouses gases –

According to a recent Guardian article – ‘The range of techno-fix ideas is growing by the month. They include absorbing plankton, growing artificial trees, firing silver iodide into clouds to produce rain, genetically engineering crops to be paler in colour to reflect sunlight back to space, fertilising the ocean with iron nanoparticles to increase phytoplankton, blasting sulphate-based aerosols into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight, covering the desert with white plastic to reflect sunlight and painting cities and roads white.

There are serious proposals to launch a fleet of unmanned ships to spray seawater into the atmosphere to thicken clouds and thus reflect more radiation from Earth. Most controversial of all is an idea to fire trillions of tiny mirrors into space to form a 100,000-mile “sunshade” for Earth.

Most are unlikely to be seriously considered but some are being pushed hard by entrepreneurs and businessmen attracted by the potential to make billions of dollars in an emerging system of UN global carbon credits. Research by ETC, the Canadian-based watchdog, shows at least 27 patents have been granted to inventors and assignees including Bill Gates, Dupont, the US government and various corporations.’

From the UK, everyone’s favourite bearded billionaire Richard Branson is a big fan of geo-engineering, so much so that he set up a £25 million prize fund for the best scalable technological solution which could remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Check out the The Virgin Earth Challenge for more details.

An Ecocentric Approach to Climate Change 

To my mind Naomi Klein’s latest book can be characterised as an Eco-Communalist approach to climate change, which comes under the broad umbrella of ecocentrism 

In her recent (2014) book ‘This Changes Everything’ Naomi Klein argues that Neoliberalism is responsible for Climate Change, and that Nation States the world over need to gain control over Big Oil and Energy companies and the World Trade Organisation in order to achieve sustainable development. (NB she is effectively arguing that Neoliberal Development has caused climate change.) She also argues that we need to develop localised control over our energy supply and resource use in order to deal with climate change. All in all – this is a good example of an eco-communalist approach to sustainable development.

Klein argues that the three policy pillars of the neoliberal age (1989 – present day) which are:

* privatisation of the public sphere

* deregulation of the corporate sector, and

* lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending

are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels and bring climate change under control.

These neoliberal ideas lie at the heart of the World Trade Organisation, and many of its policies are incompatible with a sustainable future. Specifically Klein says there are three contradictions between the (neoliberal) goals of the WTO and what’s needed to control climate change. Klein offers the following reasons for this:

* Firstly, the WTO encourages more international trade which has meant a huge increase in fossil fuel burning container ships and lorries. Reduced carbon emissions would require less trade or more local trade.

* Secondly, the WTO gave TNCs the rights to sue national governments for preventing them to make a profit out of mining/ burning fossil fuels (I KNOW – It sounds crazy, but it’s true!). Whereas to protect the environment, governments would need to be able pass laws to protect the environment (kind of an obvious point I know!).

* Thirdly, the WTO has given western companies stronger patent rights over their technologies – whereas if renewable technologies are to be transferred to the developing world, they would need to make their own cheap copies of those technologies (because they would not be able to afford to buy them).

To illustrate the lunacy of the current Capitalist System Klein outlines how TNCs use the WTO to sue governments who try to subsidise renewable energy.

(Firstly some context) Fossil fuel companies lie firmly at the heart of the global capitalist system, and presently receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as free waste dump.

In order to cope with these distortions (which the WTO has made no attempt to correct), governments need to take a range of aggressive steps – such as price guarantees to straight subsidies so that green energy has a shot at competing.

However, green energy programmes which have been instigated under nation states are increasingly being challenged under World Trade Organisation rules. For example:

In 2010 the United States challenged China’s wind powered subsidy programs on the grounds that it contained supports for local industry considered protectionist. China in turn filed a complaint in 2012 targeting various renewable energy programmes in mainly Italy and Greece.

In short, the WTO encourages nation states to tear down each others windmills while encouraging them to subsidise coal burning power stations.

The sad thing is, when governments subsidise green energy – it works – Denmark has the most successful renewable energy programs in the world, with 40% of its energy coming from renewables, mostly wind, but its programme was rolled out in the 1980s, with most installations being subsidised at 30%, before the WTO was established. Now such subsidies are illegal under WTO rules because it’s ‘unfair’ to fossil fuel companies.

Solutions to Climate Change : Ground-Up Social Democracy Is The Most Effective Way to Combat Climate Change

Klein notes that much has been written about Germany’s renewable energy transition – It is currently undergoing a ‘transition to green’ – with 25% of its energy coming from renewables. This is up from only 6% in 2000.

Though rarely talked about there is a clear and compelling relationship between public ownership and the ability of communities to get off dirty energy.

In Germany, this has taken the form of local citizens groups taking control of their own energy supplies from multinational corporations. There are about 200 of these in Germany, and they take the form of locally controlled energy companies which are concerned with public interests, not profit, which was democratically

controlled by citizens, with money earned being returned to the city, rather than lost to shareholders of some multinational.

This movement is actually more widespread than Germany (there are even some cities in America have done this, such as Boulder in Colorado which have gone down this route), and is most prevalent in the Netherlands, Austria, and Norway, and these are the countries with the highest commitment to coming off fossil fuels and pursuing green energy alternatives.

Two further case studies of countries which practice small-scale environmentalism are Cuba, which was forced to adopt organic gardening with the collapse of communism in the 1990s, and protection of the environment also forms a cornerstone of the Gross National Happiness strategy of Bhutan.

Extreme ‘Eco-Communalism’ in the UK – The case of Tinkers Bubble.

There are a handful of people (less than 1% of the population) who believe that nothing less than radical lifestyle change is required to tackle climate change. One example of this in the UK is Tinkers Bubble.

Tinkers Bubble is a small woodland community which uses environmentally sound methods of working the land without fossil fuels. They make their monetary incomes mainly through forestry, apple work and gardening. As a result they are money poor but otherwise rich.

They manage about 28 acres of woodland using horses, two person saws, and a wood-fired steam-powered sawmill. Their pastures, orchards, and gardens are organically certified, and no-dig, and they press apple juice for sale, grow most of their own vegetables, keep chickens and bees, and sell their produce at farmers markets.

They rely on off-grid solar powered 12v electricity, have their own natural spring water, use compost toilets. and burn wood for cooking, heating, and for hot water. Most people wash their clothes by hand and life is lived mostly outdoors, so it’s cold in the winter.

 

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Criticisms of Neoliberalism

The three country case studies below all suggest that although neoliberal policies might promote economic development in the long run, in the case of Chile at least, there are some significant negative consequences of this pathway to development.

  • Chile in the 1970s
  • Boliva in the the 1990s
  • India – Contemporary

NB – If you’re here for a blog post about Neoliberalism in India – please click here (I moved it!)

Chile 

The following clip from ‘The Shock Doctrine’ outlines the ‘neoliberal experiment in Chile from 1973 onwards, the very first neoliberal experiment in development.

Following the overthrow Salvador Allende, the democratically elected but Socialist President, the American backed Dicator Augusto Pinochet implemented neoliberal economic reforms.

These were written for him by by a group of American economists known as ‘The Chicago school’, headed by Milton Freedman.

Examples of neoliberal policies reforms included the cutting of taxes on imports to 10% (previously Chile had the second most protected economy in the world) and the privatisation of state owned companies.

In the short term – the policies increased unemployment and inflation and inequality and human misery which led to massive social unrest which Pinochet oppressed violently killing tens of thousands of people.

However, 40 years later… Chile is one of Latin America’s leading economies.

Neoliberals might argue tens of thousands of lives is a price worth paying for rapid wealth creation

Neoliberalism in Bolivia 

This video clip from ‘The Corporation’ summarizes the case study of water privatization in Bolivia in the 1990s.

  • In the early 1990s, one local administrative area within Bolivia was forced to privatise the previously state owned water supply as part of a ‘Structural Adjustment Programme’
  • A Multinational took over running the water supply for a profit
  • The poorest people couldn’t afford to pay for water.
  • This led to massive protests which the government violently suppressed.
  • In this case the government eventually renationalised the water supply due to popular demand.
  • Did neoliberalism help development?
  • If you define progress as the right to clean water then no.
  • If you define it as increasing profit for European Transnationals then yes.

Neoliberalism in India 

Arundhati Roy notes that  ‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’

 

She notes the following three ways in which the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies

  • Corrupt government officials sign a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.
  • Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business. This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)
  • In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects.

 

People Centered Development

This post provides a brief summary of people centered development approaches to social development, including the work of Vandana Shiva.

Why are developing countries underdeveloped?

People Centered Development Theorists generally agree with Dependency Theory about why some countries are underdeveloped – because of a history of exploitation and extraction by western Nation States and TNCs.

PCD theorists are also very critical of the role of large institutions in development – international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF and both western nation states and developing nation states. They argue that big development projects aimed at macro level goals such as increasing GDP and neoliberal strategies of deregulation often do not improve the lives of people ‘on the ground’. In this sense, as Amartya Sen argues, development needs to be about giving people independence so they have real power and choice over their day to day situations, it shouldn’t be ‘top down’ coming from the west, via governments and then trickling down to the people.

People Centered Development theorists also have a much broader conception of what ‘development’ could actually mean. They don’t believe that development has to mean them becoming more like the West and development shouldn’t be seen in narrow terms such as industrialising and bringing about economic growth, development projects should be much smaller scale, much more diverse, and much more coming from the people living in developing countries.

Finally, PCD theorists reject Western Definitions of ‘underdevelopment’ – just because some cultures are rural, non-industrialised, and not trading, doesn’t mean they are inferior.

Doctor Vandana Shiva
Doctor Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is a good example of a theorist who comes under the umbrella of a People Centred Development approach to development.

She has spent much of her life in the defence and celebration of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.  Seed freedom is central to the idea of Shiva’s work (the rejection of corporate patents on seeds, and protecting the rights of local peoples to save their own seed).

Vandana Shiva has also played a major role in the global Ecofeminist movement. According to her 2004 article Empowering Women, Shiva suggests that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centered on engaging women. She advocates against the prevalent “patriarchal logic of exclusion.”

How should developing countries develop?

  1. People centred development means ‘ground up development’ – empowering local communities. Because of this, there are potentially thousands of pathways to development
  • The thousands of small scale fair trade and micro finance projects around the world are good examples of PCD style projects embedded in a global network.
  • Bhutan is a good country level example of PCD principles – globalising on their own terms.
  • Indigenous peoples living traditional lifestyles, effectively rejecting most of what the west has to offer is another good example.
  1. At a global level, PCD theorists believe that any development projects embarked upon should embody three core principles –
    • Social Justice – they shouldn’t be based around exploitation (like tied aid is)
    • Inclusivity – they should be democratic, bottom up, not top down – they should be designed with communities living in developing countries, not by western experts.
    • Sustainable – Projects shouldn’t degrade local environments

Criticisms of People Centred Development

  • All the other theories argue that, eventually, if a poor country really wants to improve the lives of its people en masse in the long term, it needs money, this can only come from industrialisation and trade, is it really possible to improve standards of living through small scale projects?

  • Focussing solely on small scale development projects still leaves local communities in developing countries relatively poor compared to us in the West, is this really social justice?

  • In a globalising world it simply isn’t realistic to expect developing countries (such as Bhutan or groups living in the Rain Forest) to be able to tackle future problems if they remain underdeveloped – eventually population growth or climate change or refugees or drugs or loggers are going to infiltrate their boarders, and it is much easier to respond to these problems if a country has a lot of money a well functioning state and a high level of technology.

  • PCD is too relativistic – is it really the case that all cultures have equal value and diverse definitions and paths to development should be accepted? Do we really just accept that patriarchy and FGM are OK in places like Saudi Arabia and Somalia because that’s what their populations have ‘chosen’?

The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development

According to neoliberalism big government and too much official development aid prevent economic and social development, while deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation are required to achieve economic growth. This post outlines the neoliberal approach development and then briefly assesses the effectiveness of neoliberal policies.

What is Neoliberalsm?

Neoliberalism - The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher
Neoliberalism – The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher

While the usage of the term neoliberalism varies considerably, for the purpose of this post i use the term to refer to that set of economic policies which have become popular in economic development over the last 30 years (since the late 1980s) – namely increased privatisation, economic deregulation and lowering taxation.

Neoliberalism replaced modernisation theory as the official approach to development in the 1980s. It focuses on economic policies and institutions which are seen as holding back development because they limit the free market. The agreement by the World Bank and IMF that neoliberal policies were the best path to development is referred to as the Washington Consensus following a meeting in Washington by world leaders in 1989.

What prevents development?

Neoliberals argue that governments prevent development – When governments get too large they restrict the freedom of dynamic individuals who drive development forwards. Neoliberals argue that there is some pretty powerful evidence for this – Think of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, although these governments forced through industrialisation, they would not allow people enough freedom to bring about the kind of consumer culture (based on individual freedom of choice and expression) that emerged in Western Europe in the 1960s, so development stagnated in those countries because of governments having too much power. Similarly neoliberals argue that even in Capitalist countries where there is too much ‘red tape’ – or too many rules, regulations, taxes and so on, it’s harder to do business and so harder for economies to develop.

Neoliberals are also critical of the role of Western aid money – They point to the many corrupt African dictatorships which emerged in Africa in the 1960s -1980s – These were often propped up by aid money from Western governments and during this period billions of dollars were siphoned off into the pockets of government officials in those countries and not used for development at all.

How can countries develop?

Chile - The First Neoliberal Experiment
Chile – The First Neoliberal Experiment

Neoliberalism insists that developing countries remove obstacles to free market capitalism and allow capitalism to generate development. The argument is that, if allowed to work freely, capitalism will generate wealth which will trickle down to everyone. 

Another way of putting this is that neoliberals believe that private enterprise, or companies should take the lead in development. They believe that if governments promote a business friendly environment that encourages companies to invest and produce, then this will lead to exports which will encourage free trade. So encouraging ‘free’ trade is a central neoliberal strategy for development

The policies proposed are those that were first tried in Chile in the 1970s, then in Britain in the 1980s under Thatcher. They include:

  1. Deregulation – Removing restrictions on businesses and employers involved in world trade – In practice this means reducing tax on Corporate Profits, or reducing the amount of ‘red tape’ or formal rules by which companies have to abide – for example reducing health and safety regulations.

  1. Fewer protections for workers and the environment – For the former this means doing things like scrapping minimum wages, permanent contracts. This also means allowing companies the freedom to increasingly hire ‘flexible workers’ on short-term contracts.

  1. Privatisation – selling to private companies industries that had been owned and run by the state

  1. Cutting taxes – so the state plays less of a role in the economy

Neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes

Some countries willingly adopted these policies, believing they would work; others had them imposed on them as part of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). SAPs basically involves the World Bank or IMF agreeing a loan for a developing country (this might be to build roads/ hospitals/ industrialise/ mechanise agriculture/ build sewage systems/ schools etc.) as long as the country fulfills certain conditions. Since the 1980s these conditions have meant such things as deregulation and privatisation. 

Overall Criticisms of Neoliberalism12

  1. A report from the CEPR compared the period from 1960 to 1980, when most countries had more restrictive, inward looking economies to the period 1980 to 200 the period of neo liberalism and found that progress was greater before the 1980s on both economic and social grounds.

  1. Those countries that have adopted free market polices have developed more slowly on those countries that protected their economies

  1. Dependency theorists argue that neo-liberalism is merely a way to open up countries so they are more easily exploitable by Transnational Corporations. We will see this in the next handout!

  1. Transnational Corporations do not tend to invest in the poorest countries, only in LDCs and NICs

Global Development Revision Notes

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Global Development Revision Notes

 Global Development Notes Cover53 Pages of revision notes covering the following topics within global development:

  1. Globalisation
  2. Defining and measuring development
  3. Theories of development (Modernisation Theory etc)
  4. Aid, trade and development
  5. The role of organisations in development (TNCs etc)
  6. Industrialisation, urbanisation and development
  7. Employment, education and health as aspects of development
  8. Gender and development
  9. War, conflict and development
  10. Population growth and consumption
  11. The environment and sustainable development

1 http://www.stwr.org/globalization/the-failure-of-neo-liberalism.html – article on the failure of neo-liberalism

2 http://www.ncsu.edu/project/acontracorriente/spring_05/Postero.pdf – review of a book on the problems neo-liberal policies caused in Bolivia in the late 1990s.

Related Posts

World Systems Theory

Further Reading

The Guardian -Neoliberalism’s Trade not Aid approach to development ignored past lessons

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics – Guardian commentary (August 2016)

World Systems Theory

Immanuel Wallerstein
Immanuel Wallerstein

A summary of Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory including the key ideas of Core, Semi-Periphery and Periphery countries, relevant to A Level Sociology Global Development Module. NB This is very much a summary designed to get an 18 year old through an exam, so may not suit higher level students.  

World systems theory is a response to the criticisms of Dependency Theory (and for the purposes of the exam can still be treated as part of Dependency Theory). World Systems Theory was developed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1979).

Wallerstein accepts the fact ex-colonies are not doomed to be forever trapped in a state of dependency; it is possible for them to climb the economic ladder of development, as many of them have done. However, he also believes that the global capitalism system still requires some countries, or at least regions within countries to be poor so they can be exploited by the wealthy at the top. Wallerstein’s theory has four underlying principles:

  1. One must look at the world system as a whole, rather than just at individual countries. Dependency Theory tended to argue that countries are poor because they used to be exploited by other countries. However focusing on countries (or governments/ nation states) is the wrong level of analysis – government today have declined in power, whereas Corporations are more powerful than ever. Global Corporations, and global capital, transcend national boundaries, and nation states (even wealthy ones) are relatively powerless to control them, thus in order to understand why countries are rich or poor, we should be looking at global economic institutions and corporations rather than countries. Global Economic Institutions form what Wallerstein calls a Modern World System, and all countries, rich and poor alike are caught up in it.

  1. Wallerstein believes that the MWS is characterised by an international division of labour consisting of a structured set of relations between three types of capitalist zone:

Core-Periphery and Semi Periphery Countries
Core-Periphery and Semi Periphery Countries
  • The core, or developed countries control world wages and monopolise the production of manufactured goods.

  • The semi-peripheral zone includes countries like South Africa or Brazil which resemble the core in terms of their urban centres but also have areas of rural poverty which resemble the peripheral countries. The core contracts work out to these countries.

  • Finally, there are the peripheral countries at the bottom, mainly in Africa, which provide the raw materials such as cash crops to the core and semi periphery. These are also the emerging markets in which the core attempts to market their manufactured goods.

NB ‘countries’ are used to illustrate the three different zones above, but technically you could have all three zones within one country – China and India contain regions which fit the descriptors for each of the three zones.

  1. Countries can be upwardly or downwardly mobile in the world system. This is one of the key differences between World System’s Theory and Frank’s Dependency Theory. Many countries, such as the BRIC nations have moved up from being peripheral countries to semi-peripheral countries. However, most countries do not move up and stay peripheral, and the ex-colonial powers (the wealthy European countries) are very unlikely to slip down the global order.

  1. The Modern World System is dynamic – core countries are constantly evolving new ways of extracting profit from poorer countries and regions. Three examples of new ways of extracting profit from poor countries include:

  • Unfair Trade Rules (we come back to this in the next topic) – World trade is not a level playing field – The best example of this is in Agriculture – Agriculture is Africa’s biggest economic sector. It has the capacity to produce a lot more food and export to Europe and America but it can’t because the EU and America spend billions every year subsidising their farmers so imported African products seem more expensive

  • Western Corporations sometimes use their economic power to negotiate favourable tax deals in the developing world. A good case in point here is the mining Company Glencore in Zambia – The company recently arranged a long term contract to mine copper with the Zambian government – it exports $6 billion a year in copper from Zambia, but pays only $50m in tax, while as part of the deal the Zambian government is contractually obliged to pay for all the electricity costs of mining – a total of $150m a year.

  • Land Grabs – These are currently happening all over Africa – Where a western government or company buys up thousands of hectares of land in Africa with the intention of planting it with food or biofule crops for export back to western markets. In such cases the western companies take advantage of the cheap land and gain much more than the African nations selling the land in the long term. In some case studies of land grabs thousands of indigenous peoples are displaced.

Evaluating World Systems Theory


  1. Wallerstein can also be criticised in the same way Dependency Theorists can be criticised – there are more causes of underdevelopment than just Capitalism – Such as cultural factors, corruption and ethnic conflict.Wallerstein puts too much emphasis of economics and the dominance of Capitalism – There are other ways people can be exploited and oppressed – such as tyrannical religious regimes for example. Also, there are some areas are still not included in the World System – some tribal peoples in South America and Bhutan for example remain relatively unaffected by global capitalism.

  1. Finally, Wallerstein’s concepts of Core, Semi-Periphery and Periphery are vague and this means his theory is difficult to test in practise.

Evaluate explanations of development and under-development put forward by dependency theorists 

The plan below is just one suggestion as to how you might go about answering this essay.

Briefly introduce Dependency Theory

Dependency theory is a Marxist theory, developed in the 1970s as a criticism of Modernisation theory. The best known dependency theorist is Andre Gunder Frank

Underdevelopment is because the West exploits labour and resources in the developing world. The West gets rich at the expense of the developing world. This is in contrast with the modernisation theory which tends to assume that lack of development is because of internal cultural and economic barriers.

Dependency theorists see history as essential to understanding the situation that we are in today, pointing out that many civilizations were wealthy and complex before contact with the west –such as Aztec culture in Mexico and Chinese and Indian civilizations. It is only after Colonialism that these countries become poor relative to the West.

During Colonial Rule the core nations of the west exploited the satellite nations of the developing world.

More recently Neo-Colonialism keeps developing countries poor –

The Legacy of Colonialism

Colonialism – Where European Nations (core nations) took over other territories and turned them into satellite nations, essentially becoming the property of those nations and being subject to their laws.

Colonies were then run for the benefit of the core nations, with resources such as gold, silver and exotic foods being extracted from the colonies and exported to the west for immense profit. Local populations were often turned into slaves and controlled by occupying military forces.

This process locked much of Africa, Asia and Latin America into exploitative relationships with Western European Nations from about 1650 – 1900.

When ex-colonies gained independence from their Colonial masters (in Africa through the 1960s) they struggled to develop because of the damage done to them by Colonial rule. Two ways in which this happened are as follows:

Colonial powers turned the colonies into ‘monocultures’ – each country was used to grow and export only one or two products that were best suited to that climate. This has had a lasting consequences – Today, at least two thirds of African countries derive over 50% of their export earnings from only one or two commodities. Today, many African countries are still dependent on low value exports for much of their GDP which prevents them from developing.

Divisions and conflicts between ethnic groups were created during colonialism as those tribes loyal to the colonising powers were given economic and political power. It tended to be those tribes that came to power following independence, causing heightened tension between them and opposing ethnic groups. The worst case of this is the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990s.

Neo-colonialism

According to dependency theorists although colonies have gained political independence, they are still exploited economically by more developed countries – a situation which Frank describes as Neo-Colonialism. Neo-Colonialism takes the following forms

Unfair Trade Rules World trade is not a level playing field – The best example of this is in Agriculture – Agriculture is Africa’s biggest economic sector. It has the capacity to produce a lot more food and export to Europe and America but it can’t because the EU and America spend billions every year subsidising their farmers so imported African products seem more expensive

Tied Aid – Aid packages from the World Bank often come with strings attached – In return for a development loan, for example, a country might be asked to privatise certain sectors and allow Western companies in to run those services, ultimately benefitting western interests.

Western Corporations use their economic power to negotiate favourable tax deals in the developing world. A good case in point here is the mining Company Glencore in Zambia – The company recently arranged a long term contract to mine copper with the Zambian government – it exports $6 billion a year in copper from Zambia, but pays only $50m in tax, while as part of the deal the Zambian government is contractually obliged to pay for all the electricity costs of mining – a total of $150m a year.

STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

For some dependency theorists, underdevelopment appears permanent; the only way out of dependency is for an underdeveloped nation to escape from the global capitalist system and master-servant relationship with richer countries, taking action itself rather than relying on outside help. Countries need to find alternative pathways to development that protect their fragile economies from Western Capitalist-Industrialist Capitalism. Some alternatives include:

  • Isolation, as in the example of China from about 1960 to 2000, which is now successfully emerging as a global economic superpower having isolated itself from the West for the past 4 decades. Another, different example, is that of Bhutan.
  • Socialist revolution as in the case of Cuba. This resulted in sanctions being applies by America which limited trade with the country, holding its development back.
  • Alternatively there is Associate or dependent development. – Here, one can be part of the system, and adopt national economic policies to being about economic growth such as. Import substitution industrialisation where industrialisation produces consumer goods that would normally be imported from abroad, as successfully adopted by many South American countries.

Evaluation

Some countries benefited from Colonialism – India for example benefitted from the transport networks put in place under British Colonial Rule, whereas many countries that were never colonised, such as Afghanistan, are much less developed.

Modernisation theory would argue that at least some satellite nations have benefited from TNC investment, as with the Asian Tiger economies such as Korea benefited from investment by Japanese TNCs.

Neoliberalism points out that it would be wrong to purely blame western TNCs for the dependency of Satellite Nations. Corrupt governments are just as much to blame today.

Paul Collier’s theory of the bottom billion suggests there are more reasons other than

Colonialism that explain why certain countries are underdeveloped. Two of these include the ‘resource curse’ and ‘corruption’

Conclusion

It is important to recognise that the history of colonialism has held some countries back, and that isolation has worked as a route to development for some nations such as China. However, in today’s rapidly changing, ex-colonial world, in which many ex-colonies are developing successfully and even due to overtake European Nations by 2050 (India and Brazil) it is clear that in the long term Dependency Theory is not sufficient to explain why some countries are developed and others are developing.

Having said this it does need to be recognised that in many countries neo-colonialism does seem to prevent development, and the idea that the west needs to look at how its policies affect developing countries is also sensible. and moreover it is unclear that this model of development which defines development as being characterised by industrialisation, strong nation states, and economic growth is applicable today – It might be the case that alternative models and notions of development are the only way to guarantee the long term sustainable future of the 7 billion people on earth today

Related Posts.

Dependency Theory – detailed class notes 

Dependency Theory

This post is a brief summary of the Dependency Theory view of Development and Underdevelopment. It is, broadly speaking, a Marxist theory of development.

Andre Gunder Frank (1971) argues that developing nations have failed to develop not because of ‘internal barriers to development’ as modernization theorists argue, but because the developed West has systematically underdeveloped them, keeping them in a state of dependency (hence ‘dependency theory’.)

The World Capitalist System

Frank argued that a world capitalist system emerged in the 16th century which progressively locked Latin America, Asia and Africa into an unequal and exploitative relationship with the more powerful European nations.

This world Capitalist system is organised as an interlocking chain: at one end are the wealthy ‘metropolis’ or ‘core’ nations (European nations), and at the other are the undeveloped ‘satellite’ or ‘periphery’ nations. The core nations are able to exploit the peripheral nations because of their superior economic and military power.

From Frank’s dependency perspective, world history from 1500 to the 1960s is best understood as a process whereby wealthier European nations accumulated enormous wealth through extracting natural resources from the developing world, the profits of which paid for their industrialisation and economic and social development, while the developing countries were made destitute in the process.

Writing in the late 1960s, Frank argued that the developed nations had a vested interest in keeping poor countries  in a state of underdevelopment so they could continue to benefit from their economic weakness – desperate countries are prepared to sell raw materials for a cheaper price, and the workers will work for less than people in more economically powerful countries. According to Frank, developed nations actually fear the development of poorer countries because their development threatens the dominance and prosperity of the West.

Colonialism, Slavery and Dependency

Colonialism is a process through which a more powerful nation takes control of another territory, settles it, takes political control of that territory and exploits its resources for its own benefit. Under colonial rule, colonies are effectively seen as part of the mother country and are not viewed as independent entities in their own right. Colonialism is fundamentally tied up with the process of ‘Empire building’ or ‘Imperialism’.

According to Frank the main period of colonial expansion was from 1650 to 1900 when European powers, with Britain to the fore, used their superior naval and military technology to conquer and colonise most of the rest of the world.

During this 250 year period the European ‘metropolis’ powers basically saw the rest of the world as a place from which to extract resources and thus wealth. In some regions extraction took the simple form of mining precious metals or resources – in the early days of colonialism, for example, the Portuguese and Spanish extracted huge volumes of gold and silver from colonies in South America, and later on, as the industrial revolution took off in Europe, Belgium profited hugely from extracting rubber (for car tyres) from its colony in DRC, and the United Kingdom profited from oil reserves in what is now Saudi Arabia.

In other parts of the world (where there were no raw materials to be mined), the European colonial powers established plantations on their colonies, with each colony producing different agricultural products for export back to the ‘mother land’. As colonialism evolved, different colonies came to specialise in the production of different raw materials (dependent on climate) – Bananas and Sugar Cane from the Caribbean, Cocoa (and of course slaves) from West Africa, Coffee from East Africa, Tea from India, and spices such as Nutmeg from Indonesia.

All of this resulted in huge social changes in the colonial regions: in order to set up their plantations and extract resources the colonial powers had to establish local systems of government in order to organise labour and keep social order – sometimes brute force was used to do this, but a more efficient tactic was to employ willing natives to run local government on behalf of the colonial powers, rewarding them with money and status for keeping the peace and the resources flowing out of the colonial territory and back to the mother country.

Dependency Theorists argue that such policies enhanced divisions between ethnic groups and sowed the seeds of ethnic conflict in years to come, following independence from colonial rule. In Rwanda for example, the Belgians made the minority Tutsis into the ruling elite, giving them power over the majority Hutus. Before colonial rule there was very little tension between these two groups, but tensions progressively increased once the Belgians defined the Tutsis as politically superior. Following independence it was this ethnic division which went on to fuel the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990s.

An unequal and dependent relationship

What is often forgotten in world history is the fact that before colonialism started, there were a number of well-functioning political and economic systems around the globe, most of them based on small-scale subsistence farming. 400 years of colonialism brought all that to end.

Colonialism destroyed local economies which were self-sufficient and independent and replaced them with plantation mono-crop economies which were geared up to export one product to the mother country. This meant that whole populations had effectively gone from growing their own food and producing their own goods, to earning wages from growing and harvesting sugar, tea, or coffee for export back to Europe.

As a result of this some colonies actually became dependent on their colonial masters for food imports, which of course resulted in even more profit for the colonial powers as this food had to be purchased with the scant wages earnt by the colonies.

The wealth which flowed from Latin America, Asia and Africa into the European countries provided the funds to kick start the industrial revolution, which enabled European countries to start producing higher value, manufactured goods for export which further accelerated the wealth generating capacity of the colonial powers, and lead to increasing inequality between Europe and the rest of the world.

The products manufactured through industrialisation eventually made their way into the markets of developing countries, which further undermined local economies, as well as the capacity for these countries to develop on their own terms. A good example of this is in India in the 1930s-40s where cheap imports of textiles manufactured in Britain undermined local hand-weaving industries. It was precisely this process that Ghandi resisted as the leading figure of the Indian Independence movement.

Neo-colonialism

By the 1960s most colonies had achieved their independence, but European nations continued to see developing countries as sources of cheap raw materials and labour and, according to Dependency Theory,  they had no interest in developing them because they continued to benefit from their poverty.

Exploitation continued via neo-colonialism – which describes a situation where European powers no longer have direct political control over countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but they continue to exploit them economically in more subtle ways.

Frank identities three main types of neo-colonialism:

Firstly, the terms of trade continue to benefit Western interests. Following colonialism, many of the ex-colonies were dependent for their export earnings on primary products, mostly agricultural cash crops such as Coffee or Tea which have very little value in themselves – It is the processing of those raw materials which adds value to them, and the processing takes place mainly in the West

Second, Frank highlights the increasing dominance of Transnational Corporations in exploiting labour and resources in poor countries – because these companies are globally mobile, they are able to make poor countries compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which they offer lower and lower wages to attract the company, which does not promote development.

Finally, Frank argues that Western aid money is another means whereby rich countries continue to exploit poor countries and keep them dependent on them – aid is, in fact, often in the term of loans, which come with conditions attached, such as requiring that poor countries open up their markets to Western corporations.

Strategies for Development 

  1. Breaking away from dependency

  2. Associate or dependent development

  1. Breaking away from dependency

This view argues that dependency is not just a phase, but rather a permanent position. The only way developing countries can escape dependency is to escape from the whole capitalist system. Under this category, there are different paths to development:

  • Isolation, as in the example of China from about 1960 to 2000, which is now successfully emerging as a global economic superpower having isolated itself from the West for the past 4 decades.

  • A second solution is to break away at a time when the metropolis country is weak, as India did in Britain in the 1950s, following world war 2. India is now a rising economic power.

  • Thirdly, there is socialist revolution as in the case of Cuba. This, however, resulted in sanctions being applies by America which limited trade with the country, holding its development back.

  • Many leaders in African countries adopted dependency theory, arguing that and developing political movements that aimed to liberate Africa from western exploitation, stressing nationalism rather than neo-colonialism.

  1. Associate or dependent development.

Here, one can be part of the system, and adopt national economic policies to being about economic growth such as

Import substitution industrialisation where industrialisation produces consumer goods that would normally be imported from abroad, as successfully adopted by many South American countries. The biggest failure of this, however, was that it did not address inequalities within the countries. ISI was controlled by elites, and these policies lead to economic growth while increasing inequality.

Criticisms of Dependency Theory

1. Some countries appear to have benefited from Colonialism – Goldethorpe (1975) pointed out that those countries that had been colonised at least have the benefits of good transport and communication networks, such as India, whereas many countries that were never colonised, such as Ethiopia, are much less developed.

2. Modernisation theorists would argue against the view that Isolation and communist revolution is an effective path to development, given the well-known failings of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. They would also point out that many developing countries have benefitted from Aid-for Development programmes run by western governments, and that those countries which have adopted Capitalist models of development since World War Two have developed at a faster rate than those that pursued communism.

3. Neoliberalists would argue that it is mainly internal factors that lead to underdevelopment, not exploitation – They argue that it is corruption within governments (poor governance) that is mainly to blame for the lack of development in many African countries. According to Neoliberals what Africa needs is less isolation and more Capitalism.

4. Later on we will come across Paul Collier’s theory of the bottom billion. He argues that the causes of underdevelopment cannot be reduced to a history of exploitation. He argues that factors such as civil wars, ethnic tensions and being land-locked with poor neighbours are correlated with underdevelopment.

Related Posts 

Evaluate explanations of development and underdevelopment put forward by dependency theorists – essay plan

World Systems Theory

The New Rulers of the World – summary of the documentary by John Pilger, which seems to be a pretty unambiguous dependency theory perspective on the role of the World Bank, the IMF, and Transnational Corporations in globalisation. The video focuses especially on their role in underdevelopment in Indonesia.

Neoliberalism

People Centred Development

 

Modernisation Theory (Development and Underdevelopment)

Modernisation Theory

Historical Context (1940s and 50s)

By the end of WW2 it had become clear that despite exposure to Capitalism many of the countries of the South had failed to develop. In this context, in the late 1940s, Modernisation Theory was developed. Modernisation theory had two major aims

  • It attempted to explain why poorer countries have failed to develop, focussing on what cultural and economic conditions might act as ‘barriers’ to development

  • It aimed to provide a non-communist solution to poverty in the developing world by suggesting that economic change (in the form of Capitalism) and the introduction of western values and culture could play a key role in bringing about modernisation.

NB – These are ‘bare bones’ revision notes – this updated post provides a much more account of modernization theory.

Why countries are underdeveloped: Cultural and economic barriers to development

Modernisation theorists argue that there are a number of cultural and economic barriers that prevent traditional societies from developing.

Cultural barriers are seen as internal to the country – it is essentially their fault for being backward. Western culture, on the other hand, is seen as having a superior culture that has allowed for it to develop.

Traditional Values –prevent economic growth and change

Modern Values – inspire change and economic growth.

Simple division of labour, less specialised job roles, individuals rely on a few dozen people in their local communities for basic needs to be met.

Complex division of labour, individuals tend to have very specialised jobs and rely on thousands of others for basic needs to be met

Religious beliefs and tradition influence day to to day life (resistance to change)

Rational decision making (cost benefit analysis and efficiency) are more important.

Stronger community and family bonds and collectivism

Weaker community and family bonds means more individual freedom.

Affective relationships

Meritocracy –people are more motivated to innovate and change society for the better.

Patriarchy

Gender equality

Economic barriers to development

These are barriers which may make developing countries unattractive to investors.

  • Lack of infrastructure

  • Lack of technology

  • Lack of skills in the work force

  • Political instability

  • Lack of capital in the country

See the next sheet for details of modernisation theory

Modernisation Theory 2: How countries should develop

Rostow believed that an initial injection of aid from the west in the form of training, education, economic investment etc. would be enough to jolt a society into economic growth overcoming these cultural barriers.

Rostow suggested that development should be seen as an evolutionary process in which countries progress up 5 stages of a development ladder

Rostow’s five stage model of development

Stage 1 – Traditional societies whose economies are dominated by subsistence farming. Such societies have little wealth to invest and have limited access to modern industry and technology. Rostow argued that at this stage there are cultural barriers to development (see sheet 6)

Stage 2 – The preconditions for take off – the stage in which western aid packages brings western values, practises and expertise into the society. This can take the form of:

  • Science and technology – to improve agriculture

  • Infrastructure – improving roads and cities communications

  • Industry – western companies establishing factories

These provide the conditions for investment, attracting more companies into the country.

Stage 3 – Take off stage –The society experiences economic growth as new modern practices become the norm. Profits are reinvested in infrastructure etc. and a new entrepreneurial class emerges and urbanised that is willing to invest further and take risks. The country now moves beyond subsistence economy and starts exporting goods to other countries

This generates more wealth which then trickles down to the population as a whole who are then able to become consumers of new products produced by new industries there and from abroad.

Stage 4- the drive to maturity.

More economic growth and investment in education, media and birth control. The population start to realise new opportunities opening up and strive to make the most of their lives.

Stage 5 The age of high mass consumption. This is where economic growth and production are at Western levels.

Variations on Rostow’s 5 stage model

Different theorists stress the importance of different types of assistance or interventions that could jolt countries out their traditional ways and bring about change.

  • Hoselitz – education is most important as it should speed up the introduction of Western values such as universalism, individualism, competition and achievement measured by examinations. This was seen as a way of breaking the link between family and children.

  • Inkeles – media – Important to diffuse ideas non traditional such as family planning and democracy

  • Hoselitz – urbanisation. The theory here is that if populations are packed more closely together new ideas are more likely to spread than amongst diffuse rural populations

Criticisms of Modernisation Theory

  1. The Asian Tiger economies combined elements of traditional culture with Western Capitalism to experience some of the most rapid economic growth of the past 2 decades.

  1. Ignores the ‘crisis of modernism’ in both the developed and developing worlds. Many developed countries have huge inequalities and the greater the level of inequality the greater the degree of other problems: High crime rates, suicide rates, health problems, drug abuse.

  1. Ethnocentric interpretations tend to exclude contributions from thinkers in the developing world. This is a one size fits all model, and is not culture specific.

  1. The model assumes that countries need the help of outside forces. The central role is on experts and money coming in from the outside, parachuted in, and this downgrades the role of local knowledge and initiatives. This approach can be seen as demeaning and dehumanising for local populations. Galeano (1992) argues that minds become colonised with the idea that they are dependent on outside forces. They train you to be paralysed and then sell you crutches. There are alternative models of development: See sheet no…

  1. Corruption (Kleptocracy) prevents aid of any kind doing good, Much aid is siphoned off by corrupt elites and government officials rather than getting to the projects it was earmarked for. This means that aid creates more inequality and enables elites to maintain power

  1. There are ecological limits to growth. Many modernisation projects such mining and forestry have lead to the destruction of environment.

  1. Social damage – Some development projects such as dams have lead to local populations being removed forcibly from their home lands with little or no compensation being paid.

  2. Some Marxist theorists argue that aid and development is not really about helping the developing world at all. It is really about changing societies just enough so they are easier to exploit, making western companies and countries richer, opening them up to exploit cheap natural resources and cheap labour. Joseph Stiglitz notes that those countries that followed alternative models of development ignoring western advice are now competing with the west, China and India are two examples.

Global Development Revision Notes

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Global Development Revision Notes

 Global Development Notes Cover53 Pages of revision notes covering the following topics within global development:

  1. Globalisation
  2. Defining and measuring development
  3. Theories of development (Modernisation Theory etc)
  4. Aid, trade and development
  5. The role of organisations in development (TNCs etc)
  6. Industrialisation, urbanisation and development
  7. Employment, education and health as aspects of development
  8. Gender and development
  9. War, conflict and development
  10. Population growth and consumption
  11. The environment and sustainable development

The Transformationalist View of Globalization

Transformationalists and postmodernists agree that the impact of globalization has been exaggerated by globalists but argue that it is foolish to reject the concept out of hand. This theoretical position argues that globalization should be understood as a complex set of interconnecting relationships through which power, for the most part, is exercised indirectly. They suggest that the globalization process can be reversed, especially where it is negative or, at the very least, that it can be controlled.

Transformationalism globalization

Transformationalists argue that the flow of culture is not one way, from the west to the developing world; it is a two-way exchange in which Western culture is also influenced, changed and enriched by cultures in the developing world.

Against Global Pessimists, Transformationalists argue that local cultures are not simply swallowed up by western cultures – rather people in developing countries select aspects of western culture and adapt them to their particular needs, a process which he calls ‘glocalisation’. A good example of this is the Bollywood film industry in India, or the various ‘glocal’ manifestations of McDonald’s burgers.

Transformationlists and postmodernists also see the global media as beneficial because it is primarily responsible for diffusing different cultural styles around the world and creating new global hybrid styles in fashion, food, music, consumption and lifestyle. It is argued that in the global, postmodern world, such cultural diversity and pluralism will become the norm. Postmodernists thus see globalization as a positive phenomenon because it has created a new class of global consumers, in both the developed and the developing world, with a greater range of choice from which they can construct a hybridised global identity.

There is also evidence that global communications systems and social networks can assist local cultures to rid themselves of repressive political systems such as dictatorships. Kassim (2012) argues that the ‘Arab Spring’ movement that occurred between 2010 and 2013 succeeded in removing totalitarian dictators in Tunisa and Egypt, partly because of the information supplied through social networking sites such as Facebook, which was used to bypass government censorship. Kassim suggests that social networks broke down a psychological barrier of fear by helping people to connect and unite against repressive leaders, providing a catalyst for positive change.

Two further sociologists who might be described as ‘transformationalist’ globalists are Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck:

In his classic 1999 text, Runaway World, Anthony Giddens argues that one consequence of globalization is detraditionalisation – where people question their traditional beliefs about religion, marriage, and gender roles and so on. Giddens uses the concept of ‘detraditionalisation’ rather than ‘decline of tradition’ to reflect the fact that in many cases people continue with their traditional ways of life, rather than actually changing them, but the very fact that they are now actively questioning aspects of their lives means cultures are much less stable and less predictable than before globalization, because more people are aware of the fact that there are alternative ways of doing things and that they can change traditions if they want to.

Ulrich Beck (1992) argues that a fundamental feature of globalization is the development of a global risk consciousness, which emerges due to shared global problems which threaten people in multiple countries – examples include the threat of terrorism, international nuclear war, the threat of global pandemics, the rise of organised crime funded primarily through international drug trafficking, and the threat of planetary melt-down due to global warming.

On the downside, the constant media focus on such global problems has led to a widespread culture of fear and increasing anxiety across the globe, which has arguably contributed to things such as Paranoid Parenting and Brexit, but on the plus side, new global international movements and agencies have emerged through which people come together across borders to tackle such problems.

Supporting Evidence for The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

1. ‘Trade’ has many complex formations. So it is difficult to say that it is either good or bad. Besides Free Trade, Fair Trade is expanding, and there is also illegal trade – in drugs for example.

  • The Fairtrade Foundation has many examples of how trade can benefit people the world over in all sorts of different ways (NB you may think this works better as an example of global optimism) – http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/
  • The Global Trade in drugs is quite a good example of Transformationalism – It certainly can’t be regarded as something that benefits people, and it certainly isn’t something that benefits the West at the expense of the developing world. The global trade in drugs is not controlled by Corporations or Western governments – it’s controlled by international criminal organisations, and arguable this is a case of poor farmers in the developing world benefiting (relatively) at the expense of people in the West –   http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/drug-trafficking/index.html

2. TNCs operate in dozens of countries. Clearly there are going to be winners and losers in different cases. Also governments the world over regulate international companies in different ways – Pollution laws, tax law, minimum wages, health and safety.

3. Increasing consumerism isn’t just good or bad – cultural globalisation is characterised by hybridity – new brands come into contact with local cultures and they are modified by those cultures, creating new products – Bollywood, Chiken Tikha Massala. A related concept here is glocalism…

  • There are plenty of examples of cultural hybridity in music – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3JDH-hUJj0 (the guy from Brazil in the second half of this!) – All in all a very ‘global experience’ and a great example of ‘ground up globalisation’ – Hip Hop being transformed into something new and different as it mixes with different local traditions…

4. New sporting formations the world over are good examples of cultural hybridity

5. Globalisaion is characterised by new political formations, not just the spread of democracy or the spread of American dominance. E.G China is a Communist country that doesn’t allow voting but supports Capitalism, while many African ‘democracies’ are so corrupt they can’t really be called democracies. Also, many countries have proved more than capable of resisting American force – mostly in the Middle East.

6. The spread of global media has lead to diverse uses – e.g. crowdsourcing, microfinance, and mobile phone use in Africa.

7. Anthony GIddens argues that ‘detraditionalisation’ is part of Globalisation – People increasingly challenge traditions as they come into contact with new ideas.

  • Read this blog post on ‘detraditionalisation’ and summarise Gidden’s view of what effect globalisation has on culture – Is this closer to the optimist or transformationalist view of globalisation?

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

The Pessimist View of Globalization

Pessimist globalists argue that globalization is a form of Western, American Imperialism. They see globalization as a process in which Western institutions and ideas are imposed on the rest of the world. Transnational Corporations are the backbone of this new global order and these are the institutions that benefit from especially economic globalization. Two examples of pessimist globalists are Ha-Joon Chang and Jeremy Seabrook.

Global Pessimism

Chang argues that neoliberals paint a false picture of the benefits of economic globalization through the spread of neoliberal economic policy, suggesting that neo-liberal policies actually benefit rich countries and corporations more than poor countries. Neoliberal policies simply make it easier for western companies to move into a poorer country, take over local businesses, extract natural resources, pay local people low wages, and leave behind a trail of pollution because there are fewer national regulations which prevent them from doing so.

Chang refers to the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO as the ‘Unholy Alliance’ and claims they exist to force developing countries down the free-trade road. For example, the IMF and the World Bank will only lend money to developing countries on the condition that they adopt free-trade policies. Change points out that, as a result, the neoliberal world economy is dominated by the developed-world – rich countries conduct 70% of world trade for example, while Sub-Saharan Africa still (even in 2017) accounts for much less than 10% of global trade.

Seabrook argues that, by definition, globalization makes all other cultures local, and, by implication, inferior. He suggests that globalization implies a superior, civilised mode of living – it implicitly promises that it is the sole pathway to universal prosperity and security – consequently diminishing and marginalisation local cultures. Seabrook suggests that globalization sweeps aside the multiple meanings human societies and cultures have derived from their environments. He argues that integration into a single global economy is a ‘declaration of cultural war’ upon other cultures and societies and that it often results in profound and painful social and religious disruption.

Pessimists are further concerned about the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, powerful media corporations. Media conglomerates, mainly American (such as Disney, Microsoft, Time Warner and AOL) and Japanese (Sony) have achieved near monopolistic control of newspapers, film, advertising and satellites. It is suggested that media moguls are able to influence business, international agencies and governments and, consequently, to threaten democracy and freedom of expression.

It is also argued that such companies are likely to disseminate primarily Western mainly American, forms of culture. For example, most films releases by these organisations are produced in Hollywood and of a formulaic (predictable) plot. There have been concerns that these Western forms of culture reflect a cultural imperialism that results in the marginalisation of local culture.

Steven argues that ‘for the past century, US political and economic influence has been aided immensely by US film and music. Where the marines, missionaries and bureaucrats failed, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and the Beach Boys have succeeded effortlessly in attracting the world to the American Way’.

Finally, mass advertising of Western cultural icons like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola has resulted in their logos becoming powerful symbols to people in the developing world (especially children) of the need to adopt western consumerist lifestyles in order to modernise.

Cultural globalization may therefor eventually undermine and even destroy rich local cultures and identities. Barber and Schulz (1995) fear the globalized world is turning into a monoculture, or McWorld in which cultures and consumption will be standardised, while other commentators have expressed concern about the coca-colonisation of the developing world.

Supporting Evidence for the pessimist view of globalization

global pessimism

1. Increased trade has had unequal benefits. Mainly Europe and America, lately Asia have benefited, but most of Sub Saharan Africa is largely left behind.

  • The graph outlining economic growth since 1800 in different continents on page 1 of the intro to GD document illustrates this point very well..
  • For a good example of the pessimist view of globalisation read KT’s summary of ‘liquid times’ by Zygmunt Bauman – You only need read the sections entitled ‘surplus people’ and ‘the experience of inequality’. I suggest you read selectively and look for three examples that illustrate Bauman’s point: ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’. 

2. TNCs pollute, extract resources from and exploit cheap labour in the developing world. E.G.s include Shell in Nigeria, Coke in India and of course the Bhopal incident in India.

Also see the following video sources (you can search for both on estream)

  • The Age of Stupid (section on Shell in Nigeria)
  • Crude – The Real Cost of Oil (outlines Chevron’s pollution of the Amazon

3. Culture may be increasing global, but this mainly means Americanisation according to Pessimists. This takes the form of Cocacolonisation, and Dysnification – where American forms of popular culture and the shallow materialism this promotes erode local traditions. Another aspect of this is Mcdonaldisation

  • this and this suggest possibly suggest one of the downsides of the spread of consumer culture…
  • This illustrates the threat of Americanisation and Cocacolonisation very well – how some French people view Coca Cola as undermining their national identity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxjMqrZ6psw
  • This site does a very good job of explaning what Mcdonaldisation is – http://www.mcdonaldization.com/

4.    Sport may be increasingly globalised, but just as with trade there are winners and losers, especially where the Olympics are concerned… 

5. Rather than the spread of democracy, it is more accurate to talk of the spread of U.S Military power, as outline by John Pilger in the War on Democracy, and the fact that the U.S. spends almost $700 billion on its military every year.

  • The second half of John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’ outlines America’s military involvement in more than 50 countries since World War 2 – Evidence suggests that the USA uses military force to get rid of democratically elected leaders that are not pro-U.S.

6. The spread of global media really means the spread of massive media firms such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, with programmes such as Fox News presenting a pro-American view of the world. Also think of popular culture – X factor, and Hollywood and global advertising. The pessimist view on such aspects of the global media is that they lead to increasing cultural homogenisation.

7. Zygmunt Bauman argues that global cities are best described as ‘fortress cities’ – especially in the developing world cities are places of huge inequalities where the rich hide themselves away in exclusive gated communities and the poor are left to the slums.

Not exactly a global village?
Not exactly a global village?

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts 

Jeremy Seabrook: Three Responses to Globalization

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

Sources Used to Write this Post:

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology for AQA.