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Why Nations Fail: A Summary

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2013) by D. Acemoglu and J.A. Robinson

why nations failOverall Summary

Developed countries are wealthy because of ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – Basically a combination of the state and the free market in which:

  1. The state creates incentives for people to invest and innovate through guaranteeing private property rights and enforcing contract law.
  2. The state enables investment and growth through providing education and infrastructure..
  3. The state is controlled by its citizens, rather than monopolised by a small elite. Crucially, there needs to be a democratic principle at work in which people in politics establish institutions and laws which work for the majority of people, rather than just working to benefit the rich.
  4. The state also needs to maintain a monopoly on violence.

 

In contrast to those countries which develop ‘inclusive economic institutions’ which encourage development, the authors suggest the opposite ‘extractive economic institutions’ (think corrupt dictator and his clique stashing money into a Swiss bank account) can generate growth in the short-term, but in the long term result in poverty.

They also suggest that there has been ‘a vicious circle’ at work in many underdeveloped countries over the last three to four centuries: Extractive institutions were first established by a colonial power (typically built on already existing internal extractive institutions), which, on independence, became even more extractive under postcolonial rulers, which in turn lead to civil war as competing factions fought for control over the extractive institutions – which then led to a decent into chaos and failed states. The authors see little hope for such countries.

In contrast, developing countries such as the US and the UK have benefited from three to four centuries of a virtuous circle in which institutions have become gradually more inclusive, which has created increasing incentives for entrepreneurs and economic growth.

The authors come to this conclusion through a number of comparative studies of countries which are in close geographical proximity to each other such as

  • Mexico/ America
  • South/ North Korea
  • Botswana/ Zimbabwe

They argue that the crucial difference between these pairs of countries is the institutional infrastructures which have been established through the last few decades/ centuries, and it is this that explains their relative development/ underdevelopment.

The gist of the book is, handily enough, covered in the intro and chapter one….

Introduction

Countries such as Egypt are poor becuase they have been ruled by a narrow elite that have organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. (This also applies to North Korea, Sierra Leonne, Zimbabwe)

Countries such as Great Britain and The United States are wealthy because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to its citzens and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunties. (This also applies to Japan and Botswana).

Chapter one – so close and yet so different

Starts with a comparison of the two sides of Nogales, half of which lies in Arizona, in the US, the other half in Mexico.

Nogales inequality

In the Arizonan half the average income is $30 000 U.S dollars, the majority of adults are high school graduates, the roads are paved, there is law and order, most live until over 65. In the Southern half, the average income is three times less and everything else is similarly worse.

The authors point out that the difference cannot be because of environment or culture, it must be because of politics and economic opportuntities.

They also argue that in order to understand the difference, you need to go right back to early Colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mexico was the first to be colonised, under a system of slavery and extraction. In the 15th century, the Spanish basically used already existing systems of slavery to their own benefit and extracted mountains of gold and silver, leaving a legacy of elite-governance and a dearth of politcal rights for the majority.

In North America, settled by mainly the English 100 years later, the absence of slavery amongst indiginous populations and much lower population densities meant that slave systems simply would not work, although this didn’t stop them trying for the first twenty years or so. Eventually, however, the orginal settler company (The Virginia company) back in England realised the only way colonialism was going to work was to provide incentives for the settlers – So they offered them land in return for work. It was this that set the basis for the democratic constitution and congress of the US, which then went on to create problems for the English government.

The rest of chapter goes on to argue that the next 300 years of history are crucial to understanding why the US is now so wealthy, and why most of Latin America is so poor.

America has had 300 years of political stability, where poltical institutions control economic institutions, at least to an extent (the authors cite the breaking up of the Microsoft Monopoly as an example) broadly making them work for everyone. Other factors such as the patent system, credit systems, and education provide opportunities for anyone to make it rich and enjoy the benefits of the wealth.

By contrast in Latin America (Mexico), up until the 1990s most countries saw political turmoil and a series of dicatorships where a series of small elites ruled for their own benefit. This instability has lead to the rise of monopoly power, and it acts as a disincentive for anyone to try and do well and become rich (the next dictator might just take all your money away), also lack of finance and education prevents competition anyway.

Crucially, historical good fortune appears to be central to explaining why a country is rich now, so figuring out how a current poor country can develop is not that straight forward if a culture of monopoly, corruption and lack of political rights are the norm…..

Chapter three – the making of prosperity and poverty

This chapter contrasts North and South Korea, divided along the 38th parellel after world war two. In the late 1940s these had similar levels of development, today, however, their economies have diverged.

South Korea has living standards 10 times higher than North Korea, the former being similar to Portugal, the later similar to sub-saharan African countries. People in North Korea also live ten years less than those in South Korea.

North and South Korea at Night
North and South Korea at Night

The differences cannot be explained by anything other than institutions.

In the South, private property and markets were encouraged (albeit by dictators initially) and thus investment and economic growth were encouraged. At the same time, the government invested in education and new industries took advantage of a better educated population.

In North Korea, privated property and markets were banned, and a centrally planned economy instigated. This simply led to stagnation.

Extractive and Inclusive economic instiutions

Countries differ in their economic success becasue of their different institutions – the rules influencing how the economy works and the incentives that motivate people. Crucial is private property rights – which needs to be backed by the state…. In South Korea, people know that they will be rewarded for their efforts, in North Korea, there is no incentive to innovate and invest because the state will expropriate the benefits of any such initiatives.

In order to develop a society needs to have ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – A state that guarantees prosperity for the massess – Such a state provides a degree of infrastructure that is necessary for economic growth – for example enforcing private property rights, contract rights for all, not just a minority, and providing education and physical infrastructure such as roads. Private enterprise uses and needs such institutions.

What doesn’t work for development is extractive insitutions – where the state is used to extract wealth from one subset of the population to another…. Such as slave and colonial systems (and the Tories in the UK today?)

Engines of Prospertity

Education for the masses is crucial for innovation in an advanced technological world – This is what all developed nations have, and what many undeveloped nations lack. Education needs to be well financed and parents need to have the incentive to send their kids to school.

Inclusive and extractive political institutions

A state needs to be inclusive for economic growth to occur – that is, it needs to both be chosen by its citizens and have a centralized control over legitimate violence.

Extractive political and economic insituttions tend to support eachother (which then means the masses don’t support them…. there is disincentive!)

Why not always choose prosperity?

The simple fact is that where technological change is the engine of economic growth, this means social change, and with change there are winners and losers… Thus existing elites may resist changes that make institutions more inclusive even if this means greater prosperity for all, because it will mean less prosperity for them. (Think industrial revolutions in Europe).

The long agony of the Congo

The Congo has not developed since independence because it has not been in the interests of the ruling elite to build a centralised state which includes all voices, or in their interests to use the state to provide public services which will benefit the masses – instead the institutions remain extractive.

As an independent polity, Congo experienced almost unbroken economic decline and poverty under the rule of Jospeh Mobutu between 1965 and 1997. Mobutu created a set of highly extractive economic insitutions. The citizens were impoverished but Mobutu and the elite around him (known as the Grosses Legumes or The Big Vegetables) became fabulously wealthy. Mobutu built himself a palace at his birthplace, Gbadolite, with an ariport large enough to land a supersonic Concord jet, a plane he frequently rented from Air France for travel to Europe. In Europe he bought castles and owned large tracts of the Belgian capital Brussels.

The simple truth is that if Mobutu had introduced more inclusive economic institutions he would not have been as rich.

Growth under extractive institutions

Growth can occur under extractive instiuttions – as in Russia and South Korea at first and China today but this is unlikely to be sustained unless both economic and political insitutions become inclusive.

Chapter twelve – the vicious circle

The authors paint the vicious circle as starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (which builds on previous extractive institutions), which, on leaving, becomes even more extractive under corrupt post-colonial rulers, which in turn leads to civil war as competing factions fight for control over the extractive instittions – which then leads to a decent into chaos!

1914 - British Colonies in Red
1914 – British Colonies in Red

Or in more detail… The British Colonial Authorities built extractive instititions which many post independence African politicians were only too happy to continue in order to enrich themselves. This happened in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. The postcolonial rulers used their wealth to build personalised security forces which were answerable to them and also to rig elections – money thus became essential to maintain power, with only those who have money able to maintain power. This creates incentives among the opposition to depose the existing leaders in order to gain power and wealth themselves, and to protect themselves from being killed off by the said existing leaders. The point here is that power has become an end in itself rather than as a means to developing a country.

This is best illustrated through the example of Sierra Leone –

All of the West African nation of Sierra Leone became a British colony in 1896. The British identified important rulers and and gave them a new title – paramount chief. In Eastern Sierra Leone, for example, they encountered Suluku, a powerful warrior king, who was made Paramount Chief Suluku.

In 1898 the British tried levying a hut tax of five shillings, which resulted in a civil war known as the hut tax rebellion. It started in the north, but was strongest and lasted longest in the South.

In 1904, the British stopped construction of a railway line from Freetown to the North East and instead diverted it south, to Bo, in Mendeland, to give them quick access to put down this rebellion.

When Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 the British handed power to to the SLPP, which attracted support from the South, and in 1967 this party lost the election to the opposition party, the APC which drew support from the North.

Though the railway line was initially established to rule SL, by 1967, its role was economic – it allowed transportation of the country’s exports – coffee, cocoa, and diamonds, which came mostly from Mendeland in the south.

The then leader of the APC, Siaka Stevens, who drew his political support from the north, ripped up the railway line and sold off the track and rolling stock in order to weaken the oppostion in the south and consolidate his political power. This decimated the SL economy, but when it came to a choice between consolidating power and economic growth, the consolidation of power won out. Today, you can’t take the train to Bo anymore.

There is continuity between Colonial rule and Steven’s government – both extracted wealth from the people.

The Colonial rulers did this through agricultural marketing boards – farmers had to sell their goods to these boards, which typically paid much less than the market price (impovershing farmers and enriching the elite). When Stevens took power, he kept these marketing boards in place, but it got worse – under colonial rule, the colonialists extracted about 50% of the value of agricultral products, under Stevens, the rate of extracting rose to 90%.

Along with marketing boards, the old system of Paramount Chiefs remain in place today…. They control local politics at the village level, and local land rights and taxation – Paramount chiefs are elected, but only members of the ruling house can stand – and in 2005 the victor was Sheku Fasuluka, King Suluku’s great, great grandson.

The combination of these two institutions means there is very little incentive for farmers to increase productivity – because they have insecure land rights due to the paramount chief system and are the victim of extractive insitutions in the form of the marketing boards.

Thirdly, there was the control of the diamond mines – The British essentially set up a monopoloy for the entire country and handed it to DeBeers in 1936, and shortly after independence, Stevens simply nationalised this arrangement, through which he effectively personally controlled 51% of the diamonds in SL.

Stevens used his vast fortune to buy political influence and to set up his own private security forces – the ISU (known locally as the ‘I Shoot You’ and the Special Security Division – known as Siaka Steven’s Dogs).

All of this set the scene for the brutal civil war, outlined below….

Chapter 13 – Why Nations Fail Today

In the year 2000 Zimbabwe held a national lottery for everyone who had kept more than 5000 Zimbabwean dollars in their bank account (following a period of hyperinflation). The fact that it was Robert Mugabe who won this lottery just goes to show the extent of his control over Zimbabwe’s institutions and just how extractive those institutions had become.

mugabe corruption zimbabwe

The most common reasons nations fail today is because they have extractive institutions – and Zimbabwe illustrates the economic and social consequences of these…. By 2008 its per capita income was half that when it gained its independence, and 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 94%.

The roots of the political and economic instiututions lie in the colonial period. Orginally apartheid institutions were establised for a white elite to extract wealth from the country, but when Zimbabwe gained its indendence, these institutions were simply maintained by Mugabe. Eventually (because of lack of inclusivity) his support waned until by the year 2000 he had to find further resources to buy political support – so he expropriated the farms owned by white people and when that wasn’t enough he printed money, which led to massive hyperinflation.

Nations fail today because their extractive institutions do not create the incentives to save, invest and innovate. In many cases politicians stifle economic activity because this threatens their power base (the economic elite) – as in Argentina, Colombia and Egypt. In the cases of Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone this led to total state failure and economic stagnation. The countries in which this has happened include…

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • DRC
  • Haiti
  • Liberia
  • Nepal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Sudan
  • Zimbabwe

And the civil war, mass displacement, famines and epidemics that accompany them… in terms of development many of these countries are poorer today than they were in the 1960s.

A children’s crusade…

This section outlines the causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone. The authors put this down to decades of extractive institutions by the tyrannical APC government (the economy was collapsing by 1985, and they use the example of the TV transmitter being sold by the minister of information in 1987 and in 1989 the country’s main radio antena collapsed, ceasing radio transmissions.) By this point, the army had been dispanded because of the ruling elite feared it might overthrow them, which meant by the time Charles Taylor’s RPF crossed the boarder in 1991 there was no one there to stop them…. And then that brutal and chaotic civil war carried on for a decade – in which competing factions competed over resources in order to keep fighting each other – diamonds/ children (soldiers) and weapons.

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor

So in summary, the historical precendent of the SL civil war is extractive institutions… the hollowing out the state to the point that was incapable of fending off rebels.

The authors now go on to outline three other countries which have suffered from different types of extractive institutions – Colombia, Argentina and Egypt, and then Uzbekistan…. a country languishing under the absolutism of a single family and the cronies surrounding them, with an economy based on the forced labour of children….

Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan
Child Cotton Labourers in Uzbekistan

Cotton accounts for 45% of the exports of Uzbekistan. When the country was created in 1991, its first and still only president Islam Karimov, divided up the land among farmers, but each was required to devote at least 35% of their land to cotton, a valuable export crop. However, because the farmers themselves receive only a fraction of the world market price of the crop, they had no incentive to maintain, let alone invest in, cotton harvesting machinery.

No matter, however, because the country has turned to children to harvest the cotton, and every September-November the schools are emptied of approx. 2.7 million schoolchildren. Teachers, instead of being instructors, become labour recruiters.

Each child is required to pick between 20-60KG a day, depending on age, and the lucky ones who live close to their allocated farms can walk or bus to work, but the unlucky ones have to sleep over in sheds, with no toilets or wash facilities. And it’s BYO food.

While the market price for cotton was $1.40 in 2006, the children were paid somewhere in the region of $0.01 per kilo.

All of this has come to pass because Karimov has established a regime where opposition is repressed and there is no free media or NGOs allowed.

Why do nations fail?

What all of the countries loooked at in the book have in common is that they have an elite who have designed economic instiututions in order to enrich themselves and perpetuate their power at the expense of the vast majority of people in society.

Despite differences the bigger picture is that in each of these countries extractive political institutions that have created extractive economic insitutions which transfer wealth and power toward the elite.

The solution is to transform the extractive institutions into inclusive ones…

Chapter fourteen – breaking the mould

This chapter looks at three case studies – Botswana, The South of America, and China, which all managed to move from, or negotiate their way around (in the case of Botswana) extractive to inclusive political institutions which encouraged econonomic development.

Of particular interest to me is the case of Botswana – which today has the same level of development as some Eastern European countries, despite being as poor as most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s (at which time there were less than 100 graduates in the entire country).

What’s especially interesting about Botswana is that in that particular region of Africa a broadly inclusive political system was in existence pre-colonialsm – in the sense that any individual could rise up to become head of one the various different chiefdoms in the region, and so chiefdom was not hereditory, it was meritocratic, and someone could only be chief with the will of the people. Thus the principal of ruling with the will of the people, and on behalf of the people had been established for generations.

Another factor which promoted development was the fact that the English weren’t particularly interested in Botswana. In fact in the 1890s, three Twsana chiefs visited England and negotiated with the government to be part of a British Protectorate (different to a colony) – In return for protecting the region against Rhode’s South African expansionary policies (the guy who colonised Zimbabwe and Zambia, and look how they turned out!) all Enlgand wanted was enough land to build a railway in order to open up the intererior. For this the Twsana were pretty much left alone, crucially unextracted and without interefering institutions which had been set up to allow the extraction to take place.

Also signficant is that, following Colonialism and the discovery of diamonds, the Tswana chiefs passed a law that all diamond wealth was to be national property, rather than giving the rights to individuals or Corporations (like neoliberals would claim should be done, and like what happened in Sierra Leone). The effect of this was masses of public money which was then used to pay for public services. Hence development……

Something else emphasised in this chapter is that in all three cases certain key actors made important decisions at crucial junctures in the country’s history (when an existing leader died, such as Mao, creating a power vaccum, or when Independence was gained in Botswana) – The decisions taken at these crucial points in history in these countries involved either fighting the power of entrenched elites (as in China) or establishing laws which would prevent political corruption (like nationalising the diamond supplies in Botswana) – it was these decisions, in contrast to decisions in countries like Sierra Leone where a national railline was sold off to benefit an elite, which led to economic development.

Chapter 15 – understanding prosperity and poverty

The most interesting section of this concerns the predictive power of the theory – which is limited given the role of agency and contingency in said theory. However, the authors do predict that…

America and Europe are likely to get even richer than countries in most of the rest of the world, because these are the most inclusive institutions (I’d beg to differ given Tory Policy). Nations that have undergone no signficant state centralisation such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti are unlikely to witness any development. Some Latin American countries are set two grow – most noteably Brazil, Chile Mexico as are some African countries – Tanzania and Ethiopia for example. Growth will not be sustained in China.

The irresistible charm of authoritarian growth…..

This section reminds us that modernisation theory is flawed – economic growth (more Mcdonalds as Thomas Friedman might put it) does not necessarily lead to to more inclusive political institutions.

Plenty of repressive regimes have pursued and achieve very rapid economic growth in the last 60 years – Germany, for example, Russia, and China.

This chapter also deals with what probably won’t work in terms of development… Firstly, any attempt at engineering policy changes such as those attempted by neoliberalisation throughout the 1980s and 90s – Because if a country is politically corrupt, they just subvert the policy changes – Privatisation happens, but the people winning the contracts are the brothers of the ministers for example, or the country says it implements a policy but they just carries on as normal!

You can’t engineer prosperity

…because the actors within developing countries are constrained by their institutions, and if these are extractive then any programmes designed to engineer change will ultimately result in further extraction.

This is true of two approaches to foreign aid preferred by the West – both the neoliberal ‘restructure your economy’ type approach and the micro-economic approach which focuses on specific institutions.

The failure of foreign aid

As above, any aid money going into a country with extractive institutions will ultimately end up being extracted. The authors do argue, however, that even if only 20% of aid money reaches its ultimate destination then it’s worth it!

What works….?

The chapter and book round off by going back to the English and US revolutions which resulted in institutions becoming more inclusive – what is required for development is a plurality of voices demanding to be heard by government and actually being heard. This cannot be imposed from above, but seems to have to become from below.

In this sense, any attempt to engineer growth and provide aid seem pointless – the only things that make any sense are programmes oriented towards empowerment and making sure media is free because the later fosters the former.

Thoughts and comments….

Positives

The comparative analysis of countries and territories in close geographical proximity does seem to rule out the role of environmental and cultural factors in explaning divergent patterns of development, leaving only political and economic institutions.

It fully recognises the importance of the legacy of extraction identified by dependency theory, however, it also puts more emphasis on the already existing extractive institutions which the early colonisers extracted and it recognises the continuation of extraction post-colinalism, acknowledging the fact that corrupt elites also play a role.

This seems to deny the validity of neoliberal theory – the state seems to be crucial in helping development, and the absence of the state seems to be crucial in explaining the descent into chaos and civil war.

This isn’t a deterministic theory – it stresses the importance of agency and contingency at crucial historical junctures.

Limitations

This is  quite a generalist analysis – ‘extractive’ and ‘inclusive’ institutions are very general, broad terms, and there’s lots of variation possible within these voluminous concepts.

The book only draws on a relatively few case studies – and lacks the statistical rigour of, for example,  Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory.

The book doesn’t seem to deal with the globalised context of the nation state today within a ‘world system’ – There is no mention (as far as I can see) of the role which TNCs, trade rules, the World Bank might play in allowing a global elite (rather than nationalised elites) to extract regions of the world.

As a final word, what’s maybe most timely (or not timely?) about the book is its suggestion that some kind of political infrastructure which allows a plurality of voices to be heard and wealth to be distributed so it benefits all is crucial to development – it’s time more of us started asking how we might do this at a global, rather than a national level.

Further Reading

The blog based around the book

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Giddens: Modernity and Self-Identity – Introduction and Chapter One (A Summary)

modernity and self identityAnthony Giddens is one of the world’s leading sociologists and one of the main critics of Postmodern thought – and should be taught as part of the second year A level Sociology module in Theory and Methods. Below is a summary of one of his major works – Modernity and Self-Identity (the introduction and chapter one). 

Introduction – An Overview of the Whole Book –

Modernity is more complex and interconnected than ever before and modern institutions are more dynamic than at any previous point in history – at both an institutional level and in terms of how they impact on the individual and intimate life.

In modernity there is an increasing interconnection between two extremes – the global and personal dispositions (extensionality and intentionality).

The new mechanisms of self-identity shape and are shaped by the institutions of modernity and Sociology is a fundamental part of the institutional reflexivity of modernity.

There is a basic dialectic between modern institutions which encourage the repression of ‘living out’ existential questions in day to day life and the emergence of life-politics which seeks to manifest them.

Late Modernity has the following characteristics:

  • It is more intensely reflexive.

  • There has been a profound reorganisation of time and space – disembedding mechanisms change the nature of day to day social life.

  • It institutionalises radical doubt – all knowledge takes the form of a hypothesis – claims which may be true are always potentially open for revision such that the self has to be continuously (re-) made amidst a puzzling array of possibilities.

  • In circumstances of uncertainty and multiple choice the notions of risk and trust become central. Trust is necessary to form a protective cocoon so that we may ‘go on’ with our day to day life. Risk is also central – in modernity the future is continuously drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organisation of knowledge environments. Modernity makes some areas of life safer, but also opens up new risks.

  • The influence of distant happenings on proximate events become more and more common place – the media is common place and is what binds us together in this (against hyperreality).

  • Because of all of the above ‘lifestyle’ becomes central – reflexively organised life planning becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity, which normally presumes a consideration of risks as filtered through contact with expert knowledge.

  • The Pure Relationship is the main type of relationship.

  • Re-skilling becomes central to life.

  • The construction and control of the body becomes central.

  • Science, technology and expertise play a more fundamental role in the ‘sequestration of experience’. The overall thrust of modern institutions is to create settings of action ordered in terms of modernity’s own dynamics and severed from external criteria’ – as a result action becomes severed from existential questions.

  • Mechanisms of shame rather than guilt come to the fore in late modernity. Narcissism and personal meaninglessness become the main problems of self-development – ”authenticity’ is frequently devoid of any moral anchoring.

  • Yet the repression of existential questions is not complete – and life politics emerges in response.

  • Baudrillard confuses the pervasive impact of mediated experience with the internal referentiality of the social systems of modernity – these systems become largely autonomous and determined by their own constitutive influences.

  • The construction of self identity does not float free – class and other divisions can be partially defined through differential access to opportunities for self-actualisation.

GIddens Late Modernity

Chapter One – The Contours of High Modernity

Starts with the example of divorce to illustrate the gist of the chapter.

The experience of intimate life is not separate from social life. High modernity demands that we continually remake ourselves, and so it is with many relationships – as evidenced in the persistent high divorce rate, which is simply a consequence of the ‘pure relationship’ being the main type of relationship today.

Divorce is not necessarily a tragedy – for some it is an opportunity to further develop themselves, while for others they retreat into a resigned numbness. To make a ‘success’ out of divorce, one has to mourn it, accept that the marriage is ended, and move on!

Modernity: Some general considerations:

Modernity has the following features –

  1. It is industrial – social relations are rooted in the widespread use of material power and machinery in production processes.

  2. It is capitalist – we live in a system of commodity production which involves both competitive product markets and the commodification of labour power.

  3. There are significant institutions of surveillance – the supervisory control of subject populations – both visible and in terms of the use of information to coordinate social activities.

  4. We live in the context of the industrialisation of war – modernity has ushered in a context of ‘total war’ – the potential destructive power of weaponry, most obviously nuclear arms, is immense.

Modernity produces certain distinct social forms – most obviously the nation state, or a system of nation states, which follow coordinated policies or plans on a global scale – nation states permit and entail concentrated reflexive monitoring.

Modernity is also characterised by extreme dynamism – the current world is a runaway world – the pace, scope and profoundness of changes is significantly greater than any time before.

The peculiar character of modernity consists in the following:

Firstly the separation of time and space and the emptying out of time and space – the clock being the most obvious manifestation which presumed deeply structured changes in the tissue of everyday life, which were universalising, on a global scale. This is a dialectical process – the severance of time from space allows for new formations – such as the ‘use of history to make history’ – as in the significance of the year 2000, just because it was the year 2000.

Secondly the disembedding of social institutions – the lifting out of social relations from local contexts. There are two main ways this occurs – through symbolic tokens (such as money) and expert systems (therapists) and each of these permeate every aspect of late-modern life, and both depend on trust. Trust, a leap of faith is essential – because in a disembedded system we cannot know everything. Risk is also part of this.

Institutional reflexivity is the third feature of late modernity – the regularised use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organisation and transformation.

The local, the global and the transformation of day-to-day-life

There is a dialectic between Modernity’s universalising efforts and the actual consequences: In the attempt to know and predict everything, in fact competing knowledge systems have emerged, and there is no way of knowing with any certainty which is correct, thus uncertainty lies at the heart of daily life.

The mediation of experience

Today, virtually all experience is mediated, but this does not result in post-modern fragmentation – in fact mediation is precisely what unifies all of us – pre-modern life is what was truly fragmented. We are now all painfully and persistently aware of the various modern problems which we cannot escape.

The Existential Parameters of High Modernity

The Future is the driving force of high modernity – or rather the attempt to colonise it based on the use of knowledge. We do this in the context of risk – We are all confronted with uncertainty because the rise of competing expert systems just makes us more uncertain. Expert knowledge has failed to make the world more predictable.

Why Modernity and Personal Identity?

Because never before has there been a time when so many people have been unified into the demands to reflexively make themselves – it is the institutional context of modernity which makes this possible – Globalisation, and abstract systems demand that we engage in self-construction, and therapy becomes central to this.

Anthony GIddens
Anthony Giddens

Related Posts 

Modernity and Self Identity – Chapter Two Summary

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – summarised in 14 bullet points

Some introductory questions on Giddens’ Sociological Thought – to get students thinking (dangerous, I know)

Theory.Org has a useful outline of Giddens’ thought

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Globalisation and Education

Globalisation refers to the increasing interconnectedness between societies across the globe.

Globalisation and Education

There are many dimensions to globalisation:

Economic globalisation is the globalisation of trade, production and consumption. Most of what we consume in the UK is produced and manufactured abroad, for example, often through Transnational Corporations, or companies which operate in more than one country, such as Shell. As a result of globalisation we have seen a decline in manufacturing jobs in recent years, because these have moved abroad (to countries such as China) and most jobs in the UK are now in the service and leisure sectors.

Cultural Globalisation refers to the increasingly rapid spread of ideas and values around the globe. This is mainly brought about as a result of the growth of ICT – communications technology which makes it possible to communicate with people in other countries instantaneously. Cultural globalisation includes everything from the spread of music and fashion and consumer products and culture to the spread of political and religious ideas.

– Increasing migration is also part of globalisation – with more people moving around the globe for various reasons. Sometimes this is voluntary, with people moving abroad for work or education, other times it is involuntary – as is the case with refugees from conflicts or climate disasters. As a result of increasing immigration, the UK is now a much more mulitcultural society than in the 1950s.

What are the consequences of globalisation for Education in the UK?

1. Increased competition for jobs abroad meant the New Labour government increased spending on education in order to try and give children skills to make them more competitive in a global labour market. New Labour wanted 50% of children to enter Higher Education, although this goal was never achieved.

2. Part of economic globalisation is the establishment of global ICT companies such as Google and Apple. These powerful institutions are now involved in writing curriculums, and online learning materials for various governments around the world. Thus education is increasingly shaped by Transnational Corporations, who make a profit out of providing these services to government. If you have an exam with the edexcell exam board for example, that would have been written by Pearsons (along with your text book), a global corporation.

3. Increasing migration has meant education is now more multicultural – all schools now teach about the ‘six world religions’ in RE, and we have many faith schools in the UK serving Muslim and Jewish students. In more recent years schools have had to respond to increasing numbers of Polish children entering primary and secondary schools.

4. Increasing cultural globalisation challenges the relevance of a ‘National Curriculum’ – what is the place of the Nation State and the idea of a ‘national curriculum’ if we live in an increasingly global culture. It also challenges what type of history and literature we should be teaching.

5. Finally, the growth of global ICT companies and global media more generally challenges the authority of traditional schooling and possibly teachers. What role does a traditional school model have when you can get all your information for free on YouTube, the Student Room and so on….

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.

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The Bottom Billion – Paul Collier – A Summary

Global poverty has been falling for decades, but a few countries which are caught in four distinct traps (such as the resource curse) are falling behind and falling apart. Aid does not work well in these places but there are things we can and should do because neglect will pose a security nightmare for the world of our children.

Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory can be used to criticise all previous grand-theories of development – modernisation theory, dependency theory and neoliberalism.

The Four Traps

Trap 1- The Conflict Trap

73% of people in the bottom billion countries are in a civil war or have recently been through one. Civil war reduces income and low income increases the risk of civil war. Low income means poverty and low growth means hopelessness and available young men. When the economy is weak the state is weak and rebellion is easier. Sometimes rebel movements get finances from resource exporters in return for future deals.

“Rebels usually have something to complain about, and if they don’t they make it up. All too often the really disadvantaged are in no position to rebel: they just suffer quietly.” Little relationship has been found between the risk of civil war and political repression or intergroup hatreds or income inequality or colonial history. There is some relationship to particular patterns of ethnic diversity.

A civil war doubles the risk of another civil war. “Civil war is development in reverse.” “Both economic losses and disease are highly persistent: they do not stop once the fighting stops.” Usually there is a further deterioration in political rights. “A rebellion is an extremely unreliable way of bringing about positive change.” “The foot soldiers of rebellion, often do not have much choice about joining the rebel movement.” “Gradually the composition of the rebel group will shift from idealists to opportunists and sadists.” The kind of people most likely to engage in political violence are the young, the uneducated, and those without dependents.

95% of global production of hard drugs comes from conflict countries. Conflict provides territory outside government control for illegal activities to operate.

Three economic characteristics make a country prone to civil war: low income, slow growth, and dependence upon primary commodity exports. “Civil war leaves a legacy of organized killing that is hard to live down. Violence and extortion have proved profitable for the perpetrators. Killing is the only way they know to earn a living. And what else to do with all those guns?”

Trap 2 – The Natural Resource Trap

Paradoxically, the discovery of valuable natural resources in the context of poverty constitutes a trap. It often results in misuse of its opportunities in ways that make it fail to grow and results in stagnation.

Societies at the bottom are frequently in resource-rich poverty. “The heart of the resource curse is that resource rents [rents = excess of revenues over all costs] make democracy malfunction.” “Oil and other surpluses from natural resources are particularly unsuited to the pressures generated by electoral competition.” In the presence of large surpluses from natural resources autocracies produce much more growth than do democracies. When there is plenty of money, leaders tend to embezzle funds, spend on large, pet projects and buy votes through contracts. The corrupt win the elections. Resources reduce the need to tax, undercut public scrutiny, erode checks and balances, and leave electoral competition unconstrained where parties compete for votes by patronage. Alternatively restraints raise the return on investment.

Autocracies work with little ethnic diversity. Diversity tends to narrow the support base of the autocrat and requires greater income distribution to the autocrat’s group. “Becoming reliant upon the bottom billion for natural resources sounds to me like Middle East 2.”

Trap 3 – Landlocked with Bad Neighbours

Geography matters. Landlocked countries must export to neighbouring countries or through their infrastructures to the coast. Uganda is poor and Switzerland is rich because they are dependent upon their neighbours. All countries benefit from the growth of their neighbours but resource-scarce landlocked countries must depend on their neighbours for growth. This includes about 30% of Africa.

Trap 4 – Bad Governance in a Small Country

Terrible governance and policies can destroy an economy with alarming speed. Note President Robert Mugabe. Governance matters, conditional upon opportunities. Differences in opportunities can make a big difference. Countries who have done better since 1980 have generally exported labour-intensive manufactures and services. The government simply has to avoid doing harm. Exporters need an environment of moderate taxation, macroeconomic stability, and a few transport facilities.

Why is bad governance sometimes so persistent? Because some benefit. The leaders of many of the poorest countries in the world are themselves among the global superrich. They like it that way. Many of them are simply villains. But beyond villainy, there is a shortage of people with the requisite knowledge, brave reformers get overwhelmed by the resistance, and there is often not much popular enthusiasm for reforms.

Recent failing states include Angola, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, the Solomon Islands, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is borderline. Turnarounds are rare because reformers are often suppressed and in danger.

Three characteristics encourage a turnaround: larger populations, higher proportion of people with a secondary education, and recent emergence from a civil war. Whether the state was a democracy or granted political rights did not seem to matter. The impetus for change must come from the heroes in the society. The probability for a turnaround in any given year is 1.6%, so they are likely to stay as failing states for a long time.

 

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The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

Traditionalism – Globalisation is exaggerated

1. Trade is not truly global, it is regional. For example, about 60% of EU trade is within the EU. And Sub Saharan Africa is largely left out of global trade flows

2. Transnational Corporations do not operate in all countries, only secure ones.

3. Billions of people still live mostly subsistence lifestyles and simply cannot afford to take part in globalised western style consumption.

4. —

5. Some countries remain cut off from ‘global democratic and military force’ – e.g. North Korea and Iran. Also some traditional cultures still practice abuses that go against the UNDHR – see 7 below.

6. Governments still have the power to censor social media – e.g. the great firewall of China

7. Local traditions still remain in many cultures – For example it is estimated that 90% of women in Somalia have been circumcised. See the following video links for examples of traditional cultures.

Related Posts 

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

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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

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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.

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The Hyper-Globalist/ Optimist View of Globalization

Hyper-globalists (sometimes referred to as global optimists) believe that globalization is happening and that local cultures are being eroded primarily because of the expansion of international capitalism and the emergence of a homogeneous global culture; they (as the ‘optimist’ part of the label implies) believe that globalization is a positive process characterised by economic growth, increasing prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Hyper-globalism (1)

Thomas Friedman (2000) argues that globalization has occurred because of the global adoption of neoliberal economic policies. Neoliberalism insists that governments in developing countries need to remove obstacles to free trade and free market capitalism in order to generate development. Governments should limit their role to providing a business-friendly environment that enables businesses (both inside and outside the country) to make a profit.

The theory is that if governments allow businesses the freedom to ‘do business’, wealth will be generated which will trickle down to everyone.

Friedman identifies a neoliberal economic set of principles that he calls the ‘golden straight jacket’ that countries need to fit into if they are to achieve success in the global economy: deregulation, fewer protections for workers and the environment, privatisation and cutting taxes.

Friedman argues that the golden straitjacket is “pretty much one size fits all… it is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it’s here and it’s the only model on the rack this historical season’.

Friedman attributes economic globalization to the fact that most developing countries have adopted neoliberal policies since the 1980s. Neoliberalism has effectively restricted the power of nation states, making trade between nations easier. It has resulted in the freer movement of goods, resources and enterprises, and ultimately more jobs, cheaper products and increasing economic growth, prosperity and wealth for the majority of people on the planet.

These countries were often shepherded onto the ‘right’ economic path by the ‘good Samaritans’ of Western governments, especially the ‘three sisters’ of free trade: the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, global institutions which have played a central role in shaping globalization according to hyper globalists.

Supporting Evidence for the Optimist View of Globalization

Optimist Globalism

1. More international trade, especially since the 1950s = Increasing wealth, health, education for most countries. Evidence below

  • This Hans Rosling Video illustrates the relationship between increasing wealth (brought about by trade) and health
  • The case of China’s economic growth – Use this‘trading economics’ web site to check out how China’s GDP growth over the last ten years (from 2001) appears to be directly correlated with its growth in exports (use the links to the right to change between graphs – you might need to change the years selection around too).
  • China is not the only country benefiting from increasing trade (imports and exports) – China is just one of four nations known as the BRIC Nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – 4 up and coming economies that are predicted to be wealthier than Britain by 2050.

2. Optimists argue that Transnational Corporations are a force for good. Companies such as Apple, Sony, etc bring investment and jobs to developing countries.

3.    Patterns of consumption are becoming globalised – More people around the world are consumers rather than living subsistence lifestyles. Also people increasingly consume similar foods and brands (and shop for them in similar ways). Increasing global tourism is another feature of this. Evidence below…

  • These photos of ‘what the world eats’ – Suggest similar consumption patterns.
  • Coke’s advertising supports the optimist view of cultural globalisation – Advert 1 (I’d like t teach the world to sing…) and advert 2 – The Happiness Bus

4.  Sporting events such as the world cup and the Olympics have become more popular.

cultural globalisation olympics
Are the Olympics a good example of optimist globalism?

5. The spread of Democracy and respect for human rights since the end of WW2 – E.G. The end of colonial rule in Africa, the collapse of communism and the Arab Spring. This is also evidenced in the establishment of the United Nations and the growth of global social movements such as green peace.

6. The growth of social media (Facebook and Twitter) have lead more freedom around the world.

7. Globalistion increasingly means global cities – urban centres which have highly educated, politically engaged middle classes.

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 

Kenichi Ohmae – A radical, neoliberal view of globalization

What is Cultural Globalisation?

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation