The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

Transformationalists argue that globalisation is complex two way process and that it can be reversed.

Transformationalists argue that globalisation should be understood as a complex set of interconnecting relationships through which power is mostly exercised indirectly.

They 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.

Transformationalists also believe that globalisation can be reversed, especially where it is negative or, at the very least, that it can be controlled.

Examples of supporting evidence for the transformationalist view of globalisation include increasing cultural hybridity and detraditionalisation.

Transformationalism globalization

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 globalisation 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 Tunisia 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:

Anthony Giddens on Globalisation

In his classic 1999 text, Runaway World, Anthony Giddens argues that one consequence of globalisation 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 globalisation, 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 on Globalisation

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

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 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 –   

On a more positive note, 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) –

The transformationalist view of Transnational Corporations

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.

There are many examples of cultural hybridity

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 – This is America by Childish Gambino is a great one:

Here’s another one, from back in the day….

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…

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

Political Globalisation

The transformationalist view on political Globalisation is that the world is increasingly 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.

  • The Paradox of China – Apparently the Communist government is now commanding Chinese businesses to aggressively pursue profit.
  • This Glocalist Manifesto is an interesting e.g. of glocalism applied to politics –

The spread of global media

The globalisation of media is maybe one of the best examples of transformationalist globalisation, which has lead to diverse uses – e.g. crowdsourcing, microfinance, and mobile phone use in Africa.


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

You might like to read this blog post on ‘detraditionalisation’ and summarise Giddens’ 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 cover

Nine 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.

Signposting and Related Posts

This material is usually taught as part of the Globalisation and Global Development option for A-level sociology.

A-level sociology splits theories of globalisation into four, one of which is transformationalism (above), the other three are:

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

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