two responses to globalisation are more hybrid identities but also a retreat to more restrictive national identities.
Andrew Pilkington (2002) argues that nationalisms are socially constructed. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, despite the fact that many nationalist movements claim their origins go back thousands of years.
For most of human history, humans organised themselves in small social groups, and the idea of identifying with millions of strangers would have seemed alien.
It was only in the 18th century that the idea of nations and national identities started to emerge, encouraged by economic changes brought about through the industrial revolution. Strengthening the idea of the nation was also useful for colonialism.
A concept of ‘otherness’ was also central to developing national identities. For example the British (Protestant) national identity was developed in contrast, even opposition to the French (Catholic) national identity and vice versa.
development of mass communications that the abstract idea of the nation became possible and national identities started to be constructed.
Pilkington documented how a sense of Britishness gradually filtered down from the elite to the middle classes as the population became more literate during the 18th and 19 centuries and then down to the whole population as mass communications spread the idea more broadly.
All of the pomp and ritual surrounding the British monarchy has been a crucial part of establishing British national identity over the centuries, as well as stories about heroes who fought the French, such as Nelson.
Pilkington notes that the British National Identity has historically been very white, with Black and Asian people having almost no representation (NB this may have changed recently), but that it never managed to overwhelm Scottish, English or Welsh identities.
Globalisation and National Identity
Because they are socially constructed, ideas surrounding national identities change over time, and globalisation has had a profound impact on nations and nationalisms around the world.
Globalisation brings a dual threat to nations and national identities which come under pressure from centralisation and decentralisation.
Centralisation creates pressures from above, with the increasing importance of regional and international institutions such as the European Union and the World Health Organisation.
Decentralisation creates pressures from below with the strengthening of ethnic identities within countries and the breakup of some countries, such as the collapse of the USSR.
One response to globalisation is the strengthening of ethnic identities as ethnic minorities, such as the Welsh and Scottish within Britain (for example) stress their ethnic distinctiveness in relation to the English and campaign for more independence and autonomy from the British State – as we see with the development of the Welsh and Scottish partially devolved governments.
Some people see globalisation as threatening national identities and one response is to retreat into a more restrictive and narrow definition of Englishness. Anyone who claims that White Britishness is superior would fall into this category.
Another response is increasingly hybrid-identities as some people accept that it is possible to have multiple identities at the same time – to be simultaneously European, British and Scottish, for example.
A good example of this is Gordon Brown who once claimed that he believed Britain could be the first multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national state. We see a similar mind-set in any group willing to celebrate hybrid-ethnic identities.
This material should be useful for anyone studying the culture and identity module as part of A-level sociology.
With global military expenditure at an all time high, the prospects for peace and development are looking bleak!
World military expenditure stood at $2240 billion in 2022, an all time record high.
Global military expenditure fell in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, then rose from 1999 to 2010, fell slightly in the next few years and then saw a steady year on year increase from 2013 to 2022, increasing by a total of 19% during the decade to 2022.
2021 to 2022 saw the the sharpest rise, with an increase of 3.7%, fuelled largely by the War on Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military expenditure rose by 640% in 2022 to $44 billion, compared to a previous (approximate) $6 billion a year before the Russian invasion. That $44 billion does not include military aid from other countries, estimated to be around the $30 billion mark in 2022.
Russia’s military expenditure rose by almost 10% to nearly $90 billion in 2022, making it the world’s third largest spender on the military.
Military Expenditure as usual
While the war in Ukraine has obviously had a massive impact in Ukraine as military expenditure now accounts for a third of its GDP (compared to 2.5% in the United Kingdom for example), as well as in Russia and many other nations through their giving military aid to Ukraine, when we look at things globally the impact of the war on Ukraine on overall expenditure has been relatively small.
Granted, the increase for last year is greater than previous years, but it’s not a massive break with the trend of steadily increasing military expenditure over the last two decades.
The worrying thing is (at least it’s worrying if you are a fan of world peace) is that in terms of overall military expenditure, the increase in expenditure caused by the war in Ukraine is really just a drop in the ocean: around a $100 billion increase is not a lot compared to a total usual annual spend of $2200 billion.
The world’s biggest military spenders
The United States remains the largest military spender, having spent an astronomical $877 billion on it military in 2022, accounting for 39% of the total global spend in 2022.
China comes second on the list, but is a long way behind America with an annual expenditure of $292 billion, a third less than America’s expenditure.
Russia is third in the war league tables, but even with the war on Ukraine it spends three times less than China (1/10th that of America), at just under $100 billion annually, and slightly more than Saudi Arabia and India who come in fourth and fifth positions.
The United Kingdom has the highest military expenditure in Europe at almost $70 billion in 2022, and at 2.3% of its GDP, it spends twice as much on its military proportionately compared to most other European nations except for France.
Relevance to A-Level Sociology
The War in Ukraine has dominated the news throughout 2022 and the conflict has severely retarded development in the country both in the short term because of loss of life, injury, emigration and destruction of infrastructure, but also in the long term as tens of billions of dollars have been spent on the conflict, diverted from what could have been positive investment in social development in health, employment and education, for example.
But stepping back from the immediate shock of this particular conflict and just looking at it in terms of wider military expenditure we are reminded of the huge sums we spend globally on constant preparedness for war, and even Russia is something of a minor player in terms of its own expenditure, spending three times less than China and 10 times less than the United States.
The United States spends so much on its military that it has been able to provide billions in aid to Ukraine without it being a significant dent in its military budget.
If either one of those two countries decides to wage war against a lesser power in the future, they can dwarf the harm Russia has done in Ukraine, moreover, imagine how much good even a tenth of global military expenditure could do if it were devoted to positive development: $200 billion more on global health, education and employment initiatives could transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Instead we choose to spend more than $2 trillion on being prepared to kill each other.
It’s a stark reminder of just how far off global peace and enlightenment we are, and how small global development agendas are compared to the military agendas of the world’s largest nation states.
War and Conflict are the main things which prevent positive economic and social development, and this update is a depressing reminder that in terms of military expenditure the world seems to be getting less peaceful.
The United States recently introduced a huge climate change bill which promotes investment in green energy through indirect subsidies. This bill represents one the largest state-level investments in green energy in history and seems to suggest we are moving away neoliberal models of development.
The green-subsidies are included in the broader Inflation Reduction Act which came into force in August 2022 and is primarily designed to tackle climate change through boosting the country’s green energy sector, mostly through indirect subsidies in the form of tax credits.
The main aims of the bill are to reduce carbon emissions and create millions of new jobs in the green energy sector, in industries such as manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps and carbon capture technologies.
The bill is also designed to help the U.S. reduce its reliance on imports from China, in a process it calls ‘onshoring’, and there is hope that it will encourage trillions of dollars in private investment into manufacturing green technologies.
To give a specific example, the U.S. now offers a tax credit of $7500 for buyers of most electric and hydrogen powered cards. However, this is conditional on final assembly taking place in the U.S. or other countries which have free-trade treaties with the U.S. such as Canada and Mexico.
There are also a ‘domestic-content’ rules: the more components and raw materials sourced in America, the higher the tax-credit, but there are no credits available if if critical minerals have been sourced from ‘foreign entities of concern’ such as China, Russia or Iran.
It is estimated that the IRA will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% more than if it hadn’t been passed.
In the six months since the bill was passed there has already been $89 billion of investment into the green energy sector, and 100 000 new jobs created. Companies such as BMW, Honda, and Tesla have either moved manufacturing of batteries to the U.S. or are considering a move.
The end of Neoliberalism?
This policy shift feels like we are moving away from the neoliberal development model in which nation states do less. Here we have the United States government actively supporting, selectively, green technology.
Maybe climate change is such an important global issue that we need co-ordination at the level of the nation state.
Limitations of the Climate Change Bill
Indirect subsidies are protectionist and they distort the free market.
Even after only six months green tech companies are already pulling out of Europe and seeking to relocate the the United States, meaning that this policy is hurting U.S. allies as well as its perceived ‘enemies’ such as China.
When nation states provide subsidies it can promote something of a ‘race to the bottom’ among competitors, with the EU already considering its own Green Deal Industrial Plan, simplifying regulation for green companies.
And let’s not forget, where manufacturing is concerned, green energy isn’t necessarily than green: there is a lot of metal and plastic in wind turbines and batteries, and a lot of toxic-chemical processes that go into their manufacture, and we haven’t exactly figured out a pollution free strategy for storing used-batteries when they are past their use-by date.
In other words, light regulation now might not be an effective way of promoting green development in the greener sense of the world.
While lowering emissions will benefit developing countries more (because they are more exposed to the extreme consequences of global warming) this kind of development is all about developed countries in economic terms.
The bill only passed the senate by one single vote and it had to be ‘disguised’ in a larger ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ which included a range of other measures on healthcare and tax.
There is still plenty of political resistance to state-subsidies for green technology, meaning the bill could be watered down or countered by subsidies for petrochemical industries in future years.
Global culture is where large numbers of people in different countries across the world share common norms, values and tastes, and is one aspect of globalisation. Those sociologists who believe that a global culture exists tend to see it as an ongoing process with more and more people around increasingly sharing similar world views and developing a global consciousness.
Global culture is a contested concept: there are several different perspectives on the nature and extent of global culture and disagreements over whether such a thing exists in any meaningful sense at all!
This post considers two theories of global culture:
Lechner and Boli (2005) who argue that global institutions are laying the foundations for what they call a ‘world culture’
John Storey (2003) who argues that Time-Space Compression (following David Harvey) has resulted in more cultural mixing and hybridity around the world, so we have a plurality of cultures rather than one global culture.
You might like to read this post in conjunction with my other related post on cultural globalisation which looks at aspects of cultural globalisation in more depth, looking at different aspects of cultural globalisastion one by one (such as consumption patterns, shared values etc.) as we as concepts such as detraditionalisation and the risk society.
That post is really the overview of the topic, this post offers a little more theoretical depth, focusing in on two actual theorists.
World Culture, institutions and organisations
Frank J. Lechner and John Boli (2005) use the term ‘world culture‘ rather than ‘global culture’ and argue that globalisation has resulted in a world culture that is here to stay, it cannot be undone though its content may change and it may increase or decrease in influence.
Lechner and Boli’s conception of culture is one of socially constructed and socially shared symbolism, so they see it as being about ideas and meanings rather than tangible material objects.
World culture develops through global values, becoming institutionalised through a process of structuration. Actors within global institutions establish typical patterns of behaviour and values and these eventually become institutionalised, and adopted by more and more people globally, who in turn ‘enact’ these behaviours thus further reinforcing them.
Examples of world culture
Two examples of world culture are education and chess.
Many education systems in different countries have similar institutional norms surrounding formal education such as having around 11-13 years of age-grouped teaching, curricula which clearly outline what is to be studied, well-structured examination systems leading to qualifications, and similar hierarchies of organisation within schools.
There are also and codes of conduct outlining expected patterns of behaviour and attendance from students, and a clear code of professional practice for teachers, which are very similar in many countries.
Throughout the world local chess clubs follow the rules of the World Chess Federation, and players look up to and seek to learn from international grand masters whose achievements are recognised all over the world.
There are also a set of norms about how to play chess, not just the rules, but norms to do with demeanour, how to communicate, and how to approach more senior players.
Lechner and Boli accept the fact that there isn’t total homogenisation of the way education and chess are enacted locally, there are local variations, but increasing similarities too.
There are also institutions whose purpose is to explicitly promote world culture such as:
The United Nations (UN) which overseas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The International Criminal Court (ICC) which is responsible for bringing to trial people who have committed crimes against humanity
The Olympic Movement which promotes fair play in several world sports.
Lechner and Boli accept the fact that there are examples of movements against global culture, such as the way Islam has manifested itself in Afghanistan or Iran, but at the same time there are people in both countries who argue for less extremist Islamic State policies and identify more with the global community.
Lechner and Boli argue that much of the apparent local diversity we see is just superficial, about clothing and food, rather than about deeper shared meanings and values where there is more global consensus.
While Lechner and Boli do identify some definite trends towards global culture they possibly overstate the extent to which we have an established global system of shared values and meaning.
The example of chess is especially weak as there simply aren’t that many chess players, and while education systems around the world have similarities the experience of education varies massively depending on whether you are a pupil in Britain or Somalia or Afghanistan, especially a girl in the later country.
There is a lot of difference and conflict and people just ignoring ‘universal global values’ that isn’t sufficiently taken into account.
John Storey: global culture
Storey (2003) argues that in the past, cultures around the world were generally separated from each other through space and time. In the 19th century, for example, it simply took too much time and money for people to travel across the globe and so there was relatively little intermixing of cultures.
Today however, the world is much smaller thanks to time-space compression. The main engine of this is the media which makes it possible for cultures in different parts of the world to influence each other instantaneously.
Global travel is also much faster which makes it possible for global cultures to develop. Global cultural events such as the World Cup and the Olympics can happen because it is relatively easy for teams and supporters to travel to one place , and the existence of these events create a global cultural legacy that endures.
Storey rejects the theory that cultural globalisation is simply a process of Americanisation. He argues that culture is much more than the products people buy, and that there are considerable variations around the global in how people use the same products and values they attach to them.
There are many examples of American products being adapted to fit into local cultural styles, such as with regional variations on McDonald’s food.
Globalisation offers the possibility of cultural mixing on a scale never known before.
It has not undermine local culture nor does it lead to a single global culture. An ever greater plurality of hybrid-cultures: where global influences mix with local cultures and produce something new: a mixture (hybrid) between the global and the local, as with the example of Chicken Tika Masala.
One consequence of this is that folk culture is undermined, because even the oldest and most isolated traditions are changed by global influences.
Storey seems to paint a more accurate picture of the hybrid and complex nature of ‘global culture’ than Lechner and Boli, it seems accurate to accept the fact that there is no meaningful overarching global culture, rather pluralities and hybrids.
However Leslie Sklaire argues that he fails to recognize that not all cultures in the world are valued equally. There are maybe more powerful and dominant cultures which can disrupt local cultures against people’s will, such as consumer culture linked to brands pushed by Transnational Corporations.
The following 10 mark outline and explain question above came up in the AQA’s November 2021 Sociology 7192/2 topics paper, as part of the beliefs in society section.
Outline and explain two ways that globalisation may have influenced the way in which religion acts as a force for change (10)
Probably the safest way to approach this question is to consider one way in which globalisation has reduced the capacity of religion to act as a force for social change and another it has increased it.
The challenge is going to be to keep the question tightly focussed on two ways, and drawing out the links, rather than drifting into discussing several ways in general.
One aspect of globalisation is the increased use of the internet for global communications which makes it easier for people to access information about religion.
This means it is easier for fundamentalist groups to gain access to a wide audience via setting up their own websites and through social media, increasing their global reach, meaning that groups such as ISIS have managed to radicalise individuals in countries thousands of miles away from their main base such as England.
Fundamentalism may appeal to people living in postmodern society as there is more anomie, and the simple messages which appeal to traditional values offer a sense of certainty and identity to people who may feel lost and without purpose.
In some cases radicalised individuals have travelled to countries like Syria in order to become part of fundamentalist movements.
The internet has also made it easier for fundamentalist groups to gain funding through cryptocurrency, meaning it is harder for governments to cut off funding for them, giving them more power.
Such groups can make use of encrypted apps such as Telegram to discuss strategy and recruit members making it more difficult for governments to prevent terrorist attacks, and this is such a serious matter there is currently an online privacy bill going through parliament that may make Whatsapp illegal in the UK.
Another indicator of how serious a threat to social change fundamentalism may be is the PREVENT agenda in schools, designed to protect British Values from radicalisation.
Globalisation undermining religion and social change
one aspect of globalisation is increasing amounts of cultural diversity as ideas and people migrate from country to country.
This means in the UK for example that we now have several religions rather than one.
This undermines the capacity of the Church of England to claim that it has a monopoly on the truth and thus undermines its ability to compel people to act in its name.
We saw this in the attitude of religion during the King’s Coronation, with all of the religious aspects looking outdated and a little bit silly which was broadcast to a global audience via the media.
State religion now seems like something that is for entertainment and a choice rather than something with the power to change society.
When there are many religions competing with each other it becomes more obvious that there are religious truths rather than one truth and the State increasingly focuses on how to create a society in which multiple religions can get along without conflicting rather than the state allying with one religion as a powerful source for social change.
The war in Ukraine, Brexit National ‘green’ subsidies suggest that globalisation is in reverse, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing!
A number of recent events in the 2020s suggest that globalisation is in reverse.
In America Jo Biden has made several speeches stating that more manufacturing will take place in America, rather than China, and his presidential predecessor, Donald Trump was vocally anti-globalist, while in Britain the recent immigration Bill suggests a breakdown of commitment to international human rights conventions.
Russia’s war on Ukraine and the hardening of divisions between Russia, its allies and China which is taking a neutral stance, and the U.S. and European nations supporting Ukraine with military aid suggest that the world is fracturing politically and economically, and at the same time global supply chains are still under strain from the aftermath of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Individual countries are increasingly putting in place policies which protect their borders and economies and it seems are less inclined to support policies which promote globalisation.
The benefits of globalisation
Globalisation is about flows of things, people, finance and ideas across national borders: the more flows there are, the more the world can be said to be globalising.
Globalisation became a tidal wave in the 1990s with several events:
The collapse of the UUSR and the end of the cold war
The integration of Europe
The opening of of China
The birth of the World Wide Web
Globalisation made goods cheaper through economies of scale and lifted a billion people out of poverty. When you fragment trade
Globalisation also increases jobs in poor countries through export markets, and when China, the world’s largest exporter, shut off its trade in a chosen response to the Covid-19 pandemic its economy shrank.
Countries are increasingly putting themselves first and focusing on national gain rather than mutual benefit through gradually increasing trade barriers.
The World Trade Organization has assessed the consequences of what might happen if the world splits into separate trading blocks: it would cost the world a 5% loss in GDP in the long term, more than the costs of the entire British economy.
Global trade is essential to maintaining the quality of life we’ve come to expect because no country can produce everything itself: without global trade we have no rice or bananas in the U.K.
If Britain makes it more difficult for other countries to trade with it, other countries will do the same, meaning goods will be more expensive and probable knock on effects such as less tourism, and it be less likely that we’d work together to solve global problems.
National security concerns have affected trade in certain goods, obviously military goods but also microchips and batteries more generally, but there are increasingly trade barriers in other economic sectors too.
One form of anti-global policies is subsidies in which government money is used to make manufacturing at home cheaper than imports.
The problem with this is that it is only the richest countries that have deep enough pockets to do this, and it hurts poorer countries, and in some cases even relatively rich countries cannot compete with economic behemoths such as the United States.
British car manufacturing is at its lowest level since the 1950s because it cannot compete with subsidies in the U.S. The United States is offering billions of dollars in subsidies to companies there who produce electrical vehicle supply chains.
The European Union is thinking of retaliating against the U.S. by introducing its own subsidies for electrical vehicle manufacturers, which would actually make things WORSE for U.K. car manufacturers.
Countries are also increasingly using export controls to protect their economies.
The U.S. has put a lot of export controls on various goods that can’t be exported to China and limits on international investment to protect foreign take overs of American companies. The United States has put these measures in place mainly because it claims China has embarked on unfair competition.
President Biden’s Inflation reduction Act which focuses heavily on green tech only gives out subsidies to companies which are based in America.
One argument for subsidies is to protect strategic industries, because relying on one country alone for any one product makes you vulnerable to supply chain shocks
For example 92% of all global semi-conducted chips are made in Taiwan, which is not really an acceptable risk for other countries because these chips are essential to communications technologies.
Similarly, Africa imports 99% of its vaccines, and it would also probably be better off producing at least some of those vaccines within Africa.
National subsidies can help broaden supply chains and make countries more resilient.
The problem is if subsidies are applied to everything it destroys the free market and is very inefficient, so countries need to be very selective about how they apply them.
The current rules on subsidies were established through the World Trade Organisation in 1994 and some current agreements on trade were entered into before China became a global player. Now the world is a very different place and trade rules may need to be changed to ensure a level playing field
Why the shift to deglobalisation?
In Reagan and Clinton’s era, American was very pro global free trade, which was the mood up until the 2008 financial crisis.
Globalisation created huge wealth on a global scale but it also created enormous inequalities within countries, which are largest in the Anglo-American world, and rising inequalities withing countries may have created the politics of nationalism that we saw with Donald Trump and Brexit.
By 2008 it had become clear that the global market system was working very well for a very small global elite, but not so well for ordinary working people who made up the democratic majority, and the failure to redistribute global wealth fairly led to a backlash and the rise of nationalist politics.
The average income of the bottom 50% hasn’t gone up for 30 years.
The problem with deglobalisation
The problem with this trend towards ‘deglobalisation’ is that it increases tensions between countries making it more difficult to slow climate change and stop the next pandemic. It would also slow growth and increase poverty.
We in the West cannot afford to be cut off from Asian markets with a combined population of 3.6 billion and a growing middle class, projected to be at over 3 billion people by 2030, which will make it the world’s largest market.
If the U.S. and E.U. start to put up trade barriers with China, China might just put up barriers to trade with the U.S. and E.U., and China can probably find sufficient trading partners within Asia, Russia and South America.
Increasing trade barriers reduces international co-operation which is required to tackle pandemics, climate change and conflict.
deglobalisation isn’t the answer
Globalisation since the 1990s has increase wealth but this wealth hasn’t been distributed equally which is a problem.
Rather than pursuing anti-globalist policies such as introducing subsidies which put up barriers to trade governments would be better off focusing on fairer taxation and redistribution policies to ensure that everyone can benefit from the increased wealth that increased global trade has generated.
The last 40 years have witnessed a form of neoliberal globalisation in which national governments have entered into a race to the bottom with corporate taxes: offering lower and lower taxes to attract investment.
This has lead to massive technology shifts around the world and mass deskilling of populations as more and more jobs have become automated, which has contributed to increasing inequalities withing countries, and low taxes have meant governments haven’t been able to reinvest sufficiently to make up for the disruption caused by these changes.
At the same time failure to tackle tax havens has allowed huge amounts of international capital to flow freely out of nation states.
The World Trade Organisation is now talking about reglobalisation: globalisation with a human face so that it’s more inclusive.
This might involve the following:
A global agreement on a minimum global corporate tax and getting rid of tax havens. This should work as companies are more interested in stability, infrastructure and a skilled workforce.
Governments need increased tax revenue so they can invest in infrastructure and education so as to pass on the benefits of global trade to more people.
Diversifying supply chains may still help with poorer countries, and reskilling poor people in rich countries.
We need to strengthen co-operation in some aspects to tackle three large global problems: climate change, pandemics and conflicts.
Turning our backs on globalisation won’t bring jobs or improve security or solve climate change, and it also threatens global peace!
comparative education studies are useful to policy makers because they allow the ‘adaptation’ of best educational practice, but there are problems because what works in one culture may not be so successful in another!
Comparative education studies involve comparing aspects of one nation’s education system with another and analysing the reasons for similarities and differences within those systems.
Typical motives for doing a cross national comparative studies of education systems would be to find out why some countries get better overall outcomes (in terms of qualifications) for their pupils, or why some countries have better outcomes for disadvantaged students, and thus better equality of educational opportunity.
Comparative education studies have become increasingly popular in recent years and are one response to the increasing interest in education globally, as evidenced by the PISA testing regime which publishes comparisons of student performance in standardised international tests.
Why compare education systems…?
Comparative education studies are themselves part of the globalisation of education and there are different reasons why actors may wish to compare education systems.
Probably the most obvious is the pragmatic aim to improve education policy – this is where policy makers in one country will employ researchers to study aspects of education systems in another country to see what works well with the intention of adapting or even just copying those aspects for use in their home country.
Such studies may be done by policy makers in post-industrial countries hoping to maintain their competitiveness in a fast changing global economy, or by developing countries hoping to use education to modernise quickly.
One specific phenomena which has led to recent increase in this kind of practical study is ‘PISA shock’ – where countries have found their positions in the PISA league tables to be lower than expected, which can spur them on to conduct research into the education systems of countries higher up the league tables looking for ways to improve their own systems.
Besides pragmatic reasons for comparative education studies some researchers also do purely academic studies, just to develop a deeper understanding of how education systems interact with other institutions within a society – purely focused on theory building and with no intention of applying findings at a policy level.
Bartram (2018) notes that international comparisons of education are increasingly motivated by economic and political reasons rather than purely theoretical motives.
Problems with comparing national education systems
Educational practices need to be considered in the context of the local culture.
It may not be possible to simply lift aspects of one education system and apply it to another and get improved results, because educational practices which ‘fit’ the culture in one country might not fit the national or local cultures of another.
For example, in Western countries educators have introduced more collaborative learning in recent decades (such as more group work) and this has led to improved performance for most students, but this may not work as well in some Asian cultures which are more sensitive to ‘public image’, and in such cultures more individualised ‘sit down and be quiet learning may get better outcomes for students.
You also have to think about WHO is doing the comparisons and applying the (potential) policy changes. Often such research studies are dominated by western experts who may well regard western models of education as superior to traditional indigenous, community based models which may be regarded as inferior.
There is actually a long history of this, stretching back to colonial times when Western powers used their education systems a means of subjugating indigenous people in their colonies, but even after independence new states were coerced into accepting Western education systems as a condition to receive international development aid (Nguyen-Phuong Mai, 2019).
It is simply not the case that Western practices can be transplanted and fitted into local indigenous cultures with easy success, and in many cases countries and local cultures simply don’t want this kind of education, as is the case in many Islamic countries for example.
There is also a problem with comparing results obtained from international tests such as the PISA tests: for those countries appearing near the bottom of the international league tables it is easy to blame their education systems for their poor performance, but this simply may not be the case – it could be a range of other factors such as the prevailing wider economic problems in those countries.
In fact, there is some research (Pasl Sahlberg, 2015) that shows that neoliberal marketised education systems which preference parental choice do not yield better educational performance, even though this has been the dominant educational ideology of the last 40 years.
Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology
The material above is most relevant to the sociology of education module, developing the theme of the relationship between globalisation and education.
Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition
Increasing numbers of people are making use of online learning platforms to educate themselves, but getting representative data on online learning is a challenge!
Online education has expanded rapidly with the rise of the internet and in 2022 there are a huge variety of websites and learning platforms that people are making use of to learn about a huge range of topics.
Online learning ranges from the very formal to the very informal, and it is much easier to collect valid statistics on the extent of formal online learning compared to informal online learning, because the former have hard data on the number of student enrolments and degree of engagement for example, data which might not exist for the more informal learning that takes place online.
Examples of formal online learning include universities putting their courses online, workplaces running online training courses and courses run through online learning platforms such as Coursera.
Informal learning is much more difficult to measure at it involves people hacking together an education using whatever free sources they can fund – by using YouTube videos to learn new skills for example.
Gathering data on the extent of online learning is complicated by the fact that there isn’t a clear boundary between using the internet for education and using it for entertainment, not to say, of course, that education can’t in itself be entertaining.
In this post I gather together some data which gives us an insight into the nature and extent of both formal and informal online learning in the world today, taking a global focus.
My reason for doing this is to demonstrate how significant online learning is in relation to formal education in schools, colleges and universities. I don’t believe a sociology of education should ignore these trends in online learning simply because online learning plays an increasingly significant role in many people’s lives, especially in people’s adult lives.
I also focus on the problems of collecting valid data on the extent of online learning in 2022.
Formal and informal online learning
Ranging from the formal to the informal, four basic types of online learning include….
The rise of virtual schools offering formally recognised national curriculums.
The rise of online digital learning platforms such as Udemy
The increase in independent people offering education and training on YouTube and other channels
The increase in ordinary people sharing their stories, experiences and life-experiments, and the increased interest in people consuming these.
An Overview of Global Online Learning
According to Global Market Insights (1) the value of the global e-learning market was over $315 billion in 2021.
70% of demand for online learning comes from the U.S.A and Europe (3)
Coursera’s statistics (6) show us that America has the most online learners, followed by India, and we can see that online learning is truly a global phenomenon!
80% of employers use online learning platforms…
America leads the way in virtual schools and in 2019-20, 40 there were 477 full-time virtual schools that enrolled 332,379 students, and 306 blended schools that enrolled 152,530 students (2).
NB as I understand it these are schools offering an officially recognised curriculum leading to formal exams, so this is a very formal type of online education.
Online learning platforms
Elearning Industry (8) lists 893 online learning platforms as of December 2022, unfortunately there is no data on how many courses are offered across these platforms or how many people are making use of them.
If you do a Google Search for ‘how many learning platforms are there’ Google returns search results for blogs outlining the ‘best’ platforms, not necessarily those with the most users, for example Thinkific (9) provides 10 of the best which include LinkdIn learning, Coursera and Udemy.
So if you want to find out how many people are making use of online learning platforms, you need to look at the stats from the individual platforms (and there may be overlap, some people enrolled on a Coursera course are also going to be doing a Udemy Courses!).
I don’t have time to trawl through almost 900 online learning platforms to collect the data but to look two of the biggest:
In 2021 Coursera had 92 million registered learners and 189 million enrolments (4)
In 2022 Udemy had 52 million learners and 213 000 courses (5)
So two of the largest platforms have 150 million people currently enrolled on their courses, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that across all learning platforms it’s likely that there are several hundred million people globally doing some kind of formally structured course on such platforms.
Learning Management Systems
Learner Management Systems are back end solutions for managing learners’ data while Online Learning Platforms are front-end packages.
I’m not analysing use of online Learner Management Systems (LMSs) here because pretty much every school, college and university will make use of an LMS to manage their learners’ data.
Educational blogs and vlogs
Many blogs and vlogs are educational, it is very difficult to get statistics on how many exist because many accounts include content which is both educational and purely for entertainment.
There must be well over a million ‘high quality’ educational videos on YouTube alone, produced by institutions such as the BBC and TED, the latest data i could find from 2015 put the figure at 700 000 videos on YouTubeEdu (10), so today there must be many more.
Educational content can range from the academic to videos designed to help people figure out ‘how to present themselves online’ as in the picture below…
TBH I’m not sure how I’d even go about designing a methodology to quantify the number of educational blogs and vlogs online, let alone the number of people consuming them.
TED (Technology Education and Design) is worth a special mention as many of the talks are relevant to sociology. The TED channel hosts thousands of videos, its YouTube channel has over 22 million subscribers and the most popular talk by Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity has 22 million views.
The problem with global statistics on elearning!
Even formal online learning is difficult to measure as there is no body monitoring the total number of online learners (as far as I am aware), and manually trawling through almost 1000 online learning platforms would take a long time.
Most of the available global statistics come from private companies who themselves offer online learning services. The first problem with this is that there can be a barrier in the form of a significant pay wall (7), another possible problem is with the validity of the data because these companies may use methods of data collection which deliberately exaggerate the extent of online learning: doing so makes it seem like institutions should invest more in online learning to keep up with an inevitable trend.
As to informal learning it is very difficult to measure how many educational blogs and vlogs there are simply because there is so much educational content out there!
Hence what we know about the nature and extent of online learning in 2023 is based on samples of those companies that do publish data, and there is no way this is representative of all online learning!
Sexual acts between men can be punished with prison sentences of between one and three years, and flogging.
Muslims can be sentenced to death for having sex with another man, but this is because extra-marital sex is sanctionable by death and the state doesn’t recognise same sex marriage.
Trans women can be imprisoned for ‘impersonating a woman’ and forcibly de-transitioned while in jail.
Campaigning for LGBTQ rights is also legal in Qatar
The 2022 World Cup and the LGBTQ debate
Initially the Qatari authorities said they would allow the display of LGBTQ imagery at world cup games, but just before the tournament began they said they would be forcibly removing any spectators displaying such symbols, such as the Rainbow Flat.
This is line with announcements from the authorities that gay and trans football fans should respect the norms of Qatari culture while in public, and should hide their sexuality when in public by showing no signs of public affection.
FIFA also announced that any players displaying support for LGBTQ rights, such as by wearing rainbow armbands, would be fined.
There have been reports of some hotels refusing to allow same sex couples to stay as well as eye witness accounts of police brutality against gay people.
However, there is NOT universal agreement at the level of nation states on LGBTQ rights. In fact we are nowhere near achieving a global consensus around this issue.
According to the Human Rights Campaign same sex marriage is only legal in 32 countries, meaning that Qatar is actually in the global majority, while the various activists from the various European Nations who have been championing LGBTQ rights during the World Cup are from countries in the global minority over this issue.
Most European countries have full equal recognition of same-sex marriage but the majority of countries do not recognise this and many, like Qatar, enforce harsh punishments for adults who same-sex consensual sex.
‘Enlightened’ European states have long ignored human rights abuses abroad
The difficult question is how should European nations deal with the majority of countries who don’t respect the sexual preferences of LGBTQ people?
At the moment the policy is to basically ignore what we would define as human rights abuses and carry on trading with countries such as Qatar. To be blunt, economic relations trump universal human rights around sexuality and sexual identity.
To my mind FIFA giving the 2022 World Cup to Qatar isn’t particularly unusual, it’s merely a more overt recognition of the way most Nation States (who are represented by FIFA) deal with countries who abuse human rights – we welcome them as part of the international community and ignore their abuses.
I mean the World Cup was in Russia in 2018 after all, and Russia doesn’t recognise equal rights for LGBTQ people either and most European countries actively trade with China and other well known human rights abusers.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
Personally I do think Western European nations are more enlightened than countries who are intolerant of LGBTQ rights, primarily because I believe in freedom of expression and don’t recognise religious authority of any kind.
But is this just me being a modernist dinosaur and out of sync with our relativistic postmodern times?
And so for me the global situation on LGBTQ rights which the World Cup has shone a light on is throughly depressing as it shows we are nowhere near progressing towards a global consensus on this issue – there is no global culture in this regard, in fact the issue is very divisive.
It’s also a reminder of the extent to which nation states put economic relations above individual human rights, and reminds us of the immense power of nation states in this regard, they seem to be at total liberty to ignore UN conventions on human rights with absolutely no consequence!
is the cost of living crisis caused by a growing global middle class pushing up the price of scarce resources?
It’s possible that the current cost of living crisis in the UK is due to a long term trend of a growing middle class increasing demand for scarce natural resources, which pushes their prices up, further compounded by an increase in wages and thus cost of production as developing countries have become richer since the 1960s.
While this is clearly positive development, we in the UK have not invested sufficiently in the kind of technologies which could have helped us live more efficiently and thus protected us against the current short term shocks which have led to spikes in the cost of energy, raw materials and food.
And the government can’t admit this but there’s a lot of objective data that suggests the current crisis has been made slightly worse by BREXIT making it more difficult for British Business to trade with Europe.
However I think there’s something more fundamental going on – in that even without the above three mega-events – we’d still be seeing an increase in the cost of living in the UK – all these events have done is rapidly accelerate a trend that was always inevitable given the trajectory of our high-consumption global development over the last several decades. (Moreover at least two of the above events are symptoms of that same economic trajectory).
The prices of energy, food, and the raw materials we need to keep our industries going, build our houses with and make the stuff we all want, are determined in a global economic system of demand and supply.
This is just basic economics – the more demand there is for goods, the more the prices of those goods increase, and the less supply there is of those goods, again, the more the prices increase.
A Growing Global Middle Class
Over the past several decades developing countries have become wealthier – in population terms the main drivers for this are China, India and also countries in South America – and we’ve seen a massive increase in the middle classes in those countries.
Research by PEW (1) has found that in 1975 the global middle class numbered 1 billion, by 2006 it numbered 2 billion and by 2015 there were 3 billion people in the global middle classes. 25% of these live in advanced economies and 40% live in the BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China, with the rest living in other countries.
Brookings (2) put the size of the global middle class at 3.8 BN in 2018, the point at which there were equal middle class and rich consumers relative to those classified as poor and vulnerable.
This is a huge success story for global development – with literally billions of people being lifted out of poverty and into relative affluence but this has also meant a huge increase in demand on the limited global resource base – on energy, food, and various raw materials.
We now have billions of more consumers demanding those resources that only a few decades ago a scant billion living mainly in affluent Europe and America could afford.
Just one indicator of this is the increase in demand for beef since the 1960s (3) – a very inefficient use of land per calories – but nonetheless something that consumers clearly want to eat more of as their incomes increase…
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, in the post-colonial era, it used to be the case that the raw materials we used to import, and increasingly the finished products (clothes, cars, and increasingly tech gadgets) we imported were cheap because of ‘our’ relative wealth and ‘their’ relative poverty – we benefited not only from being the only ones able to afford cars and consumer durables (low demand on raw materials = cheap resources) but also their cheap labour due to the relative differences in wealth between developed and less developed countries.
But now that many of those once poor countries aren’t so poor, we’ve got the double-whammy of more demand on those limited global resources and having to pay higher wages to the people in China (mainly China) who want to earn enough to buy the very same products they are making.
So I think what we are seeing now is basically just a more crowded marketplace, more demand for limited resources, more demand for higher wages, and thus higher prices for basic products.
Of course it’s not just the free market that determines these prices (there is no such thing as a purely free market) – the power of Nation States also comes into play – as they try to use policy-led coercion or brute force to secure cheap resources for their populations – according to David Harvey this is what the illegal U.S. War in Iraq was about – all about oil – and it’s probably what Putin’s war in Ukraine is about – Ukraine has lots of natural resources and it’s a bread-basket – as Putin sees it (probably) that is massive region full of natural resources that he wants to secure for Russia rather than those resources being sold (on the ‘free’ market to European countries.
And this also explains why ‘enlightened’ states in Europe and America are prepared to put up with human rights abuses in Qatar and Saudi-Arabia – they have huge oil reserves to put it bluntly and death sentences for gay people isn’t going to over ride the perceived importance of maintaining access to that of so precious resource – and oil of course isn’t only necessary to keep our cars on the road it’s also necessary to keep our military machines operating – so these unsavoury relationships are about maintaining both economic and military power.
Extraction of Profit from the U.K. over Investment?
Now to my mind we could, as a nation, have secured ourselves against this inevitable cost of living crisis driven ultimately by resource scarcity in the context of an increasingly wealthy global population, but we didn’t.
Instead we as consumers have squandered a decent portion of our wealth on consumer frivolities (holidays, throw away clothes, meals out etc. etc.), take on more debt than we needed to in order fund high-consumption lifestyles, and just generally been very wasteful.
Moreover, the global companies who have worked to bring us these products have extracted huge amounts of profit out of the country which is now sitting in tax havens, and, as a form of capital, is used by mainly the top 10% of global population, especially the top 1% to maintain their power and comfortable lifestyles, rather than being invested back into sustainable solutions for a sensible-consumption global future (more of that later).
A good example of how profit and capital has been used by the wealthy to benefit themselves rather than societies is the property boom in London – with billions of pounds being spent on investment properties to secure a nice lifestyle in a vibrant global city which has pushed the cost of housing up astronomically so that now even young professionals have to spend half their income just to rent a room in a shared house. And London isn’t the only city this has been happening in either.
Granted some of our wealth has gone to fund education, health and pensions, but these are creaking, and these could have been much better funded. (The average person in the UK is much better off in this regard than the average person in the U.S.)
So after several decades of (granted successful) development we’ve now got a super rich global elite who are sitting on piles of money, which is perversely contributing to rising prices itself (in the form of property price increases) and four decades of underinvestment in those technologies which could have if not averted the current cost of living crisis certainly helped to lessen its impact.
The Cost of Living Crises could Have been Avoided!
Just think what all of those trillions of extracted wealth could have done if invested in ultra-energy efficient infrastructure, local energy production (yes, sorry, solar and wind if combined with efficiency can go a LONG way to securing our energy needs!) and local sustainable food production – we’d be much more resilient to the kind of global market shocks we’ve seen since the Pandemic!
Final thoughts/ Disclaimers
NB this is just a working theory, but TLDR – we were always going to have a cost of living crisis in the U.K at some point!
P.S. also keep this in mind – the top 10% of people in the UK are in a much better position to weather this current cost of living crisis, the top 1% won’t even feel it at all!
P.P.S when thinking about policy solutions to the Cost of Living Crisis – remember this – the Tory party (especially Rishi Sunak whose wife is the daughter of the CEO of one of India’s largest tech companies) have a global perspective – gleaming extreme teeth-whitened smile aside, good old Rish is probably NOT thinking primarily about the well-being of the average British-bound person in the U.K. – he is more likely to be thinking about what’s good for him and his extensive network of global elite colleagues (the top 0.01% in his case).
From the perspective of the global elite, an increasing cost of living in the UK is not necessarily bad for them because they are globally mobile – they can base themselves in different countries to avoid the worst excesses of economic crises as they move around the globe, while the average UK citizen is ‘doomed to be local’ and suffer at the hands of Rishi’s piecemeal policies, which IMO are just about enough to give him a chance of being voted back into power in a few years, good old Rish!
Signposting and sources
This is an overdue personal rant relevant to the Global Development option, part of the A-level in Sociology specification