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Problems of researching globalisation

Globalisation refers to the increasing interconnectedness of different regions across the world. Globalisation is one of the core themes within AQA A-level sociology, while research methods is a compulsory element.

It follows that the exam board could legitimately ask a question about the problems of researching globalisation. This post is just a few thoughts on how you might answer an exam question, which would probably be in the form of a 10 mark ‘Outline and explain two problems’ type question.

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Two problems of researching globalisation

The first problem is that globalisastion is a difficult concept to define and operationalise. Sociologists disagree over what aspects are the most significant and worthy of study – economic, cultural and political globalisation are all possibilities. There is also disagreement over whether it’s a one way or two way process and whether it necessarily means the decline of the nation state.

This partly stems from the fact that it’s such an enormous process, reaching across the whole world,

Even within one aspect of globalisation such as economic globalisation there are so many things that we could look at to study – such as TNCs, GDP, the international division .of labour, free-trade policies, the WTO and so on, that it’s difficult to decide what to select as an indicator of globalisation.

These differences of opinion over what aspects of globalisation to focus on means that everyone ends up defining globalisastion differently and researching different things.

This means it’s hard to make sense of all the research on globlisation, hard to make comparisons, and hard to escape from the biases of the people who have selected different things to focus on.

As a result, new researchers can pretty much find justification for researching anything in relation to this topic, which can make the study of globalisation a bit ‘postmodern’ and lacking objectivity, direction, clarity and certainty.

A second problem is that it’s difficult to get data from every country, let alone every region in the world. There might be lots of official statistics collected in developed countries, but this is not the case in less developed countries.

In poorer regions of the world, there might not even be reliable information on birth and death statistics, making it difficult to keep track of even the most basic information. Another example is that school enrolment stats in many regions of Africa are notoriously invalid as an indicator of how many children attend school – they may enrol, but many fail to attended afterwards, meaning such stats could not be used to measure the quality of education globally.

Stats might also be collected in different ways – categories of crime might be different in different countries, or not even recorded in the case of lawless states. Governments are also well known for under-reporting war-deaths, especially civilian casualties, meaning it’s a problem to measure trends in global peacefulness.

If you’re doing qualitative research to make global comparisons, some countries might be hard to access because of conflicts, or simply time it would take to adjust to local cultures and languages and it would be difficult to do research in several countries at once within an appropriate time frame.

This could be overcome by employing teams of researchers in different countries, but this would mean more expense, be difficult to co-ordinate and you’d have to make sure everyone is researching in a similar way, which, given the problems with defining globalisation, could also be a tough call.

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The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

 

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The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Thousands of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered in London last week to stage the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.

Extinction Rebellion is an apolitical network whose main aim is to persuade governments to take urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Their main tactic is peaceful, non-violent direct action.

They have three main demands:

  1. Tell the truth – Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now – Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics – Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Tactics over the last week in London have included a range of disparate disruptive actions such as blockading bridges, people gluing themselves to selected targets and die ins, all of this in addition to their being larger ‘people’s assemblies’ at various famous landmarks in the capital, with the usual debates, street theatrics, music, and cook-ins.

 

The cost to the economy is estimated to be millions of pounds, and the number of people arrested stands at over 1000, but with not one single police officer was injured during the last week’s peaceful protests.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The best fit is in with ‘globalisation and green criminology’.

Easy to understand is the fact that this is a global movement, so it’s a great example of ‘political globalisation’. NB – you may have missed this in the news, because as far as I can tell the movement started in the UK and London is by far the largest event.

In terms of green criminology – some actions of some of the protestors are illegal – criminal damage and public order offences for example, but they would claim that the ‘real criminals’ are governments around the world for failing to act on climate change.

There’s lots of other links to, but I’ll let you find them!

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Globalisation and the Family

One of the more difficult topics on the families and households specification is how globalisation influences family life. Below are some examples. I’ve also tried to take these examples from different areas of the families and households specification (e.g. marriage, childhood etc.)

Whether you regard the points below as positive or negative is open to interpretation!

Some positive/ neutral consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Global optimists argue that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing trade which in turn has resulted in huge economic growth and rising prosperity, correlated with declining birth rates and family size.
  • Immigrant families to the UK have on average higher birth rates than non-immigrant families. A positive effect of this is that it reduces the dependency ratio, however a claimed negative consequence is an increased strain on public services, mainly schools.
  • Increasing migration to the U.K = increasing cultural diversity and diversity of family structures.  After several generations, more ethnic diversity.
  • Increased migration means more families are stretched across national borders and have family members living abroad, which in turn reinforces globalisation as more families maintain contacts through media and physical visits.
  • Cultural globalisation means more people create friendship groups based on shared interests online. Many people regard these friendship networks as ‘family’, if we follow analysis from the Personal life perspective.
  • There seems to be a globalisation of ‘single person households’. There seems to be a global trend of increasing numbers of people choosing to live alone (not necessarily not being in relationships.

Some negative consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Part of globalisation is people displacement following conflict, which sometimes results in the breaking up of families, U.K. policy has focused (to an extent) on taking in orphan refugee children, meaning more ‘global step/ foster families’.
  • Globalisation = increasing inequality in family life and increasing cost of living for the poor. Property price speculation has driven up prices in London meaning the basic costs of maintaining a family household had doubled in the last 30 years relative to inflation, this helps explain why so many young adults today ‘choose’ to live with their parents.
  • Globalisation = more diversity, choice, uncertainty, resulting in decline of people committing to long term relationships and more ‘pure relationships’. (Giddens)
  • Globalisation = more media flows – children more active users of media, more exposed to global media events can have negative effects:
      • More difficult for parents to prevent radicalisation (e.g. Shameena Begum)
      • More exposure to global media events (mass shootings in USA, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war and conflicts) children are more risk conscious – anxious kids, more mental health issues. (More ‘toxic childhood’)
      • Parents are more paranoid, more restrictive parenting, less outdoor
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Amazon’s 0.05% U.K. Tax Rate

Amazon is in the news this morning, for paying only £67 million in tax on £7 billion revenue over 20 years. That £67 million is less than Marks and Spencer paid in tax last year alone, besides a much lower revenue

If you look at Amazon’s effective UK tax rate last year, it works out at 0.05%. It does this by basically basing its main sales operations in countries with a low tax rate… it basically ‘sells’ products to it’s UK subsidiary for next to (or probably 0) profit which then ‘sells these on’ for no profit to actual UK customers, hence very low tax.

Amazon is basically scamming the global tax system.

All of the big four global tech companies are notorious for avoiding tax, but Amazon is by far the worst…In terms of tax paid as a proportion of sales and profits,  Amazon is the worst offender of the ‘big four’ tech companies.

In fact, Google is the only company whose paid taxes you can actually see with the naked eye, when shown to scale against the sales of the three companies! (Link to Tableau doc here):

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Amazon paid even less tax than Facebook last year £4.5m on annual UK sales of £8.7bn and pre-tax profits of £72 million.

Google has the best tax record – it paid £49.3m in UK taxes last year, on UK sales of £5.7bn, on pre-tax profits £ 202.4 million.

I’m not going to comment on Apple here, because I think its figures might be distorted by its paying historical taxes in the last tax year which it failed to pay in recent years, following a recent HMRC investigation.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This example goes to prove the power of Transnational Corporations compared to Nation States. Where money is concerned, large global companies can easily avoid national taxes. This form of economic globalisation seems to suggest the decline of the nation . state!

Combatting this would take global co-operation, but it would require the vast majority of companies to agree… all it takes is .a handful of ‘rouge tax havens’ and any co-operation falls apart! It’s one of the many challenges in a global age!

Sources

The Guardian – Facebook’s UK tax bill rises to £15.8m – but it is still just 1% of sales

The Guardian – Amazon halved corporation tax bill despite UK profits tripling

BBC – Google’s tax bill rises to £50m

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Would would falling back on WTO rules mean for Britain?

If the UK leaves the EU with ‘no deal’, it will fall back on World Trade Organisation Rules, but what does this mean?

The WTO and Free Trade 

The WTO was founded in 1995 and sets the rule book by which global trade takes place.

One of the main things it has done over the past two decades is to reduce tariffs (basically taxes) levied by governments on imports and exports, and to promote a free-trade agenda.

In 1947, the average external tariff charged by GATT (the predecessor of the WTO) signatories was 22%, which was a massive disincentive to trade, by 1999 it was down to 5%, and today the weighted average tariff charged by the US and EU is 1.6%.

Over the same period, there has been a massive increase in world trade: In the 1950s international trade accounted for 8% of the world economy, today it accounts for 30% of a much bigger global economy.

The Limitations of the WTO

Recently, the WTO’s trade liberalisation has stalled, and most of the progress countries have made in reducing barriers to trade have been through regional and bilateral trade agreements. The European Union is a principle example of this: UK companies pay no tariffs on exports to Europe or imports from Europe, which makes trade easy.

If we were to fall back on WTO trade rules, there are some economic areas which still have very high tariffs – cars and car parts would face a 10% tariff every time they crossed a boarder (making BMWs a LOT more expensive! given international supply chains) and agricultural tariffs stand at 35%.

The latest Treasury forecast predicts that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller in 15 years if we exited the EU under WTO rules.

Isn’t this just all part of ‘project fear’?

Of course Brexiteers argue that we could forge new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements once we leave the EU, but most estimates suggest that a no deal WTO fall-back Brexit would be detrimental to the UK economy.

However, what all of the above suggests is maybe that ‘globalisation’ isn’t so good for world trade anymore…. maybe it’s too difficult to sort out genuinely mutually beneficial trade agreements between all 160 odd member states of the WTO.

Instead it seems that regional agreements are much more important for economic growth – it makes sense that it’s easier to get a deal between a dozen local countries rather than ten times that number after all.

To my mind it seems unlikely that we’re going to be able to negotiate dozens of little deals with specific countries that outweigh the benefits of being part of a massive trading block like the EU!

Sources:

The Week, 26 January.

 

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The Mafia’s increasing involvement in the food business…

Mafia syndicates in Italy have an estimated annual turnover of £150 billion, making it much larger than Italy’s largest holding company (which includes Ferrari).

Increasingly, it is not drugs or people trafficking which bring in the money for the Mafia, but there involvement in agriculture, or basic food production.

Today, the Mafia are invested in Italy’s food industry from ‘Field to Fork’…. their agricultural interests extend to extortion, illegal breeding, backstreet butchering and the burial of toxic waste on farmland.

In 2018 the estimated value of the ‘agromafia business’ stands at £22bn, equivalent to 15% of Mafia revenue. This may seem mundane, but think about it: everyone has to eat, and most people like to eat everyday, so it should be no surprise that this is a growth area… it’s simply where the demand is!

There are all sorts of ways the Mafia can make money out of the food business – the most obvious is counterfeiting, and it is estimated that up to 50% of all olive oil sold in Italy is cut with poorer quality oil. To do this, the Mafia makes use of its global criminal ties… cutting it with lower quality oil from Africa.

The Mafia also rebrand low quality wine as higher quality: they simply change the label.

One of the more unfortunate costs of this whole business is the thousands of workers who are currently being exploited working for Mafia controlled agribusiness. The figures are quite significant:

It’s also estimated that up to 5000 restaurants are controlled by the Mafia, which is useful for money laundering.

Up until quite recently the Mafia also used to lease huge swathes of public land and make a fortune by claiming back EU subsidies on this land, making a 2000% profit in the process: they basically used their white collar connections in local governments to make sure no one else got involved with the bidding process.

However, this final practice has been clamped down on.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a useful update to the globalisation and crime, and especially to Glenny’s work on the McMafia: it shows how the Mafia are ‘evolving’ in their global criminal activities.

Sources:

Agromafia: how the mafia got to our food

Agromafia exploits hundreds of thousands of workers.

 

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The cost of organised crime is now greater than the cost of terrorism, according to the National Crime Agency, according to this BCC News report.

Organised crime involves international gangs who traffic people and drugs and engage in cyber crime. The annual cost to the UK economy is estimated to be around £34 billion a year.

While this might surprise non sociologists, this should be of no surprise to sociology students: while terror attacks are very dramatic, this also makes them very news-worthy, and they do tend to be reported whenever they happen. However, these attacks are relatively rare.

In comparison, the kinds of crimes which organised crime gangs are involved in are more hidden, more low-key, and, frankly, more day to day. This is because these gangs may be organised on an international (or possibly regional?) level, but they have networked into various local neighborhoods in Britain’s towns and cities, linking the small scale local drug deal to the large international drug-cartel.

Having said that, the National Crime Agency deals with A LOT of different types of crime: as outlined below…

Thus IMO it’s not really fair to compare the cost of ALL of these to the costs of just terrorism.

HOWEVER, if we forget (the rather silly) comparison mentioned in the news what the NCA’s 2018 strategic assessment document (I can’t link to it because, ironically, my PC thinks the NCA’s web site is insecure!?!) shows us is the truly global nature of seriously organised crime.

For any student wishing to understand more about the scope of global crime, and why it’s so difficult to police, you should check out the work of Misha Glenny.

 

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America’s New Space Force

Despite being a third world country, as  judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.

China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.

Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:

  • Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
  • Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
  • Weather forecasting
  • Traffic lights
  • Various mobile phone applications.
  • Some television and video conferencing.

It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.

What might space war look like…

Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.

As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.

What are the possible consequences of Space War?

If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology…

Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!

Sources/ Find out More

The Week, 25 August 2018.

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Contemporary Sociology: The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by the Russian State

The recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly by the Russian State, is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification.

Details of the poisoning 

On 4th March 2018 Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok. The pair were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury in the late afternoon, following what seems to have been a pretty ordinary ‘afternoon of leisure’ involving a trip to a pub and lunch in Zizzi’s. Four weeks later, they remain in a critical condition. 

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Sergie and Yulia Skripal

Much of the news has focused on just how deadly the nerve agent ‘Novichok’ is – basically a tiny, practically invisible amount was sufficient to render two people seriously ill, and even the police officer who first attended Sergei and Yulia Skripal was taken seriously ill just from secondary contact with what must have been trace elements of the nerve agent.

Pretty much everywhere the pair had visited that afternoon was shut down, and any vehicles that they had been in contact with were quarantined while they were cleared of any trace of the nerve agent and total of 250 counter-terrorism officers are at work investigating the case.

Theresa May has accused the Russian State as being complicit in this attempted murder, which seems plausible as Colonel Sergie Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK. It seems that the poisoning is the Russian State passing its ‘final sentence’ on this poor guy.

HOWEVER, Russia strongly denies these allegations, so this might just be a hypothetical state-crime!

The international reaction to the poisoning has also been dramatic: to date 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats, and Russia, which of course denies any involvement in the poisoning, has done the same as a counter-response.

Links to the A-level sociology specification

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Probably the most obvious link to the A-level sociology specification is that this is a primary example of a state crime – it seems extremely likely that the poisoning was carried out by an agent of the Russian state – The UK condemned Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council as being in breach of international law and the UK’s national sovereignty.

Secondly, this case study reminds of us that nation states are still among the most powerful actors in the world – nation states are the only institutions which can ‘legitimately’ manufacture chemical weapons such as Novichock.

Thirdly, you could use this as an example of how ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ exist side by side. he existence of global values allows various nations to show ‘solidarity’ against Russia and express ‘value consensus’ but it also reminds us that there are conflicting interests in the world.

Fourthly, media coverage aside, it’s hardly a post-modern event is it! Having said that, we don’t know for certain who did the poisoning, so all of this could be a good example of ‘hypperreality’.

There’s lots of other links you could make across various modules – for example, the way the media has dealt with the event (it’s very news worthy!) and the ‘panic’ surrounding it, it fits with our ‘risk conscious society’ very nicely!

Sources 

Spy poisoning: Highest amount of nerve agent was on door (BBC News)

UK slam Russia over spy poisoning (Washington Post)