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Globalization and Flip-Flops

flip flopThe Flip Flop Trail is a relatively recent (2014) anthropological study by Professor Caroline Knowles, in which she explores the day to day lives of the people involved with the manufacture, distribution, consumption and disposal of the humble ‘flip-flop’.

Professor Knowles has been following the flip-flop trail since at least 2006 (so that’s over ten years now!), and chose to study it because it’s the world’s most popular shoe: ‘everyone owns a pair of flip-flops’. I’d like to be smug and say I don’t at this point, but actually I do.

This has to be one of the best multi-layered resources available for introducing the basic idea of a ‘global commodity chain’ (1) a key aspect of economic globalization, while simultaneously showing how deeply-complex such commodity chains are once we start trying to incorporated the study of the people actually involved with the process.

Flip Flop.png

The web site (The Flip Flop Trail – I suggest you check it out!) offers a kind of ‘overview of insights’ into the many stages of the trail… from the manufacture of oil (‘globalization is oil!’), to ‘plastic city’ in China where the flip flops are made, and then on to Ethiopia, the country with the largest demand for cheap footwear, where consumption and disposal are explored.

The web site doesn’t even touch on the UK, but as Professor Knowles, says, this is just one of many trails, and it’s pretty much inevitable that many of our flip flops have travelled parts of this same trail.

This is a useful resource to demonstrate the complexity of economic globalization, and to demonstrate the transformationalist view of globalization, as it shows the many and dynamic ways in which flip-flops are interwoven with local cultures.

However, students may like to consider whether this kind of analysis is really that useful…. it might be better to be more critical? To highlight the extent of inequality along certain parts of the trail, or maybe focus on developing a green-critique of the whole process, for example?

NB – I haven’t read the book, it’s only just stopped being prohibitively expensive, so it might be more critical than I’m expecting.

(1) I’m fairly sure, given her transformationalist leanings that Knowles uses the term ‘trail’ rather than ‘chain’ to denote her view that globalization is precarious.

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Globalisation – Key Concepts and Definitions

Communism – an economic system in which the means of production are owned in common and wealth distributed according to need.

Cosmopolitanism – where people or societies are tolerant of other people’s or societies’ ways of life and values; this is one of the positive consequences of globalisation as people increasingly come into contact with other ways of life and make an effort to enter into dialogue with diverse cultures and find ways to ‘live together’. Related concepts include reflexivity and detraditionalisation. The opposite of cosmopolitanism is fundamentalism.

Cultural Globalisation – the movement of ideas, attitudes, meanings, values and cultural products across national borders.

Deregulation – removing restrictions on businesses, for example reducing health and safety regulations.

De-traditionalisation – where people have increasing choice about whether to stick to traditional ways of life; traditions become less stable as people increasingly question their traditional beliefs about religion, marriage, and gender roles and so on.

Economic Globalisation – the global expansion of international capitalism, free markets and the increase in international trade.

Fatalism (Fatalistic Response to Globalisation) – the view that the world is powerless to resist globalisation.

Global Commodity Chains – where networks of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services becomes increasingly stretched across the globe. The making of the physical products tends to be done in poorer countries, whereas the branding and marketing, tend to be done in the richer countries.

Global Risk Consciousness – where people in different countries are increasingly aware of and affected by international threats such as terrorism, nuclear war and global warming. There are two elements to risk consciousness (it pulls in two directions) – one is that we are more fearful and wish to ‘retreat’ from such problems and the other is that we are increasingly brought together in our attempts to overcome such threats.

Globalisation – the increasing interconnectedness and inter-dependency of the world’s nations and their people into a single global, economic, political and global system.

Glocalisation – where people in developing countries select aspects of western culture and adapt them to their particular needs – associated with Transformationalism and critical of the pessimist theory that globalisation results in Americanisation.

Golden Straightjacket – Thomas Friedman’s term for the neoliberal policies countries must adopt if they are to experience economic growth and prosperity.

Ha-Joon Chang – a global pessimist who believes neoliberal policies primarily benefits wealthy countries and harm developing countries; referred to the WTO, World Bank and IMF as the ‘unholy trinity’.

Homogenisation – things becoming increasingly the same; in global terms, the erosion of local cultures and the emergence of one global mono-culture.

Hybridised Global Identities – where identities are increasingly a result of picking and mixing from different cultural traditions around the globe; implies more individual freedom to choose identity and greater diversity; associated with transformationalist theories of globalisation.

Hyper-Globalism – believe that globalisation is happening and that local cultures are being eroded primarily because of the expansion of international capitalism and the emergence of a homogenous global culture; believe that globalisation is a positive process characterised by economic growth, increasing prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Imperialism – where one dominant country takes over and controls another country or countries.

Jeremy Seabrook – a pessimist globalist who believes that globalisation is a ‘declaration of war’ upon local cultures as the expansion of western culture around the world destroys local cultures and reduces cultural diversity.

McWorld – refers specifically to the spread of McDonalds’ restaurants throughout the world; and more generally to the process of Mcdonaldisation which underpins this – i.e. the increasing standardisation of corporate products and the emergence of a global, Americanised monoculture.

Neoliberalism – a set of right wing economic policies which reduce the power of governments and give more freedom to private enterprise – the three main neoliberal policies are deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation.

Political Globalisation – the process where the sovereignty of nation states is reduced due to the increasing power of International Institutions, such as the United Nations.

Post Industrial Economy – an economy in which the service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing of physical products. In such an economy more people will be employed in sectors such as leisure, education, business/ finance, and creative industries rather than in manufacturing.

Postmodernity – a globalised society with the following characteristics: a technologically advanced, mainly post-industrial service sector economy, high levels of consumption, lots of individual freedom to shape identities through consumption, and correspondingly high levels of cultural diversity; media-saturation and hyperreality; high levels of insecurity and uncertainty.

Privatisation – the transfer of publicly (state) owned enterprises to private sector companies.

Social Movements – groups of people and/ or organisations who aim to help oppressed groups overcome oppression or change society in some way, believed to be beneficial. Global social movements involve co-operation of people across national borders, and their aims may sometimes clash with those of some national governments.

Thomas Freidman – an optimist globalist who believes that the world wide adoption of neoliberal policies by governments have resulted in economic globalisation, more trade between nations and increasing prosperity for all.

Time-Space Compression – where the world ‘feels smaller’ as we are able to communicate with people in faraway places more instantaneously.

Transformationalism – a theory which holds that globalisation is a complex process involving a number of different two-way exchanges between global institutions and local cultures; it can be reversed and controlled.

United Nations – an international organization formed in 1945 to increase political and economic cooperation among member countries. The organization works on economic and social development programs, improving human rights and reducing global conflicts (source: Investovepida).

Weightless Economy – refers to information based/ electronic products such as computer software, films and music, and information and financial services rather than actual tangible, physical goods such as food, clothing or cars. Such products can be produced, bought and sold much more rapidly than traditional, physical products, and thus trade in them is much more rapid, hence the term ‘weightless economy’.

Related Posts 

Factors Contributing to Globalisation (Giddens)

What is Cultural Globalisation?

What is Economic Globalisation?

What is Political Globalisation?

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The Transformationalist View of Globalization

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

Transformationalism globalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Evidence for The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revision notes on globalisation…

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

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

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

Five mind-maps covering the following:

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

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

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

Related Posts

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation