Forget globalisation: social change theory after globalisation Paul Harrison Centre for Social Change Research School of Humanities and Human Services Queensland University of Technology
Paper presented to the Social Change in the 21st Century Conference Centre for Social Change Research Queensland University of Technology
22 November 2002
Forget globalisation: social change theory after globalisation Paul Harrison
Abstract Globalisation was the social scientific concept of the nineties. It was a concept that borrowed, however critically, from the legacy of modernisation theory. The attempts to escape this legacy lead in the direction of questioning the novelty of the reality of globalisation by a reconsideration of the dating of the emergence of the phenomenon. It also leads in the direction of a reassessment of war and terror as the dreamy hopes of perpetual peace, bestowed by global capitalism and a cosmopolitan world order, give way to the reality of empire.
The concept of globalisation imposed itself on social scientific thinking in the nineties as the key to the understanding of contemporary social change. The impetus for its emergence was the renewed strength of the global economy after the crisis decades of the seventies and eighties, the collapse of the communist alternative to modernity between 1989 and 1991, and the death of the idea of the Third World with the rise of the Asian tigers. These events occurred against the backdrop of the revolution in telecommunications and its impact on the corporation and global economic activity, as well as culture and media. The nineties were the era when global solutions seemed preferable: George Bush fought the Gulf War of 1991 in the name of a ‘New World Order’; Clinton’s interventions were predicated on a vague belief in the centrality of human rights to the international community; the European Community commenced its process of enlargement toward the east; and many regional and global fora and agreements came into existence or were strengthened.
The new millennium sees a return to the economic doldrums after the idea of a ‘new economy’ failed to pass a ‘reality check’. More importantly, however, it sees the return of war or, more exactly, since war had never disappeared, it sees the return of war to centre stage. After spending almost the entirety of the post-World War Two era touring the provinces of the two global superpowers, war has returned as a Gesamtkunstwerk. War has become the Fortsetzung der Politik through the other means that is the media (Virilio, 2002). In the seventies urban terrorism was
performed in the name of the missing revolutionary subjects who toiled away at their various regional wars with the support of their respective superpowers. In the new millennium, terrorism and war have merged together eliminating the difference between Kleinkrieg and Krieg itself. The invention of the idea of rogue states has
criminalised war between states in the same way that partisan warfare was criminalised when the idea of the jus in bellum were formalised between states. The invention of the idea of asymmetrical war is, in effect, another version of the ‘Theorie des Partisanen’. The criminalisation and mediatisation of war is itself a possible effect of globalisation insofar as the framing of war takes the form of a police action with criminal justice outcomes. This is the scenario offered to us in Empire (Hardt & Negri, 2000). But should we, in fact, see this criminalisation of war as the victory of globalism over the anarchy of international society?
The thesis of this paper is that the inherent difficulties of the concept of globalisation make it unfit for the task of analysing the re-emergence of war and terror. In the context of the current paper, however, the intention is to explore these inherent difficulties rather than how the new context affects their currency. The second step will be to look at the alternatives that have been suggested to the concept of globalisation in the current literature. In particular, I will look at the attempts to rethink some of what has been done within the framework of globalisation in terms of world history, civilisational analysis and empire or imperial frameworks. In the current analysis, however, it will be mainly world history approaches that will be treated for reasons of space.
The concept of globalisation comes at the end of a sequence of post-war theories of social change that Alexander has wittily labelled pro-, anti-, post- and neomodernisation (Alexander, 1995). Globalisation arrives, therefore, as a form of
modernisation theory, but there is neither a simple return nor any simple update such as the prefix ‘neo’ would indicate. Indeed, most globalisation theorists go to great lengths to distance themselves from modernisation theory. So, what remains,
therefore, of modernisation theory that justifies such a labelling of globalisation theory? We will answer this question mainly in terms of the notion of novelty and of stages rather than that of war and terror. With regard to the former question, it is clear that globalisation theory’s attempt to eschew stage theory comes up against the claim that globalisation is historically new and therefore the question of what, if anything, comes before globalisation. The solution to this dilemma seems to be to suggest with Hegel that globalisation has always existed but not always in its currently global form. In other words, the more the concept of globalisation is historicised the more globalism recedes into the depths of history and reveals itself as nothing new under the sun, whereas the more it succumbs to modernisation theory the easier, yet more problematic, the claim to novelty becomes.
This dilemma can be illustrated with regard to a comparison between Robertson’s and Albrow’s contribution to the debate. Robertson’s notion of the global field seems to construct globalisation as a field of tensions between national societies and selves and the world system of societies and humanity (Robertson, 1992: 27). This tension is broken apart in Albrow’s categorial splitting of the modern age from the global age (Albrow, 1996). For Albrow, globalisation is not a process within modernity as that would mean imbuing the concept with all the pitfalls of modernisation theory. The global is the age not so much after the modern, but in contradistinction to the modern. It is a concept that accepts the postmodern critique of the Enlightenment at the price of positing the global as free-floating novelty incarnate. The tension, however, is also
broken apart in Robertson’s depiction of the stages of globalisation with its modernising invocation of the fin de dix-neuviéme siecle as the take-off point and its generalised Durkheimianism with respect to the idea of humanity as the end point of the globalisation process (Robertson, 1992: 59, 134). The direct evocation of the basic concepts of modernisation theory – take-off and maturity – shows the difficulty of avoiding such references when the question of novelty is raised.
The question of novelty also is raised by the idea of deglobalisation. According to the progressivist tenets of globalisation theory, history is on a one-way ticket that does not allow any return journey. From Adorno and Horkheimer to Lyotard and Bauman, the idea that Enlightenment can catapult itself back into barbarism, and that barbarism can use all the techniques of modern rationality has put paid to liberal triumphalism that links modernisation theorists to neo-Hegelians such as Fukuyama. Hence,
globalisation theory operates with the understanding that the global era is a contingent achievement and processes of deglobalisation are always possible. From the
culturalist point of view, 1914 to 1945 could be seen as such a period of deglobalisation. And even from the economic viewpoint, this period is deglobalising when viewed either from the vantage point of the belle époque or that of the post-war world (Hirst & Thompson, 1996). This argument, however, still presumes that
globalisation and deglobalisation are alternating stages or mutually exclusive possibilities. It preserves the unilinear temporality of stage theory even as it The problem here is that globalisation and
complicates the overall story.
deglobalisation, peace and war, social harmony and social conflict are more interwoven than this framework would suggest.
The issue of novelty also emerges most critically with the question of dating globalisation. From the orthodox point of view, globalisation begins in very recent times as a response to the economic crisis of the seventies and the global changes of the eighties. Indeed, a reference to globalisation was often embedded in debates on the postmodern. The symbolic date that determines this view is 1973 or the year that the trente glorieuses ended and the crisis decades began (Brenner, 1998). Globalisation is a kind of resolution to the crisis decades, as the world redefines itself and capitalism re-emerges anew from its downfall. The problem with this dating is that globalisation becomes synonymous with a new reworking of capitalism that goes by the name of neo-liberalism. It becomes a ‘new spirit of capitalism’ (Boltanski & Capiello, 1999). Hence, liberalism is once again linked with progress and the
eradication of the boundaries, leftism becomes the new conservatism that maintains the barriers and forestalls progress. Even in putatively left-oriented work on network societies and post-fordism, the modernist celebration of openness links their work with the progressivist narrative of modernisation theory (Leadbeater, 1999). The before/after, then/now nature of the conceptualisation of globalisation is as hollow as the dietary programs that utilise the same schematising gesture to sell their latest snake oil.
For others of a more legalistic bent, the crucial date is 1945 (Cassese, 1990). When communism collapsed in 1991, it was a case of the end of a universalism gone wrong. It was an alternative form of modernity, and not an anti-modern project per se. Nazism and fascism, on the other hand, were more radical rejections of Enlightenment thought and democratic modes of social and political organisation. The end of
communism has brought with it, as a consequence, no global redefinition of the legal
basis of the international order. The end of fascism, however, did bring such a redefinition (Habermas, 1998). The emergence of the UN Charter system may not have brought the definitive end of the Westphalian order of nation-states, but it is possible to see the post ’45 world as a partial institutionalisation of some of the great ideas of the bourgeois Enlightenment and its revolutionary doctrine of natural law. Beginning with the key political and economic institutions of the post-world war, new forms of governance through treaties, IGO’s and INGO’s have emerged to transform thoroughly the old patterns of governance. From the perspective of international law and governance, 1945 and not 1973 represents the key date in the emergence of a global order for those that construe globalisation as at least a partial decline of the nation-state.
Another date that has emerged with some degree of success as a starting point for globalisation is 1896 (Robertson, 1992). The first Olympics of the modern era is in the middle of an era that saw the emergence of many new global institutions. It is also the era of the belle époque during which, as Hirst and Thompson (1996) have shown, there emerged a first flowering of an inter-national economy. This era is also known as the era of the second great industrial revolution where electricity and gas, petrochemicals and the great trust companies, telephone and cinema all revolutionised modern social life and created the first metropolises out of the great industrial cities. The problem with such a dating, as with an earlier dating say of 1789, is that it makes the concept of globalisation coterminous with the era of modernity itself, and hence makes one or other of the concepts redundant. As modernity is the older and more generic concept, the onus of proof is on the concept of globalisation to show that it
has more conceptual purchase. It is not clear that it has discharged such an onus as yet.
One of the principal antecedents to the concept of globalisation took the form of dependency theory and its Wallersteinian offshoot, namely, world-systems theory. Both of these theories begin with the conceptualisation of modernity as global. In order to do this, modernity had to be pushed backed before the advent of the industrial revolution and even the democratic revolution. Both dates would make intra-
European events central to the definition of modernity: the invention of wage-labour and the invention of a particular form of politics, respectively. As the intention of these theories is to think through the dynamic processes of inequality that fashion global modernity, the dating of the modern world must seem necessarily to be coterminous with the discovery of the New World (Gunder-Frank, 1993). Dependency theory was initially synonymous with the analysis of Latin American ‘development of underdevelopment’. World-systems theory’s sensitivity to states made it attentive to pre-modern processes, but modernity itself could only come into being with the advent of a world market made possible by European voyages of discovery (Wallerstein, 1999). Hence, capitalism was no longer synonymous with the advent of wage-labour, as Marx thought, as it could make do with a variety of forms of labour, including slave labour. But the choice of the date of 1492 makes modern globalisation synonymous with the ‘world revolution of westernisation’ (von Laue, 1987), and forgets the non-European routes to globality that pre-date the western
version and which still represent partly competing alternatives even to this day, mostly notably in the case of the Chinese empire and the world religion of Islam.
The attempt of world history to address globalisation debates recently took a great step forward with the publication of Globalisation in World History (Hopkins, 2002). The argument of Hopkins radically explodes the conventional dating of the phenomenon of globalisation by severing its final links with the concept of modernity. He does so at the cost of an overly schematising approach to the analysis of world history, which has the benefit however of deconstructing the privilege accorded to capitalism or the economic in the definition of socio-historical change. He divides globalisation into four forms: archaic, proto, modern, and post-colonial. While
acknowledging the tentative nature of this taxonomy, Hopkins is at pains to point out that this approach should neither suggest a closed inventory of stages nor an inexorable historical dynamic. Globalisation is an ‘incomplete process’ with multiple actors and contingent outcomes (2002: 3). The archaic form of globalisation
represents everything before industrialisation and the nation-state, and suggests therefore a comparison with the competing notion of civilisation. Certainly the form seems linked strongly to that of empire and the urban-based civilisations that they create. It is also linked to world religions and the link between religious community and a lingua franca. Hopkins cites the example of the Islamic umma and Arabic, but the Hellenistic world and Greek, Rome and Latin as well as the Byzantine Commonwealth and koine and Latin Christianity are further examples drawn solely from the western world. For Hopkins, both the ‘“modern” aspects’ of archaic
globalisation are as important as the constraints; especially the idea of universalism embedded in the various world religions (2002: 4).
Proto-globalisation lasts from 1600 to 1800 or 1850 and encompassed the twin processes of state reconfiguration and pre-modern manufacturing. Most importantly, these elements were brought together in competing yet complementary systems of ‘military fiscalism’ (Hopkins, 2002: 5). These developments occurred in both the western and non-western worlds. Modern globalisation is defined, on the other hand, in terms of the nation-state and industrialisation, with property becoming the foundation of state sovereignty while the latter obtained imperial expression (Hopkins, 2002: 6). This form of globalisation was itself incomplete, and the responses to the nationalist expansion of imperial rule have created the contemporary form of post-colonial globalisation. For Hopkins, this form comprises a supra-national, borderless world where frontiers are mapped by systems of belief, circuits of trade, financial flows, zones of famine and disease, and patterns of migration, and to underline the antiquity and continuing relevance of infra-national forces such as ethnicity. (2002: 9) What is most notable about Hopkins’ schema is the extent to which the plurality of actors and forces that characterises post-colonial globalisation echoes those of the archaic form. It is this fact that necessitates the creation of a longue durée of
globalisation wherein the rise and consolidation of states and markets comes to be seen as a relatively short but pivotal hiatus from 1600 to 1950 wherein the complexities underlying globalisation had two all too simple solutions. For Hopkins, to be fair, the complexities never went away but with the rise of western modernity they came to occupy a less central place in the unfolding drama.
With the radical decoupling of globalisation from modernity and the projection of globalisation into the archaic past we have come up against the limits of the term. Globalisation, which began as a variation on the theme of modernity, has become a
set of variations on the theme of world history. It is the theme of modernity itself that suffers due to its incessant demand for completion. But, so too does the theme of globalisation. From being the key to the understanding of contemporary social
change, it has become a reminder of the tendentially global nature of the historical process itself. By reminding us of the archaic roots of globalisation or, to put it another way, the contingent nature of modern globalisation, an historical approach to these issues may go some way to debunking the sense of novelty that accompanies ‘blind faith’ in the concept of globalisation. This, in turn, will help with the
theoretical elaboration of the issues of war and terror mentioned earlier that can only be quickly sketched at this point.
The re-emergence of the thematic of war and terror raises issues that quite clearly point back to archaic processes of globalisation, while implicating the most recent. In this context, the central issue is the status of the concept of empire. The emergence of the power of America in the post-Cold War world provokes the image and reality of empire, with all its archaic features of monstrous overwhelming power, the subjugation of anathematised peoples and territories, the proclamation of a pax Americana and an accompanying world religion comprising the values of liberal democracy, free markets and the accompanying set of political, economic and cultural institutions (Golub, 2002; Hirsh, 2002; Ikenberry, 2002). On the other hand, the notion of a borderless world from Ohmae to Hopkins supports the image of a postcolonial globalization or empire, as drawn by Hardt and Negri (2000). Here empire is synonymous, paradoxically enough, with a new internationalism and cosmopolitanism, with American power having a policing function, rather than a directive function, in the disposition of empire and in the execution of war.
A fuller discussion of the struggle between these two competing visions of empire and that between empire and cosmopolis will have to wait, however, for another discussion. What I have sought to show here is that the concept of globalisation unravels the more one pulls at it, and that the turn to world history is one way of overcoming the concept of globalisation.
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