by Indy Charlie
The monopolization of violence in society has received much attention in the work of Norbert Elias. In his view, material survival and the control of violence have been the functions of “survival units,” those groupings in which people live and have lived since time immemorial (see Mennell, 1990). The size of human survival groups has increased tremendously since pre-historic times, and substantially since the emergence of nation-states. The economic function and that of monopolizing and controlling violence have remained constant (universal) throughout the growth levels of survival groups. In the view of Elias, “the overall trend in world history [has been] towards bigger survival units incorporating more people and more territory” (Mennell, 1990: 362). During the Cold War, however, the two superpowers were caught in a “double-bind figuration,” where the two parties were “. . . bound together in interdependence through the danger they posed[d] each other” (Mennell, 1990, p. 366), and violence was controlled through mutually assured destruction. That balance was disrupted with the demise of the Soviet Union, and almost immediately the United States moved aggressively to stem threats to the rise of the deregulated global economy (e.g., Iraq, Bosnia, North Africa, etc.).
For Elias, violence in the pre-nuclear age resulted in a pattern of re-integration at a higher level (i.e., larger survival units), but now that humanity exists in a world-wide system of tensions, higher levels of integration are impossible (unless we become organized in an interplanetary system), and a nuclear war, in his view, is quite likely to result in a regression to a much lower level of integration (Mennell, 1990). Are we reaching the highest level of societal centralization only to return to decentralized survival units? This would not be surprising given the salience of this pattern in human history.
Globalization and Sociology
Being a sociologist, I want to touch briefly on my own discipline’s relationship to globalization. Interestingly, American sociology is today characterized by two features, chaos and insularity, and has given little attention to the massive changes that are taking place at the global level today. Instead, the discipline has been caught up in a decades-long internal discourse centering on epistemological, ontological, and methodological issues (Sztompka, 1979).
As early as 1983, Arthur Stinchcombe, a noted American sociologist, held forth that American sociology had become divorced from the real world (Ritzer, 1990). In addition to the theoretical chaos resulting from philosophy of science debates, the discipline also has been differentiating rapidly, so much that Irving Horowitz, a well-known American sociologist, laments the “decomposition of sociology.” For Horowitz, sociology “. . . has become so enmeshed in the politics of advocacy and the ideology of self-righteousness that it is simply unaware of, much less able to respond to, new conditions in the scientific as well as social environment in which it finds itself” (1993, p. 5). The discipline has broken up into a multiplicity of specializations, each going its own way and without much regard for the others (e.g., urban studies, criminal justice, environmental sociology, cultural studies, etc.).
Within the insulated discourse of well-known, mainstream sociological theorists the focus has tended to be on macro-micro linkages (Coleman, 1994; Ritzer, 1990; Scheff, 1997), the resurrection of general theory (Turner, 1990), and the integration of social systems thinking with contemporary quantitative methods and models (Coleman, 1994). In this context, globalization has emerged as a political economic reality without any systematic attention by American sociology, giving merit to Stinchcombe’s view that sociology indeed has become divorced from reality. I agree with James Coleman (1994), whose vision for sociology holds that sociological theory should have utility for the ongoing functioning of society. After all, if our work does nothing to ameliorate the human condition, then we might as well remain stuck in internal discourses that focus on formal aspects of theory and keep us disconnected from real world processes, for there are no consequences to our work beyond academic careers.
Is Globalization Inevitable?
The potential for a single global human society has existed ever since humans migrated to every part of the globe. This potential was given great impetus by the discoveries of the 15th century and intensified through the 19th century, only to be interrupted by the world wars of the first half of the 20th century.
Some thinkers hold the view that globalization has been a central feature of capitalism since its beginnings (A. Giddens, 1994; D. Harvey, 1995; M. Kearney, 1995a; P. Sweezy, 1997; and W. Tabb, 1997 for instance). From this view, what is occurring today is the intensification of capitalist dynamics at a global level that is giving rise to “qualitatively new and structurally institutionalized forms of cooperation” among capitalist national [and regional] economies (Willoughby, 1991). This emergent global economy is different from that based on national economies in that the former differentiates states and regions along the lines of specialization, while the latter, based on the principle of replication inherent in the modernization thesis, called upon nation-states to follow a common idealized Western path.
A point of contention that has arisen among students of globalization concerns its inevitability (Gibson-Graham, 1996/97; McMichael, 1996; Tabb, 1997;). Is globalization inevitable? Is it an inexorable process? For advocates like Jerry Mander and Ralph Nader, who openly oppose globalization, the answer to this question is obvious. For economists, like Eichengreen (1997), there is “no turning back the clock” on today’s economic trends. Were it not for related questions concerning human agency in times of great social change, this question of global inevitability might not be important altogether. For those who still believe in human agency and in the possibility of shaping one’s human environment, the question of global inevitability poses a daunting challenge.
William Tabb (1997) and John Willoughby (1991) see a duality between global and national levels, and hold the view that globalization has not yet become the primary dynamic in the process. Tabb (1997) recently created a stir among some thinkers by arguing that globalization is not the sweeping set of technological and market forces that leave national level actors and policies without major roles in shaping their destinies. Instead, Tabb argues, nations, not transnational corporations, regulate capital flows, and the deregulation of the past few years resulted from political choices at the level of the nation-state, and not from necessity.
Willoughby (1991) notes that accumulation is always global, which I take to mean that the management of capital already takes place within an evolving interdependent nation-state system . The evolution is in the direction of increasing economic and political integration within an advanced capitalist world international economy. As the world economy becomes more integrated we are challenged to shift our analytic focus toward a global level and “. . . study the construction and reproduction of capitalist nation-state cooperation and the related creation of globalist state institutions . . . and contemporary international political economic conflict” (p. 141).
Teeple (1995), on the other hand, sees the emergence of a global economy much further along than the dualistic models of Tabb and Willoughby. Teeple views an “internationalized capital” with interests that exceed national jurisdictions and span the globe. In this scenario, national markets are merely one element within the global economy, and they are too small to direct the course of its productive capacities. Ultimately, Teeple argues, internationalized capital does not hold national allegiance and actually requires ‘freedom’ from national controls. Not only does global economic growth spell the end of the industrial nation-state, according to Teeple, it also entails the commodification of everyday life by corporations that “determine broadly the main cultural parameters and . . . define and structure human needs so that they correspond with society as market ‘ (1995, p. 130).
While we may argue about the nature and development of globalization, it is clear that we have entered a new epoch in human society and that there are wide-ranging changes that are taking hold in the realm of everyday life across the entire globe. To be sure, globalization is local in its effects. The reverse, however, may not be true – that is, the local is not necessarily global, although some scholars are hopeful that local cultures can impact the dynamics of globalization (See Hill, 1995; Giri, 1995).
Conceptually, the question of inevitability is bound up with that of capitalism, and may have to be separated from it. For instance, it is inconceivable that humanity’s global future is limited to capitalism. While globalization may be here to stay, capitalism may not, although the next societal form will surely be a descendant of capitalism.
What does globalization mean for the social sciences? We know that under industrialism the social sciences were greatly impacted by cultural and political influences (Horowitz, 1993). Indeed, in my own discipline, there continue to exist national sociologies that embody the values and ideologies of the nation-state in which they exist. In addition, apart from the issues of meta-theory, theoretical conceptualizations and methodology, there are issues regarding the funding of global research. The cultural lag that exists between the development of a global economy and the development of mechanisms by which to systematically study that economy and its effects remains a significant, if not huge, challenge. Unless professional research organizations and universities begin to support research of global issues, the overwhelming majority of social scientists will find it difficult to conduct systematic research at that level.
Some hope lies with the fact that the Social Science Research Council, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Council of Learned Societies are planning new phases in the organization of international research. The Social Science Research Council, for example, is launching a Collaborative Research Network to advance understanding of development in the context of globalization (Hershberg, 1998). The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, through the leadership of Daniel Bell, has revitalized its Intellectual Correspondence Committee, established during World War II, to promote the exchange of scientific views on the cultural and intellectual issues of other countries.
These organizations, with the support of numerous foundations, have promoted social scientific and humanistic research in the international arena for decades. However, most of that research constitutes “area studies” research and has not emphasized the transnational and global dimensions so prominent in the world today. Moreover, as we seriously consider the globalization of social scientific research, we have to critically reflect upon the broad cultural assumptions that undergird our research ethics and how they might fit with or against those of our colleagues abroad.
Appadurai (1997), in writing about the need for internationalizing social scientific research, raises the following important question: “Are we prepared to move beyond a model for internationalizing social science whose main concern is with improving how others practice our precepts?” (p. 59). Our colleagues in other nations often see themselves involved in the powerful social changes sweeping their countries. In other words, moral and political concerns are central to their work, whereas here in the United States there is the powerful precept that such concerns remain detached from research (despite the fact that in reality they are not (Herring, 1947)). Such extra-scientific valuations, at least among Western social scientific communities, are seen as illegitimate in the conduct of social scientific research. This is only one difference among scholars in an international context, others remain to be addressed as we become part of a global community of social scientists. Through dialogues and collaboration on research with colleagues from other countries we might hasten the achievement of consilience, by which E. O. Wilson (1998) means the ‘”jumping together’ of knowledge as a result of the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common framework of explanation” (p. 41). Global consilience, then, is our challenge in the next millennium.
Appadurai, A. (1997). The Research Ethic and the Spirit of Internationalism. Items, 51(4, Part 1): 55-60.
Barnet, R. J. and J. Cavanagh. (1994). Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. New York: Touchstone.
Bologh, R. W. and L. Mell. (1994). Modernism, Postmodernism, and the New World (Dis)order: A Dialectical Analysis and Alternative. Critical Sociology, 20(2): 81-120.
Burbach, R., O. Nunez, and B. Kagarlitsky. (1997). Globalization and Its Discontents: The Rise of Postmodern Socialisms. Chicago, IL: Pluto.
Callaghy, T. M. (1997). Globalization and Marginalization: Debt and the International Underclass. Current History, 96(613): 392-396.
Coleman, J. S. (1994). A Vision for Sociology. Society, 32(1): 29-34.
DasGupta, K. (1995). The Global Resurgence of Ethnicity: An Inquiry into the Sociology of Ideological Discontent. Explorations in Ethnic Studies, 18(1): 7-18.
Drucker, P. F. (1994). Post-Capitalist Society. New York: HarperCollins.
Eichengreen, B. (1997). The Tyranny of the Financial Markets. Current History, 96(613): 377-382.
Footnotes. (1998, March). Bell Directs New Committee on Intellectual Correspondence. Newsletter of the American Sociological Association, 26(3): 7.
Franklin, R. S. (1993/94). The Postindustrial Paradox: Growing Class Inequalities, Declining Class Politics. Critical Sociology, 20(1): 103-112.
Gibson-Graham, J. K. (1996/97). Querying Globalization. Rethinking MARXISM, 9(1): 1-27.
Giddens, A. (1994). Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Giri, A. K. (1995). The Dialectic Between Globalization and Localization: Economic Restructuring, Women and Strategies of Cultural Reproduction. Dialectical Anthropology, 20(2): 193-216.
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