Content: quality of analysis, sophistication and perceptiveness of evaluation.



Focus: show how the theory addresses globalisation; use of key aspects of the theory and an example.



Structure: slides and script are organised and have clear relevance to each other.



Presentation: aesthetics of the slides; well-structured and articulate narrative.





HD – > 17

D – 15

C – 13

P – 10

F – < 10


HD – > 25.5

D – 22.5

C – 19.5

P – 15

F – < 15

*HOT = Higher Order Thinking


This assessment task requires you to develop a presentation in PowerPoint on one of the theoretical approaches set out in Chapter 6 of the text, which we will cover over weeks 3 and 4. So, you could choose:

· World –System Theory

· Global Capitalism

· The Network Society

What You Need to Do

Specifically, you will need to show how the theory you have chosen understands globalisation and a good way of doing this is by identifying (some) of the theory’s key concepts/arguments and then discuss how and why they give us an understanding of globalisation. Also, you can offer an example to illustrate this explanation.

Practically, you will do this by developing a ‘PowerPoint Presentation’ but you will not be required to actually deliver it in class. Instead, the presentation will consist of five slides (please do not include an Introduction slide with your name etc.) and using either the ‘Audio’ function (in the insert menu) or the ‘Notes’ section (at the bottom of each slide) you will narrate (via Audio) or write up (via Notes) a short ‘script’ of at least 100 but no more than 140 words or no more than a one minute audio file for each slide. The script will reflect what you would say in the presentation. The ‘script’ component for the whole presentation is to be no more than five minutes of audio or 700 words in total. To go beyond these criteria will impact your mark.

Please note that the shaded paragraph directly above is approximately 138 words long and when I read it out at a ‘normal’ pace it takes me about 1 minute to complete.

The only research you need to do for this assessment is to draw from the lecture material and the relevant chapter. There is no need to go beyond these materials except if you want to find an example and the images you will be putting in your presentation slides. Also, you only need focus on the theoretical approach you have chosen and not the whole chapter or lecture (remember you have five (5) slides (5) minutes equivalence.

How You Will Submit Your Presentation

Save your PowerPoint as a file and always make a copy. Then upload your file for marking via the SOC329 Moodle site and the dedicated link in the Administration section. This link will be available from Monday 22nd August, Week 5 but the due date and time is (before) 4pm on Friday 26th August in Week 5.

How You Will Be Assessed

This assessment will use a marking rubric, which will be discussed in the Week 02 tutorial.

This assessment is 1000 words equivalent. This means that it will not require a full 1000 words of assessment. Instead, 5 slides X no more than 140 words = 700 words. The remaining 300 equivalent words represent the work you will put into developing the 5 slides with images (and text if required).

The assessment is worth 30% of your overall mark. You will receive a mark out of 100 for the PowerPoint presentation as a complete package (slides and script). You will be assessed on:

1. Content (quality of analysis, sophistication, perceptiveness)

2. Focus (how does the theory address globalisation illustrate this via a contemporary example)

3. Structure (organisation of material; the presentation must make clear to the audience what is important)

4. Presentation (clarity of the slides and this includes aesthetics, well-structured and a well articulated script)

Critical Thinking:

from lower to higher order thinking

Critical thinking is often described as having 6 stages, from lower order to higher order thinking:

a. Lower Order Thinking

i. Knowledge—the ability to recall what you have learned

ii. Comprehension—understanding what you have learned

iii. Application—putting to use the knowledge you have gained

b. Higher Order Thinking

iv. Analyse—to break down the problem or issue into its components

v. Synthesis—to reassemble the key components into a new argument

vi. Evaluate—to determine the importance of these elements and the topic more broadly



Chapter 6 Theories of Globalization

William I. Robinson


Globalization is reshaping how we have traditionally gone about studying the social world and human culture and a fi eld of globalization studies is now emerging across the disciplines (Appelbaum and Robinson, 2005). These globalization studies arose around several sets of phenomena that drew researchers’ attention from the 1970s onwards. One was the emergence of a globalized economy involving new systems of production, fi nance and consumption and worldwide economic integration. A second was new transnational or global cultural patterns, practices and fl ows, and the idea of ‘global culture(s)’. A third was global political processes, the rise of new transnational institutions and, concomitantly, the spread of global governance and authority structures of diverse sorts. A fourth was the unprecedented multi- directional movement of peoples around the world involving new patterns of transnational migration, identities and communities. Yet a fi fth was new social hierarchies, forms of inequality and relations of domination around the world and in the global system as a whole.

The scholarly literature on these phenomena has proliferated, as have specifi c studies of the impacts of globalization on particular countries and regions and on gender and ethnicity, not to mention much pop treatment of the subject. Recent research agendas have branched out into an enormous variety of topics, from trans- national sexualities, to global tourism, changes in the state, the restructuring of work, transnational care-giving, globalization and crime, the global media and so on. This explosion of research points to the ubiquity of the effects of globalization. All disciplines and specializations in the academy, it seems, have become implicated in globalization studies, from ethnic, area and women’s studies, to literature, the arts, language and cultural studies, the social sciences, history, law, business admin- istration and even the natural and applied sciences.

126 william i. robinson

The proliferating literature on globalization refl ects the intellectual enormity of the task of researching and theorizing the breadth, depth and pace of changes underway in human society in the early twenty-fi rst century. We fi nd two broad categories of research: (1) those studying specifi c problems or issues as they relate to globalization; (2) those studying the concept of globalization itself – theorizing the very nature of the process. In a time when social relations and institutions are everywhere subject to rapid and dramatic change, and to the extent that this change is linked to globalization, theories of globalization are without doubt of major import to the contemporary world. How do we theorize this phenomenon which we will call globalization? What types of theories have been developed to explain twenty-fi rst century social change? Are our existing theories adequate to capture this change, or do we need new theoretical models?

If it is true that globalization is one of the key concepts of the twenty-fi rst century, it is also true that it is one of the most hotly debated and contested. There is no consensus on what has been going on in the world denoted by the term ‘globaliza- tion’; competing defi nitions will give us distinct interpretations of social reality. Hence the very notion of globalization is problematic given the multitude of partial, divergent and often contradictory claims surrounding the concept. Considering the political implications of these claims it is clear that, at the least, globalization has become what we refer to as an essentially contested concept. The contending bat- tleground of such concepts is a leading edge of political confl ict since the meanings of such concepts are closely related to the problems they seek to discuss and what kind of social action people will engage in. Knowledge claims are not neutral. They are grounded in situated social and historical contexts, often in competing social interests. Nowhere is this clearer than with globalization theories.

We cannot here, given space constraints, take up the political and the normative dimensions of the globalization debate and the relationship of distinct theoretical discourses on globalization to these debates. Nonetheless, it would be impossible to speak of globalization without reference to the highly confl ictive nature of the process. Diverse actors have associated globalization with expanding worldwide inequalities, new modes of exploitation and domination, displacement, marginaliza- tion, ecological holocaust and anti-globalization. Others have trumpeted the process as creating newfound prosperity, freedom, emancipation and democracy. These normative issues, whether or not they are foregrounded, will loom large in any survey of theories of globalization. How we defi ne the process will very much depend on what theoretical perspectives we bring to bear on the defi nition. At the same time, our theories cannot but both shape and refl ect normative and political signposts.


While there is much disagreement among scholars on the meaning of globalization and on the theoretical tools that are best to understand it, we can identify a number of points with which, it is safe to say, most would agree. First, the pace of social change and transformation worldwide seems to have quickened dramatically in the latter decades of the twentieth century, with implications for many dimensions of

theories of globalization 127

social life and human culture. Second, this social change is related to increasing connectivity among peoples and countries worldwide, an objective dimension, together with an increased awareness worldwide of these interconnections, a subjec- tive dimension. As well, most would agree that the effects of globalization – of those economic, social, political, cultural and ideological processes to which the term would allegedly refer – are ubiquitous, and that different dimensions of globaliza- tion (economic, political, cultural etc.) are interrelated, ergo, that globalization is multidimensional. At this point agreement ends and debates heat up. How different theoretical approaches address a set of basic assumptions – what we will call ‘domain questions’ – will tend to reveal the domain of each theory and the bounda- ries among distinct and often competing theories. Theories consist of particular ontological assumptions and epistemological principles, both of which are of concern in examining globalization theories.

Perhaps the most important ‘domain question’, and one that cuts to the underly- ing ontological issue in globalization studies, is ‘when does globalization begin?’ The rise of globalization studies has served to reassert the centrality of historical analysis and the ongoing reconfi guration of time and space to any understanding of human affairs. How we view the temporal dimension will shape – even determine – what we understand when we speak of globalization. Among globalization theo- ries there are three broad approaches. In the fi rst, it is a process that has been going on since the dawn of history, hence a 5,000–10,000 year time frame. In the second, it is a process coterminous with the spread and development of capitalism and modernity, hence a 500 year frame. In the third, it is a recent phenomenon associated with such processes as post-industrialization, postmodernization or the restructuring of capitalism, hence a 20–30 year frame.

A second ‘domain question’ is that of causal determination(s) in globalization. Is the core of the process economic, political or cultural? Is there an underlying material or an ideational determinacy? Are there multiple determinations, and how would they be ordered? Whether distinct globalization theories choose to give a causal priority or empirical emphasis to the material or the ideational will depend on the larger metatheoretical and even philosophical underpinnings of particular theories, but as well on normative and political considerations.

Other major domain questions are:

• Does globalization refer to a process (as I have been assuming here) or to a condition? Most theories would see it as a process of transformation, and some theorists therefore refer to globalization as a process and globality as a condition.

• How do modernity and postmodernity relate to globalization? • What is the relationship between globalization and the nation-state? Is the

nation-state being undermined? Has it retained its primacy? Or is it becoming transformed in new ways? Does globalization involve internationalization, seen as an increased intensity of exchanges among nation-states, or transnationaliza- tion, involving emerging structures, processes and phenomena that transcend the nation-state system?

• Relatedly, to what extent is the relationship between social structure and terri- toriality being redefi ned by globalization? Is there a deterritorialization of social

128 william i. robinson

relations under globalization? What is the relationship between the local and the global? How are space and time being reconfi gured?

How different theories approach these ‘domain questions’ will reveal something of the core ontological and epistemological claims of each theory. Recall that there is not a single ‘theory of globalization’ but many theoretical discourses. These tend to be grounded in broader theoretical traditions and perspectives, such as Marxism, Weberianism, functionalism, postmodernism, critical and feminist theory, and involve a number of distinct approaches to social inquiry, such as cultural studies, international relations, post-colonial studies, literature and so on. However, most theories draw on the distinctive contributions and traditions of multiple disciplines. Indeed, one of the most refreshing hallmarks of globalization studies is its interdis- ciplinary – nay, transdisciplinary – character; a renewed holistic approach to the study of social structure and change. The traditional borders between disciplines have become blurred in both theories and empirical studies on globalization.

Rather than propose a classifi cation of globalization theories I identify here a variety of theoretical discourses that typically serve as heuristic tools in concrete globalization studies. The focus is on key theories and theorists that have already – or are likely to – become markers across social sciences disciplines and humanities for the fi eld of globalization studies. What follows is not a comprehensive review of extant theories, which would be impossible here, but a limited selection intended to provide a view of the range of theoretical discourse on which scholars researching globalization are likely to draw.


World-system theory

Some see the world-system paradigm as a ‘precursor’ to globalization theories, and indeed, as Arrighi has observed, ‘world-systems analysis as a distinctive sociological paradigm emerged at least 15 years before the use of globalization as a signifi er that blazed across the headlines and exploded as a subject of academic research and publication’ (Arrighi 2005: 33). Yet what is distinctive to world-systems theory is not that it has been around longer than more recent globalization theories. Rather, this paradigm – and certainly its principal progenitor, Immanuel Wallerstein – tends to view globalization not as a recent phenomenon but as virtually synonymous with the birth and spread of world capitalism, c.1500.

World-systems theory shares with several other approaches to globalization a critique of capitalism as an expansionary system that has come to encompass the entire world over the past 500 years. As elaborated by Wallerstein, it is constituted on the proposition that the appropriate unit of analysis for macrosocial inquiry in the modern world is neither class, nor state/society, or country, but the larger his- torical system, in which these categories are located.

The capitalist world-economy emerged c.1500 in Europe and expanded outward over the next several centuries, absorbing in the process all existing mini-systems and world-empires, establishing market and production networks that eventually

theories of globalization 129

brought all peoples around the world into its logic and into a single worldwide structure. Hence, by the late nineteenth century there was but one historical system that had come to encompass the entire planet, the capitalist world-system, a truly ‘global enterprise’ (1974). It is in this sense that world-system theory can be seen as a theory of globalization even if its principal adherents reject the term globaliza- tion (see below).

A key structure of the capitalist world-system is the division of the world into three great regions, or geographically based and hierarchically organized tiers. The fi rst is the core, or the powerful and developed centres of the system, originally comprised of Western Europe and later expanded to include North America and Japan. The second is the periphery, those regions that have been forcibly subordi- nated to the core through colonialism or other means, and in the formative years of the capitalist world-system would include Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Third is the semi-periphery, comprised of those states and regions that were previously in the core and are moving down in this hierarchy, or those that were previously in the periphery and are moving up. Values fl ow from the periphery to the semi-periphery, and then to the core, as each region plays a functionally specifi c role within an international division of labour that reproduces this basic structure of exploitation and inequality.

Another key feature of this world-system is the centrality and immanence of the inter-state system and inter-state rivalry to the maintenance and reproduction of the world-system. The world-system paradigm does not see any transcendence of the nation-state system or the centrality of nation-states as the principal component units of a larger global system. Other structural constants in the world-system are cyclical rhythms of growth and crisis, several secular trends such as outward expan- sion, increasing industrialization and commodifi cation, struggles among core powers for hegemony over the whole system and the oppositional struggles of ‘anti- systemic forces’.

Some would consider the world-system approach not a theory of globalization but an alternative theory of world society. This, however, would depend on how we defi ne the contested concept of globalization. If a bare-bones defi nition is inten- sifi ed interconnections and interdependencies on a planetary scale and consciousness of them, then certainly world-system theory is a cohesive theory of globalization, organized around a 500 year time scale corresponding to the rise of a capitalist world-economy in Europe and its spread around the world, and must be included in any survey of globalization theories.

On the other hand, however, it is not self-identifi ed as a theory of globalization, is not a theory of the worldwide social changes of the late twentieth and early twenty-fi rst centuries, and there is no specifi c concept of the global in world-system literature. Wallerstein has himself been dismissive of the concept of globalization. ‘The processes that are usually meant when we speak of globalization are not in fact new at all. They have existed for some 500 years’ (2000: 250). Wallerstein has put forward an explanation of late twentieth/early twenty-fi rst century change from the logic of world-system theory as a moment of transition in the system. In an essay titled ‘Globalization or the Age of Transition?’ (2000), he analyses the late twentieth and early twenty-fi rst century world conjuncture as a ‘moment of transformation’ in the world-system, a ‘transition in which the entire capitalist

130 william i. robinson

world-system will be transformed into something else’ (2000: 250). In this analysis, the system has entered into a terminal crisis and will give way to some new, as of yet undetermined historical system by the year 2050. Wallerstein’s thesis on the terminal crisis of the system can be said to provide an explanation for social change in the age of globalization consistent with his own world-system theory.

Theories of global capitalism

Another set of theories, what I catalogue here as a global capitalism school, shares with the world-systems paradigm the critique of capitalism, an emphasis on the long-term and large-scale nature of the processes that have culminated in globaliza- tion, and the centrality of global economic structures. Yet this group of theories differs from the world-system paradigm in several essential respects. In particular, these theories tend to see globalization as a novel stage in the evolving system of world capitalism (hence these theorists tend to speak of capitalist globalization), one with its own, qualitatively new features that distinguish it from earlier epochs. They focus on a new global production and fi nancial system that is seen to supersede earlier national forms of capitalism, and emphasize the rise of processes that cannot be framed within the nation-state/inter-state system that informs world-system theory – and indeed, much traditional macrosocial theory.

Sklair (2000, 2002) has put forward a ‘theory of the global system’, at the core of which are ‘transnational practices’ (TNPs) as operational categories for the analysis of transnational phenomena. These TNPs originate with non-state actors and cross state borders. The model involves TNPs at three levels: the economic, whose agent is transnational capital; the political, whose agent is a transnational capitalist class (TCC); and the cultural-ideological, whose agent is cultural elites. Each practice, in turn, is primarily identifi ed with a major institution. The transna- tional corporation is the most important institution for economic TNPs; the TCC for political TNPs; and the culture-ideology of consumerism for transnational cul- tural-ideological processes. Locating these practices in the fi eld of a transnational global system, Sklair thus sets about to explain the dynamics of capitalist globaliza- tion from outside the logic of the nation-state system and critiques the ‘state- centrism’ of much extant theorizing. His theory involves the idea of the TCC as a new class that brings together several social groups who see their own interests in an expanding global capitalist system: the executives of transnational corporations; ‘globalizing bureaucrats, politicians, and professionals’, and ‘consumerist elites’ in the media and the commercial sector (Sklair 2000).

Robinson (2003, 2004) has advanced a related theory of global capitalism in volving three planks: transnational production, transnational capitalists and a transnational state. An ‘epochal shift’ has taken place with the transition from a world economy to a global economy. In earlier epochs, each country developed a national economy that was linked to others through trade and fi nances in an integrated international market. The new transnational stage of world capitalism involves the globalization of the production process itself, which breaks down and functionally integrates what were previously national circuits into new global cir- cuits of production and accumulation. Transnational class formation takes place around these globalized circuits. Like Sklair, Robinson analyses the rise of a TCC

theories of globalization 131

as the class group that manages these globalized circuits. Transnationally oriented fractions achieved hegemony over local and national fractions of capital in the 1980s and 1990s in most countries of the world, capturing a majority of national state apparatuses, and advancing their project of capitalist globalization. Globaliza- tion creates new forms of transnational class relations across borders and new forms of class cleavages globally and within countries, regions, cities and local communi- ties, in ways quite distinct from the old national class structures and international class confl icts and alliances.

However, in distinction to Sklair, for whom state structures play no role in the global system, Robinson theorizes an emergent transnational state (TNS) apparatus. A number of globalization theories see the rise of such supranational political and planning agencies such as the Trilateral Commission, the World Economic Forum, the Group of Seven and the World Trade Organization as signs of an incipient transnational or global governance structure (see, inter alia, Held et al. 1999). Robinson, however, wants to get beyond what he sees as a national-global duality in these approaches. This TNS is a loose network comprised of supranational politi- cal and economic institutions together with national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces. National states as com- ponents of a larger TNS structure now tend to serve the interests of global over national accumulation processes. The supranational organizations are staffed by transnational functionaries who fi nd their counterparts in transnational functionar- ies who staff transformed national states. These ‘transnational state cadres’ act as midwives of capitalist globalization. The nature of state practices in the emergent global system ‘resides in the exercise of transnational economic and political author- ity through the TNS apparatus to reproduce the class relations embedded in the global valorization and accumulation of capital’.

Hardt and Negri’s twin studies, Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004), have been referred to by some as a postmodern theory of globalization that combines Marx with Foucault. They take the global capitalism thesis a step further, proposing an empire of global capitalism that is fundamentally different from the imperialism of European domination and capitalist expansion of previous eras. This is a normalized and decentred empire – a new universal order that accepts no boundaries and limits, not only in the geographic, economic and political sense, but in terms of its penetra- tion into the most remote recesses of social and cultural life, and indeed, even into the psyche and biology of the individual. While for Sklair and Robinson the TCC is the key agent of capitalist globalization, for Hardt and Negri there is no such identifi able agent. In more Foucauldian fashion, an amorphous empire seems to be a ubiquitous but faceless power structure that is everywhere yet centred nowhere in particular and squares off against ‘the multitude’, or collective agencies from below.

Other variants of the global capitalism thesis have been taken up by McMichael (2000), Ross and Trachte (1990) and Went (2002), among others. There is as well a considerable amount of theoretical work on globalization among international relations (IR) scholars, a subdiscipline that has come under special challenge by globalization given that it is centrally concerned – by defi nition – with the state system and the interstate system. Here there is a tension between those theories that retain a national/international approach and view the system of nation-states as an

132 william i. robinson

immutable structural feature of the larger world or inter-state system, and those that take transnational or global approaches that focus on how the system of nation- states and national economies are becoming transcended by transnational social forces and institutions grounded in a global system rather than the interstate system. Notable here is the ‘neo-Gramscian school’ in IR, so-called because these scholars have applied the ideas of Antonio Gramsci to attempt to explain changes in world power structures and processes from a global capitalism perspective. Scholars from the neo-Gramscian school have been closely identifi ed with the works of Cox (see, esp., 1987), and have explored the rise of new global social for

Social Science / Sociology


Make 5 slides with comments

Comments of each slide should be less than 100.

Total word limit is 1000 words.

Please find the attachments for complete details

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