Theories of Globalization


 World Politics: J. Meyer, J. Boli. G. Thomas

Neoliberal theories of globalization vary. One of them is the theory of “world order” whose very concept of “politics” means the existence of political institutions regardless of their status. This category can include both traditional states and more extensive, flexible socio-political systems resembling social unity or civil society.

The “world politics” theory was formulated in the works of J. Meyeri, J. Boli. G. Thomas and F. Ramirezii among other authors.

According to this paradigm, the creation of the “world polity” required the following stepsiii:

  1. Attention to nation-states as the key actors of globalization, as they are the products of rational connections with society and are capable of rationally regarding the globalization project as a new affirmation of the principles on which they are based.

  2. The opportunity for nation-states to establish uniform structures, i.e., align their political models (the Bologna system for example) and establish common political values such as democracy, freedom of the press, free enterprise, non-interference of the government in the economy, and a common, tolerant social climate in regards to ethnic, gender, social, and other principles.

  3. At the next stage, national NGO’s developed within the context of the favorable neutrality of nation-states and began to work out global rules and procedures for further promoting “open society,” individualism, cosmopolitanism, rational behavior, and “human rights.”

  4. At this point, the ideology of “global society” becomes predominant, and the restricting of the nation-state begins on a global scale. The segments of one state become closer to the segments of another and transitional social communities are created which, after developing communication and freedom of movement, result in the disappearance of national borders and the creation of a world state.

This theory of globalization has a number of important advantages:

  • it openly appeals to Eurocentrism and does not conceal the fact that it considers European values to be universal and common

  • it addresses the philosophical paradigm of Western social-political culture

  • it openly, strictly affirms the consecutive plan of social-political transformation both within the state and on a global scale

  • it openly acknowledges “global society” as its ideological goal

  • it stresses that globalization’s actors are NGO’s that become the instruments of arranging national and common transnational communities

The Theory of World Culture: R. Robertson

The English sociologist Roland Robertson, along with other authors who share similar positions on the issue (S. Lashiv, M. Featherstonev), presents a completely different globalization theory.

Robertson was one of the first scholars to study globalization, which he describes as “the compression of the world and the intensification of the conciseness of the world as a whole”. vi

Robertson sees the main characteristic of globalization as the compression of human communities and individuals into the same space “all together.” This “space” (a qualitative space) demands that each unit form a particular attitude that would have previously been eliminated by the limitations of a local context. In all situations and on all levels, according to Robertson, this global context of existence is the fundamental meaning of globalization which he understands to be a fact. The existence of the world as a whole forms a sense of “global culture” before individual and collective subjects. In this context, any choice, decision, or movement automatically acquires a “global dimension.” We live in a global culture, and this is irreversible.

It is only at this point that differences set in. Robertson, in contrast to the adherents of “world politics” theory, believes that the expansion of the Western cultural, social, economic, and, in general, rational code is one of many processes which is not necessarily tied to globalization.

Robertson notes four main actors of globalization:

  • national society (within the framework of individual states)

  • social systems

  • the individual

  • humanity

These four actors correspond to the four forms of consciousness:

  • socialization

  • internationalization

  • individualization

  • the appearance of global human consciousness

The existence of the fourth dimension, which represents the special characteristic of globalization itself (“world culture”) affects the other forms of identity insofar as it opens a supplemental dimension. From this point on, choices taken on the level of “global consciousness” strongly influence the nation-state, international relations, individual consciousness, and dramatically alter their structures. To be fully socialized, for example, the individual does not need to submerse himself in national society. Rather, he can increasingly often bypass this stage and directly (or through the medium of international social groups and NGO’s) address humanity. The same is the case with the global horizon of humanity including, for example, ecological issues, climate change, etc., which sovereign states are now forced to consider despite their national economic and strategic interests. Robert distinguishes and describes five characteristics of globalization within this conception:

  • relativization

  • emulation

  • “glocalization”

  • interpretation

  • contestation

Relativization renders all traditional institutions of social society, political society, and hierarchy relative. Citizenship, profession, ethnos, gender, as well as the sovereignty of the system of international law cease to be fundamental categories and become more flexible and reflexive.

Emulation means that a given society as a whole elaborates its own attitude towards globalization and towards the common global space and, on the basis of global challenges, responds in various different ways. This situation completely differs from that described in the theories of global culture and global politics that expect the whole world to adopt a uniform code. Robertson believes that recognizing the commonality of global space does not necessarily mean that this commonality is understood uniformly. Thus, globalism can be accepted or denied by religious communities which respond to global challenges in accordance with their own philosophical bases (a case which is proven by the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism).

Glocalization is the most famous of Robertson’s neologisms, which means that together with the adoption of a universal code in some spheres (information, economy, trade networks, youth fashion, and political democracy), globalization in fact incites some paradoxical phenomena. National institutions can split on an ethnic level, regionalization and the return to small communities increase, religious folklore returns, archaic cultural layers increasingly rear their head, etc. The nation-state thus proceeds to form either in line with the national system, the global one, or as a mosaic of archaism and localism. According to Robertson, these alternative processes are not mutually exclusive, but rather different sides of the same phenomenon.

Robertson thus interprets globalization and understands it as a state of dynamic competition for universalization and particularization (glocalization). The balance of these forms constantly changes, problems of understanding the same global phenomena arise, and different comprehensions are promoted depending on expectations, points of view, and particular situations.

Contestation is when globalization is disproved from the point of view of different actors. Although it may be an authentic process, globalization does not possess a moral imperative or single widely recognized value. Thus, it might be regarded by some as an evil, a catastrophe, or a disaster which is to be challenged. This possibility stems from international relations’ understanding of globalization’s essence.

Robertson’s theory can thus be summarized, but its principles bear an element of uncertainty. As globalization is multilayered and continues to unleash new phenomena, no one can confidently say which tendencies will most potently affect further development.

Risk Society” and Space of Culture: S. Lash, M. Featherstone

The issue of “global culture” is not only the preoccupation of Robertson. Other sociologists studying the issue of postmodern societies, such as Scott Lash and Mike Featherstone, have contributed as well.

In his studies, Scott Lash has developed the notion of the openness and uncertainty of the “global community” in the transformation from the modern to the postmodern paradigm. According to him, “global culture” should not be described by approaches applied to the Modern period. S. Lash, along with Ulrich Beckvii, and Antony Giddensviii, seeks to study what he calls the “risk society”ix in which problems and conflicts are not projected outside on the “other,” but are internalized by the individual who is confronted with solving them on an internal level.

If in the Modern period the “outside” was identified as threatening society, then today’s threats are localized or internalized within the individual. Lash claims that the global community must be understood on the basis of the rationality of the otherx, as the global community has its roots in traditional society and is independent of much of the baggage of Modernity. This new rationality is interpreted by Lash in the same manner as the French poststructuralist philosophers (G. Deleuze, F. Guattari, etc).

According to Lash and his frequent co-author, Featherstone, the basis of globalization is “the space of culture”xi, which does not correspond to nation-state borders. Culture has a different geographical structure and its transformation is a comparatively autonomous phenomenon. In global society, the confrontation between countries and ideologies turns into an inner tension and conflict between “spaces of culture.” The semiosphere which unites modern capitalistic production (J. Baudrillardxii) is transboundary, as is the modern economy. But it is culture, where the semantics of economic processes find their expression, that is the key. From this point of view, the fate of globalization, which Lash, Featherstone, and Robertson contend to be open, and the forces which it may deal with, whether universal or local (and what type of universal and local problems) is to be decided in the context of cultural formalizations in the sphere of (transboundary) semiosis.

The “End of History” thesis: F. Fukuyama

It is important to emphasize three stages in the evolution of understandings of globalization since the late 1980’s. This “periodization” has been offered by a group of scholars from Stanford University (D. Held, A. McGrew, D. Goldlatt, J. Perratonxiii), has been accredited by the globalist David Crockerxiv, and has since become widely recognized.

These authors have distinguished three general interpretations of globalization, termed “hyperglobalism”, “skepticism”, and “transformationalism.”xv Each of them deserves attention.

After the dissolution of the socialist bloc and the USSR, a number of political scientists, analysts and experts thought that this event would signal the end of the difficult dialectic of the stages of globalization and that the world would finally become integrated with no disturbances in the development of the liberal-capitalistic paradigm realized on a world scale. The hyperglobalists were distinguished for their positive attitude towards such changes and their belief that the “tipping point” had been passed, that the world was ready to become generally globalized, united, and universalized with the rest of conflicts and tensions gradually working themselves out.

The American political scientist Francis Fukuyama had such an opinion in the beginning of 1990’s when he wrote his historic book The End of Historyxvi. He based his ideas on Hegel’s philosophy of history, which asserted that, in the course of the historical process, the Absolute Idea would reach its subjective culmination. History, revealing itself to be comprehensible, would meet its end and, having achieved its purpose, would exhaust its own meaning. Marx applied this thesis in his own version of the dialectical development of productive forces and relations of production, which was supposed to end in world revolution and the beginning of the “establishment of communism” as the “end of history.” The Hegelian philosopher A. Kozhev supposed that history might conclude with the full, universal triumph of liberal capitalism, the market, and bourgeois democracy. Fukuyama, in analyzing the dissolution of the USSR, believed that Kozhev’s version of Hegel’s interpretation was being realized. In turn, he wrote a programmatic text on this “end of history,” and then the famous book under that very title.

The “End of History”, according to F. Fukuyama, means the end of the main political conflicts which previously divided humanity and made up the historical process. Earlier, in the “barbarian” period, everyone fought against each other and the strongest had the right to dominance. In the New Age, nation-states, whose foundation was the Westphalian system, became the subjects of history and the bearers of sovereignty. These nation-states fought against each other, thus creating European history, and through their colonial endeavors contributed to the history of the whole world. After the Second World War, competition between states became less important in comparison to the crucial ideological battle between world capitalism and world socialism. The meaning of history thus became the collision of two political-economic systems. During the fight against communism, the capitalist countries grew closer and became the base models of a new socio-political and economic establishment which, following the disappearance of ideological opposition, spread through liberal democracy, the trade economy, and the ideology of “human rights” which were imposed upon the rest of the world. In this scenario, nation-states are to gradually disappear and politics will be completely replaced by the economy. The economy, moreover, has no history, no meaning, no dramatic tension, and no idea. The world is slated to become a global market in which logistics and optimization will be the predominant concerns and all participants will gradually be allowed to reach the global economic level of the developed communities.

It is important to note, however, that Fukuyama later reconsidered his views and admitted that his forecast was too optimistic.xvii Nevertheless, his later remarks and corrections are less interesting than his main thesis on the “end of the history.” The fact that he described the philosophy of modern globalism in its most complete, consecutive and strict form is of great importance.

Hyperglobalism: T. Friedman, J. Bhagwati.

The same ideas that the “early” Fukuyama promoted are shared by the famous American journalist Thomas Friedman who, in his book The World is Flatxviii and other worksxix, envisions a new world order in which globalization is unstoppable. In contrast to Fukuyama, Thomas Friedman still holds to this stance. If a given actor strives to avoid globalization, Friedman says, he must pay the high cost of technological underdevelopment, economic stagnation, marginalization in the international community and, finally, will inevitably, whether voluntarily or against their will, be included in the process of globalization. The open world of globalization allows for the creation of “open societies,” and any attempts to close oneself, given the conditions of widespread information technologies, will a priori fail. Thus, globalization has no alternatives and the problem that humanity faces is not the question of globalization itself, but how fast globalization should be realized, what details are important, and what domains have priority, etc.

The well-known economist Jagdish Bhagwatixx holds the same optimistic view of the globalization process. He states that globalization is unequivocally profitable for both developed and undeveloped societies, and thus must be spread and deepened everywhere, including in the poorest countries, whom globalization offers the opportunity to accelerate the most important stages of development. At the same time, Bhagwati stresses that globalization does not need a "human face", as it is inherently humanitarian (in contrast to historical colonization or the ideological confrontation between the two systems of the 20th century). Bhagwati compares globalization (as the integration of all communities into a single, global socio-economic system) to economic growth itself, and therefore insists that countries included in the processes of globalization must replace their own strategies with mere economic and social development. He regards globalization as the seemingly only answer to all current issues.

Thus, hyperglobalism boils down to the following points:

  • globalization is considered an absolute good, and its expenses are insignificant

  • globalization is an objective process whose purpose follows the logic of all human history

  • globalization is regarded as having essentially already crossed the “critical point,” i.e., all that needs to be further addressed are technical (rather than historical, political, or ideological) questions

  • globalization is an answer in itself, an indisputable fact


The liberal paradigm of IR is extremely popular and, along with realism, it is one of the two main models of interpretation, analysis and forecasting of the processes taking place in international relations. In politics, the representatives of center-left and democratic parties traditionally follow the liberal paradigm, while realists are mostly represented by conservatives, isolationists, and patriotic forces. The liberal paradigm in American politics is characteristic of the majority of the Democratic Party’s representatives, who are inclined to such models of foreign policy as both disorder and the multilateral approach (multilateralism).

Since the 1990’s, the liberal and neoliberal approaches have become increasingly popular in European countries due to the intensive formation of the European Union, which itself represents a brilliant example of the implementation of the concepts of liberal transnationalism. On the other hand, Europe is traditionally characterized by a distinctly realist approach (“sovereigntism”) whose adherents are quite skeptical towards Euro-integration.

Drawing some conclusions on transnationalism, globalism, and neoliberalism might be pertinent at this point.

1. The processes of globalization change the parameters of the relationship between domestic policy and foreign policy that were standard for the positivist theories (realism, neo-realism, sometimes classical liberalism). Thus, the basic subject of IR is relativized in two categories: order (domestic politics) and disorder ( international relations). This leads to interdependence and turbulence between the two.

2. The principle of networking leads to global moderation (the quasi-order, New World Order / World Government) being handled outside of the state itself while leaving chaos, anarchy, and the dissolution of hierarchy within it. The democratization of domestic politics has been carried out by means of the heightened position of supranational institutions (examples include the European Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, etc.).

3. The ideology of human rights (not for the citizen, but for the global citizen) forms the concept of the “skilled individual” as an anthropological reality. This norm is accepted as fact and forms the basis upon which a new system of global law is built.

4. A new concept appears, sometimes called the world polity of global society. This world polity is based on the unification of the world into a totally open political field with some relatively closed internal enclaves, while mankind as a whole is tantamount society in the context of transnational interdependence.

5. Thus, a new subject for international relations is constituted that is beyond classical positivist theories of IR.

6. Since we are dealing with a qualitatively new, global society which no longer faces any opposition, a new horizon is opened for sociology. It is here, in fact, that we are faced with the Sociology of International Relations (CFR), as the tools of classical IR schools gradually lose their relevance and sociological methods inevitable come to be necessarily included.

i Meyer John W. The World Polity and Authority of the Nation-State / Bergesen A. (ed.) Studies of the Modern World-System. New-York: Academic Press, 1980. P. 109-137

ii Meyer J., Boli J., Thomas G., Ramirez F. World Security and the Nation-State // American Journal of Sociology. 1997. #6 (2). P. 171-190

iii Meyer J., Boli J., Thomas G., Ramirez F. World Society and the Nation-State.

iv Lash S., Szerszynski B. Wynne B. (eds). Risks, Environment and Modernity. London: Sage (TCS), 1996; Lash S., Featherstone M., Szerszynsky B., Wynne B., Spaces of Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things. Cambrige: Polity, 2005.

v Featherstone M. (ed.) Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992.

vi Robertson R. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992.

vii Beck U. Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1986

viii Giddens A. Risks and Responsibility /// Modern Law Review. 1999. # 62 (1). P. 1-10

ix Lash S., Szerszynski B., Wynne B. (eds.) Risk, Enviroment and Modernity.

x Lash S. Another Modernity, A Different Rationality. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

xi Lash S., Featherstone M (eds.) Spcae of Culture: City, Nation, World. London: Sage, 1999.

xii Baudrillard J. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Telos Press Publishing. 1981.

xiii Held David, McGrew Anthony, Goldblatt David, Perraton Jonathan. Global Transformation. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

xiv Crocker David A. Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability, and Deliberative Democracy. / Chatterjee D. Krausz M (eds.) Globalization, Democracy, and Development: Philosophical Perspectives. Lanahan, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

xv Crocker David A. Development Ethics, Globalization and Democracy.

xvi Fukuyama F. The End of History and the Last Man. Free Press, 1992.

xvii Fukuyama’s interview with Dugin A. // Profil’. 2007

xviii Friedman Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005; Idem. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization.New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999.

xix Friedman Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999.

xx Bhagwati Jagdish N. Free Trade Today. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002; Idem. In Defense of Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.