Global Society and International Relations
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The Theoretical Challenge of Global Society
Contents: The world as a single society; Integration in global society; Global culture, institutions and civil society; Sociology, international relations and global society
As the twentieth century draws to its close, we are becoming aware of historic transformations of human society. The changes seem, indeed, truly millenial in their implications. For the first time since human beings inhabited this earth, it is possible to describe comprehensive networks of social relationships which include all human beings. We have not just some global connections - these have been developing for centuries - but the clear outlines of a global society. We have a global economic system, with production and markets coordinated on a world scale; elements of a global culture and world-wide networks of communication; globally vibrant political ideas and the possibility of coordinated political action. With the end of the Cold War, moreover, the international institutions which were seemingly still-born in 1945 are beginning to develop - albeit inadequately - as instruments of global order.
The emergence of global society is, however, beset by contradictions. Indeed one of the principal ways in which we can identify a global society is by the development of global crises. It is our common experience of fundamental disturbances, and the need to shape common responses, which is helping to bring global society into being. These crises are experienced at every level of social relations. They are socio-economic - as in the re-emergence of cyclical crises of the capitalist economy, which produce recessions now increasingly experienced in every corner of the globe. They are environmental - as in the production by global industry of harmful climatic effects which are felt everywhere, and even seen as planetary phenomena. They are especially political - manifested in a unique turbulence of inter-state relations and instability of state structures, leading to new forms of war at civil as well as inter-state levels.
Global crises matter not merely because of their widespread harmful effects to human beings - poverty and unemployment, pollution and drought, dispossession and genocide. They are important too because it is through such crises that we can increasingly identify global society and the development of its institutions. Through an understanding of crises we can begin to grasp the forms which global society is taking and the processes transforming it in the present historical period.
Many global crises, and most obviously political crises, are often understood as international crises, i.e. as crises of the inter-state system. Certainly, global crises of all kinds manifest themselves as international crises, but it is the argument of this book that such an understanding is limited, and in a certain sense superficial. Socio-economic, environmental and even political crises arise from a complex network of causes in worldwide social relations. They are commonly expressed within inter-state relationships because these are foremost among the institutional forms of world society. To consider them primarily as international phenomena is however to miss their complex causality and ramifications.
This book is concerned with global social developments, therefore, in a way which fundamentally challenges the common approach from the field of international relations. The aim of the book is to reconceptualise this field from the point of view of sociology in general, and the sociology of globalisation in particular. Later chapters of this book lay out, critically, some of the perspectives from sociology on the subject of nation-states, which are relevant to the understanding of international politics, together with detailed critiques of major concepts and perspectives in international relations. They also outline an alternative approach to understanding current global crises, together with a sociologically-informed political approach to them.
In this chapter, however, the aim is to develop a sociological perspective on globalisation and to suggest how inter-state relations might be conceptualised within this. In this chapter we shall discuss some of the main approaches that are available within sociology, suggesting both their strengths and weaknesses for an understanding of global processes, especially at the inter-state level.
The world as a single society
The issue of globalisation is a radical one for sociology as well as for international relations - and indeed for the social sciences as a whole. It challenges prevailing conceptions, especially many which are implicitly assumed in social theory and analysis, about the very nature of the social, as well as of the state and civil society.
The concept of society is fundamental to sociology and its absence, weakness or unacceptable mutation, we shall see later in this book, is one of the definitive weaknesses of international relations. When Margaret Thatcher proclaimed, 'There is no such thing as society', her statement was received as a challenge by every sociologist. And yet there can be no doubt that prevailing usages of 'society' are rendered highly problematic by the processes of globalisation.
The term society is used in several senses. The most basic usage is a generic term for social relations, which are the essential subject matter of sociology. In this sense, society is the totality or complex of social relations. Since social relations of all kinds are increasingly global, and the all forms of social relations everywhere in the world are, at least in some indirect sense bound into global networks, society in this sense is now necessarily global.
The term is also used, however, and perhaps even more widely, in the sense of a society. The assumptions behind such usage is that there are relatively discrete complexes of social relations which can be distinguished from other such complexes and analysed in a largely self-sufficient manner. Note the qualifying adjectives, relatively and largely, for it is a long time since any known area of social life, probably not even the most recently 'discovered' peoples of New Guinea, could be said to be absolutely or wholly separated from wider frameworks of social relations.
There has always been a considerable paradox, and theoretical question-mark, behind most senses in which sociologists have talked of the existence of discrete societies. Such societies have always existed in relation to other societies and have been defined largely by such relationships. In modern times, moreover, societies have been defined by their state institutions and the specific forms of relationships between these. Hence, of course, the assumption by international theorists that inter-state relations can be regarded as largely autonomous from and analytically prior to social relations.
These considerations apply above all to national societies and the way in which they are related to nation-states. National societies, in the modern sense, depend on the existence of nation-states in a system of relations between states. National societies have been state-bounded segmentations of increasingly global social relations. Since there have always been, in modern times, international, transnational and even incipiently global relationships, such segmentations have always been, however, quite arbitrary in some important respects. The ways in which description and analysis have tried to represent them as real - in a more or less absolute or fixed sense - has been patently false, and has reflected the incapacity of much sociology to adequately criticise national ideologies.
The same arguments apply, moreover, even to tribal societies. Such societies have generally existed, over thousands of years, only in relation to other similar societies. Societies, in the sense of discrete human communities, have only been formed through migration, differentiation and mutual contact. The circumstance of a wholly isolated society must be viewed, historically, as a limited exception in which a certain human group temporarily becomes isolated from others. In modern times, moreover, such societies have become increasingly defined by their contact with the Western nation-state system. Even the early anthropological studies, which attempted to define the pre-colonial forms of social relations were in fact, as later critiques have established, manifestations of the colonial relationship between tribal societies and Western state-bound societies.
There is a sense, then, in which the concept of discrete societies was always questionable, when not clearly identified as a partial abstraction from the global complex of social relations. A great deal of sociology has failed to enter the necessary qualifications and has accepted the national or state-bound divisions as much more fixed and complete than they ever were. Such work has, of course, usually accepted the identity of nation and state, or national society and state, even where these ought to have been seen as problematic. (Thus most sociologists, before the 1970s, referred to British society without recognising distinct Scottish or Welsh dimensions, and without recognising its atypicality in relation to the class of modern industrial capitalist societies.) Such work has tended to discuss the relations between national societies in terms of the comparative method, as though comparisons between societies were an adequate substitute for examining the common frameworks of relationships in which national entities were involved.
The national (and corresponding tribal) demarcation of societies worked, however, for a certain historical period. From the nineteenth-century heyday of the nation-state, in which classical sociology was largely developed, through the extreme national division of the world in the era of total war, the idea of national society corresponded to immediately comprehensible socio-political realities. The idea was still strong in the mid-twentieth century 'post-war' condition, in which most modern sociology grew. Although many developments after 1945 were working to undermine this situation, the Cold War helped to freeze a certain conception of national society beyond the point at which it could really be sustained in its earlier form.
What is really new in the present situation, most clearly since the end of the Cold War, is that although the idea of discrete national societies retains much resonance, its absolute supremacy among the ideas of society can no longer hold. This may seem a paradoxical assertion, since the strongest tendency of the years since 1989 has been the re-assertion of nationalism. On all sides, people are breaking up multi-national states into nation-states, and nation-states into miniature ethnically defined states. Socialism and communism seem to have given way, not to liberalism but to nationalism. And yet the desparation and violence of much of this return to the nation does not speak of an idea whose time has come, but of one which has to be upheld against all the odds.
The new nationalisms are not those of the classic, integrative nation-state, bonding disparate cultures into a single entity, but of the exclusive ethnic group, expelling all those who do not conform. The new nationalisms arise from the disintegration of nation-states and national societies. They reflect both historic pluralism and multi-ethnicity and new patterns formed as a result of recent migration and cultural change. Although ethnic identities seem the most powerful foci, they in fact exist alongside a powerful range of diverse, part-competing, part-overlapping forms of identity, centred on religion, gender, race, class, profession and lifestyle. The virulence of ethnic nationalism reflects its conflict not just with other nationalisms but with ideas of a plural society with multiple identities.
The idea of a national society in the old sense has thus declined as the idea of a global society and of various more local forms of social identity have grown. The phenomenon of ethnic nationalism confirms rather than contradicts this development. The decline of national society brings to an end the idea of discrete segments in human society, or of discrete societies. It leaves us with the idea of a single global society, segmented in many different ways - not least by the system of nation-states and by national and ethnic identities - but in which no one form of differentiation is so dominant as to enable us to adopt it as a general principle of analysis. All discussion of society within particular regions, states, or local communities, or within particular culturally defined limits, must be recognised as a relative abstraction from the global complex of social relations, and one which must ultimately be returned to an analysis of this whole.
Integration in global society
To describe global social relations in terms of a society immediately raises critical issues about the meaning of society. Different schools of sociology have fought in the past over the concept, with clear lines of division, in a classic debate which is highly relevant to the current discussion. For some theorists, a society is characterised by normative consensus, reflected in commonly accepted institutions. For others, society is formed simply by the existence of networks of relationships, with mutual expectations, even if the commonality of values and norms among the members is highly limited. The mutual expectations may indeed be of sustained and systematic conflict over values as well as resources.
These divided notions of the meaning of a society are also prevalent, but as we shall see later in this book, largely unacknowledged and untheorised, in the international relations debate. In this section, however, we shall explore the sociological meaning of global society, and try to illuminate the issues posed by the dual definitions of society which are on offer.
In order to utilise the dilemma constructively, it is important not to entrench ourselves in the polar positions of 'conflict' and 'consensus' which characterise textbook discussions in sociology. It may indeed be preferable, as a starting point, to examine the de facto patterns of social relations, and it is unjustifiable to assume the existence of de jure normative consensus as the foundation of society: to this extent the present writer shares maintains the materialist foundations of the conflict view. As David Lockwood argued, however, in a classic attempt to overcome the polarity, it may be more relevant to see these two approaches as indicating two distinctive dimensions of social cohesion, which can be characterised respectively as 'system' and 'social' integration. The former concerns the extent to which a society's members are factually integrated in social relationships; the latter, the extent to which they are normatively integrated. Lockwood's argument suggests that these are not questions of definition, but empirical issues in the assessment of any given society.
Two versions of 'system' integration may be identified as structuring the sociological debate on globalisation. Immanuel Wallerstein's 'world system' approach analyses the world in terms of the development of global capitalism, in which the division between economic, political and social relationships is seen as artificial. For Wallerstein, globalisation is the development of a unified world system dominated - critics would say excessively - by the socio-economic relationships of capitalism. Wallerstein has recently extended his analysis into the cultural dimension of the world-system, seeing this as dominated by a tension between universalism and particularism (in the form of racism-sexism). This remains, however, a highly simplified view of global society, juxtaposing a one-dimensional view of culture and values with a similar perspective on market relationships.
Anthony Giddens, on the other hand, has proposed a view of globalisation which conceptualises systemic arrangements as multiple and complex. In Giddens' view, modern society is dominated by knowledge-based abstract systems which coordinate human activity, and which enable as well as constrain individual action and choice. For Giddens, the globalisation of abstract systems creates opportunities for individuals, as well as crises in which they have constantly to remake their own lives and identities. It is clear from Giddens' view that the increasing integration of systems (plural) does not necessarily imply greater social integration on a global scale. On the contrary, the crises brought about by the failures of or contradictions between the various abstract systems could lead to greater problems of social integration.
Applying the distinction between system and social integration to the developing global society may, therefore, illuminate many of the issues which concern current analysis. Global society clearly exhibits growing system integration, above all at the level of socio-economic relations, but also in the development of cultural and political institutions. What is a great deal more problematic is the development of social integration in the value sense. How far has the growing integration of global systems been accompanied by a genuine emergence of consensus and normative integration? In so far as such developments are occuring, are they confined largely to state. corporate and intellectual elites, or do they involve larger sections, or even all the members of global society?
Merely to pose these questions is to underline how limited and fragmentary is the process of globalisation. Clearly the emerging global society is divided by fractures of many kinds - of income, wealth and class; of knowledge and power; of gender, lifestyle and culture; and of course, of nation, race and ethnicity. The obstacles to social integration (of the kind classically understood by sociologists) are so many that even a comprehensive description and analysis would actually be very difficult.
Does this mean that the concept of global society should be employed only in a factual and never in a normative sense? In reality such a division cannot be made, because the two dimensions actually concern aspects of the same relationships. Even global market relations and the most limited global coordination of production involve the growth of common expectations and ideas of social life. The global coordination of communications, even more obviously, diffuses ideas and values which become increasingly commonly held. The growth of global politics is not just the bringing of very diffuse interests into relations with each other, but also involves the development of a common language and values (of democracy, rights, nation, etc.) in which conflicts are articulated.
It is worth exploring further, therefore, what might be meant by asserting that the social or normative integration of global society is less developed than its systemic or factual integration. Essentially the proposition would seem to revolve around two main absences: of a developed and generally acknowledged central system of beliefs and values (such as have been attributed, often somewhat dubiously, to national societies); and of central institutions which clearly embody, uphold and enforce these beliefs and values, and which are in turn widely accepted in global society.
It is evidently correct to argue that global society, in its existing or likely future form, does not and will not possess either common beliefs and values, or common and accepted institutions, to even the problematic extent to which these have been attributed to national or tribal societies. Indeed it is difficult to argue that global society could ever possess these forms of cohesion in the same ways, or to the same degree, as these more limited societies. This is true because, however fast global integration proceeds, world society seems likely in the forseeable future (centuries as well as decades) to remain divided between highly differentiated segments. The experience of society in complex multi-national states has been that national, ethnic and other divisions remain powerful; it seems inconceivable that these will be less important on the much larger scale of global society, however much global institutions develop. The reverse is more likely to be true, as globalisation sharpens existing differences.
Global social integration seems likely, therefore, to remain extremely problematic. Sociologists have, however, analysed cultural developments as one of the main forms of globalisation, and such developments pose the issue of integration particularly sharply. A global culture which equates with national cultures may not exist, Featherstone argues, and alleged homogenizing processes ('theories which present cultural imperialism, Americanisation and mass consumer culture as a proto-universal culture riding on the back of Western economic and political domination') may have been exaggerated. Nevertheless we can conceptualise global culture, 'in terms of the diversity, variety and richness of popular and local discourses', with an 'image of the globe as a single place, the generative frame of unity within which diversity can take place.'
Anthony Smith, an authority on nationalism, reminds us that the development of global means of communication does not necessarily mean that a common content is shared in all societies. On the contrary, national cultures may maintain or even increase their vibrancy in response to globalising tendencies. However, a historical perspective such as that proposed by Roland Robertson suggests that the diffusion of nationalism can itself be seen as part of the process of globalisation. In his account, the standardisation of the nation as the basis for society and state was a facet of the early stages of globalisation. By implication, its continuing importance, on which Smith rightly insists, has nevertheless to be seen in the context of the current phase of globalisation. Every nationalism is different, but all nationalisms use a common language and symbols - which are global currency. Nationalisms are, as Smith himself suggests, becoming hybrids, exchanging ideas with each other and with other elements in global political discourse. If nations are, in Anderson's term, imagined communities, then one has to be aware of this worldwide intercourse which feeds the way in which nations are imagined.
This discussion suggests that the problem of socio-cultural integration in global society should not be conceptualised in one-dimensional terms. The idea of a simple homogenisation is patently inadequate - although homogenising processes certainly exist - but even diversity can be seen to have integrating aspects. We can, indeed, go further, and argue that the conflictual aspects of diversity, where cultural differentiation is linked to political conflict, can be seen under the rubric of global integration. Conflict sharpens awareness of mutual dependence and promotes the development of common responses and institutions for regulation, which in turn involve cultures of cooperation.
Global culture, institutions and civil society
How then do we conceptualise global society? Does its analysis require entirely new concepts, or can we transfer the concepts with which sociologists have analysed national societies to a global level? We have looked at some of the issues which arise with the idea of society itself, but this is the most general (and often vague and implicit) of the major concepts. It is important to examine the more specific concepts which are widely used, in their theoretical contexts, in relation to some of the manifest dimensions of globalisation.
The conceptualisation of global society is not the novelty which it might appear at first glance. A central paradox of sociology is that while most analysis assumes national societies, the major theories are centred on concepts which either implicitly or explicitly transcend national frameworks. Sociological analysis has most commonly been carried out at national or sub-national levels, and where it has advanced beyond these has been based on the comparison of national societies. Theory, on the other hand, has been based on paradigms such as that of industrial society and modernisation, which has sat uneasily within national frameworks, and of the capitalist mode of production, which is explicitly transnational and incipiently global. The contradiction has tended to be resolved in practice by the domestication of concepts, as concepts like class have been treated as appropriate to a national level and shorn of their potentially global significance. In part, of course, sociology has here reflected the real contradiction that despite developing globalisation, many levels of society remain linked to the nation-state.
For the purposes of understanding globalisation, however, the important fact is that many sociological categories, commonly associated with national-level analysis, are already implicated in trans-national or global theorisation. The ideas of a global economy, global markets, and a global socio-economic system are commonplace, and already recognised in social science areas such as international political economy, which bridges economics and international relations. Within sociology, the concepts of the capitalism as a mode of production and a social formation have given a more specific formulation to these same realities, even if the relations between national and global contexts have not always been adequately theorised.
The concept of the state is one which is most ambiguously situated in relation to the global problematic. On the one hand, much of the sociological and political-science literature about the state, especially but not exclusively from within the Marxist tradition, locates states far too narrowly in relation to social relations within national contexts. Much recent sociological writing, however - most notably the works of Giddens, Mann and Skocpol - has placed the dimensions of external state relations in general and military power in particular in a newly central place in our understanding of modern society. A new paradigm has become established in which the state is no longer the theoretical object, but has been displaced by the state-system in which the relations of states among each other are of critical importance.
Critics have pointed out the danger of simply shoring up the equally one-sided view of the realist school of international relations, and this is a real issue which is explored in later chapters of this book. From the point of view of global sociology, however, the emphasis on the state-system also has highly positive implications: it opens up the possibility of theorising the relations between state-state and state-society relationships.
Another central concept which is implicated in this ambiguity is that of civil society. The idea of a complex of culture and institutions which mediates the relations of social groups to the state, and in which individual citizenship is grounded, would seem to be most clearly located in the national or domestic context and linked to the nation-state. With globalisation, however, it is clear that economic, cultural and political relations develop rapidly independently of the relations between states. National civil societies cease to be self-sufficient, even in the partial sense in which they might previously have been said to have been. Individuals and groups within society begin to develop relationships with international (inter-state) institutions, mediated through cultural forms and institutions of civil society which have themselves developed beyond the national context. In this sense, even the concept of civil society which appears to be firmly located in the national setting now has to be, and can be, extended to the global level - although what precisely is implied here needs considerable explication.
Certain theoretical perspectives and debates have clearly played crucial roles in opening up the understanding of globalisation. The concept of modernity has been central, and with it the debate about post-modernity, in clarifying the universalising tendencies of modern social relations. The limited concept of the modern which is assumed by much post-modernist writing implies a connection between modernity and the nation-state, which is now being transcended. The more general concept of modernity offered by critics of this view, such as Giddens, offers the alternative of viewing the nation-state as one partial, and historically limited, expression of modernity, but nevertheless one which continues to form part of current tensions. In either case, however, there is an agreement in seeing the contradictions between national and global forms as central to current trends in society.
This discussion leads to the conclusion that the theoretical perspectives and central concepts of sociology can be utilised in understanding global society, but that they cannot be uncritically transposed to this very different level. What is necessary is a process of theoretical transformation which takes account of the fundamental differences between global and national contexts, and understands the historical transformations of their relations which are taking place. To some extent, the theoretical changes are precisely what have been developing, in the debate about modernity, in the new thinking about states, and the analysis of cultural change and communications, over the last fifteen years. What has not yet been done, however, is to systematically bring together the central concepts in a way which enables us to conceptualise global society as a whole and the relations between its various components.
One of the problems is that to formulate the task in this way could lead to the dangers of the concepts of social system and social formation which have been well criticised in their Parsonian and Marxist versions. To emphasise the increasing reality of a society at the global level could be said to impose a false unity on very complex sets of relationships and to minimise the unevenness of unifying processes. More fundamentally, it could be seen as shifting the focus from processes and relationships to a more static concept of a social system. The critique of functionalism, levelled at Marxist accounts of the capitalist system as well as against post-war American theories, could easily be revived against any attempt to define global society as a closed and self-sufficient system.
Global society does not have to be defined, however, in this way. Global society, to put it at its strongest, is no more or less than the entire complex of social relations between human beings on a world scale. As such it is more complete and self-sufficient than just about any other society which has been or could be envisaged. It still represents a partial abstraction relative to the history of human societies, and relative to the natural and living world as a whole. It does not have to be seen as having needs (as in the original functionalist model), as being based on imperatives (such as capital accumulation in the Marxist account of capitalism), or as necessarily entailing a given set of functions and institutions. Its emergence and the social relations, systems and institutions within it can be described under the rubric of historical discontinuity and contingency rather than of functional or historical necessity.
While global society in this sense contains all social relations, not all relations are actually defined at a global level. Global society can also be seen, therefore, as the largest existing, and also the largest possible, framework or context of social relations, but not necessarily the immediately defining context of all social relations. As in all large-scale, complex societies there are many contexts in which relations can be defined, and most are not located in the largest or most general context. Crucial to understanding global society is to comprehend the changing contextualisation of social relations, and one of the critical issues is to grasp the extent, forms and processes of globalisation. Globalisation, indeed, can be seen as the way in which social relations become defined by specifically global contexts.
Global society can be said to exist, in the sense that global relationships are sufficiently strong and established to be defined as the largest context of social relationships as a whole. In an equally if not more important sense, however, it can still be seen very much as an emergent reality. Obviously, the historical origins and phases of globalisation are a very important question: Robertson traces it back to the mid-eighteenth century and, in its 'germinal phase', to the fifteenth century; no doubt even earlier antecedents could be found. Even if globalisation has been gathering momentum over recent centuries and (especially) decades, there are clearly important senses in which global society appears - by comparison with more restricted historical societies - to be in its early stages. There is, for example, no concept of deglobalisation, which suggests that the momentum is still very much in one direction, even if the tensions in the process are of critical importance.
If global society is still emergent, then this should increase our caution over ascribing to it forms which have characterised previous societies, and our attention to its historically specific features. A fundamental feature of global society is the exceptional complexity of its segmentation and differentiation, which subsumes and transforms the complexity of the pre-existing civilisations, national and tribal societies while producing many more from the processes of globalisation themselves. The form of global society is, for this reason, a standing reproach to any simple functionalism, since any attempt to identify institutions with functional pre-requisites will immediately founder on the institutional complexity and diversity of global social arrangements and the unevenness of globalisation. Likewise, although the existence of global production and markets may seem to indicate a plausible case for a Marxist approach ('world-system' or otherwise), this constitutes at best a partial case, since these forms have developed within a complexity and diversity of institutions and cultures which have many effects on them, and which cannot be explained by them.
Global society is best understood, therefore, as a diverse social universe in which the unifying forces of modern production, markets, communications and cultural and political modernisation interact with many global, regional, national and local segmentations and differentiations. Global society should be understood not as a social system but as a field of social relations in which many specific systems - some of them genuinely global, others incipiently so, and others still restricted to national or local contexts - have formed.
Given the segmentation of global society, many of its institutions take a qualitatively different form from those of other societies. The most evident difference between global and national societies is the lack of a centralised state. The contrast here is however a false one, since national societies in modern times only exist by virtue of three conditions: their dependence on particular states, these states' relationships with other states, and the segmentation of wider social relations in line with state divisions. These fundamental, structuring facts are overlooked in any comparison which takes national societies as a baseline for global society. We should consider national societies not as a general model, but as characterised by a historically specific relationship of state and society. This is not necessarily appropriate to Western societies at all historical stages, may not apply to other societies (for example, tribal societies - however much some anthropologists have searched for comparable state institutions). This model of state and society cannot, by definition, be applied to global society since the latter constitutes the framework for the existence of this relationship in the national cases.
Where national societies have states, therefore, global society has a state system. We are so used to thinking of the society-state relationship in a one-to-one sense, in a which a single state constitutes the ultimate source of power and authority in a given society, that this concept of state power in global society may seem confusing. The familiar concept of one society, one state is however a historically specific one, and to generalise it, and expect any newly identified society to conform to it by definition, is to be guilty of illegitimate generalisation.
Interestingly, international relations theorists have characterised the state system as an anarchic one, and in a well-known work Hedley Bull defined 'international society' as an 'anarchic society' comparable to 'primitive' stateless societies. There are problems, which are discussed later in this book, with this concept of international as opposed to global society. In particular, the definition of it as a 'society' of states to be compared with societies composed of individual human beings raised severe methodological problems. Nevertheless, the idea that a society can be characterised by anarchic relations - i.e. characterised by the absence of a clear central authority structure, and in particular of a central state - is clearly valid.
Although we are used to the idea of a society in which economic relations are anarchic (the essence of a market-based economy), the idea of political anarchy is challenging. Yet global society is a society in which anarchy prevails at both these crucial levels of social organisation - and of others. The economic system of global society is at root that of the global market, coordinating an enormously complex division of labour in the production and exchange of commodities. The political system of global society is basically that of the competitive international system of states, coordinating an equally complex diversity of national-state politics. The global cultural system is largely one of diverse, part-competing, part-overlapping, part-distinctive, part-integrated national and sub-national cultures, organised around a wide range of principles.
The novel sense in which we talk of a global society at the end of the twentieth century depends, however, on something more than an awareness of these various forms of anarchy (which have characterised the emerging global society for decades if not centuries). Nor is it merely that, as a result of the development of communications, we have a heightened awareness of the anarchic nature of our world. This is important, but what is most significant is that as a result of this heightened awareness we are beginning to experience transformations of systems, institutions and culture. Military, political, economic and cultural crises are increasingly defined as global crises; even relatively limited regional conflicts are seen as global issues. Global society is beginning to be more than the sum of its parts; or to be more precise, more than a framework for the competition of its parts.
It is in this sense that we should view the development of specifically global institutions (as well as regional and other transnational institutions). The global economic system consists not merely of a global division of labour and global market exchanges, but increasingly also of a variety of global economic (and regional) institutions aiming to regulate these processes. Although such institutions - GATT, IMF, Group of 7, EC, etc. - are dominated by the major Western states, banks and other corporations, they are distinct from any specific state or private interests and operate effectively as global regulators.
The global political system, similarly, consists not merely of an ever-growing number of individual nation-states and alliances or groupings of states. Global (and regional) institutions - above all, with all its defects, the UN - play an increasingly critical role. No matter that such institutions are manipulated by the major Western powers, and that their actions - especially military intervention (as in the Gulf in 1990-91) or non-intervention (as in Bosnia in 1992-93) - depend largely on the interests and policies of these powers, and especially of the USA. These are the developing global political institutions, and not surprisingly they reflect the current realities of global politics.
The global cultural system likewise can be characterised by the growth of global and regional elements. Although no one should doubt the tenacity of particularistic ideas and identities, as of particular economic and political interests, the growth of a common culture is still very striking. It is not just, of course, that means of communication have been transformed and that global communications systems have developed, dominated like most other economic fields by Western corporations with global reach. Nor is it merely that the standard cultural commodities - images, ideas, information - of Hollywood and CNN are globally diffused.
More important, although less easily summarised, are the ways that through these processes, intermeshing with economic and political globalisation, people are coming to see their lives in terms of common expectations, values and goals. These cultural norms include ideas of standard of life, lifestyle, entitlements to welfare, citizenship rights, democracy, ethnic and linguistic rights, nationhood, gender equality, environmental quality, etc. Many of them have originated in the West but they are increasingly, despite huge differences in their meanings in different social contexts, parts of the ways of life and of political discourse across the world. In this sense, we can talk of the emergence of a global culture, and specifically of global political culture.
A vital issue here is whether we can posit the growth of a global civil society. The concept of civil society forms of a pairing with that of state. In a weak and inclusive sense, civil society denotes society as distinct from the state; in this sense, clearly we can talk of a global civil society, based on the emerging global economy and culture. In a stronger sense, however, writers like Gramsci have seen civil society in terms of the way in which society outside the state organises and represents itself, forming both a source of pressure on the state and, in a certain sense, an extension of the state. Civil society in this sense is constituted by its institutions - classically churches, press, parties, trade unions, etc., but in modern terms also including a variety of communications media and new (no longer directly class-based) social movements and campaigns. The institutions of civil society have historically been national and constituted by the relationship to the nation-state; indeed they may be said to be essential components of the nation. Civil society has been, almost by definition, national.
It is clear that this situation, too, has begun to change in a fundamental way. As an increasing number of issues are being posed in global terms, the common threads weaving together civil societies in many countries have grown ever stronger. Between Western societies, the creation of a common military system, during the East-West conflict, and with it of a common economic space, has encouraged the linking of civil societies. Within Western Europe, especially, the development of the EC at a state level has brought forward - however contradictorily, since there is also societal resistance to European unity - a greater convergence of civil society. Across the former Communist world, the collapse of the system revealed the weakness of civil society; while one result is a resurgence of nationalism, there is also an unprecedented opening of civil society to the West. In the rest of the world, there is also a collapse of ideas of a Third World, and with it of the programme of national economic independence. There is a greater worldwide recognition of global interdependence, which has been strengthened since 1989.
Does the global linking of civil society amount to the development of global civil society? Clearly such a development must be in its early stages, and yet there are reasons for saying that it has well begun. The growth of common expectations, values and goals - the beginnings of a common world culture and especially a political culture - is not simply reflected in parallel demands in individual nation-states. It is reflected in the growth of common expectations of the state-system, with demands throughout the world for action by the 'international community', and in particular new expectations of international institutions like the UN. As suggested at the beginning of this chapter, global crises play a crucial role in forging the global consciousness which represents the awakening of a global civil society. At an institutional level, the responses are still weak, although non-governmental human rights, humanitarian, aid and environmental agencies, developed from the West but with global reach, are important forms in the embryonic global civil society.
Civil society, we have noted, has always been seen as symbiotically linked with the state. Global civil society is coming into existence in an interdependent relationship with the state-system, and especially with the developing international state institutions. The development of global civil society can best be understood in terms of a contradictory relationship with the state system. Civil society represents social interests and principles which may well conflict with the dominant interests in the state system. Just as national civil societies may express ideologies which are in contradiction to state interests, so global civil society, in so far as it is constructed around ideas of human rights, for example, may express ideologies which are formally upheld within the state-system, but whose consistent application is in contradiction with dominant state interests. Global civil society thus constitutes a source of constant pressures on the state system, although its development is in turn very much dependent on developments in the state-system.
National civil societies have gone hand in hand with national identity as a dominant principle in people's identity-formation. As we have noted, the overarching importance of national identity has declined, although it remains a - perhaps the most - powerful principle among many. The development of global civil society raises the issue of how far global principles of identity are now becoming important. Clearly important groups in all parts of global society are beginning to see membership of this society as a key identifier, alongside nationality and other affiliations. In some parts of the world, other forms of transnational identity are becoming more important - Europeanism, for example, which fairly clearly has close links to globalism, and Islam, which although universal in form is (like most other traditional religions and political ideologies) potentially antithetical to globalism in practice. The strength of globalism and related transnational identifiers is a key sociological test of the emergence of global civil society.