Global Transformations – Introduction by David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton

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Global Transformations – Introduction

by David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton

Globalization is an idea whose time has come. From obscure origins in French and American writings in the 1960s, the concept of globalization finds expression today in all the world's major languages (cf. Modelski, 1972). Yet, it lacks precise definition. Indeed, globalization is in danger of becoming, if it has not already become, the cliché of our times: the big idea which encompasses everything from global financial markets to the Internet but which delivers little substantive insight into the contemporary human condition.

Clichés, nevertheless, often capture elements of the lived experience of an epoch. In this respect, globalization reflects a widespread perception that the world is rapidly being moulded into a shared social space by economic and technological forces and that developments in one region of the world can have profound consequences for the life chances of individuals or communities on the other side of the globe. For many, globalization is also associated with a sense of political fatalism and chronic insecurity in that the sheer scale of contemporary social and economic change appears to outstrip the capacity of national governments or citizens to control, contest or resist that change. The limits to national politics, in other words, are forcefully suggested by globalization.

Although the popular rhetoric of globalization may capture aspects of the contemporary zeitgeist, there is a burgeoning academic debate as to whether globalization, as an analytical construct, delivers any added value in the search for a coherent understanding of the historical forces which, at the dawn of the new millennium, are shaping the socio-political realities of everyday life. Despite a vast and expanding literature there is, somewhat surprisingly, no cogent theory of globalization nor even a systematic analysis of its primary features. Moreover, few studies of globalization proffer a coherent historical narrative which distinguishes between those events that are transitory or immediate and those developments that signal the emergence of a new conjuncture; that is, a transformation of the nature, form and prospects of human communities. In acknowledging the deficiencies of existing approaches, this volume seeks to develop a distinctive account of globalization which is both historically grounded and informed by a rigorous analytical framework. The framework is explicated in this introduction, while subsequent chapters use it to tell the story of globalization and to assess its implications for the governance and politics of nation-states today. In this respect, the introduction provides the intellectual foundation for addressing the central questions which animate the entire study:

  • What is globalization? How should it be conceptualized?

  • Does contemporary globalization represent a novel condition?


  • is globalization associated with the demise, the resurgence or the transformation of state power?

be 'civilized' and democratized?
As will soon become apparent, these questions are at the root of the many controversies and debates which find expression in contemporary discussions about globalization and its consequences. The subsequent pages offer a way of thinking about how these questions might be addressed.

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