Essay: Globalization and Sociology, or the Study

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Globalization and Sociology

Sociology, or the study of society, was established to provide a means to better understand the world's social groups and the social activities that occur within them. Through this study, researchers could explain what was taking place in a clear and unbiased manner. Since the establishment of sociology, others have further clarified this study through the depiction of specific perspectives, such as the theories of functionalism and conflict. The former hypothesizes that each characteristic of society works together for a united whole. Societies function due to their cohesiveness and integration of social systems. The latter argues that societies are instead made up of conflict. Social change can only take place through infighting among the social classes. As the world moves further into the 21st century of rapid change, society is increasingly becoming more global and integrating politically, economically as well as socially on a world scale. In world of globalization, is stability still a primary goal? Or is continual conflict essential for the future well-being of all humans? Once again, different theories are being suggested to better understand the changes that are taking place globally, but the overall impact of globalization is yet to be fully understood.

Today the world is becoming increasingly global. Sociologists define this new phase of "globalization" with differing emphases. Brittan (Busch 2000) says that globalization refers to a world where, after allowing for exchange rate default risk, there is a single international rate of interest. Held et al. (1999) states that, above all, globalization consists of a broadening of social, political and economic actions, so that events, decisions and activities in one area of the world become significant for individuals and communities in more distant nations of the world. Waters (1995) sees globalization as a social process where the "constraints of geography on economic,

political, social and cultural arrangements recede, in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding and it which people act accordingly" (p. 3). Just as sociologists looked at the changing world in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the coming of the Industrial Revolution to better understand society, they are now attempting to answer such questions as: will globalization have a positive or negative effect on society? If positive, how can it be promoted? If negative, how can be curtailed or improved? Similarly, just as sociologists theorized differently in the past, they now find themselves continuing to argue conflicting ideas regarding the positive and negative aspects of globalization.

The world system theory of Immanuel Wallerstein, for example, claims there is only one world that is connected by a complex network of economic exchange relationships. Born and raised in 1930, Wallerstein studied and taught sociology at Columbia University until the early 1970s. His mentor was C. Wright Mills, who supported the critical conflict theory. Mills shared a philosophy with the Marxist sociologists and elitist theorists who perceived that society is divided quite distinctly along the lines drawn between those having and not having power. Mills also agreed with other sociologists' apprehensions concerning human alienation, the impact of social structure on personality and the mass media's exploitation of the populace. When Wallerstein began to study third-world countries, he established a view of "creative self-destruction" for this new global world. In the introduction to The Modern World System (1974), he wrote: "In general, in a deep conflict, the eyes of the downtrodden are more acute about the reality of the present. For it is in their interest to perceive correctly in order to expose the hypocrisies of the rulers (p.4). For Wallerstein, "a world-system is a social system, one that has boundaries, structures, member groups, rules of legitimation, and coherence" (1974, p. 347). It consists of conflicting forces that are held together by tension yet torn apart as each group continually seeks to remold the system to its own advantage. This world system is similar to a living organism, where, during its lifespan, its characteristics are sometimes stable and other times changing. "Life within it is largely self-contained, and the dynamics of its development are largely internal." (Wallerstein, 1974, p. 347). This world system is also a "world economy" that is integrated by means of the marketplace instead of a political center and where two or more regions depend on one another for necessities such as food, fuel or protection and two or more polities vie for control without the development of a single long-lasting center.

According to Wallerstein, within the principal structures of the present-day world-system is a power hierarchy where powerful and wealthy "core" societies seize control and exploit the weak and poor "peripheral" societies through technology. Developed countries make up the core, and the less developed ones, the periphery. These peripheral nations are structurally forced to experience a form of development that reproduces their lesser status (Chase-Dunn and Grimes, 1995). This opposing strength among the nations is critical to maintain the system in its entirety, since stronger states sustain and develop the differential flow of surplus to the core area (Skocpol, 1977). According to Wallerstein, "unequal exchange" refers to the processes or vehicles that reproduce the core-periphery division of labor and lead to the systematic movement of surplus from the subsistence and semi-proletarian sectors that are found in the periphery to the high-technology, more completely proletarianized core. Thus, it is possible to observe continuous and greater levels of living in the core, with a combination of higher wages, worker political organization, and surplus capital that build persistence for ever greater technical advancement. This in turn tends to increase the differentiation between core and periphery (Goldfrank, 2000, p. 157).

In other words, these core regions always have the advantage over the peripherals, establishing a skewed development where economic and social disparities between sections of the world economy have increased instead of providing prosperity for everyone. For Wallerstein, therefore, globalization is the development of a unified world system excessively dominated by the socio-economic relationships of capitalism, as well as racism and sexism. Simply put, the world-system theory is the global version of Marx' theory where there are upper-class, rich, exploiting nations of the core and the lower-class, poor, exploited nations of the periphery, with a "middle-class" status in between, the semi-peripheral nations (Kilminster, 1998).

Whereas Wallerstein observed globalization through an economic perspective, other sociologists have considered it through a cultural one. This theory is derived from the earlier concepts of McLuhan and later of Appadurai (1990) where the current global processes seem to consist of "the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization." Based on this perspective, images from communication technology such as television and global media are recognized as major forces of homogenization. This cultural homogenization frequently means the dominance of a specific culture, such as Westernization, where globalization imposes Western cultural thought and action on the non-Western world. This dominance of Western culture considerably destroys the variety of local culture and can result in pursuing alternative values and religious fundamentalism. As Appadurai states: "The central problem of today's global interactions is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization" (p. 245). Appadurai also argues that Wallerstein's theory is no longer applicable: He states that this new global cultural economy must be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order that no longer can be understood in relationship to center-periphery models or of consumers and producers as in most neo-Marxist development theories. Rather, the complexity of the present global economy deals with certain fundamental disjunctures between economy, culture and politics that sociologists have barely begun to theorize. Seen instead from several cultural factors of cultural flow, globalization uses a variety of vehicles of homogenization, such as armaments, advertising, language, and clothing, which the local political and cultural economies absorb, just to be repatriated as heterogeneous dialogues of national sovereignty, free enterprise, and fundamentalism. The nation state must find a balance between too much openness to global flows that may lead to revolt as in China or too little flow where the state exits the international stage as in North Korea.

Rather than purely from an economic or cultural stance, globalization can be seen from a multidimensional perspective. For example, Giddens theorized a view of globalization that conceptualizes multiple and complex systemic arrangements. He criticized Wallerstein, for example, for his uni-dimensional model of globalization, suggesting other dimensions such as the political, are equally critical. He thus noted the four dimensions of the world: capitalist economy, nation-state system, world military order and international division of labor. During his studies in England, he positioned himself against the leading functionalist theory that was being proposed by Parsons, an advocate supporter of Weber. In his book Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971), he analyzed the work of Weber, as well as Durkheim and Marx and argued that regardless of their differences, each of these sociologists was concerned about the connection between capitalism and society. Instead, Giddens stressed the social constructs of power, modernity and institutions and redefined sociology as a study of social institutions created by the industrial transformation of the several centuries.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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