Some global trade demonstrations

The Global Transformations Reader. First Edition
June 1, 2001

If readers must be accepted as core tools in higher education, then this volume is a worthy resource. It brings together extracts from the most up-to-date and "essential interventions" in the globalisation debate, made by members of the international grande armée of the social sciences, including Manuel Castells, Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck, Michael Mann, Arjun Appadurai, Anthony D. Smith and John Gray.

The extracts are divided into six parts. Part one surveys the definitions and contestations of the concept of globalisation since its emergence in the 1960s. Parts two, three and four constitute the substantive core of the survey, inquiring into the reality, circumstances and extent of the universalisation of aspects of political, cultural, technological and economic life. Part five offers the standard range of reflections on the theme of inequality applied to large-scale international blocs of power and wealth. Such blocs have, in the course of the 20th century, divided the world into first, second, third, fourth, postcolonial and female. Part six speculates, with an idealism comparable to the Renaissance "mirrors of princes", on future forms of utopian global governance, including the scope for a world community or a world-wide association of democratic and law-bound communities.

What is remarkable in the history of the literature on this undeniable transformation of the human condition is the literature's own transformation from a "big bang", Platonic theory of new world creation into a more tempered and refined understanding of continuity and change. The selections included illustrate the modification of the earlier, universalist stance by their recognition of the resilience of the nation-state and the need to maintain it as the only effective mechanism of redistribution and welfare provision.

The section on politics is outstanding for its historical content and perspective and for the detail and focus of the texts, especially their analyses of the crucial concept of sovereignty, from the treaty of Westphalia to contemporary definitions by the United Nations.

However, one great opport-unity is missed - to offer students case studies chronicling and assessing the degree of transformation of particular national economies, cultures and polities into more global forms. Instead, students are given fragments of information supporting general claims in the debate. Indeed, a weakness of the volume is its emphasis on the more abstract aspects of the globalisation debate - on overviews, and theoretical and typological texts.

There is also some repetition. The texts on economic transformations are the worst hit: first, because they overlap with economic analyses of global politics and culture; and second, because their aggregation reduces the independent impact of each text to a mantra about the informational and cross-border, global nature of the new economy.

Athena S. Leoussi is lecturer in sociology and European studies, University of Reading.

The Global Transformations Reader. First Edition

Editor - David Held and Anthony McGrew
ISBN - 0 7456 2199 6 and 2200 3
Publisher - Polity
Price - £55.00 and £16.99
Pages - 480

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