This post is a brief review of Raewyn Connell’s The Northern Theory of Globalisation. In this paper, Connell argues that the globalisation theory is constructed by metropolitan theoretical frameworks and thus, ignores the processes, experiences, and theories of a large part of the world. The result is a theory whose scope, contrary to its claim, is not global.
Raewyn Connell is a leading Australian sociologist and a prominent figure of the country’s New Left. She is famous for Southern theory and the concept of hegemonic masculinity. She is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney.
“The sociology of knowledge tells us that the social location of a group of thinkers is significant for the ideas they produce. … “where” does matter.”
The initial scope of sociology, with its emergence in the 19th century, was ‘unquestionably’ global. Its focus then shifted to ‘social differentiation and social problems within the society of the metropole’ in the 1920s and 1930s. Later, during the 1940s to the 1970s, it became common to assume the boundaries of ‘society’ the same as those of nation-states.
The term ‘globalisation’ was first popularised in by business journalists and management theorists and then spread through economics and sociology research. Initially, it referred to ‘the integration of capital markets that was a part effect, part condition, of those corporate strategies’.
Without much questioning, the idea of globalisation, initially as an economic/business strategy, was accepted and reified as a new form of society.
Connell distinguishes three views on the concept of global society. These views are based on the ideas of
- Abstract linkage
There is a significant increase in the breaking down of boundaries and intensification of links among people, social entities, and regions.
- Postmodernity on a world scale
This view focuses more on the traits of global society. It includes ‘the politics of risk, the breakdown of tradition, the decline of family forms, the emergence of the pure relationship, the spreading of democracy, and the rise of active citizenries and civil society’ (Giddens). It also includes ‘an increase in social diversity, growing difficulty in forming social norms, the impossibility of rational planning, the predominance of consumption over production, and the transformation of politics into spectacle and media manipulation’ (Bauman).
- Constitutive dynamic of global society
This view is closer to the Marxist concepts of exploitation and accumulation and views globalisation ‘driven by capitalism’s inherent need to occupy more space, speed up production and circulation, and exploit nature as well as labor more intensively’ (Brennan). This view regards globalisation as ‘capital’s response to the de-structuring effect of proletarian struggle’ (Hart and Negri and McMichael).
The Antinomies of Globalisation Theory
Connell distinguishes three general antinomies in the globalisation debates.
 Global versus local.
The globalisation literature has been, since its emergence, occupied with the debate on the significance and breadth of global activities in comparison to the national and local. This debate is still far from resolved.
 Homogeneity versus difference.
The debate is still ongoing whether globalisation leads or has led to the homogeneity across nations. This debate focuses on culture and poses the question whether cultural differences fade with the progress of globalisation, leading to a homogenous culture around the world.
While in neoliberal theory the main reason for globalisation of markets is to have a ‘homogeneous business environment’, some argue that ‘diversity is a basic aspect of globalization’ (Robertson 1992: 172). Nederveen Pieterse (2004) argues for ‘structural hybridisation’ as a key characteristic of globalisation which creates various cultural options.
 Dispersed versus concentrated power.
The concept of globalisation in the business literature claimed the shift of power from the state to the market. There is a wide-ranging debate on this issue, discussing whether the shift has occurred and whether it has become dispersed or centralised. The debates are again far from being settled. The answers to the problem include:
- The power of states has declined (Bauman 2013).
- States have never had much power (Arrighi).
- Most states are still powerful (Therborn 2000).
- There is a struggle, and it has not settled yet (Evans 1997; Evans 1995).
- Business power has increased and formed a transnational state (Robinson 2002; Robinson 2004).
- The transnational state does not exist (Meyer 2000).
- Business power is reflected in some deterritorialisation of sovereignty (Sassen 1998; Sassen 2000).
The Northern Theory of Globalisation
Connell argues that the debates on globalisation are mostly centred around the global metropole. By, ‘metropole’, Connell means
“the group of capital-exporting and raw-material importing economies, mostly former imperial powers with continuing postcolonial connections, and the centers of military, communication, and intelligence networks.”
In the 1990s, metropolitan sociology did not construct the concept of global society by a new research agenda. Instead, it upscaled its existing conceptual tools while intentionally avoiding the issue of power and imperialism. At best, it had ‘an embarrassed relationship with world-systems analysis’. It refused analyses that named ‘metropole as the center of power, as the agent of cultural domination, or as the site of accumulation’.
Many globalisation texts play a performative role by using and focusing on ‘we’. But who is ‘we’? The audience of the texts is a ‘professional or educated general reader’, who is metropolitan. The writers are also mostly metropolitan. That is why they can easily use the term ‘we’ and be confident that the reader shares the experience.
The mechanism of exclusion
However, the globalisation texts, by focusing on the metropolitan experiences, exclude much of global processes. Despite the claim of the global scope, the texts mostly ignore nonmetropolitan research. The body of writing ‘almost never cites nonmetropolitan thinkers and almost never builds on social theory formulated outside the metropole’. While some globalisation theorists do go to the periphery to conduct research and gather data, the research outcome is still ‘framed by concepts, debates, and research strategies from the metropole’. The theories and thoughts of the periphery are excluded from those research.
“We may speak, therefore, of an erasure of nonmetropolitan experience in the globalization literature. “Erasure,” to follow the early Derrida, does not mean obliteration; rather, it means an overwriting. The most important erasure in globalization theory concerns colonialism.”
Special thanks to my dear friend, Oki Rahandianto for suggesting this article, which is very relevant to my research.
Bauman, Z (2013), Globalization: the human consequences, Hoboken, Wiley.
Connell, R (2007), ‘The Northern Theory of Globalization’, Sociological Theory, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 368-385.
Evans, P (1997), ‘The Eclipse of the State? Reflections on Stateness in an Era of Globalization’, World Politics, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 62-87.
Evans, PB (1995), Embedded autonomy: states and industrial transformation, Princeton, N.J, Princeton University Press.
Meyer, JW (2000), ‘Globalization: Sources and Effects on National States and Societies’, International Sociology, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 233-248.
Nederveen Pieterse, J (2004), Globalization and culture : global mélange, Lanham, Md, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Robertson, R (1992), Globalization: social theory and global culture, London, SAGE.
Robinson, WI (2002), ‘Capitalist globalization and the transnationalization of the state ‘, In Rupert, M & Smith, H (eds), Historical materialism and globalization, London, Routledge, pp. 210-221.
Robinson, WI (2004), A theory of global capitalism: production, class, and state in a transnational world, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Sassen, S (1998), Globalization and its discontents, New York, New Press.
Sassen, S (2000), ‘Spatialities and Temporalities of the Global: Elements for a Theorization’, Public Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 215-232.
Therborn, G (2000), ‘Globalizations: Dimensions, Historical Waves, Regional Effects, Normative Governance’, International Sociology, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 151-179.