Sociology of Globalization

A Brief Guide to a Subfield Within the Discipline

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Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "Sociology of Globalization." ThoughtCo, May. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/sociology-globalization-3026293. Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. (2017, May 11). Sociology of Globalization. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sociology-globalization-3026293 Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "Sociology of Globalization." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sociology-globalization-3026293 (accessed October 24, 2017).
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Customers celebrate the opening of Latin America's first Apple Store in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February, 2014. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The sociology of globalization is a subfield within sociology that focuses on understanding the structures, institutions, groups, relationships, ideologies, trends, and patterns that are particular to a globalized world. Sociologists whose research lies within this subfield focus on how the process of globalization has shifted or changed pre-existing elements of society, new elements of society that may have evolved in response to globalization, and the social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental implications of the process.

The sociology of globalization contains the study of economic, political, and cultural globalization, and importantly, examines the interplay of all three aspects, as they are all mutually dependent on one another.

When sociologists focus on the economic aspects of globalization, they examine how the capitalist economy has evolved from a pre-globalization state. They research legal changes in the regulations of production, finance, and trade that either facilitated or are responses to the globalization of the economy; how the processes and relations of production are different in a globalized economy; how conditions and experiences of labor, and the value of labor, are particular to a globalized economy; how globalization changes patterns of consumption and distribution; and what may or may not be particular to the business enterprises that operate in a global economy. Sociologists have found that the deregulation of the economy that allowed for its globalization have led to a rise in insecure, low-wage, and unsafe work around the world, and that corporations have amassed unprecedented levels of wealth during capitalism’s global epoch.

To learn more about economic globalization, see the work of William I. Robinson, Richard P. Appelbaum, Leslie Salzinger, Molly Talcott, Pun Ngai, and Yen Le Espiritu, among others.

When studying political globalization, sociologists focus on understanding what has changed or is new about political institutions, actors, forms of government and governance, the practice of popular politics, modes of political engagement, and the relationships between them in a global context.

Political globalization is intimately connected to economic globalization, as it is within the political realm that decisions about how to globalize and run the economy were and are made. Sociologists have found that the global era has wrought entirely new forms of governance that are global in scope (the transnational state), made up of organizations of heads of state or high-level representatives from many nations who determine the rules for global society. Some have focused their research on the implications of globalization for popular political movements, and have illuminated the role of digital technology in facilitating globalized political and social movements that reflect shared ideas, values, and goals of people all over the world (like the Occupy movement, for example). Many sociologists carve a distinction between “globalization from above,” which is globalization determined by the leaders of transnational corporations and the transnational state, versus “globalization from below,” a democratic form of globalization called for by popular movements.

To learn more about political globalization, see the work of Josef I. Conti, Vandana Shiva, William F. Fisher, Thomas Ponniah, and William I.

Robinson, among others.

Cultural globalization is a phenomenon connected to both economic and political globalization. It refers to the export, import, sharing, repurposing and adapting of values, ideas, norms, common sense, lifestyles, language, behaviors, and practices on a global scale. Sociologists have found that cultural globalization occurs via the global trade in consumer goods, which spreads lifestyle trends, popular media like film, television, music, art, and material shared online; through the implementation of forms of governance borrowed from other regions that reshape everyday life and social patterns; the spread of styles of conducting business and of working; and from the travel of people from place to place. Technological innovation has a great impact on cultural globalization, as recent advances in travel, media production, and communication technology have brought wide-scale cultural shifts across the world.

To learn more about cultural globalization, see the work of George Yúdice, Mike Featherstone, Pun Ngai, Hung Cam Thai, and Nita Mathur.