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Globalisation Essay Examples


To begin with, tell them that they will need to look at the essay questions today
Later we will be doing a trial reflective exercise

Lets look at Globalisation
My story
When my colleagues and I were faced with redundancy we were placed in a unique position.  Or perhaps it wasnt quite so unique, just unspoken; experts are not renowned for publicly applying their own theories to themselves.  After years working as labour researchers or workplace change consultants we found ourselves in the position of having the stories we told other workers and their managements about why change was happening being reflected back to us by our managers and the people employed to facilitate our departures.  We shifted from being purveyors of the discourses and narratives about why change was necessary to sitting in judgement of whether these very discourses and narratives applied to us, made sense to us, or were believable.

Armed with more information than the average potentially redundant worker, we gathered around photocopiers, water coolers, staff room dining tables, coffee shop booths, each others desks – and discussed, argued, complained, questioned.  As labour researchers we turned on labour theories, as change consultants we turned on theories of workplace change, and asked ourselves and each other, Is what Ive been saying for the last ten years really the case in my case? Now that Im down there amongst it all instead of looking at it from the safety of an analysts lofty heights, does the story look and sound the same?

The Globalisation Story

The stories we told the workers went generally like this: Globalisation led to economic and industry restructuring which leads to organisational change which means jobs change which means you have to do things differently to how you did them before and if you do not change, you wont be able to give your customers what they want and you and your company and your country are gone (hereafter called The Globalisation Story).  Simple.  Logical.  Inexorable.  Until we started telling it to ourselves and to each other.   Then, with remarkable alacrity, we shifted from a reliance on causal explanation to an emphasis on interpretive understanding.

Putting yourself inside the picture
With many of us experts in different stories – some were macroeconomists who understood globalisation theory, some of us were labour or industry economists who understood the theories of work and industry change, some were organisation researchers who knew about change management – we started to pick holes in other peoples stories and they picked holes in ours, many with the preface, Your story doesnt work for me because …  We were forced, many of us for the first time, to look reflexively at our own stories about how the world works, and also at how the various stories fitted together into the one that we delivered with such assertive nonchalance at the many workplaces we visited.  Mikhail Bakhtin had a way of describing this.  Morson and Emerson (1989: 17-18) point to the distinction Bakhtin draws between knowledge and acknowledgement.  Many writers, as my colleagues and I had done, take theories and knowledge as representative of our world but with ourselves outside of it.  It is only when we find ourselves within that world – when we are put in the position of having to acknowledge that knowledge as forming the content of our particular and singular worlds – that we hesitate and question.  We refuse to sign on, as it were.  As Bakhtin argues, any sort of practical orientation of my life within the theoretical world is impossible: it is impossible to live in it, impossible to perform answerable deeds (1993: 9).  He describes the distanced possession of knowledge that experts display as an alibi for being, an alibi for taking responsibility for what we say and do, of placing ourselves within the same world that we so willingly place others.

So what will I be talking about and how?  How is important.
Firstly, I argue that the macro literature orders perceived events in a particular way to demonstrate that globalisation or restructuring is happening, and a particular vocabulary of concepts is constructed to show how and why it is happening.  These events, the writers argue, must be responded to in particular ways by governments and organisations in order to succeed in this new competitive and global environment.  The emphasis here is on increasing competitiveness through introducing high-quality, lean production processes, and marketing strategies aimed at quick response to customer demand.

Following this, I briefly examine how writers have perceived the Australian Governments response to these events.

Thirdly, I show how writers on workplace change, even critical writers, largely accept that the quality, lean production and customer focus categorisation of workplace changes.

Thus, the analysis of the politics and power associated with workplace change is streamed according to prevailing neo-liberal or critical theories without ever questioning the nature of the concepts themselves.  My argument is that through the use of these reified concepts for analysing workplace change much of what is important about the experience of being a worker in the late 1990s, about the experience of being human amongst other humans in industrial spaces, is difficult to access and leaves what I consider important questions unanswered.

Different kinds of theories about work and the history behind these, too.
Adam Smith

These are important as a way of framing the way we see the world and what we believe should or should not happen.
Is what is happening good or bad?
What is the role of trade unions?
What degree of responsibility does an individual worker take for his or her own life?
What is the role of the state in all this?

The global context for workplace change
It is frequently argued that the changing shape of work, as Brown (1997) describes it, cannot be fully understood without being placed within the broader context of the reported changes in the nature of economic relations and production.  These changes frame a new problem that nations, companies, and workers must respond to.

Since the late 1970s, it is argued, the operation of the economies of most Western industrialised nations have displayed sufficient discontinuity with the period immediately preceding it, for us to need new ways to speak of  this epochal change (Hall and Jacques, 1989), period of historical disjuncture (Hyman, 1990), sea-change in the surface appearance of capitalism (Harvey, 1990: 189), or just something dramatic (Hirst and Zeitlin, 1991: 1).

The period from the late 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s is described as a sort of  Golden Age with high economic growth rates, rising personal incomes, and increasing standards of living.   The translation into English of selections from Antonio Gramscis prison notebooks (1971), led many Anglo-American commentators to draw on Gramscis concept of Fordism (his description of American production processes in the middle part of the twentieth century) to name this earlier period and apply the term post-Fordist to its successor.  From the mid-1970s onwards, it has been argued, the institutions either supporting Fordism or characteristic of this mode of production and consumption apparently progressively broke down, were weakened or abolished.  Both Offe (1996) and Lash and Urry (1987) typify this as a transition from organised to disorganised capitalism involving major changes in the social, cultural, economic and political characteristics of Western societies. Thus, the period since the 1970s is both qualitatively and quantitatively different from that typical of most of the twentieth century. (Pahl, 1988: 4)  In outlining their evidence in support of such a chronological break, many commentators on the perceived changes since the early 1970s created a host of seemingly new categories and concepts which, they argued, supported their claims to see a new world emerging from the old.  As well as Fordism and post-Fordism, concepts such as globalisation and post-industrialism entered the vocabularies of commentators on Western industrial societies and filtered down to people reading their articles in newspapers and listening to them on TV.   Pre-existing concepts such as competition and consumer were given new meanings that subtly altered the degree of power previously associated with them.


Globalisation is now the concept most typically used to describe the post-1970s economic order.  Reich (1991), for example, argues that since the 1970s economic relations between countries have become more global than they were prior to this period.  Giddens (1990: 6) suggests that processes associated with globalisation are bringing waves of social transformation crash[ing] across virtually the whole of the earths surface as information technologies overcome the last vestiges of human distance in both time and space (see also Harvey, 1990).  Castells (1996) argues that these new technologies now link the world, similar to the way railway lines once linked the coasts of continents, within a series of economic and social networks which switch people and places on or off depending on the (chiefly economic) goal.  Both Castells and Reich (1991) point out that, as with railway lines when tracks are no longer viable or needed, towns and people can be by-passed or abandoned, eliminated permanently from networks of any kind, an unfortunate by-product of the operation of an inexorable force proceeding to its inevitable goal.  Leaving aside the question of whether or not globalisation is a new phenomenon, in these accounts, as Sennett (1998: 48) observes, it is assumed that these ties are devoid of human content and that the loss of any part will not affect those remaining. That is, these writers seem to forget that the advanced technologies and the compression of space and time they point to is also reflected in the presence of television sets in most of the living rooms of workers in the industrialised West where they can view what is going on elsewhere and might have something to say about it.  Giddens himself does not refer to how he responds when the waves of social transformation crash down the corridors of the London School of Economics or when he sees what is happening in other universities i.e. he does not position himself as a university administrator in his texts but as a social theorist above all that.

Having assigned a name to the perceived changes, writers go on to show the evidence: the changed nature of markets and how businesses operate in them.  Some writers (for example, Reich, 1991; Ohmae, 1989; Amin and Robins, 1990) suggest that multi-national corporations play a key role in this globalisation process.  These companies set up networks and branches in other parts of the industrialised West and in countries not previously considered part of the West and link the parts together in a fluid web ostensibly without a home.  According to Waters (1995), all parts of the world now engage in the international trade in goods, services and finance, thus creating a global marketplace.  Ohmae (1989) and Lash and Urry (1994) claim that one outcome of such globalisation is that markets are no longer readily identifiable with state borders.  Reich says simply that economic borders are vanishing (1991: 9). The logic behind this claim is that whereas previously corporations competed in markets constrained by national borders, they now compete in product-specific or consumer-specific markets and that these now cross national boundaries, societies, and cultures.

But nations are not present in these markets only products are, so not surprisingly for a nation to be able compete in such a world economy requires an improvement in the ability of that nations firms and products to avoid relegation to Third World status (Lyon, 1988: 1). Thus it is argued, [g]reater competition … does little in a positive sense to help build new industries.  Accordingly, there has been considerable pressure on Federal and State Governments to do something to assist economic adjustment positively. (Bell and Head, 1994: 14)    In this globalised, competitive and borderless world, the future of national economic growth now appeared dependent on a nations (and by implication its governments) ability to advance its technological and scientific developments, to provide a social and economic framework for its industries to prosper, and to transform its workers into high-skill, high-value contributors via education and training (see Kaspar, 1992; ASTEC, 1987; Dawkins and Holding, 1987; ESFC, 1989; Ford, 1990) and in its revamp of the industrial relations system to facilitate labour flexibility (Campbell, 1993).  On the other side of the equation, it was also dependent on the states ability to reduce the cost and weight of governance (Bell, 1997; Esping-Anderson, 1990).  States in western industrial nations have progressively abandoned the Keynesian social democratic policies which seemed to underpin the Fordist period of rapid growth from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, and turned more towards the idea that government is a business which should be run in a business-like fashion. For example, the neo-liberal bible on small government is considered to be Osborne and Gaeblers Reinventing Government (1992).  Pollitt suggests that Osborne and Gaeblers book was a public sector update of an earlier, even more popular book, In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982). (1995: 137)

In Australian, successive governments have urged and facilitated the restructuring and reorganisation of industries and markets in this country, and attempted to reduce the cost of government on taxpayers.  The changes within government, of course, are experienced directly by public sector workers who have had to deal with the downsizing and change of ethos that those changes entailed.  But these elements are also incorporated into all workers experiences of workplace change in two key ways.  Firstly, Government support of business objectives leaves workers in no doubt about what the preferred path is and what the alternatives are.  This frames the elements they take account of in construing  whats going on and what they can do about it.  If their representatives sanction The Globalisation Story in this way, and actively engage in sharing the pain by downsizing government, it enhances its legitimacy in the eyes of workers.  Secondly, their workplace conditions, standards and protections have been progressively reduced to facilitate flexibility, income security in the case of job loss has become increasingly difficult to secure, and unemployment has to a large extent been stigmatised.  So, unemployed is a state few workers want to be in because of the perceived costs to financial security and dignity.  So, in my view, these State actions are present in the everyday experiences of workers going through workplace changes and, therefore, must be taken account of.  Does the support of the government for what organisations are doing enhance workers feelings of powerlessness, for example?  Do the actions of government supporting skill enhancement, education, and labour flexibility legitimate these concepts in the eyes of workers?  These are important aspects of the experience of workplace change that are not examined in the current literature.

Footloose production
Markets, as distinct from actual shops and shopping malls, are those imaginary spaces where consumers and products meet, and both of these – the consumer and the production of products – are fore-grounded as key elements in globalisation.  It is implied above that the consumer of a product can be anywhere on the globe.   Production, too, can be global (Reich, 1991), with multi-national companies choosing where to locate their production facilities according to a range of factors such as the availability of suitable labour and technology.   Thus, the politicians of nation states who desire to participate in the global economy are exhorted to re-make their industrial base in order to do so.  Companies and nations are exhorted to become post-industrial and post-Fordist in order to meet these new challenges.   The concept post-industrialism was first first used by a group of writers in the late 1960s and early 1990s (Bell, 1974; Touraine, 1971; Toffler, 1980; Jones, 1982).  These writers claimed to have identified major changes in Western industrial economies, including an increase in the proportion of work based on knowledge and information, and a reduced emphasis on a strong manufacturing base as the source of economic growth. While some more recent writers have argued that these initial claims were exaggerated (see Lyon, 1986 and Stehr, 1994) the original writers claim to have identified the increasing importance of workers as not only a physical component in the production process (which the Taylorist processes seemingly emphasised) but as capable of an intellectual contribution to work which could be improved through the acquisition of information and knowledge   The shift in the structure of economies towards service-oriented jobs and the increasing importance of information in the production process, according to Daniel Bell (1974), heralded the arrival of a knowledge society.  Bell, and others after him, argued that the way a national economy uses information and gains market advantage for that use, has an enormous influence on how successful that economy is in the new, increasingly globalised trading environment.

However, what we now label services have always been part of the manufacturing process, a point that Cohen and Zysman (1987) emphasise in their claim that no shift to a service economy actually occurred because services were always present.  A key reason for the increased appearance of services in the economy, according to Beynon (1992), is the grouping together within manufacturing firms of service components of production.   Part of the reason for the increased identification and separation of some work within companies as services is that they are now seen as a critical and fundamental component of strategies aimed at gaining a competitive edge (Reich, 1991; Porter, 1990) and firms looked inwards to locate their knowledge sources, as evidenced by Reichs claim that [c]ore corporations no longer focus on products as such; their business strategies increasingly center upon specialized knowledge. (1991: 84)  According to Reich, therefore, the boundary between goods and services has disappeared.  But one could argue, in support of Beynon, Cohen and Zysman, that it was an artificially constructed boundary in the first place, a side-effect of the push in the 1970s and early 1980s to identify the post-industrial elements in the economy.   Rather than a post-industrial society, Beynon argues, there is a continuing emphasis on the manual aspects in production but maintained within different sets of relationships and contexts, (1992: 182) and it is these changed relationships and contexts that are emphasised by the post-Fordist literature on change.

And fickle customers
Writers have not failed to theorise this other half of the market equation.  It has been argued that the source of increased competitive pressure in the marketplace is the increasing sophistication of the consumer (see Lash and Urry, 1994).  This consumer, much better informed and influenced by cultural differentiation processes than previously (see Jameson, 1991), apparently pressures firms to develop two distinct processes.  On the one hand, production management processes that can satisfy the continually changing demand patterns of these consumers (based on product innovation and diversity) and, on the other, marketing management processes which can offer opportunities for the company to get close to the consumer. Reich, for example, argues that successful corporations are shifting towards serving the unique needs of particular customers. (1991: 82)  Global market success appears to depend on the capacity of a firm to respond quickly and effectively to perceived changes in market demand through product customisation and small batch production.  The businesses implementing these processes, according to Reich, are profitable both because customers are willing to pay a premium for goods and services that exactly meet their needs and because these high-value businesses cannot easily be duplicated by high-volume competitors around the world. (1991: 83)  In this literature, the needs of the new economy are interpreted as the needs of consumers.  Within this cult of difference and choice (Bauman, 1998: 59), customers now expect more and have more choice (AMC, 1995b: 3).  But this new consumer is apparently fickle, tiring very quickly of the old and looking for something new and different (see Lash and Urry, 1994).  To respond to this type of customer, a companys product line must be constantly innovative and production processes constantly flexible.

This heightened use of the concept of the customer is particularly prevalent in the management of production (Du Gay and Salaman, 1992; Bauman, 1998) and in the discourse of new managerialism associated with this that I explore in greater detail below. Thus, it is the articulate and powerful customer who apparently determines the focus and strategy of the firm (Carlzon, 1987; Kirkpatrick and Martinez Lucio, 1995a; Hill, 1991).  According to Kirkpatrick and Martinez Lucio, [t]he need to review continuously production standards and refer to the changing demands of the consumer have become central to the language and practice of organizations. (1995b: 16) The assumption that the market for new goods and services exists out there amongst the consumers but remains undiscovered can be seen in Reichs comment about discoveries – that a market exists and there are various ways to serve it  (1991: 106, emphasis added).  But such an assumption is necessary to maintain the fiction that the consumer is driving the changes.

In this section I have attempted to outline the logic that lies behind the macro elements of The Globalisation Story.  What the macro literature leaves us with are the following impressions: that globalisation is something that exists independently of any conversation about it, and has the capacity to force change on markets, nations, and firms; that the solution to the problem globalisation throws up is for firms and nations to develop the right kind of strategies to survive in the competitive environment that globalisation creates; and that the only human element in this Story is the consumer who is also the only one who may exercise choice.  She is the ultimate driver of change, knows what she wants and will go anywhere (metaphorically speaking) to get it, and the way to her heart (again metaphorically speaking) is to offer a high quality product at the lowest possible price.

The outcome of these changes, according to these commentators, is that globalisation not only exists but is a powerful force which it is difficult if not impossible for nation states or industrial workers to resist (see Catley, 1996, for a discussion of the impact in Australias case).  The imaginary that is The Globalisation Story forms the justificatory framework for a host of actions by states, institutions, and individuals.  I shall look at these elements further below where I suggest that analyses of workplace change are often locked into concepts that are already pre-formed by the literature I have just discussed – innovation, quality, flexiblity and so on – and therefore these now reified concepts are consequently found in the workplace, just as services were found in manufacturing firms.

In my view such discourses as The Globalisation Story not only describe a world but name positions within it and in doing so they redescribe workers and their work-related identities.  They also ascribe power relations along with those positions.  Foucaults work shows us how discourses form the objects and practices that they purport to describe.  In doing so, such discourses create new vocabularies and narratives; writers draw on each others work, they create repetitions on themes and ideas; they create new categories of experience.  Through their actions they construct a public narrative of workplace change; these discourses are then drawn on by workers to help them make sense of what is happening (see Giddens, 1977).  Within the parameters of these discourses certain kinds of stories make sense and certain kinds of rhetoric are constructed to legitimise those stories. (Hosking, 1995: 58)  By being powerless in the face of competition, for example, an organisation impresses on its workers the futility and non-sense of resistance.  This language thus frames workers own experiences and needs to be explicitly connected to that experience. In studies such as those I have discussed above:

questions of power are made hard to raise by being glossed through talk about organizational characteristics, managerial behaviour, and leadership: goals are organizational goals and not, for example, the goals of those who can make their definitions stick; structures are understood as facts of nature rather than, for example, constuctions reflecting power relations; managers are managers because of their superior knowledge and achieve some degree of effectiveness on this basis; what could be more rational? (Hosking, 1995: 57-58)

The variations on post-Fordism

Firstly, work through a reflective exercise
The talk about the essays

Post-Fordism as a story that tells what has happened.
The idea that the incorporation of knowledge into manufacturing processes was something new and innovative supported a key platform in the development of post-Fordist theories of industrial change.  Kumar (1995:3) suggests that the concept of post-Fordism was initially a Marxist response to the theories of post-industrialism which Marxists felt were deeply conservative.

This post-Fordist literature includes a range of writers whose positions are not always compatible (Badham and Mathews, 1989; Amin, 1994; Ruigrok and van Tulder, 1995; Hirst and Zeitlin, 1991; Jessop, 1991; Clarke, 1990).

These writers theorise the changes that they see in the operation of Western industrial capitalism and in production processes including the use of both material and social technologies.  These processes are more oriented towards flexibility and innovation than standardised mass production (frequently referred to as Fordist), with changes in work relationships and the way work is organised (Gahan, 1991:162).  The new production processes that these writers describe (although not necessarily the political contexts within which they set these) are viewed by many as essential to a nations capacity to produce for a global market.

Keys issues
that because of changes to the market different production processes are required
economies of scope rather than of scale
quality and the issue of control at all points
an end to the division of labour
thus new relationships between management and workers (tomorrow)
But particularly, divide the world into periods, frequently only two.

They include:
post-Fordists (eg Badham and Mathews)
Different production processes: Fordism, low innovation, very little variability in process, low labour responsibility for outcomes. (table p. 23 Ruigrok)
Compete through priceCompete through innovation/ quality
Labour is costLabour is resource
Task specialisationWorker has multiple tasks
Separation of workIntegration of work
Economies of scaleEconomies of scope
Dont really explain why it happened, largely rely on exogenous changes to consumer demand.

the neo-Schumpeterians (Perez, 1983, 1985; Dosi, 1988)
who basically frame it around long waves.  The economic and technological framework set a system or paradigm.  The way an economy works (provisioning) and the level of technical expertise available means that production takes place in a certain way, particular practices are prevalent (e.g labour processes or processes of innovation), most of the major production is undertaken in a certain form for a reasonably long period of time (the so-called long waves).  But the system is always evolving (partly because of innovation).  Then for some reason either or both the economic system and the level of technological development reach a critical point and fundamental change occurs and slowly spreads via structural crisis (basic incompatibility in the system), and thus the form of major production changes and is different in the new paradigm.  This theory is basically technologically determinist with technology neutral.  But is technology neutral?  Bruno Latour on trials of strength.

the French Regulation School, (Lipietz, 1987; Boyer, 1988),
Who basically frame it around the capitalist system and how it manages to reproduce itself given its fundamental internal contradictions.  The capitalist system was no longer able to make profits out of the mass production system.  The production process had been squeezed dry via division of labour to its ultimate point.  Thus the Regime of Accumulation (how the making and dispersing gets done (including incomes) – ie how the supply and demand system works) no longer works.  The state, which fundamentally underpins the capitalist system, sets up a new set of rules (industrial, economic, trading and particularly moral and institutional) to facilitate a return to profit.  Key focus on wage relations (distribution of surplus value), ie the new production processes mean that workers return to providing surplus value and still dont get the rewards.

The Amsterdam school

Who basically frame it around the changes in international financial systems and the withdrawal of the state due to Thatcherism and Reagonism ie the return of the neo-liberal political framework.  Because money flows more freely (restrictions lifted) so goods flow more freely – deregulation came first not later.  Thus one of the key things is the question of who should have control – business knows its job best and should be left to control their own actions.  Key question has also been Has the pursuit of rewards for money conflicted with/ limited the rewards for creation of productive capital.

flexible specialisation theorists (Piore and Sabel, 1984; Hirst and Zeitlin, 1991),
Who basically frame it around trials of strength.  Craft vs mass production, small artisans vs the megacorporation. The computerisation of the workplace means that there has been a shift back to valuing labour because of the machine.  The advent of microelectronics has fundamentally altered the production process.  You need workers who know how to read the machines.  The growth of industrial communities and the feedback processes eg networks in northern Italy.  Again, dont say how the change originates, referring to the power of the customer.  Give example of local south-east Melbourne input into large automotive assembly plants.

These writers, however, seldom indicate how these apparently autonomous changes in demand occurred and, as with the globalisation theorists, assume the homogeneity of the technology-human interface in suggesting that these new technologies and systems of production and management are easily transportable.  Amin (1989) points out that, in cases like flexible specialisation in Italy, on which Piore and Sabel based their study, local convergences of political, social and economic characteristics give a uniqueness of place which limits the transferability of these technologies and systems of production.  Despite these limitations (and the heavy emphasis on what Ruigrok and van Tulder (1995: 2) describe as a sort of indiscriminate extrapolation of case studies to the entire world), the newly created concepts of flexibility and innovation in production appeared to be necessary to business success in a global economy where consumers could buy products from anywhere. The argument that consumers are driving change is based on the idea that consumer-choice determines where products are sourced from.  I have found no literature that shows that final consumers rather than large retail chains make product-sourcing decisions, but the rhetoric of individual consumer choice still dominates this kind of business literature.

Another key criticism I have is the focus on manufacturing production as the form of production under scrutiny.  Services, the growth industry, is very different.

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