Journal of World History 14.1 (2003) 111-116
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Global Transformations: Politics, Economics, and Culture. By DAVID HELD, ANTHONY MCGREW, DAVID GOLDBLATT, and JONATHAN PERRATON. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. 515 pp. $29.95 (paper).
Global Transformations attempts many things, succeeding at some while failing at others. This book surveys the political, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions of globalization. David Held and Anthony McGrew have engaged this issue since the 1980s. For this book, they added David Goldblatt to address environmental topics and Jonathan Perraton, an economist, to handle the political economy of globalization. The true success of such a work bringing together many topics is whether the sum proves greater than its many parts. Unfortunately, Global Transformations fails on this score.
This ambitious project is undertaken from an international relations perspective. Scholars steeped in the language of political science will be comfortable browsing through this book's 500 textbook-size pages. Moreover, Held and McGrew employ a postmodern "lite" language at points, which will surely captivate those across the many disciplines who have adopted it since its halcyon days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Just as likely, this same prose will alienate many who find it superfluous to describing globalization in substitution for clear prose. This reviewer falls on the latter side of this fault line and feels the book, particularly its introduction, was not improved by this nod to academic fashion.
The book's central premise is that globalization is "good," yet not without problems. They advocate, both here and in other works, a "cosmopolitan globalization" that will help more people than it harms. They, like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times or Paul Krugman, see this process as a positive development, but at the same time see danger in globalization's fragile state. From their perspective, it could be undermined by less visionary populists who fail to recognize it is the [End Page 111] only course to follow toward prosperity, tolerance, and peace. Theirs is essentially a friendlier version of Margaret Thatcher's "TINA" (there is no alternative).
Many authors claim their approach is distinctive. Held and McGrew do so more than most, exaggerating their original contribution to our understanding of globalization. In doing so, they use the familiar recipe of applying neologisms, mixed with a critique of other approaches. That done, they can then define their targets in two-dimensional ways that make them easy to take down. They set up a "globalization is not unique" argument representing their opponents, so they may predictably show the ways it is indeed new. This is an easy enough exercise. While levels of global trade returned to their pre-1914 levels only by the 1970s at the earliest, it is easy enough to demonstrate the changed nature of that trade away from raw materials to goods. Moreover, technological innovations in communication and transportation are too obvious to mention, but Held and McGrew make great hay of them as if William McNeill had never addressed these issues in more original ways almost forty years back in his The Rise of the West, or perhaps more intriguingly handled by the geographer David Harvey in his reflections on the closing nature of time and space.
Having kicked down this already open door, the authors move on to the "hyperglobalizers" position. This essentially being of the airport bookstore variety, where issues of Wired magazine loudly proclaim the dawning of an Age of Aquarius grounded in a globalization and technology that is inexorably marching forward with all the sureness of a Leninist's historical materialism. This position is more readily dispatched than the previous argument that globalization is nothing new. Yet, for a far more insightful, clever, and better-written critique of this hyperglobalist approach, one might examine the leader of the Chicago school of cultural studies, Thomas Frank, and his One Market under God, which examines the ideological moorings of globalization.
Important categories are often handled superficially in Global Transformations. For example, one significant category of hyperglobizers surveyed is Marxists. Marxists are reduced to adherents of Paul Sweezy's theory of "monopoly...