GaWC Research Bulletin 131

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This Research Bulletin has been published in J Eade and D O'Byrne (eds) (2005) Global Ethics and Civil Society Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 89-107.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Informal Sociality, Cosmopolitanism and Gender among Transnational Professionals: Unraveling some of the Linkages between the Global Economy and Civil Society

P. Kennedy*

This paper is based on an exploratory study of transnational architects and related professionals working in the building-design industry. The latter constitutes merely one sector where a growing number of companies flourish in what Sassen (2000) calls the producer service industries. These have become 'a central feature of current growth in developed societies' (61) as the degree of 'service intensity' (Sassen 2002: 16) required in all industries and sectors has grown. At the same time, firms in these producer service industries are responding to economic globalization, the de-regulatory, market-opening consequences of neo-liberal policies and the rise of post-Fordist flexible capitalism worldwide. Thus, they seek to extend their provision of essential support services for transnational corporations (TNCs), as the latter spread their operations globally, but also for other producer service firms in adjacent sectors - such as certain law firms which have followed not just their corporate manufacturing but also their accountancy and banking clients across the world (Beaverstock, Smith and Taylor 1999 and 2000). Like other businesses providing producer services, the assets and investments of firms in the building-design industry are grounded primarily in human skills rather than in material assets; in intellectual or symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1984). As such, they are quintessentially at the heart of the symbolic-wealth economy.

This shift towards 'globalized regimes of flexible accumulation' (Nonini and Ong 1997: 9) has given rise to the 'new transnational functionaries of global capitalism'. They provide certain 'integrative competencies' (11) required if businesses are to be effectively managed across vast distances while taking appropriate account of local/national cultural, design, legal or other embedded practices (Beaverstock et al 2000). A growing number of observers have drawn attention to this new professional/ business class. Featherstone (1990: 8), for example, refers to this 'coterie of new specialists and professionals' who work outside the 'cultures of the nation-state'. Castells (1996: 415) points to the dominant 'technocratic-financial-managerial elite' who, aided by information and communication technology and the key locations which act as the nodes and hubs of globally networked capitalism, direct the space of flows that now constitutes the world economy. Sklair (2001) has written extensively about the transnational capitalist class whose various fractions are mostly grounded within, or linked indirectly to, the TNCs. Similarly, Micklethwaite and Wooldridge (2001) describe the twenty million or so global 'cosmocrats' - managers, professionals, financial experts and creative entrepreneurs - who now make the global economy run effectively.


Three central issues are clearly discernible in the literature on this expanding class of transnational professionals and business elites. Firstly, there is an emphasis on the need for them to demonstrate certain "cosmopolitan" leanings but also a claim that such orientations are already evident. Although the precise nature of these leanings is rarely defined there is a basic presumption of the necessity to cope with transnational and multi-cultural situations. Thus, Featherstone (1990: 8) points to the importance of 'inter-cultural communication' among today's global professionals and their empowerment by 'a new type of habitus'. Sassen (2000: 24) suggests that global businesses not only require 'denationalized elites' comfortable with reduced 'national attachments and identities' but that boosted by the critical mass of commercial resources and networks concentrated in global cities such businesses are also contributing to the 'denationalization' of certain 'deeply rooted'(25) institutional areas that have hitherto obstructed global capitalism. Skair (2001: 55-56) claims that 'globalizing companies needs managers with cosmopolitan outlooks' and TNCs increasingly 'train their top cadre of managers to expect to work in any part of the world' (55). Overseas experience, especially a period of training abroad, can also play a crucial role in creating highly professional managers. Thus Beaverstock et al (2000: 101) describe how some American law firms rotate partners between different overseas branches and seek to expose 'outstanding younger foreign lawyers' to the 'global finishing schools' provided by a spell in the home company. Contreras and Kenny (2002) point to the necessity to connect local Mexican managers of TNC subsidiaries operating in the maquiladora border region with the USA into the 'wider "social world" of the industry' and to ensure that local managers engage 'in a network whose skills and values are defined by a transnational community of experts' (137). In similar vein, Micklethwaite and Wooldridge (2001) are emphatic that their 'cosmocrats are defined by their attitudes and lifestyles rather than just their bank accounts' (230) and this includes a respect for meritocratic values, intelligence, gender equality and effective networking (232-33).

Another issue encountered in this literature is the ambivalence with which the roles and lifestyles of transnational elites are often perceived by analysts. On one hand, as we have seen, the cosmopolitan leanings - though often outlined in rather vague terms - evinced by these transnationals are strongly designated as essential to the effective working of the global economy. Yet, at the same time, commentators may be suspicious and even downright critical towards what they perceive to be the privileged lifestyles and attitudes demonstrated by these elites. Here, whatever "cosmopolitanism" may be, it is a two-edged sword; a quality we hope is strongly evident yet one we despise or fear in equal part. Thus, much of the recent literature on globalization depicts the transnational elites and classes who supposedly determine global economic policies as wielding power in often irresponsible and uncontrollable ways while a vast gap exists between them and everyone else. For Bauman (1998: 3) there is an increasing breakdown of communication between the 'global and extraterritorial elites and the ever more "localized" rest' and while economic globalization has further disempowered the poor it has left elites unaccountable: 'emancipated from local constraints'. Similarly, Burbach et al (1997): 117-21) describe the rise of a 'barbaric' global bourgeoisie since the fall of communism whose members adhere to few values which might incline them to retain some accountability to the remainder of humanity. Carroll's and Carson's analysis (2003) of the overlapping world economic policy-making groups and top interlocking company directors who together form a 'global corporate elite' (39) of around 620 individuals - drawn from the leading 350 corporations and five key intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) - again reinforces this sense of elite inaccessibility. Castells (1996) insists that the dominant managerial elites who direct the space of flows in which the global economy is embedded preserve their social cohesion and cultural codes by running their businesses and conducting their increasingly similar lifestyles in 'carefully segregated spaces' that are 'clearly distinct from the populace' (416). While 'elites are cosmopolitan, people are local' (415).

Moreover, the lifestyles revealed by these elites demonstrate a fake 'consumerist cosmopolitanism' (Calhoun 2002: 105) which may involve searching the world for cultural knick knacks with which to adorn their expensive lives and abodes. As if their rootlessness, detachment from national responsibilities and privileges were not sufficiently adverse traits, Calhoun (2002: 106) further argues that the close dependence of these selfish elites upon global capital means that "cosmopolitanism" is now identified with a particularly exclusivist and divisive form of neo-liberal capitalism. Despite their undoubted ability to appreciate cultural diversity these elites are unable to take on the "traditional" mantle of responsibility we equate with cosmopolitanism and for which they are well equipped; namely, to play a leading role in reforming global capitalism so helping to extend a global civil society and democracy (108). This concern that contemporary transnationalism and cosmopolitanism probably inhibit the strengthening of a global civil society, with clear political and ethical agendas for wider human liberation, is one to which we will return later.

Thirdly, while most observers are in little doubt that the main driving forces of global capitalism are blatantly economic, there is also wide consensus that the imperatives of market competition and profit alone are not sufficient to make global capitalism work. Social scientists have always been aware of what Mitchell (1995: 365) calls the socially and historically 'embedded quality of economic activity' such that 'specific local traditions actively coproduce and rework global systems'. Arguably, though, this reality has been marginalized and perhaps rendered less "respectable" by the dominant discourse of neo-liberalism during recent years. Of course, this embeddedness has been particularly well documented for immigrants, past and present, who have always utilized the socio-cultural resources generated by particularistic ties, especially the immediate family but also kinship/clan, locality and ethnicity, in their struggles to cope with daily economic and social life in the host country (Boyd 1989, Basch et al 1994, and Faist 2000). Included here, too, would be the rather special case of long-distance, dispersed businesses sometimes involving very large investments conducted by such ethnic diasporas as the 'overseas Chinese' from their various bases in South East Asia (Chan, 1997, Mitchell 1995, Nonini 1997 and Zhou and Tseng 2001) and where business success depends critically upon family and ethnic support systems. Recently, however, there appears to have been a revival of interest in the need for all capitalist enterprises to be firmly embedded in socio-cultural relations including those based in the West. Indeed, and paradoxically, it seems that economic globalization coupled to neo-liberal policies of widespread market de-regulation, increased competition and the demands for flexibility have together created tensions and pressures that massively increase the relevance of various kinds of strong social relationships and interactions within the workplace (Mitchell 1995, Riain 2000, Beaverstock et al 2000 and Sassen 2002).

In large part, this is linked to what Boden and Molotch 1994) call the 'compulsion to proximity' (257) and the 'thickness of copresent interactions' (259). Thus, only face-to-face interactions can generate the forms of human exchange - including 'not just words but facial gestures, body language, voice intonation' and so on - and the effective contextualization of meanings that are sufficiently nuanced and focused to allow business people and professionals to achieve 'complex understandings, arrange informal trade-offs, and deal with unanticipated tensions' (272) among other advantages. Accordingly, they suggest, it is hardly surprising that business leaders seek copresence and 'flock together' (272) at conferences, meetings, clubs, key business districts and other venues. Nor has the massive recent uptake of information technology by businesses worldwide fundamentally altered the significance of copresent intimacy and 'personal micro-networks' (Castells 1996: 416) in business life though clearly the former has brought enormous advantages in its own right. Moreover, the speeding up of business transactions and their extension across vast distances may actually intensify the need to re-capture particular places in the space of global flows and then to construct particularized interpersonal relations within such terrains (Riain 2000: 178). Thus, successful global businesses require the kind of economic reflexivity that produces innovation, continuous learning and the ability to deal with complexity (Storper 1997) by providing sites where it is possible to gain access to 'ensembles of localized relations' (Beaverstock et al 2000: 98). Similarly, much business activity depends not only on the capacity to tap into local/national as well as wider knowledge, in order to deal with the needs of clients and cope with national regulations and cultures, but also the ability to bring together in particular locations a 'mix of talents and resources' (Sassen 2002: 23) so as to draw upon specialized information and to make appropriate 'interpretations and inferences' as well as evaluations (22).

Recognition of the central role that intensified communication, hugely strengthened by close face-to-face relations, plays in today's global economy is clearly to be welcomed. However, with some interesting exceptions, (for example, Beaverstock et al 1999 and Riain 2000) what is less often stressed is the equal importance of the trust, mutual liking and genuine friendships that not only make possible 'solidarity- building within the team' (Riain 2000:178) but also the construction of highly affective social networks that may endure over time and space. What we are talking about here is a kind of global lifeworld consisting of numerous informal patterns of sociality that emerge in the interstices between and the crevices within large formal organizations and which seep through and into every aspect of the global system world, co-existing alongside more formalized rule-bound relations. They provide a loose framework within which the necessary interactions between key players can take place effectively and creatively while providing the orientations based on trust and mutual liking that engender collaboration. With increased economic globalization and as the need to forge viable interactions between people of many nationalities becomes ever more compelling, so the significance of these interactions will correspondingly increase.

In the light of this discussion and using the case study material generated by the study of transnational professionals working in the building/design industry this chapter will explore three issues. One concerns the precise ways in which such friendship relations take root within non-ethnic business organizations and what circumstances and resources enable them to flourish- something that has rather been taken for granted in the literature but which arguably needs to be examined more thoroughly. A second and overlapping question considers the multi-national character of these emergent socialities including the special role that women may play in their evolution. Lastly, I take up the theme of cosmopolitanism and its potential contribution to an emergent global civil society. Here, and despite their manifest privileges, I suggest that some transnational professionals do contribute to the formation of a global civil society, albeit in indirect ways, and that this is because there are many degrees and kinds of cosmopolitan as well as very different roles to be played in constructing a more just and viable world.4


The study explored the work and non-work experiences of professionals working in the building-design industry in the UK. It explored how those who work overseas encounter and cope with transnational social space. Eight enterprises were investigated (seven in London, and one in Manchester) based on previous contacts which were then followed up through a "snowball" effect. These firms were engaged in the design of various kinds of buildings but they often supervised the implementation of such projects, on site, through sub-contracting to numerous building specialists. Thirty two professionals were interviewed. Twenty three had originally trained as architects, though some had since acquired further qualifications, six respondents had trained as building engineers and three were in business management or interior design. It was not possible to select these respondents on a statistically random basis because many employees were on leave, working abroad or otherwise engaged during the research period. However, because the study focused on individuals who had personal experience of working continuously outside their native country at some time during their careers, many employees were excluded from the survey in any case.

Twenty nine respondents fulfilled these criteria while the remaining three had travelled abroad for shorter periods on numerous occasions. Many had worked overseas in two or more different locations. Twenty one respondents had worked abroad for more than two years and fifteen people had done so for more than four years. In addition, made many repeated short visits abroad - perhaps two or three days every week or fortnight - as part of their current UK post. The group included an assortment of nationalities: only twelve were born in the UK and/or had single British nationality status. The remaining twenty individuals hailed from seventeen different countries. Working in Britain exposed the latter to the same transnational experiences as their UK counterparts who had previously worked abroad. Eleven of the non-British nationals had worked overseas prior to repeating this experience in Britain.


The building design companies included in the study had attained global reach. They had done so either by forging strong relationships with partner companies overseas - and with whose help they could cope with the local technical, cultural and other demands generated by working on foreign contracts - or they had established their own offices across these countries, or both. Such moves may require companies to send some of their existing employees abroad to work on overseas projects for longer or shorter periods of time while generally encouraging flows of personnel between partner firms and/or overseas and home office. Such flows enable companies to pool design knowledge and experiences, build-up reservoirs of detailed linguistic, cultural and technical skills and to expose local employees to overseas influences. It was exactly these circumstances that had propelled many of the respondents into overseas work though some had also made their first or previous moves into foreign employment by obtaining earlier posts abroad as independent professionals and then later joined one of the more "global" companies.

The overseas experiences of the professionals included in this study were similar to those of transnational migrants in that their work life revolved around particular locations and social milieus. However, whereas the involvement of transnational migrants in the host society is largely based on their encapsulation within established, multiplex relations constructed around transplanted kinship, village/regional and ethnic ties the overseas social contacts available to most of the professionals in this study were meager or non-existent. They were mostly compelled to construct interpersonal relations, friendships and a supportive social milieu in situ and from scratch. Similarly, their overseas experiences are likely to be somewhat different from professionals or managers who are sent abroad accompanied by their families and by other colleagues, with whom they have previously worked, in order to run a subsidiary owned by the home company.

Though unable to take with them an established network of social relations, there were three other kinds of resources available to these professionals and these enabled them to construct virtually new transnational social spaces. First, there was the bundle of professional skills they had already acquired - their cultural capital or baggage (Bourdieu 1984) - and which could be adapted relatively easily to meet the requirements of the new work situation and which they shared with colleagues. Both Merton (1957) and Gouldner (1989) distinguished between professionals dependent upon locally-relevant and company-bound attachments and those who relied more on decontextualised knowledge applicable to many locations and who sought the validation of wider peer groups. Intrinsic, therefore, to certain types of professionalism is their inherent transferability between sites and projects and the possession of a roughly shared frame of reference despite national differences in culture and practice. It was evident from the accounts provided by the respondents that they had been able to draw upon just such a shared body of orientations and decontextualised skills (see Kennedy 2004). Moreover these commonalities outweighed national differences.

It is the remaining two resources that I now wish to discuss in more detail and which are most relevant to the questions outlined earlier. One concerns the dynamics generated by the demands of the work project and the interpersonal interactions and needs of the work team assembled around it. With some significant exceptions (Riain 2000, Hannerz 2003) these transnational spaces have not received the research attention they deserve. The second involves a discussion of the significance for these multinational professionals of a middle class educational background and its implications for a career spent partly overseas.

Interpersonal Relations and the Dynamics of the Work Project and Team

The work project and the characteristics of the team assembled around it generated an emergent dynamics. This was probably much more important than shared professionalism in enabling the incoming individuals to operate effectively in transnational social space. The work team normally consisted of a core of fellow professionals but clients, suppliers, local sub contractors and artisans were also present. Moreover, this team usually involved a mixture of locals and other foreigners. The interpersonal dynamics of the work project and team normally revolved around four main sets of interacting experiences.

The demands of the project. The project created its own logic and demands. Many respondents claimed that they had worked very long hours; eighty hours a week was not uncommon. This left little energy or time for building a social life outside the firm except for late-night drinking bouts or clubbing with fellow workmates and other team members - though inter-company business linkages might lead to meetings with professionals from other companies. Meanwhile, work hours involved struggling to overcome the problems involved in adapting the original design to local exigencies and in grounding the plan in terms of an actual site and building. Numerous problems arose, from the difficulties of interpreting local technical regulations and procedures, to dealing with the changing demands of clients, sorting out legal and financial issues, coping with in-house and external cultural and language difficulties but also sorting out the complaints associated with an assortment of site contractors, suppliers and artisans. Without the cooperation and support of fellow members of the work team along with good humor, tolerance and above all the trust based on real mutual liking and respect - built ultimately out of friendships that were reinforced by leisure-time socializing - both the work experience of the overseas visitors and the successful fulfillment of the project might be seriously jeopardized. Though, similar problems are encountered at home they are harder to deal with in a foreign cultural situation.

The experience of social exclusion from the host society. Several respondents explained that working overseas had often been accompanied by the feeling of being "cut-off" from the host society. This was intensified by long hours of work, constant absorption in the demands of the project and the perception of being tied to a particular city given that time constraints minimized travel opportunities. A limited grasp of the national language tended to confine intensive relationships to a circle of other educated locals and non-locals who possessed some language skills. In addition, some countries, for example, in the Middle East, possess very few native professionals and so need to import large numbers of foreigners. Yet, local traditions often impede participation in the host society. Finally, a sense of relative social exclusion may also be linked to age and the stage someone has reached in their life course. Thus, those professionals who are most able to seek overseas work are young individuals probably living outside a permanent relationship and who are still childless. But these circumstances limit the possibilities for extensive socialization with colleagues from the host society unless they, too, are young, single and childless. Older host-society colleagues are likely to be married with families and tied into long-standing neighbourhood, school, kinship and other commitments which leave little time for socializing with visiting foreigners. In short, for many transnational professionals, friendships and leisure time depend on forging experiences with those who share similar personal profiles irrespective of nationality; namely, other non-locals with whom you spend most of your time at work.

Compensating for emotional vulnerability. Being thrust into a new culture, country and a work situation involving initially unfamiliar people and practices may generate anxiety. Then there is the reality of leaving one's homeland, family and friends. This may create a feeling of loneliness and separation - an emotional deficit. The most obvious way of overcoming this is, firstly, to form friendships with others facing the same predicament - fellow workmates and those participating in the same occupational networks in the locality. But, secondly, for reasons already discussed, it is also likely that those to whom a person is most closely drawn are individuals experiencing a similar situation, namely, other strangers or non-nationals whose roots also lie outside the host society. In this context, the following remarks by an unmarried, British respondent (aged 40 years) who was working on a project in Malta, are especially revealing:

'I think you tend to make friends most .with people who are in the same predicament as you. People who are perhaps working there and who are not from that area .... because they also have a need to socialise ....they haven't got a home environment to go back to either. The people I have met and get on with best are Australian and Croatian people. Malta isn't really their home either. It's a bit like being a student, everybody is in the same boat. You need to make new friends and they do too... and I think that people who are working overseas tend to stick together, it becomes a small community within a community . though I do know some Maltese people as well . but not many.

In addition, forming friends with people of nationalities different from one's own may generate a sense of achievement and exhilaration that is more profound than the relations developed with fellow nationals. Recalling his Malta experiences as well as earlier stints working abroad, the same respondent suggested:

'....I think that my foreign experience I will always remember... whereas when I worked in the UK it tends to all draw into one memory whereas the overseas, I will always remember. Those people are more prominent in the memory of my life because they are different . I remember what happened and the people more readily'.

The life cycle stage. The emergence of transnational social relations also depended on the personal profile of the respondents. We have seen hints of this already. Particularly significant, were, first, the current stage they had reached in their life course especially whether or not they were in a permanent partnership or marriage, second, whether they had any children and, last, whether their partner was of the same or a different nationality. Here, age was a key factor and at the time of the interviews in 2000 the mean age of the sample was around 39 years. Approximately two fifths had children at the time of the interviews, however, with only one or two exceptions, none of the respondents had been parents during their periods of prolonged working overseas. Even large and reputable firms operating in the building design sector make little provision for family life abroad. Many had also been unattached during their period overseas though being involved in a long term relationship is possible providing there are no children and the partner's work is not situated too far away. Notable also was the fact that of the twenty five respondents who were involved in long term/permanent marriages or partnerships at the time of the interview, or who previously had been for some years, in sixteen cases these partnerships had involved cross-nationality relationships (sixty four per cent of this group). In four cases these relationships had preceded the main period spent working overseas - and indeed helped to motivate the decision to seek overseas employment - but the remainder had established these partnerships following a period spent working abroad. Indeed, these appear to have been one of the main consequences of participation in transnational life. Such, mixed-nationality relationships, in turn, are likely to generate further reliance upon and exposure to transnational friendships and networking.

Social Class and Cultural Capital

The preceding section demonstrated that the cultural 'others' mostly encountered by the transnational professionals were people similar to themselves; youngish, educated, unattached individuals of several nationalities working on the same project or who circulated within a geographically and occupationally proximate milieu. Here, the "culture" they shared was constructed out of a multiplicity of elements in addition to everyday work and a similar professional ethos. Probably chief among these is a middle class social status and background (Colic Peisker 2002). This provided a cultural and personality tool kit conferring confidence and adaptability. Thus, most of the respondents - seventy one per cent of the sample - came from social backgrounds where fathers (and sometimes mothers too) had either been professionals or successful entrepreneurs. Only, twenty nine per cent (nine individuals) came from more lowly backgrounds with fathers who were artisans, shop salesmen, lorry drivers and so on. Clearly, most of this group came from relatively privileged backgrounds. But social class is also shaped by education and here, by definition, all respondents had attained higher educational qualifications. It seems likely that all university-trained (or its equivalent) individuals, irrespective of their nationality or parental background, share certain orientations: the ability to think analytically and the willingness to ask questions; an awareness of the limits to one's own knowledge but at the same time an ability to seek additional skills; an individualistic perspective or unit of identity which, in turn, creates a preference for a largely self reliant lifestyle and work experiences providing autonomy and creativity; and an openness and curiosity with respect to new experiences and ideas.

But, in addition, other common elements are readily to hand for aiding the construction of a shared transnational life space, especially where individuals belong to the same age, generational and life-cycle cohort. Here, we could include the following: an interest in local or international art, music, literature, travel and holidays; the sharing of stories about families and friends back home as well as personal life and work histories; pooled observations and gossip concerning local host society; a curiosity about comparing tastes and customs in the various home societies from which the members hail; and a range of possible leisure interests in sport, global popular music and films. The point about all these items is that they largely transcend local and national cultural differences. Moreover, it is exactly this quality that enables them to be brought readily into use for cementing multinational friendship networks capable of spanning time and space. At the same time, they exist over and beyond the ties already created through everyday work experiences.

In short, at least in terms of shared cultural capital, globalization is indeed helping to create a transnational middle class just as the observers mentioned at the beginning of this chapter have suggested. The members of this class generally find that what unite them is far more significant that those national and cultural differences that might have divided them in an earlier age. When living abroad such professionals may not be especially drawn towards the "locals". Rather they are searching out individuals from the host and other countries who are very similar to themselves and drawing upon a shared bank of transnational middle class orientations.


Having explored the experiences of these professionals working abroad we now consider two of the long term implications, evident from their case histories that point to an emergent global society: the formation of multinational friendship networks and the key role of women professionals in these processes.

The Formation of Multinational Friendship Networks

When working overseas the respondents had participated in various non-work friendship networks. A large proportion of the leisure time spent with these friends involved drinking in bars and discos, eating in restaurants or visiting late-night films and other cultural events. In most cases (seventy five per cent of the respondents) these sociability networks involved people of the same or similar professional interests whether these were work colleagues or professionals employed on similar projects but for different firms.1 The minority (twenty five per cent ) who interacted more with people outside their occupational/professional community - mostly with locals rather than expatriates - mostly did so due to 'special' circumstances, for example, individuals who had lived abroad long enough to put down non-work family and friendship roots in their adopted city.

These non-work friendship networks demonstrated three salient characteristics. First, friends from the host society (locals) were much more likely than expatriates to be present in these networks. Of course, this is hardly surprising given the presence of locals in streets, shops and places of residence, and the likelihood that several, perhaps most, work colleagues will be locals along with suppliers, clients and sub-contractors.2 Nevertheless, fellow-nationals living in the same location offer a highly congenial, uncomplicated mode of access to friendships and speak the same language. Indeed, formally, expatriate venues were often the "natural" home towards which those living abroad would gravitate. Given these magnetic forces it was surprising to discover that in only seventeen out of the forty nine overseas friendship situations in which the respondents had participated overall did expatriates figure at all. Moreover, only in four situations did they provide the sole source of non-work companionship and even here, as with five other situations involving at least some expatriates, those involved were "untypical" fellow-nationals: either people in mixed-nationality marriages and/or individuals whose own friendship networks consisted of people from several different nationalities.

Second, far fewer of these friendship networks than might have been expected, given the ubiquity of locals everywhere in the host society, were predominantly or entirely built around relationships with nationals. Thus, there were only nine instances where host society friends were the sole source of network companions, eighteen per cent, (though locals were highly likely to contribute at least some of the participants in friendship networks) and we have already considered the reasons why this should be so.

Thirdly, the most frequent component of these non-work friendship networks tended to be people of mixed nationalities. Thus, in thirty two of these overseas situations (sixty five per cent of the total) friends from several or many nations other than the respondent's own, or the host, nation, provided a substantial, the main or the sole component. Consequently, these networks were partly sometimes completely multinational in composition,3 and they demonstrated what Wittel (2001) calls 'network sociality' in that they consisted of clusters of individuals known to each other. They were not merely the worldwide friendships dependent upon and defined in relation to one single individual which Albrow (1997) has called 'sociospheres'.

Most of these multinational friendship networks had survived long after their members had dispersed. Thus, nearly two thirds of the sample had maintained contacts with some of their former overseas friends of different nationalities over the years ( twenty one individuals) through letters, Christmas cards, telephone conversations, emails or, more usually, a combination of these.4 Moreover, twelve of these respondents (thirty eight per cent of the sample) had engaged in mutual visiting often connected to holidays or a business trip. Sometimes theses visits involved entire families.

Women Professionals, Mixed-nationality Marriages and Transnational Networks

The respondents' average age was around thirty nine years. Those who had children had begun to establish their families only a few years prior to the interviews. The possibilities for coping with family life while working overseas are limited given the unwillingness of even the larger firms to provide the necessary resources. Accordingly, irrespective of their personal motivations for seeking work overseas, most had found that settling down with parental responsibilities was something that had to be postponed. Moreover, once family life was underway, the majority of respondents had confined their overseas work to making numerous very short visits to those foreign locations where their firms were engaged in supervising contracts. This was compatible with a reasonably satisfying family life though it was obviously not without problems. Thus, the period of prolonged overseas work experiences tends to coincide with life cycle stage.

Though, the numbers involved are very small, the data from this study suggests that gender may play a significant role in the ability of professionals to construct a career trajectory which is ultimately compatible with having children. Thus, it was noticeable that all those respondents who had established a domestic life involving children were men. Time did not allow a detailed investigation of the circumstances involved but evidently they were able to establish a modus operandi with their respective partners whereby the latters' own careers had been placed partly on hold while their children were young. In contrast the seven women in the sample were all childless though five were involved in current long term relationships and one of the other two had been married previously. In five of these seven cases, the partnerships involved mixed-nationalities. The average age of these seven women was thirty seven years. What this suggests, perhaps, is that for many transnational professional women , career success and job satisfaction largely precludes rearing a family. Moreover, this may become even more difficult where a long term relationship involves mixed-nationalities since both may be involved in frequent traveling and the issue concerning to which country the individuals "belong" and where they could put down mutually secure long term roots is far from straightforward.

It may be the case, therefore, that professional women with a transnational career profile find themselves involved in overseas experiences that propel them into long-term mixed-nationality partnerships and that force them to make a choice between a continuing successful career trajectory and having children - or which reinforces a previous decision not to have children. But such circumstances may mean that, unwittingly, such women are at the forefront of moves towards the evolution of a truly global society. This is because of their leading role in spearheading the construction of ever more complex and overlapping circuits of transnational networks, containing a decidedly multi-national mix of individuals, and on a more or less continuing basis. This is something which their male colleagues contribute towards so long as they remain unmarried or childless but from which they partly disengage when they adopt a more settled existence. Here, the following case study is especially revealing.

Rachel was a thirty eight year old childless American national in a long term relationship with a French partner. She had worked in the London office of an American company since 1989. In addition to living "abroad" in Britain, her work had compelled her to make many short but regular visits to company sites in different parts of Europe (she made 34 such visits in 1999 alone). In London, many of her friends were from the office but few were English. Rather, most were foreign nationals who were often similarly involved in mixed partnerships. Though her work had not required her to take up residence in the European countries where most of her work was done, over the years she and her partner had become part of a network of friends across the UK, the USA and Europe consisting not just of a multinational group but also of couples involved in mixed marriages. These, in turn, were mainly involved in yet additional friendships with people living and working in similar circumstances - namely, overseas much of the time and in mixed partnerships. For example, some German members of her friendship network - originally met through clients and co-project workers - had invited her and her partner to join them on holidays.

Rachel's case is no doubt exceptional but it may point to an important reality. Thus, belonging to a pool of transnational friends - many of whom are also likely to be childless and involved in cross-national partnerships - becomes a way of life and a reference group. Such common experiences are especially likely to transcend strong feelings of nationhood. Eventually, as friends move onto to yet other countries and make friends with more like-minded individuals in the next host country, and because contacts are maintained, so new friends are added to the ever evolving and overlapping circuits of transnational social life.


Earlier we saw that many observers acknowledge the significance for the effective operation of the global economy of managers/professionals who can cope easily with cross border relationships and experiences. Yet, there is a often a parallel tendency to argue that the privileges and remoteness supposedly revealed by such groups leads to the equation of cosmopolitanism with social division and exclusiveness while far from taking a leading role in helping to build a strong global civil society these individuals - who are among those best equipped to do so - apparently demonstrate no such inclination. In this final section I want to try and unravel these arguments partly by drawing upon the data already presented but also by referring briefly to several other writers whose work on cosmopolitanism has been highly influential.

Hannerz' attempt (1990) to clarify the meaning of cosmopolitanism for those occupying contemporary transnational social spaces has been extremely useful. He defined cosmopolitanism as the willingness and ability to engage with the cultural 'other' mainly through face-to-face social interactions encountered in the 'the round of everyday life in a community' (240). He contrasted this sharply with other kinds of overseas experiences such as exile and tourism. A major criticism levelled against this rather aesthetic version of cosmopolitanism, however, is that it all too easily evokes and celebrates cultural elitism (for example, several of the contributors to Cheah's and Robbins's 1998 book). In contrast, Tomlinson's (1999) view of cosmopolitanism avoids such criticisms. He argues that the ultimate "test" of cosmopolitanism is not just the willingness to interact with local cultural 'others' but (183-186) the capacity to demonstrate a sense of ethical responsibility with regard to global problems. Here, cosmopolitanism approximates to its original meaning, namely the idea of becoming a "citizen of the world". Yet, while we live morally and aesthetically within the wider world we remain embedded in the sphere of the local - a condition he describes, borrowing from Robertson's work (1995), as 'ethical glocalism' (194).

This approach overlaps with but is perhaps a "stronger" version of another recent perspective on cosmopolitanism explored by several writers in two recent books (Cheah and Robbins (eds), 1998 and Vertovec and Cohen, (eds), 2002). Thus, Cheah and Robbins suggest that many individuals and groups across the world display a capacity to think, feel and even act, at times, beyond their immediate local, ethnic, national or other ascriptive affiliations but this normally stops some way short of the capacity to identify with the whole of humanity. This actually existing, more grounded, everyday and even mundane version not only "enables" far greater number of global citizens to be recognized as demonstrating some degree and kind of cosmopolitanism it also creates the possibility - once there is general recognition of its existence and value -of harnessing some of the energy currently embedded in primordial bonds to different kinds of projects for global justice. Such displays of everyday, probably spasmodic and inherently fragmented ethical/political orientation constitute, for Cheah and Robbins (1998), the much needed realm of 'cosmopolitics'.

Where, then, do the respondents included in the present study belong in these analyses of cosmopolitanism? Following Hannerz, I investigated whether the respondents had used their participation in the occupational culture provided by the building/design industry as a bridgehead for establishing deep attachments to the host society - for example, seeking non-work local friends or involvement in charities, churches, and so on. However, except for those who had become long term residents in the host country, most had failed to engage seriously in these ways with the host cultures. Similarly, there was little evidence of Tomlinson's cosmopolitans. While a few respondents claimed that working overseas had increased their knowledge of the particular societies in which they had lived and/or that they now felt much less tied to their own national culture, such awareness had not left them with a stronger ethical commitment towards solving world problems. Only two respondents insisted that their global understanding and actions had increased because of their transnational experiences, for example, becoming a permanent contributor to Oxfam. Most who claimed such orientations had held them before they first worked overseas.

While Hannerz's cultural engagement and Tomlinson's global ethical responsibility may apply to certain limited categories of people, such as some social scientists, connoisseurs or those seeking careers in international non-governmental organizations, there are several reasons why they may not be appropriate tests to apply to everyone who moves in transnational space including many professionals. Firstly, we have seen that there were many constraints deterring serious engagements with the cultural other. They included, long hours of work, absorption in the heavy demands of the project and the reality that many local colleagues are locked into separate, non-work social milieus and family ties. Secondly, as Friedman (1994), has suggested, in an age of endless global cultural flows there may be some difficulty in identifying the pure "locals" whose culture remains largely intact and who are available for cultural intercourse with cosmopolitans. Then there is the question of the language barriers to such exchanges given that such "true" locals area likely to be rooted in ancient traditions, probably live in rural locations or small towns, are tied to long-established occupations and such people may have little education. Accordingly, only non-locals with considerable linguistic competence may be able to navigate deep cultural engagements successfully.

Thirdly, Tomlinson's (1999) requirement of glocal ethicality as a mark of cosmopolitanism is also difficult to apply to many who live in transnational social space. For example, it may be unreasonable to expect people to cope with family and work while juggling identities, relationships and the management of a vast and ever-changing range of technical, social, cultural, linguistic and other skills - across transnational space - while simultaneously demonstrating a degree of ethical/political commitment towards solving world problems. Perhaps, Tomlinson is setting an impossibly demanding test for most individuals to meet including many transnational professionals. Fourthly, I suggest that the patterns of sociality demonstrated by the respondents in this study do qualify as constituting a valid kind of 'actually existing cosmopolitanism' (Malcomson 1998). While the latter mostly involves neither Hannerz's conscious engagement with the distant cultural other nor Tomlinson's ethical glocalism, it does demonstrate bridge-building activities which lead to the creation of new and viable commonalities between individuals from different national backgrounds. These multinational friendship networks also celebrate national cultural identities while simultaneously exploring the cross-overs between cultures. The fact that shared middle class orientations obviously provide a pre-existing framework without which the construction of such social spaces would be much more difficult, detracts neither from the achievement of building viable multinational friendship networks nor from their importance in underpinning global economic life. Moreover, in a world where deep primordial divisions continue to flourish within and between countries, the commonalities that it seems can be constructed between the middle class professionals of many countries is surely to be valued notwithstanding the "bourgeois" lifestyles they evince.

Fifthly, a number of respondents emphasized that their companies were strongly committed to implementing environmentally-responsible practices and this was what had partly attracted them to work for these companies. They regarded the operationalization of such green practices as a central part of their job responsibilities. At the same time, many were proud to be working for companies and with fellow professionals they regarded as leading exponents of innovative and exciting design models in international architecture many of whose projects were widely seen as offering path-breaking styles and working procedures - including in the environmental sphere. While we may not attach the same degree of cultural significance as these respondents did to some of the "grand" and highly commercial projects with which they had been associated it is valid to point out that outside family life and for those fortunate to be in employment it is this immediate sphere of daily work where most of us can best hope to act out a responsible existence and demonstrate our desire to contribute to the common good. For the great majority of human beings, work and family life is where community, national and global affiliation has to begin and never more so if these tasks are approached with special pride, dedication and commitment.

Finally, in the age of the nation state, civil society partly grew out of the pre-existing overlapping and dense networks of family, local community, occupational, regional, religious and ethnic affiliations, most of which initially had little direct "political" significance. We also know that the growth of a capitalist mass market for knowledge through the spread of inventions such as the printing press, accompanied by a quickening of market exchanges across most economic regions and sectors associated with early industrialization and the expansion of cities, the intelligentsia, the emergence of public places, and so on - as Habermas, Anderson and others have explained so fruitfully - all helped massively to extend and deepen the power of national civil society by generating the technologies and spaces which made it easier and necessary for people to communicate effectively and the common interests spurring them to join forces. Presumably, if a truly effective global civil society is to emerge in future, an exactly parallel set of social and economic processes also need to unfold at the global level working alongside overt political activities as these spread out from their points of strongest origin at the national level and converge into international streams. If the construction of ever denser networks of sociality and economic interdependencies at the global level are essential in order to underpin and enrich a grass-roots global polity then the transnational professionals discussed in this paper certainly have their own important role to play.


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* Paul Kennedy, Department of Sociology, Institute for Global Studies, Manchester Metropolitan Unversity,

1. There are often strong inter-firm and/or inter-professional connections at work either because of sub-contracting arrangements between different companies or the existence of links with universities and private or government institutions..

2. The reliance on locals for friendship was much more likely in the case of the minority group, of respondents whose most important networks were non-work related.

3. In identifying the multinational composition of these networks I excluded: overseas friends made as a result of brief working visits but not permanent stays, those formed in student life unless these involved a work component and the friendships of the UK nationals not formed while they were abroad. In all instances the data refers only to friendships carried over from work into non-work life. Other kinds of friendships such as with neighbours or formed with locals where respondents eventually settled "permanently", were excluded.

4. Here, friendships with locals were included.

Edited and posted on the web on 26th January 2004

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in J Eade and D O'Byrne (eds) (2005) Global Ethics and Civil Society Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 89-107