GaWC Project 1

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The Global Observatory

Funded by Loughborough University Research Committee: Interdisciplinary Research Grant (1996)

Grant Holders: P.J. Taylor and D.R.F. Walker

Research Associate: D. Robinson


Project Summary

This is the start up phase of the project to set up the Loughborough Observatory on Global Change. It is based in Geography but is intrinsically inter-disciplinary in nature. The project addresses a critical data question in the study of contemporary globalisation processes. Although there is plentiful data produced by states to provide international comparisons, globalisation implies much more than this. For the proper investigation of topics such as the world city hierarchy, core-periphery economic analysis and global social movements, trans-state data are essential. Our distinctive niche will be to focus solely on data for flows and patterns not ordered by states. The Observatory will operate on the internet and will include, as well as invited and deposited data from other projects, technical and bibliographic resources on trans-state data. For the international social science community it will become the clearing house for trans-state information. For Loughborough University it strategically locates us at the centre of an important and rapidly growing area of researches. This pump-priming is necessary so that we have an explicitly credible product for the outside world when we launch the Observatory in September 1996.

Project Description

1. Aims and Objectives:

The project is to create the Loughborough Observatory on Global Change, this application is for pump priming funding for the first phase. The co-directors of the Observatory will be Peter Taylor and David Walker with initial support from Ruth Lister and Robert Walker.


 (i) to develop an information centre on the internet that deals solely and uniquely with trans-state data ultimately to be funded by Foundation sources;

 (ii) to strategically locate social science researchers at Loughborough University at the centre of an important and rapidly growing area of social science research: globalisation studies.

 Specifically in the first phase:

 (i) to put together the necessary organisational and technical structures to launch the Observatory in September 1996;

 (ii) to be in the position at launch to have created a credible initial input to the Observatory.


(i) to lay a basis for inter-disciplinary research at Loughborough on globalisation processes;

 (ii) to encourage collaboration between Loughborough researchers and contributors to the Observatory in other universities;

 (iii) to be an world-wide attraction for top class postgraduate students who wish to study globalisation.

 Specifically in the first phase:

 (i) to set up the technical basis of the Observatory;

 (ii) to extend the contacts within and beyond Loughborough University to set up a local Management Team and an international Advisory Board;

 (iii) to investigate and enumerate all centres across the world that deal with either or both globalisation studies and international data sets;

 (iv) to develop a multi-disciplinary bibliographic resource that enumerates and abstracts all published materials dealing with trans-state data;

 (v) to begin handling information and placing it in the Observatory.

 (vi) above all , as a new project, to provide initial credibility in the world-wide social science community.

2. Background to Research

It has become commonplace today to observe both that social change is proceeding at an unprecedented rate and that the processes behind it are operating at the global scale. However the study of social change has not fully come to terms with the implications of this globalisation. One important reason for this is the nature of the information available for studying global changes. Although there is plenty of data from UN agencies for making comparisons between countries this is not the same as studying global change. International comparisons are important but they provide a quite narrow view of what is happening in the world today. Such data is collected by states and for states which is why the results are called statistics. They are inadequate as the basis for understanding the contemporary world quite simply because many of the most important processes operating today are trans-state in nature. As such they are not captured by 'state-istics'. Hence the problem is not that social scientists lack data but that what they have is limited and unsatisfactory when they are confronted by processes of globalisation.

It is for this reason that it is proposed to set up an 'observatory' for the collection and dissemination of trans-state data. By calling it an observatory we imply that the emphasis is empirical but not empiricist. That is to say, we are concerned for data but we have a theoretical agenda explicitly underlying that concern: to understand contemporary globalisation.

Here is a selection of the multi-disciplinary research areas that we will focus upon in the initial development of the Observatory.

A. World cities. A relatively small number of cities are the organisation centres behind much global change. Transcending state boundaries, these are no longer 'national cities' but are the nodes in a global network of information flows and economic decision making. Data on the reach of such cities, their relation to lower sections of the urban hierarchy and many other features are necessary for any comprehensive understanding of global change. (eg Loughborough researchers: Jon Beaverstock and Peter Taylor , Geography).

 B. Core-periphery studies. There are many analyses that treat social activities in terms of world zones of core and periphery (and often also semi-periphery) but the zones are defined by states. However the processes that create these zones are not primarily political so we should not expect zone boundaries to necessarily coincide with state boundaries. The idea of 'the third world within the first world' in US cities is a case in point. Data is required so that large states (eg China, Russia, Brazil, India, Canada, Indonesia, etc), in particular, are not treated as homogeneous units in zonal analyses. (eg Loughborough researchers: Mike Smith, European Studies and Ed Brown, Geography)

 C. Social movements. There are a wide range of new political organisations that recognise the importance of global change and organise their activities in a trans-state manner. These new social movements and NGOs are very important in articulating resistance and negotiating adaptations to global intrusions into people's everyday lives. There is an urgent need to bring existing data on individual organisation operations together to provide an overall picture of these activities. (eg Loughborough researchers: Jeremy Leaman, European Studies and David Slater, Geography)

3. Research Technology

The Observatory will use existing Internet technologies. Computing Services will be involved in providing facilities and advice. Concepts and topics will be organised using the system that has been developed by the STILE project, based jointly at Loughborough and Leicester. Some small cosmetic modifications will be needed to the interface.

Substantive content of the observatory: researchers investigating all manner of global change from across the world will be invited to deposit their data for public access through us. This will take several forms: (i) original data from existing research projects; (ii) constructed data derived from state-istics; and (iii) descriptions of methods for constructing estimates from state-istics; (iv) advice on access to data not publicly accessible (or they may provide us, and anyone using our observatory, with World Wide Web links to their data).

4. Timetable

We have already established international links and have identified firm supporters (Chris Chase-Dunn, Sociology, Johns Hopkins; Colin Flint, International Relations, Georgia Tech; Andrew Kirby, Social Sciences, Arizona; Alec Murphy, Geography, Oregon; Craig Murphy, Politics, Wellesley; Leslie Sklair, Sociology, LSE; Immanuel Wallerstein, Sociology, Binghamton). In February we will establish a local "Steering Committee" from at least four departments to guide the project to its September launch when the committee forms the Management Team. We will also firm up our International Advisory Board. In February/ March we will employ a consultant for a short period to adapt the STILE software to our needs. From March to September we will employ a research assistant to liaise with both Committee and Board to both conduct the investigation of potential institutions for research and data collaboration and begin to develop the bibliographic resource.

5. Likely Research Outputs

Generally, to create a focus for collaboration on globalisation research as detailed above. The ultimate purpose is to generate new interdisciplinary research objectives through collaboration both within and beyond Loughborough University.

Specifically, there will be a joint paper by the co-directors prepared for the launch to be submitted to a very 'visible' international social science journal.

Likely Outcome

The outcome of the first phase is an Observatory in place on the internet with a very credible substantive initial content. This will contribute to continuing the task of making the social sciences at Loughborough University a world centre for the study of globalisation. We will have an inter-disciplinary committee in place at the university overseeing the project and a world-wide pattern of contacts on the Advisory Board and as contributors to the Observatory.

This will act as the launching pad for establishing the Observatory as a fundamental resource for the study of globalisation across the world.

For results of this project, see GaWC Research Bulletins 1, 2 and 6 .