GaWC Research Bulletin 462

GaWC logo
  Gateways into GaWC

This Research Bulletin has been published in ProtoSociology, 33 (2016), 131-148.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper


Geohistory of Globalizations

P.J. Taylor*


The social time and space constructs of Manual Castells (network society), Fernand Braudel (capitalism versus markets) Immanuel Wallerstein (TimeSpace) and Jane Jacobs (moral syndromes) are brought together to provide a set of conceptual tools for understanding contemporary globalization. Three successive globalizations are identified and named for their constellations of power: imperial globalization, American globalization, and corporate globalization. These are treated as unique historical products of modern, rampant urbanizations; each globalization is described as an era of great cities with distinctive worldwide networks.  Focusing on urban demand, it is suggested that current corporate globalization might elide into a planetary globalization covering both social and environment relations.


The ideas presented in this paper are born from my long held frustration of how much mainstream social science has reacted to contemporary globalization. At its crudest level state-centric ideas are simply ‘up-scaled’ in an attempt to continue business as usual: national economy, national governance and national civil society become global economy, global governance and global civil society. Even with more sophisticated studies, by starting with the unexamined primacy of the state in framing enquiry, an understanding of globalization is inevitably curtailed. I first appreciated this on reading David Held and his colleagues hugely influential textbook entitled Global Transformations. They popularized the notion that there are three tendencies in conceptualizing globalization distinguished by their various views on the position of the state – hyperglobalists, sceptics and transformationalists. Not surprisingly, their argument culminated in discussing ‘transformation of state power’ (Held et al. 1999 10, 436; Taylor 2000). Does globalization have to be interrogated through state lenses? In this essay I will employ ideas from four scholars whose work transcends conventional state-centrism: Manuel Castells, Fernand Braudel, Immanuel Wallerstein and Jane Jacobs. Their contributions to understanding contemporary society are well known; my contribution is to combine selected parts of their oeuvres in order to inform an interpretation of globalization. As such it is an extension of discussions on their works in my research on cities and reference can be made there for more detailed and extended analysis (Taylor 2013, chapter 2).

Justification for my eclectic approach to understanding globalization can begin by noting that despite the many basic differences between my four guides, they do share a critical concern for analyses of time and space as social constructions. In addition they all derive materialist groundings from their respective social times and social spaces that are consistent with what we know about the construction of contemporary globalization. But most important here, they provide the tools for generating my ‘geohistory’ of globalization, not just as a positioning of this process in its timing and location but as globalization being constituted through, and as, what Wallerstein (1991) terms TimeSpace.

The argument is presented in three parts. First, conceptual contributions of Castells, Braudel, Wallerstein and Jacobs are laid out; each is identified as delivering a specific input to understanding globalization. Second, in synthesis they provide a theoretical basis for the geohistory, which is the subject of the second part. Globalization is conceived as a cumulative progression of three distinct but intertwined global processes constructing and encompassing an integrated world. In a brief concluding part this macro-social integration is related to planetary environmental changes, the other critical worldwide concern; my materialist interpretation of globalization is as one with anthropogenic climate change.

Temporal and Spatial Constructs in Globalization

Being eclectic is never easy. Of my four scholarly helpers, Braudel and Wallerstein’s work is closely related, but Castells, and particularly Jacobs, are not usually found in the same reference lists. I find symbiotic relations between all four in their attentions to social times and spaces and although this in itself does not negate their very real differences, it does provide a means of maintaining the integrity of various arguments. Thus my focus on their respective concerns for times and spaces does not identify a superficial ‘common denominator’, it serves to link core aspects of each scholars thoughts and analyses. Only Castells directly addresses contemporary globalization and I begin with his treatment of network society as a space of flows. Given that globalization is a manifestation of capitalism I use Braudel (with Wallerstein) to provide a critical definition, followed by Wallerstein (with Braudel) for a time and space framing of globalization. Finally Jacobs is brought into the argument to provide moral agents in the construction of globalization.

Network Society: Castells and Globalization as a World of Flows

Manuel Castells (1996) argues that modernity has moved from an industrial age to an informational age in which ‘networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies’ (p. 469). This ‘new spatial logic’ (p. 378) is premised on the growth of information and communication technologies that have enabled a network society to supplant industrial society. These two types of society are distinguished by their social spaces: industrial society was created through ‘spaces of places’ whereas network society is being created by ‘spaces of flows’. In his initial description of this succession Castells (1996) implies spaces of flows have today supplanted spaces of places but he later confirmed the two social spaces being constructed simultaneously (Castells 1999) so that the difference between industrial society and network society is about which of the two spatial constructions dominate. Thus contemporary globalization is a period when spaces of flows dominate social reproduction.

For Castells work is a social practice in which space facilitates necessary social relations. In spaces of places this means combining temporal simultaneity with spatial contiguity. An example would be the social practices on ‘market day’ in a ‘market place’ that enable buyer and seller to meet and conduct their business. In spaces of flows simultaneity and contiguity are separated and the social relations are facilitated through flows. This requires more sophisticated social arrangements involving constructions of trust within networks. In spaces of flows firms have to have multiple location strategies in order to ensure that movements of capital, commodities and information are reliable. In medieval Europe, for instance, firms operated by having trusted agents (often extended family members) in all major cities where they did business. Today’s multiple location firms – transnational corporations - are a critical and necessary feature of globalization (Dicken 2005).

The space of flows constituting network society is defined as a combination of three layers of material supports for dominant social practices. The first layer is the infrastructural support for social practices, flows that make non-contiguous simultaneity possible. Castells (1996: 412-3) defines this layer as grounded in a ‘circuit of electronic impulses’ based on communication and information devices. The relevant infrastructures based upon these technologies range from the global Internet to global airline networks. The third layer is constituted by the spatial organization of economic elites (pp. 415-6). These are flows that support the interests and practices of the ‘technocratic-financial-managerial elite’ (p. 415). Examples include networks grounded in exclusive restaurants and cosmopolitan leisure complexes through to segregated residential and vacation locales. But the key operational layer is the second one, the space of the social practices that define society. It is constituted by social agents who use the infrastructure networks to link together specific places to carry out ‘well-defined’ economic, cultural and political functions’ (Castells 1996: 413-5). The locales of operation are termed nodes and hubs. Castells identifies Sassens’ (1991) ‘global cities’ as constituting a key second-layer network. He postulates a ‘global network’ connecting centres ‘with different intensity and at a different scale’ whereby regional and local centres within countries become ‘integrated at the global level’ (p. 380). This is a world city network (Taylor 2004) that includes but also transcends Sassen’s small, restricted set of global cities: however the latter also function prominently within the third layer of elite spaces.

Of course, all treatments of globalization recognize the enhanced movement that occurs, but we get something more from Castells. He provides an idea of globalization, not just as occupying a worldwide space, it is a networked social space pivoting upon cities. Much more than ‘up-scaling’, globalization is a distinctive modern society defined by its movement.

Capitalism against Markets: Braudel and Globalization as Monopoly Space

Seeing globalization as a space of flows should not obscure the vital importance of spaces of places in constructing globalization. In Wallerstein’s (1979) world-systems analysis it is the fragmentation of political power – the space of places that is the interstate system – that provides an essential manoeuvrability for capital. For Marx, capitalism was always more than economics; it encapsulated power and inevitably involved the state. This view has been more recently reinforced in a quite contrarian way by Braudel (1981; Wallerstein 1991, 202) who places capitalism as ‘the enemy of the market’. This argument is built upon the basic observation that capitalism embodies a social logic that rewards ceaseless capital accumulation. The key point is that markets do not maximise profits, monopolies do. Therefore the necessary accumulation to maintain the system has to include state practices that facilitate monopolistic tendencies but without stifling economic growth as they did in pre-capitalist societies. For Braudel. the idea of ‘monopoly capitalism’ is a non sequitur: the adjective is simply redundant.

Braudel (1981, 1982, 1984) models society as a three-storey house with distinctive processes at each level. At the ground level there is the material everyday life of the population, on the second level market activities, and capitalism occurring only at the top level. The crucial contrast is between the top two storeys: transparency of markets creating small profits, and the opaque top level where a privileged group make huge profits through the anti-market practices of corporate monopolies with state connivance. We might call this making profits versus taking profits; the modern result is two structures in ‘perpetual struggle with each other’ (Wallerstein 1991, 203). The implications of this argument converts liberalism (neo or otherwise) into myth since it is capitalists who are the monopolists in opposition to those operating in competitive markets.  Wallerstein (1991, 215) identifies many different historical forms of monopolistic controls of production, trade and finance; today this tendency is represented by transnational corporations controlling global commodity chains and financial networks.

It is not unusual to indicate how states are directly implicated in the construction of globalization – for instance, trade agreements favouring large corporations, or direct participants as in sovereign funds or state enterprises, notably Chinese – but, following Braudel, these instances should not be considered revelatory. Rather, seeing states as integral to capitalism, they are key makers of globalization.

TimeSpace: Wallerstein and the Resilience/Fragility of Globalization

Wallerstein (1991, 139) argues that ‘time and space are not two separate categories but one, which I shall call TimeSpace’. He invents this integrative concept to distinguish his ideas from the more commonplace ‘time-space’ that suggests physical location, where time and space are ‘just there – enduring, objective, external, unmodifiable’ (p. 136). Rather he treats time and space together as entwined social constructions. His TimeSpace is built upon Fernand Braudel’s (1978) famous identification of three social times distinguished by their time spans as short-term (‘eventism’), medium-term (moyenne durée) and long-term (longue durée). Through their constructions these ‘times’ encompass diverse outcomes of social behaviour; that is to say they are not just different by their span, they are different substantively. This is evident in Braudel’s terminology, which can be translated as episodic history for short-term, cyclical history for medium-term, and structural history for long-term. Braudel’s purpose in inventing these times was to challenge traditional political history that focused on events and stayed strictly within episodic historical bounds, neglecting economic processes in the medium-term and the demographics of the long-term. He insists that historical understanding has to encompass all three time-spans: ‘to choose one of these histories to the exclusion of all others’ is a ‘cardinal error of historiography’ (p. 34).

To create his TimeSpace, Wallerstein (2001, 142) adds geographical scale concepts to Braudel’s historical span concepts. Thus to structural time he adds ‘structural space’ to create a Structural TimeSpace that are actual historical systems, such as the modern world-system. As long as they persist, they have some features that are unchanging; otherwise, we could not call them systems. Thus longue durée is equated with the ‘unchanging’ aspect of a whole system in its particular section of the world. Currently for the modern world-system this is a global structure. As operational social systems they encompass the other TimeSpaces: insofar as they are historical, they are constantly changing. The historical changes that represent adaptations necessary for system reproduction are the TimeSpace combining the cyclical time with operational regional configurations, which Wallerstein calls ideological spaces on account of their specific constructions for medium-term ends (for instance the post-1945 economic cycle linked to Cold War east-west categories). And further, systems are never the same from one instance to the next: they are changing in every detail, including, of course their spatial parameters. In this TimeSpace Wallerstein brackets episodic time with ‘immediate geopolitical space’ indicating specific events in particular places, which Wallerstein treats as always highly contested and contingent.

Introducing TimeSpace into the argument Wallerstein provides much more than a new historiographical input with spatial additions, globalization becomes embedded in a cascading TimeSpace from relative structural resilience through to the fragility of the episodic and local. This contrasts with the usual focus at the middle level, in Wallerstein’s terms a TimeSpace combining the post-Cold ideological space (‘one world’) with the current economic cycle (i.e. the successor to the post-1945 economic cycle). Through connecting with the other two TimeSpaces we add the crucial interplay of resilience and fragility into understanding globalization.

Moral Syndromes: Jacobs and the Creation of Globalization

The previous constructs are all social creations; they require people to make them. Much more than ‘economic man’, these are social beings with moral compasses that guide their behaviour. Jacobs (1992) provides a specific philosophical analysis that identifies two moral syndromes, one that underpins territorial behaviour creating spaces of places and the other supporting interactive behaviour creating spaces of flows; both straddle time spans.

Jacobs’ (1992) highly original approach to understanding social behaviour focuses on making a living. She distinguishes this from ‘having a life’; work is her subject matter. She recognizes that human beings are unique in the animal world by having two ways of making a living. All animals, including humans, make use of their local environment for reproduction, typically involving territorial control. However, humans have added an additional way of making a living through exchanging goods, a non-local means of reproduction. Today these two different ways of making a living are found in (i) all jobs relating to protecting and governing in security (armed forces, police. judiciary), government (working for executive or legislature), and administration (carrying out state service functions including regulation); and (ii) all jobs relating to making and trading commodities in farming, mining, manufacture, transport, wholesaling, retailing, professional and non-professional services, information and logistics. Jacobs argues that each of the two types of job is associated with a specific moral syndrome. This means behaving morally is work dependent: what is right and proper for one type of work is a violation of morality in the other type of work.

Jacobs calls these two ethics the guardian moral syndrome and the commercial moral syndrome. They can be initially distinguished by what is definitely barred in each case: commercial work cannot be successfully accomplished if transactions are forced (extortion); guardian work is violated if trading occurs (bribery). Shunning force in commercial ethics allows voluntary agreements to be made; in contrast, for guardian work, transactions are based upon force through exerting prowess. More generally the moral syndromes provide for two sets of contrasting behavioural traits necessary for reproducing guardian and commercial work practices. Thus the commercial syndrome promotes cosmopolitan and enterprising behaviour whereas the guardian moral syndrome is about group loyalty, hierarchy and discipline. Overall they define two very different mind-sets. The commercial syndrome is ultimately premised on assuming a better future – why else would you invest? Every freely agreed contract benefits both sides – this is a Win-Win world. But for guardians, change is a matter of life and death (literally in battle, career-wise in elections) – this is a Win-Lose world, a zero-sum game. However, both syndromes are equally necessary for reproducing any and all human societies. This point is insisted upon again and again (Jacobs 1992, passim): work based on each syndrome needs the other: guardians provide order; commercial agents provide change. This is consistent with Castells insistence on both spaces of places and spaces of flows. Further the monopolistic behaviour of large modern corporations places them with states on the guardian side of making a living (consistent with Braudel), leaving commercial making a living focused on market behaviour.

What Jacobs (1992) brings to understanding globalization is an acute awareness of the distinctive behaviours behind its creation. It is a guardian construction (corporate/state) masquerading as a commercial enterprise (neoliberalism) at a global territorial scale.

Towards Synthesis

I have cross-referenced within the presentations of the four scholarly contributions above but this does not constitute a synthesis. In the next section I will use these social constructions of time and space as an integrated package of ideas and Table 1 is constructed to facilitate this. It takes advantage of there being a tripartite patterning of constructs across the four treatments of social times and spaces. Each set of constructs is listed in columns in the same order as described previously; it is through interrogating the rows in the table that a synthesis can be made apparent. Each row will be discussed in turn.

Table 1 Constructs of social time and space

Starting with the middle row, this represents the dynamic change element within the four constructions; it is where critical changes in social times and spaces occur. This is made clear in Jacobs’ making a living through commerce, which is effectively the same as Braudel’s wheels of commerce. In Wallerstein’s TimeSpace this involves the rhythm and movements of the system as long cycles and regional configurations, which currently are represented by Castells’ global spaces of flows operating through active network hubs and nodes. These all add up to a potent world of creativity.

All this dynamism is countered by the constructs in the bottom row, which is where command is to be found. Again this is explicit in Jacobs’ making a living, in this case through guardian work, which links very closely into Braudel’s opaque capitalism. The resulting zero-sum games are played out in events that are episodic and geopolitical as in Wallerstein’s TimeSpace all organized through the elite spaces of flows that Castells describes. These all add up to an exploitative world of manipulation to harness the fruits of the dynamics.

Finally, the play between these two contrasting worlds occurs atop a social base of activities, the first row, that make the dynamics and command possible. For Jacobs this is simply making a life beyond work, which again has strong similarities with Braudel’s material life as everyday structures. It is these slow moving social worlds that are the bases of Wallerstein’s historical systems as structural SpaceTime. In Castells’ spaces of flows this would traditionally be represented by sunk capital in massive infrastructure projects; the fact that technology is changing rapidly today does not eliminate the fact of electronic sunk capital ensuring a particular path dependency that will eventually slow change down. These all add up to a resilient world both enabling and framing social times and spaces.

A simple summary of the three spheres would be to consider the first row as ‘cultural’ in its widest sense, the second row as economic, and the third row as political. Although these terms capture some of the differences, conventional categories are not suitable even as précis. This is clearest in the case of ‘command’ wherein much of what is usually seen as economic activity is included as previously described. Similarly the creativity of ‘dynamics’ can extend far beyond what is generally considered economic activity. And in the ‘base’ all human behaviours are blended in ways that defy the usual social science distinctions. Most important, the rows are never clearly demarcated in a messy reality; in fact the most interesting zones of human activities often occur on the borders between the rows. Together these constructs and their interrelations represent an integration of social time and space construction; interpreted as constituting the societies they describe, they provide conceptual tools to explore the process of globalization as a time/space construct.

Successive Globalizations

Thus far I have been employing the term globalization in the singular but in my deploying of social time and space constructs I find different globalizations. I am going to identify three globalizations: an imperial globalization as the culmination of nineteenth century industrialization and colonialism; an American globalization blossoming in the mid-twentieth century; and a corporate globalization that we are experiencing in the twenty first century. They are globalizations is the sense of integrated worldwide social relations and they are successive because they follow on from one another, but not as a sequence of stages. Each is a distinctive collection of global social relations that endure and therefore overlap: elements of imperial globalization are found in the later two globalizations, and American globalization remains present in today’s corporate globalization.

Collectively these globalizations should not be interpreted as part of some sort of progression or evolution, a long ongoing increase in the scale of human activities from hunter/gatherer localism to today’s globalism. In terms of structural TimeSpace, globalizations are ultimately the result of a social disruption that generated a new historical system in the European Atlantic world through the long sixteenth century (c. 1450-1650) (Wallerstein 1974). This is the modern world-system based upon a social logic crucially different from other large historical systems that are all world-empires. In the latter Jacob’s two moral syndromes are accommodated (separated) hierarchically in class/caste relations wherein political elites dominate. In contrast, in the modern world-system relations between political and economic elites is more balanced resulting in political economy, a new structure of social relations. Thus is the modern world-system a capitalist world-economy. In making this statement it is important to appreciate the difference between commerce and capitalism. Commerce, trading and producing for trade, is very old measured in millennia, capitalism is a quantitative and qualitative expansion of commerce measured in centuries (i.e. half a millennia).

It is in this new TimeSpace that the means for creating globalization are generated. The initial classic examples of Braudel’s shadowy capitalism are the exploitative state trading companies with their world-regional monopolistic charters, the most successful being the Dutch East Indies Company. Through their distinctive political economy activities they made the modern world-system’s relations with other parts of the world based upon ceaseless capital accumulation, very different from traditional relations between world-empires where commerce was secondary. The European modern world-system remained lesser worldwide in its early centuries – the world-empire that was Ch’ing China remained by far the richest historical system. However, although waxing and waning territorially over the centuries, there is no argument that Chinese world-empires were in any way proceeding towards a globalization only to be beaten to it by the Europeans. The social logic and resulting practices of world-empires have severe logistical limits that were beyond addressing. In contrast it is the social logic of ceaseless capital accumulation that provided the means to construct a global TimeSpace. The capitalist world-economy’s interactions with other social systems resulted in all of them being eliminated as separate TimeSpaces, with China incorporated into the modern world-system through the nineteenth century. Thus it is incorrect to interpret the current rapid growth of the Chinese economy as a return to the traditional historical dominance of the ‘East’; the rise of the Chinese Peoples Republic is global shift within the modern world-system, not without.

Having set the TimeSpace stage for creation of globalizations, these will now be described and explicated through the array of social time and space constructs in Table 1. Before I start on the individual globalizations there is one common feature that emerges strongly from the constructs. Globalization in general and each globalization in particular are essentially urban products. The ultimate spatial difference in Jacobs’ making a life between the modern world-system and world-empires is that the latter is demographically a peasant world whereas the outcome of ceaseless capitalist accumulation has been continuing erosion of peasant numbers in great swaths of urbanization at different times in different places; but it has been relentless. This has resulted in Braudel’s material life being turned upside down. The twenty first century consequence, as so often noted, is a completely new and historically singular situation that most people now live in cities, which is actually an ongoing process suggesting more than three quarters urban before the century ends. This unique character of modern political economy is conventionally under-estimated; here it comes to centre stage.

Imperial Globalization

In 1904 the geographer Halford Mackinder announced a ‘global closure’, meaning the whole world had become a single operational space. This was the culmination of European imperialism so that by the end of the nineteenth century there was an integrated global economy whose global scope was defined by imperial relations, both formal (colonies) and informal (former colonies (Latin America) and countries subject to unequal treaties (economic opening via political pressure, notably China)), whereby the rest of the world provided European countries (and latterly USA and Japan) with agricultural commodities and industrial raw materials. In effect this global economy was a one huge functional region with commodity flows from the periphery servicing a North Atlantic urban-industrial core. This created a stark division of labour comprising complex economies at the centre contrasting with specialized simple economies of one or few products elsewhere: Argentina and beef, Brazil and coffee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and tea, Sudan and cotton, Australia and wool, Malaya and rubber, Gold Coast (Ghana) and cocoa, South Africa and diamonds/gold, etc., etc.

The base of this first globalization was a massive change in Jacobs’ making a life, an unprecedented shift towards an urbanization, contemporaneously reported by Weber (1899) as a world of great cities. There may have been a few past cities with more than a million population before (Imperial Rome, Caliphate Bagdad and perhaps one in 1800, Ch’ing Beijing) but by 1900 they numbered sixteen (Chandler 1987) – globalization was on the way to producing the thousands of such cities that exist today. Cities were a crucial focus of the infrastructure enabling the new globalization that included railways and telegraphs within countries and steam shipping and ocean cable networks between countries worldwide. Of course it is in the fastest growing cities that we find the essential dynamics of the globalization. There were three main categories of cities creating this new world:  (a) the great imperial capitals in Europe notably London and Paris; (b) industrial cities in Europe such as Manchester and Rhine-Ruhr; and (c) dependent cities beyond Europe dealing with the logistics of relaying products to Europe such as Buenos Aires, Shanghai and Calcutta. Within this economic structure there was a regional replication in North America where New York functioned as the business and commercial capital complemented by industrial cities in the Manufacturing Belt (Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit) and local supply cities in the West (Denver, San Francisco), and South (Atlanta, Dallas). Collectively these formed global commodity chains in a first world city network with some of the leading cities transcended their own countries to become global cities for finance and/or culture (Paris, London, Vienna and New York), the first elite spaces of global dominance and control.

American Globalization

The USA emerged from the Second World War with an expanded economy when all rivals had different degrees of severely war-damaged economies. This enabled American firms to dominate the world economy in an ‘Americanization’ that restored European and Japanese economies in the ‘post-war boom’. This had two elements: (i) leading American firms became known as ‘multinational corporations’ through having production units located in different countries; and (ii) leading European firms emulated American management practices and technological advances. New York became the world’s financial centre, and massively increased mass production in the USA was matched by the development of mass consumption. Increased productivity translated into higher wages so that levels of consumption soared in what Galbraith (1958) famously announced as the “affluent society.” Americanization is the term used to describe the diffusion of this way of living beyond the USA. It encompassed western Europe after 1950 in the ‘post-war boom’, and then to middle classes across the world finally including the erstwhile Second World of communist countries late in the century. The shopping mall came to symbolize modern cities in the American mode. Quite simply the expectation of this globalization was that ‘affluent society’ would diffuse to all countries eventually through economic development aimed at creating ‘high mass-consumption’ everywhere (Rostow 1960).

Mass consumption was the key base of this globalization; Jacobs’ making a life and Braudel’s material life were all about consuming, an all-consuming urban activity. Across US cities, suburbia became the primary landscape of this new world of consumption, epitomized by Los Angeles, and which was repeated, albeit with local variations, across the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Although the US aim was for ‘one world’ (Willkie 1943), the Cold War meant they had to make do with about two-thirds of the world in an ideological space of ‘three worlds’, the third being the former dependent regions of imperial globalization (now including former colonies as independent states) which continued supplying food and raw materials for the ever increasing consumption. US cities boomed with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, DC becoming global cities (combining dynamics and command in their different ways). Key new technological logistics were international telephone lines and worldwide airline networks. In the 1950s President Eisenhower famously described the command element as the ‘military-industrial complex’, which was projected internationally as the growth of American multinational corporations. By the 1970s these had become so large they were considered to be rivals of many states in economic size: for instance, in one ranking General Motors, Standard Oil (NJ) and Ford were all listed above Austria in 30th place (Brown 1973, 214). With corporations taking 42 of the top hundred places it is no wonder Barnett and Muller (1974, 13) dubbed them the first truly ‘world managers’. This was very prescient for what was to come.

Corporate Globalization

This is our contemporary globalization, developing as a progression of Americanization. There were two initial changes; first US firms were joined by many firms from other countries initially from western Europe and Japan and latterly by firms from many countries including China, and second the firms have morphed into transnational and even global corporations, meaning having their own global strategies. The initial result was the ‘New International Division of Labour’ with transfer of manufacturing to poorer countries (Frobel et al 1980). This became possible because of the integration of two industries, computers and communication, in the 1970s thereby creating greatly enhanced command and control capabilities.

There was a slight delay in this globalization as the Cold War wound down and the ideological space of ‘three worlds’ dissipated. This was predicated on a worldwide move towards replacing state provision by private suppliers, both nationally and internationally, which started in the 1980s. Reaganomics and Thatcherism in the erstwhile ‘first world’ plus collapse of command economies in the erstwhile ‘second world’ plus IMF dictums in the erstwhile ‘third world’ resulted in just ‘one world’, which by the 1990s was commonly called ‘globalization’. In the process, the communist Chinese policy of rigorous export growth based upon cheap labour resulted the largest rural-urban migration flow in history transforming this traditional land of myriad peasants into majority urban residency making very different new lives.

Given this privatizing path, the usual epithet for this globalization has been ‘neoliberal’ suggesting a turn towards markets. I avoid this nomenclature since the corporations are part of Braudel’s capitalism: anti-market, they are a part of the control, today the key part of control. This is much more than Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex writ large; here we have a pervasive force based upon the powerful global infrastructure that has created Castells’ network society. It pervades across all social relations most explicitly through sponsorship (e.g. of sports events and buying sports teams) and less explicitly through lobbying (e.g. of governments and funding parties/candidates). Even Jacobs’ making a life has been captured with social medias, owned by corporations grafted on to continuing mega-consumption of products made and sold by corporations. The latter is becoming increasingly abetted by use of corporate big data. Amazingly, this is the corporatization of Jacobs’ making a living and Braudel’s everyday living. This remarkable development is the most pervasive part of current opaqueness of capitalism as envisaged by Braudel. Of course, corporations have their eyes on the very fabric of cities: for ‘smart cities’ read corporate cities. In summary, labeling contemporary globalization as corporate globalization follows the example of the other two globalizations in focus upon where the power lies.

Not surprisingly corporate globalization, by far the most intensive of the three, has come into being with unprecedented levels of urbanization. However, in fact it is the massive increase in very large cities that is most impressive – from just old imperial Beijing topping a million population in 1800 to over 2,000 such cities today. These come in many forms ranging from huge ‘mega-cities’ in poor countries to the new global cities initially described by Sassen (1991). The former represent the ongoing erosion of the world’s peasantry at a rate never before experienced, the latter represent elite spaces of dominance as never before experienced. Both are part of a vast world city network providing the global financial and business services to enable a global corporate capitalism (Taylor 2004). New York, London and Hong Kong are leading cities but the network includes all cities in all countries. Thus is Braudel’s wheels of commerce harnessed in a new worldwide space of flows as never before experienced.

Finally, it is important to note that there are vestiges of previous globalization processes that remain relevant: various imperial connections are still discernable in today’s global economy and American corporations remain the largest national group. But as emphasized above, corporate globalization is very distinctive. It was initially recognized in technocratic terms with the communication-computer merger supposedly heralding ‘the end of geography’ in a new ‘borderless world’ both implying the demise of states. But this is very misleading: in my argument (following Braudel) states are integral to the capitalism currently dominating the world; they are being radically transformed, as are all other global players. This can be neatly illustrated in trade policies negotiated by states over the three globalizations. The first two globalizations were international with inter-state relations at the heart of the worldwide economic relations, from the free trade/protection debates of imperial globalization to the GATT promotion of free trade between states in American globalization. In contrast, the current World Trade Organization provides for corporate transnational practices, protecting firms from actions of states: this is efectively a “Declaration of Corporate Rights”, so far removed from the Declaration of Human Rights in American globalization!

Planetary Globalization?

Where is this all leading? In Wallerstein’s (1991, 146-7) world-systems analysis the TimeSpace of the capitalist world-economy is coming to end, we are facing kairos, a time for fundamental choices because the present has no future. This puts the whole notion of globalization in a new perspective. Without getting into arguments about such a scenario I want to conclude by steering the discussion towards another way of viewing humanity’s worldwide successes and failures. Planetary globalization might be thought of a non sequitur, a repetition, just two different ways of indicating worldwide. But it is not as simple as that.

The two terms come from two different knowledge realms, physical/environmental and human/social sciences respectively. Of course, put this way there are crucial epistemological differences in terms of hermeneutics with social science having a ‘double hermeneutic’ because its subjects can consciously respond to their analysis (Sayer 1992). This is especially the case today because there is a ‘corporate social science’ produced by corporations and their think-tanks and sponsored researchers, that may well be larger than the academic social science coming out of universities (Taylor 2016). Effectively corporations are providing a good chunk of contemporary social science knowledge on corporate globalization. Although corporations also have attempted to influence knowledge production in environmental sciences (Oreskes and Conway 2011) they have been far less successful, resulting in anthropogenic climate change being widely accepted internationally. It is the consequent policy making that has proven to be difficult not least because of the different time scales of global (social) processes and planetary (climate) changes. Of course, they might be two terms from two different knowledges, but there remains just the one world.

Brenner (2014) and his colleagues are pioneering a new approach to urban studies that is called ‘planetary urbanization’. Since I equate contemporary globalization with unprecedented modern urbanization, here I follow Brenner to suggest the notion of planetary globalization as a possible transcending of corporate globalization.  The concept of planetary urbanization derives from idea that cities are more geographically pervasive within society than focus on the specific land they occupy (Lefebvre 1970, Jacobs 1984, Harvey 1996). Thus at the present time the effects of urbanization are to be found not just within global cities and world city networks but generally all over Earth’s environment. For instance, waste pollution is truly planetary ranging from the space debris swirling around the Earth in the stratosphere to plastic debris becoming ubiquitous from the Artic to the deep Pacific. This is waste from the mega-consumption that is our contemporary making a life, our everyday behaviour in planetary urbanization.

The notion of planetary globalization combines contemporary globalization with anthropogenic climate change; it is the potential power of the latter that justifies the new nomenclature. And it follows directly from my insertion of cities into the globalization discourse because anthropogenic climate change is the consequence of urban demand. In this argument my geohistory of globalizations ends with the beginning of a fresh global/planetary research agenda: the ‘social planetary’ precedes the ‘social global’ by many millennia (Ruddiman 2010), initially there is urban generation of greenhouse gases slowly through Jacobs’ making a commercial living (Jacobs 1969), and lately it is precipitously through concentration of the latter as Braudel’s capitalism (Taylor 2016).


Barnet, R. J. and Muller, R. E. Global reach. The Power of the Multinational Corporations. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Braudel, F. 1981. The Structures of Everyday Life. London: Collins.

Braudel, F. 1882. The Wheels of Commerce. London: Collins.

Braudel, F. 1984. The Perspective of the World. London: Collins.

Brenner, N. ed. 2014. Implosions/Explosions. Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: Jovis.

Brown, L. R. 1973. World Without Borders. New York: Vintage.

Castells, M. 1996. The Rise of Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell.

Castells, M. 1999. “Grassrooting the space of flows.” Urban Geography 20: 294-302.

Chandler, T. 1987. Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth. An Historical Census. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

Dicken, P. 2005. Global Shift. London: Chapman.

Galbraith, J. K. 1958. The Affluent Society. London: Penguin.

Harvey, D. 1996. “Cities or Urbanization?” City 1: 38-61.

Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D. and Perraton, J. 1999. Global Transformations. Politics, Economics and Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Jacobs, J. 1969. The Economy of Cities. New York: Vintage.

Jacobs, J. 1984. Cities and the Wealth of Nations. New York: Vintage.

Jacobs, J. 1992. Systems of Survival. A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. New York: Vintage.

Lefebvre, H. The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Makinder, H. J. 1904. “The geographical pivot of history.” Geographical Journal 23: 421-42.

Oreskes, N. and Conway, E. M. 2011. Merchants of Doubt. London: Bloomsbury.

Rostow, W. W. 1960. The Stages of Economic Growth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ruddiman, W. F. 2010. Plows. Plagues and Petroleum. How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sassen, S. 1991. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sayer, A. 1992. Method in Social Science. A Realist Approach. London: Routledge.

Taylor, P. J. 2000. "Embedded statism and the social sciences 2: geographies (and metageographies) in globalization" Environment and Planning A 32:1105-14.

Taylor, P. J. 2004. World City Network. A Global Urban Analysis. London: Routledge.

Taylor, P. J. 2013. Extraordinary Cities. Millennia of Moral Syndromes, World-Systems and City/State Relations. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar .

Taylor, P. J. 2016a. “Corporate social science and the loss of curiosity.” Items (

Taylor, P. J. 2016b. Cities in climate change.” International Journal of Urban Sciences 20:

Wallerstein, I. 1974. The Modern World-System. New York: Academic.

Wallerstein, I. 1979. The Capitalist World-Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wallerstein, I. 1991. Unthinking Social Science. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Weber, A. F. 1899. The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century. A Study in Statistics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Willkie, W. L. 1943. One World. New York: Simon and Schuster.



* Peter J. Taylor, email:


Edited and posted on the web on 3rd February 2018

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in ProtoSociology, 33 (2016), 131-148