Luke Martell’s The Sociology of Globalization

About a month ago, I finished the above book. The previous one was written by a sociologist but wasn’t a sociological book necessarily, but this one is. More specifically, it examines globalization through subjects that sociology has an interest in. What it does is select different sociological areas and use this focus to examine globalisation, e.g. the economy, migration, politics, war, etc. Truth be told, it covers much the same ground as Ritzer’s. I found Ritzer a more engaging writer than Martell, who’s fine but did little to make his text more than a dry textbook.

I was disappointed in his definition of socialism, which is “where the economy is predominantly publicly-owned (e.g., by the state) and production is planned by a public body to meet what the planners decide is socially needed in society” (54). This definition puts too much weight on the state. I know Martell uses e.g. when he mentions the state instead of i.e., so we could read in other actors aside from the state. I think, though, that socialism is more properly defined as democratic rather than public. I’m not sure that the word public can be sufficiently de-coupled from the concept of the state. I take greater issue with the planning part of this definition, though, because it allows authoritarian forms of government to legitimately identify as socialist. Authoritarianism is the ultimate opposite of democracy. The organs of state in the USSR were publicly owned, certainly, but this does not mean that everyone and anyone in the state could benefit from their functions. The public planning body that controlled economic activity appropriated for itself anything produced and allocated it to the public based on their own assessment of need. The legacy of this sort of economic organisation is famine and death, which would have been avoided had there been people involved in allocation beyond the planners. In other words, this sort of economic organisation too easily creates a detached planner class, entirely defeating the purpose of any socialist mode of organisation.

Despite my misgivings, it is true that most non-socialists understand socialism to mean government ownership as opposed to private ownership and Martell gives his definition in opposition to capitalism, so it’s probably fair. The context is the chapter called The History of Globalization and the defining global economic opposition of the twentieth century was between capitalist states and other capitalist states that nevertheless met the definition that Martell provides. Between Global History and Ritzer’s book, this is the third time that I have read about the history of globalisation. I followed this book with another globalisation book, so I covered t four times in total. I foresee a lot of repitition in my reading in this field but I think it’s important that I go over especially important or foundational concepts more than once.

I was interested also in the chapters on migration. Martell uses the UK as a reference point as he examines the phenomenon of migration across two consecutive chapters. The first is about the general concept of migration and the second is about the effects of and reactions to it. He doesn’t dither around making the point early on that there is little to no merit in the opposition to migration common in receiving countries. In response to the evocations of waves of immgrants coming like foreign invaders, he provides an examination of the reality of migration, for example, looking at the break-down of where migrants actually come from and seeing that

“the biggest immigrant group in the UK consists of the Irish, rarely mentioned… other main immigrant groups… are Germans, Americans, Italians, Australians and French. These rarely appear in the talk by media, politicians and the public of the dangers of migration, perhaps because they are predominantly white and Christian.” (124)

He also examines some of the proposed negative effects of immigration, such as indigenous job losses: “migrants tend to go where there are vacancies rather than competition for jobs” (128); and wage suppression: “it is the employer’s decision to cut wages. Wage reduction is not a product of migration itself, although that is how the issue is constructed by the media and politicians” (128). I think this latter point is important; the issue is inherent to the economic conditions of the receiving country. Under capitalism, generally, employers are incentivised to pay as little as possible and workers are incentivised to seek higher wages. MIgrants from poorer countries (who also tend to be non-white) just have fewer options than indigenous workers, due to contacts, qualifications and so on. Reforms to labour relations and regulations which safeguard the interests of workers, indigenous or otherwise, would address these problems.

I think these “Sociology of…” books really showcase how sociology as a lens of analysis can help to understanddiverse issues. I think that this pair of books is ideal, i.e. a description of globalisation as a general phenomenon followed by a book about applying that lens to the subject. That could actually be a winning formula for coming to understand sociology and any number of fields or phenomena, even without the extensive curriculum that I’ve laid out for myself. I could take a pair of two texts for any area and probably learn plenty off those books alone.

I enjoyed this book, certainly, but aside from the sections described above, I feel no great impetus to write much more about. I’m still working out my feelings about the next book I read, called Understanding Cultural Globalization, but of course, I’ll examine that further in its own entry.

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