Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Globalisation and Sites of Conflict: Towards Definition and Taxonomy

Richard Higgott & Simon Reich

CSGR Working Paper No. 01/98

March 1998




'Globalisation' is rapidly replacing the 'Cold War' as the most overused and under-specified explanation for a variety of events in international relations. For some, it represents a natural, indeed inexorable, progression towards a 'borderless world' signalling the end of the modern international state system as we know it. Analysis is underwritten by faith in, and exhortation to, the future. For others, the concept is over-stated and its benign influences are exaggerated. Indeed, globalisation is dangerous and perhaps even non-existent as a phenomenon. Furthermore, its invocation generates fear and resistance. This difference in interpretation has given rise to a dispute between those who see the emergence of a number of salient alternative authority structures, especially in the corporate world, that compete (increasingly successfully) with states in determining the direction of the global political economy (globalisers or globalists) and those who still see the states as the principal actors in global political and economic orders (internationalists) with security issues as still paramount.


It is more accurate (albeit less parsimonious for theorising) to see state and non-state authority existing in a much more contingent, interactive and dynamic manner. We identify four definitions of globalisation in common use in both the scholarly and the policy community. These are we call (i) globalisation as historical epoch; (ii) globalisation as the confluence of economic phenomena; (iii) globalisation as the triumph or American values; and (iv) globalisation as sociological and technological revolution. Then we identify four propositions central to any understanding of the emerging field of 'globalisation studies' in international relations: (i) the Redistributive thesis, (ii) the Regionalism thesis, (iii) the Modernisation thesis and (iv) the Internet thesis. As analytical approaches they reflect the ontologies and epistemologies of the definitions from which we argue they are derived and help identify the arenas of power and policy contest and the principal actors involved in the changing relationship between market power and state authority thereby revealing significant contextual, empirical and normative variation in the authoritative relationship between states, markets and civil society.