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Globalisation, Co-operation and Trust: An International Experimental Study

The research aims to study the relationship between globalisation - understood as the process leading to increased inter-connectedness among individuals on a large scale - and individual propensities to co-operate and trust. The project is a collaborative work of an interdisciplinary team of researchers. It has received funding from the National Science Foundation (US) and the first article from the project, "Globalization and Human Cooperation", has been published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (vol. 106 no. 11 4138-4142). The article has been edited by the 2009 Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom.


The aim of the project is to investigate the claim that the fundamental characteristics of systems of trust and co-operation in our societies are undergoing a process of radical transformation as an effect of globalisation. Globalisation is conceptualised as the process creating a network of de-territorialised worldwide relations among people. Such transformations may happen through two different channels. Firstly, globalisation may impinge upon people's social identity, reshaping the boundaries between the 'ingroup' - that is, the group from which individuals derive their main sense of identity - and the 'outgroup' - the 'others' outside this group. The globalisation literature has put forward opposing 'archetypes' as an effect of this process. One refers to the 'cosmopolitan individual', whose ingroup embraces the whole humankind, whereas the other is the 'resistant individual', who radicalises even further her attachment to local or national values as an effect of globalisation. Secondly, it may be conjectured that globalisation may restructure the networks of social relations that support norms of reciprocal co-operation. Dense social networks have typically been seen as necessary for their enforcement, so globalisation may have a relevant role through expanding the scale of interactions and weakening local ties. On the other hand, it may be argued that globalisation implies a new form of connectivity,which is impersonal, technologically mediated, and on a potentially global scale. This may lead to an expansion of the scale of individual relations which does not deny traditional loyalties.

The research project aims to analyse these issues through the lenses of an experimental cross-country study. A sample stratified across age, gender, and socio-economic status has been surveyed in Argentina, Iran, Italy, Russia, South Africa, and the US in summer 2006. This makes it possible to analyse the relationship between individual exposure and participation into globalisation on the one hand, and individual propensity to co-operate and trust at the local, national, and global level on the other. The latter is measured by subjects’ experimental decisions in three co-operation problems, where subjects interact with other people coming from (a) the local area where they live, (b) other parts of their country, and (c) abroad. The former is measured by the responses to a specifically designed questionnaire, which also addresses possible mediating factors of globalisation on individual decision-making, such as individuals' social identity, and the degree of racial/ethnic heterogeneity of the subjects’ area of residence. The data collected are currently under analysis.

The Research Team

The research project has been a collective effort from an interdisciplinary team of scholars. The core research team includes Gianluca Grimalda (CSGR, Warwick University) and Nancy Buchan (Business Studies, South Carolina University) - who have have inititated and co-ordinated the project - and Marilynn Brewer (Psychology, Ohio State University), Enrique Fatas (Economics, Valencia University), Margaret Foddy (Sociology, Carleton Uiversity), and Rick Wilson (Political Sciences, Rice University).

Mentioning all of the people who have provided support and assistance would almost certainly mean neglecting some of them. I shall therefore limit to mention Patricio Dalton (Warwick University), Iain Edwards (Monash University South Africa), Saul Keifman (CIDED, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero - Argentina), Warren Thorngate (Carleton University), who have provided invaluable support both intellectually and practically (that is, in the field).

Related Working Papers:

- Grimalda, G. (2006). "Which Relation between Globalisation and Individual Propensity to Co-Operate? Some Preliminary Results from an Experimental Investigation" (CSGR Working Paper 214/06)