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Preamble and background to research

In the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation’s ‘research agenda’ for the Centre’s first five years, one of the means by which ‘globalisation’ can occur is described as by isomorphism - ‘the tendency to become alike’ (CSGR website). What may become obscured in this framing of globalising processes, however, is the significance of 1. the structural power differentials that influence and define the ‘likenesses’ that emerge via globalisation; and, 2. the ways in which the current trans-national spread of market liberalism might be considered a hegemonic cultural project, as much as one that is correctly defined and analysed within the realms of political economy.

Associated incursions into the ‘territories’ and spaces of cultural and individual identities have created conditions ripe for multiple assertions of difference and autonomy: for the emergence of resistance and protest against the homogeneity associated with globalising ‘forces’ in both the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds, and for the establishment of relatively invisible myriad and ‘glocal’ ‘disorganisations’ – with autarky, autonomy, and affective, as opposed to economic, affluence as their defining agendas (e.g. McKay 1998).

We need only consider a few well-known incidents occurring since the CSGR’s establishment in October 1997 to realize how significant these actors are in terms of both state expenditure and the compromised possibilities for the unchallenged management and promotion of the ‘global market’. In November 1999 tens of thousands of non-violent anti-World Trade Organisation (WTO) protesters were subjected to tear gas, pepper spray and plastic bullets by police in Seattle in an historic confrontation between ‘northern’ civil society and the perceived corporate rule of the WTO – the bill for policing being somewhere in the region of US$9 million (Barber 2000). Mayday protests in 2001 in London cost somewhere in the region of £20 million in lost business (BBC Choice 2002), while May Day 2002 saw major protests taking place in cities as far apart, and not only in a geographical sense, as Paris, Sydney, Manila and Caracas. Media reports from the G8 Summit in Genoa, July 2001, were dominated by police brutality against activists, the death of protester Carlo Giuliani radically stepping up the stakes in the possible consequences for individuals of expressing dissent against a perceived hegemonic nexus of state-supported, trans-national corporate capitalism. And with the trans-national but US-led ‘War on Terrorism’ ushered in by the events of September 11th, concern seems set to build further regarding an already compromised freedom for civil society to protest against the capitalization and privatization of spaces - from ‘the environment’ to ‘the self’ - and to address infringements regarding civil liberties and citizen privacy. In the UK this concern is heightened by the increased state powers conferred by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, and recently by proposed increases in surveillance of civilian use of communications technology made possible under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000 (McIntosh, 2002).

Such dramatic and largely unpredicted events – as well as the heavy-handed and costly deployment of state resources to protect corporate (and private) property – could (and should?) be interpreted as having shaken the optimism associated with liberalism’s apparent arrival at ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama 1991). Any analysis of ‘globalisation’ thus is incomplete without a nuanced appreciation of why the term and the process engender such anxiety and resistance among a large and diverse ‘global civil society’, comprising citizens of states experiencing an extremely wide array of possibilities for participation in the global economy.

From Susan George to Noam Chomsky, ‘anti-globalisation’ clearly has attracted some vocal and respected academic activists (e.g. Chomsky 1999; George 2001). At the same time, numerous international and national NGOs are aligning themselves with increasingly confrontational protests against current terms of trade, thereby further consolidating and in some sense legitimising what has become in itself a global social movement – as exemplified by the name of ‘globalise resistance’ used by a coalition of individuals and organizations in the UK taking a stand against the growing political and economic powers of global corporations (GR website). However, ‘anti-globalisation’ in many circles also has become synonymous with ‘anarchy’ and irrationality, a view well represented in the following quote from a Guardian article: ‘[t]he truth is that most anti-globalisation protesters articulate a political analysis too muddle-headed to withstand even the scrutiny of a Glastonbury chill-out chat. The foot soldiers of this movement are mostly amiable halfwits’ (Aitkenhead 2002).

This research proposal, therefore, takes as its starting point the following consideration: that if neither globalisation processes nor anti-globalisation stances are solely about questions of political economy or ‘formal’ democratic processes, then there is a legitimate need to look elsewhere in order to arrive at a nuanced understanding of factors leading to such vociferous resistance to the apparent globalising of a neoliberal political economy.

This raises questions relevant for emerging sites of resistance in both the developing and developed worlds. In the former, for example, processes leading to a ‘rolling back of the state’ (e.g. Structural Adjustment Policies), accompanied by a strengthening of the roles of trans-national corporations and donor-funded NGOs in influencing policy, are in some cases contributing to incidents of protest by civil society against what are perceived as these new constraints over self-determination (e.g. Sullivan 2002; Wignaraja 1993; Fowerakar 1995; Peet and Watts 1996). Further, and accompanied by the appropriation of trans-national discourses and funding released in association with the UN Decade of Indigenous People initiated in 1995, an increasing pattern seems to be for acts of resistance to be played out via identity politics within states, particularly regarding differing claims to land and resources, as well as in relation to conceptions of ethnicity and selfhood (e.g. Sullivan 2001a; Howitt et al. 1996; Norget, n.d.) In the developed world, a weakness of the state might be measured more appropriately by the extent of apparent citizen apathy and alienation regarding participation in national governance – for example, fewer than six people in ten voted in the last general election in the UK (McKie 2001). Voter apathy notwithstanding, thousands of individuals clearly have felt strongly enough about something to participate in major protests in numerous locations around the country and elsewhere under the banner of ‘anti-globalisation/anti-capitalism’.