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Political science, Cultural and economic geography, Social sciences

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This is a draft chapter. The final version is available in The Handbook of Globalisation (3rd edition) edited by Jonathan Michie, published in 2019, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

The material cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher, and is for private use only.


Discussions surrounding the sources of power and authority that govern the social world have taken place since ancient times. Finally, in the latter half of the twentieth century, it appeared that this debate had been decisively resolved in favour of the view that governance was the preserve of governments. This was a consequence of the ascendance in the social sciences of methodologies that presupposed human activities to correspond to the territorial boundaries of sovereign states. The privileging of sovereign territoriality did not reflect a poverty of scholarly thinking but was a by-product of their social world. (Taylor, 1996). By the middle of the last century, in advanced industrialised countries at least, state power had infiltrated the everyday lives of citizens to an unprecedented degree. Meanwhile, at the international level, the backdrop of two nuclear-armed superpowers poised on the brink of mutual annihilation underscored the view that states constituted the most powerful actors on the world stage. Paradoxically, it was the development of nuclear weapons, perhaps the most potent symbol of the state’s power, that instigated a debate about its possible obsolescence. Bereft of techniques to defend themselves against atomic devices, states were left unable to fulfil their elementary mission: of guaranteeing the security of their citizens through maintaining their territorial integrity (Herz, 1957). Charles Kindleberger’s (1969, p. 207) subsequent remark that ‘the state is just about over as an economic unit’ was another foretaste of the transformations afoot in the social world. This perspective has been given further credence in the interim by the amplification of cross-border movements of trade, capital, production, people, pollution, violence and culture, encapsulated by the portmanteau term ‘globalisation’ (Held et al., 1999).

Nowhere did globalisation challenge the ‘methodological territorialism’ (Scholte, 2005) of social research more than in the discipline of international relations (IR), which, as the ‘international’ prefix connotes, takes nation states as the locus of the world’s power and authority. This chapter’s cardinal contention is that the novelty of globalisation derives from its designation as an ‘ation’ not a ‘nation’. Whereas ‘national’ perspectives are suffused with the assumption that governance is the exclusive province of the nation state, globalisation as an ‘ation’ makes no prior hypotheses about the dominant patterns of power and authority in global politics but instead deems them a matter for empirical investigation. For example, the editors of one of the bestselling texts on international politics chose ‘world politics’ rather than ‘international relations’ for the title of their volume ‘to signal that … we are interested in a very wide set of actors and political relations in the world and not only those among nation-states (as implied by “international relations” or “international politics”)’ (Baylis et al., 2016, p. 2).