Global Reordering Round-Table
Jens Beckert (Professor of Sociology, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne), Jeanne Lazarus (CNRS research fellow, CSO – Sciences Po – Paris) and Sayaka Sakoda (Assistant Professor of Economics, Doshisha University, Kyoto & member of the SASE/Kyoto Local Organizing Committee) were gracious enough to speak with us about this year’s conference theme and its place in their research.
The conference theme of “Global Reordering” refers to the results – or perhaps a late stage – of what has been broadly understood as globalization. How does your research operationalize, cast doubt on, or push us to reflect on the conceptual boundaries of the term “globalization”?
Beckert: At its core, globalization means the geographic expansion of markets and the organization of production networks over ever-enlarging spaces. It is a process of economic deterritorialization and the escape of the economy from its taming by the nation-state. This process has led to a profound reordering of economic and social organization. The term suggests a unidirectional process. But some of the most interesting developments in recent years are countermovements to globalization, be they the resistance against free trade agreements or the emergence of populist movements. The interaction effects between deterritorialization and local responses to this development are something we should reflect on more.
Lazarus: It is banal to think of finance as “global”: networks and flows are global, accounting rules are homogenized, and above all, finance is seen as one of the main instruments of the globalization process. Nonetheless, what I have tried to do, including with the “Domesticizing Financial Economies” mini-conference (which I organized with Joe Deville, Mariana Luzzi, and José Ossandón at several SASE conferences), has been to find a way to discuss a “global” phenomenon as locally embodied. “Local” can signify a country, a company, a family, a regulation, a currency, etc. I want to demonstrate that, in order to understand any expression of finance, including its global appearance, research and theorization have to take into account that finance is always embedded.
The boundaries between studies of “high finance”, which seems more global, and “low finance”, which seems more local, need to be blurred: local finance is influenced by global transformations, and global transformations stem from localized places, analyses, and practices.
Sakoda: My research sheds light on inequality, paying special attention to struggles concerning gender and distributive justice through quantitative research, focused mainly on Japan. As Fraser and Honneth (2003) say, we must examine the proper relationship between redistribution and recognition, since economic inequalities are growing everywhere and governance structures have weakened and do not ensure proper redistributions within nations. Globalization has been a key factor of economic growth, and everyone alive today can be said to enjoy its fruits. As globalization contributed to reducing poverty in Japan, we long believed ourselves to be a country of “100 million, all-middle class”; however, the long-run average effect hides the negative side of globalization affecting the entire socio-economic distribution. The problem is that all kinds of “divides” have different roots but are intertwined. Despite great economic progress, why do poverty and inequality still remain so persistent? Recently, a concern with socio-economic distribution has been displaced by a preoccupation with the acknowledgement of cultural identities and differences. I am interested in clarifying global distributive injustice and its consequences, and more importantly its causes from the local perspective.
Reordering of the Concept of Globalization
In the governance literature, global reordering refers to novel forms of regulation that break with the rigid command-and-control framework of the past. These new forms are more complex, reflexive, and transnational than the old regimes. Accordingly, they are less easily understood in terms of existing typologies and require novel approaches by the researcher. In your own work, do you encounter similar challenges due to phenomena of global reordering?
Beckert: In recent years we have done quite a bit of work on illegal markets at the Max Planck Institute. Illegality in the economy is a highly relevant phenomenon that is completely understudied in socio-economics. The investigation of illegal markets allows for interesting observations regarding global reordering. Matías Dewey’s research on La Salada, the largest informal garment market in South America, situated on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, shows that the emergence of this market is a direct outflow of the global relocation of the garment industry, which has affected Argentina, especially since the 1980s. The industry did not leave Argentina completely, but it reemerged in the form of informal sweatshops and a complex market organization that is illegal but largely tolerated by the state. Reordering here means: the emergence of illegal realms of economic activity that substitute for the vanishing formally regulated industries.
Lazarus: I work on household finances and I find it a clear necessity to understand the regulatory and technical landscapes that individuals have to cope with. Specifically, I have shifted from interrogations mainly based on moral issues (how the morality of money and spending is structured by the banking system) to questions regarding risk: What are the social risks that stem from the changing role of finance in everyday life? How do States protect their citizens from these risks? This detour bends back to individuals’ money management so as to understand their constraints as well as their agency. Here, comparisons are very heuristic: they suggest that finance is always enacted, and that even in a global world, social structures, insurance schemes, education, and health care systems differ in very significant ways. All of this figures in the composition of an individual’s financial landscape.
Sakoda: Although economic achievements are surely worthy of praise, conventional economics has recognized as an obstacle to economic growth the spending of time and money on traditional or religious activities, which shape our culture, our identity, and the relationship between the individual and society. Various cultures, as typified by traditional religious rituals, could be seen as inconsistent with the paradigm of economic growth that drives globalization.
In 2016, my colleagues Ryuichi Fukuhara, Pramod Tiwari and I launched a research project in India called “Cultural Diversity and Creativity in India: A Case Study on the Religious Ritual in the Mewar Region, Rajasthan”. This research revisits the significance in modern society of cultural identity, which has been less of a focus in development economics and economic poverty studies, and reconsiders the relationship between sustainable development and cultural diversity by questioning the paradigm of economic growth in society. In our research, the subjective wellbeing of individuals and their sense of belonging in the community are seemingly attained by participating in the traditional ritual ceremony at the expense of myopic economic benefits. Re-discovering the “old” approaches embedded in each culture may provide us with a clue for how to overcome the old regimes and typologies of socio-economics.
Global Reorderings in Socio-Economics
We are also curious whether global reordering applies to the study of socio-economics itself. As a scholar studying socio-economics, how would you describe the development of your field in recent years? Do you perceive any global reordering in research on socio-economics or is there a more or less stable order?
Beckert: The global financial crisis of 2008 had a tremendous impact on the field of socio-economics. It was in response to this crisis that sociologists and political scientists, in large numbers, became interested in financial markets and the social and political repercussions of the financial industry. Another interest that has certainly become more prevalent in recent years is the analysis of the long-term historical development of capitalism. Here I see great potential also for the deeper involvement of economic historians in developing the field of socio-economics.
Lazarus: Fifteen years ago, when I started my PhD on retail banking and household money management, many scholars (first and foremost Viviana Zelizer) were highlighting the separation between what was seen as the center of economic sociology – firms, regulation, high finance – and domestic finance – seen as a peripheral subject, a female sphere. The 2008 subprime crisis changed all that: it is no longer necessary to demonstrate that household finance is an important economic topic related to core sociological issues.
The other important change is the widespread goal of creating a discussion between scholars working on different “levels” of finance, but also between political economists and sociologists. It does not create a “new order” as such, but it creates new places for conversations, and most importantly for me, it helps raise new issues. For example, is it heuristic to compare national debt and household debts? Are financial practices related to culture or institutions? In my opinion, the major topic now is the transformation of the State-market-individual relationship in the context of the financialization.
Sakoda: In my opinion, it is SASE’s ultimate mission to bring global reordering into the field of socio-economics. We especially have to explore how current dynamics reflect political, economic, and social change with respect to “the rest of the world”. Developed countries, including Japan, have enjoyed modern economic prosperity while leaving the rest of the world behind, so we should be responsible for moving the current “global institutional order” (Pogge 2002) in a more inclusive direction.
The 2018 SASE annual meeting will be my fourth, and it will be my first time as a member of the local organizing committee. I am very proud that Doshisha University will be hosting SASE. “Conscience” has been the core principle of our university’s mission since its establishment in 1875. The ancient Greek etymology of “conscience” is literally “to know together”. I believe that Doshisha’s philosophy can meaningfully contribute to the mission of SASE, to deal with the friction that arises from the transnational push for globalization referred to above.
Local Sites of Global Reorderings
Has your experience of being a scholar changed at all in recent years, and if so, how? What do you think are some global reorderings in the discipline of sociology as it pertains to the study of socio-economics?
Beckert: In German sociology, I increasingly observe a segmentation of the discipline – to use a distinction made by Robert Merton – between locals and cosmopolitans. A large part of the profession remains bound to the German scholarly community, publishes largely in German, and is connected in “local” networks. Another part orients itself internationally, contributing to scholarly debates that take place across national borders. Both flanks are important; both have something vital to offer. What I am concerned about is the segregation that seems to be taking place.
Lazarus: I haven’t been a scholar for a long enough time to detect huge differences between the beginning of my career and now! I would say that the main challenge as an academic is to find time to waste time, which is the only way I know to get ideas to emerge. The competition is fierce, and not always directed toward the most interesting part of what we are capable of – and sometimes it seems that we put more energy into writing project proposals than into doing the research itself.
The question of time is especially important when studying socio-economics, since our subject of inquiry seems to be changing at such a fast pace. We deal with two risks: not recognizing novelty or too hastily labeling a phenomenon as “new”.
Sakoda: I don’t think my attitude as a scholar has changed. I believe all of the scholars attending SASE seek to end grief stemming from conflicts in the world, even if this would generally be considered impossible or useless to remedy. “Conscience” and “our considered moral judgments” (Rawls) should be featured more in the discipline of economics. Doshisha University may help facilitate academic dialogues among scholars at SASE/Kyoto 2018 to determine the core principles at play in global reorderings.