Turning Inside out? Globalization, Neo-Liberalism and Welfare States

Article excerpt

Keywords: citizenship; globalization; nation, neo-liberalism; state; welfare

This article emerges from an inter-disciplinary encounter, exploring what happens when anthropological approaches are brought to bear on questions that are conventionally understood as belong to other disciplines--in this case, politics, sociology and social policy. It examines ways of thinking about the relationship between globalization and welfare states and exploits anthropological analyses to reframe these issues. This encounter is, of course, partial and selective. These particular forms of disciplinary border crossing are enabled by a particular orientation--a shared concern with culture. This article borrows from anthropology to enable the "cultural turn" in social policy (Clarke, 2002). I have two ambitions for this article. One is that it moves on the debate about welfare states in my "home" discipline of social policy. The second is that it intersects productively with work in anthropology on welfare states, welfare reform and citizenship (e.g., Goode and Maskovsky, 2001; Gupta, 2001; Kingfisher, 2002; Ong, 1999). Both ambitions reflect a continuing belief in the value of border-crossing as a practice that enables and sustains "rethinking" as a core element of doing academic work.(1)

Globalization has emerged as one of the core concepts of contemporary social analysis (see the overview in Held, McGrew, Goldblatt and Perraton 1999, for example). It has proved to be both influential and elusive. It has been brought to bear in the rethinking of central issues (see, for example, Appadurai, 2001; Sassen, 2001). At the same time, it has been challenged and critiqued as inaccurate and misleading (e.g., Hirst and Thompson, 1999). Here I explore its significance for thinking about the transformations of welfare states. In the process, I will argue against reductionist and economistic conceptions of globalization propounded by both enthusiasts and critics. This "apocalyptic" view of globalization as the force of global capital/markets sweeping all before them as they remake the world in their image is flawed in a number of ways (empirically, analytically and politically). However, I will suggest that globalization remains significant as a site for thinking about the multiple destabilizations and dislocations that assail the welfare state/nation-state complex (Clarke, 2004). This will mean arguing for a more differentiated, uneven view of globalization as unlocking old, and taken for granted, formations of state, economy and society and creating possibilities, and pressures, for new alignments. As Yeates argues, globalization is a difficult issue for the study of social policy:

Its integration into the field of social policy poses questions about many of the assumptions, concepts and theories that have been integral to social policy analysis. Social policy as a field of academic study is ill-suited to thinking beyond the nation state as its theories and concepts were developed in a national context. (2001: 19)

Nevertheless, globalization has been identified as a central force in the remaking of welfare states. Globalization has been seen as marking: the dominance of economics over politics; the power of global capital over nation-states; the installation of markets as dominant institution of co-ordination; and, finally, the "end" or dissolution of nation-states and welfare states (these issues are discussed more extensively in Clarke, 2001a, 2004; and Yeates, 2001). Here I examine the relationship between globalization and welfare states around three focal points:

- the argument between political-economy and political-institutionalist conceptions of globalization and welfare states (and its limitations);

- the relationship between globalization and neo-liberalism as a global strategy (but one which is enacted differentially);

- globalization as a process that takes place inside as well outside nation-states/welfare states. …