Perspectives on Globalization, Social Justice and Welfare

By Midgley, James | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Perspectives on Globalization, Social Justice and Welfare


Midgley, James, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Although the social science literature on globalization has proliferated, social policy and social work scholars have not adequately debated the consequences of globalization for social welfare and social justice. Drawing on different social science interpretations of globalization, four major perspectives that offer different analytical and normative insights into globalization are identified and their implications for social welfare and social justice are briefly examined. The implications of these perspectives for social policy and social work scholarship are also considered.

Keywords: globalization, social welfare, social justice, social work scholarship

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The concept of globalization is widely used today not only in the social sciences but in journalism and popular discourse. However, it is still poorly defined. Although loosely employed to connote the processes of social change that are affecting social relations between people living in the world's different nation states, the nature of these processes and their effects are widely debated and contested in the social sciences today. Nevertheless, these processes are said to be qualitatively different from earlier forms of international exchange in that they are more complex, intense and volatile. They are also believed to be fostering a historically unique interdependence between the people and nations of the world that will ultimately result in the integration of economies and societies. Of course, this interpretation has been disputed and an alternative view that defines globalization as no more than the acceleration of historic patterns of international exchange has also been formulated.

Different interpretations of the nature of global change reflect different disciplinary social science perspectives. While economists view globalization as the creation of a world economic market, sociologists place more emphasis on the role of international social relations, communications and population movements in fostering space-time compression, post-modernity and cultural diffusion. In turn, political scientists stress the way power relations operate internationally to foster new systems of global regulation and governance.

These diverse disciplinary perspectives have different normative implications that not only evaluate globalization differently but inspire different policy perspectives on how the process of globalization might and should be molded. These normative dimensions are of obvious interest to scholars in the fields of social policy and social work. However, as will be shown, different social science interpretations reach very different conclusions about globalization's consequences for welfare and justice. This article outlines four major perspectives which offer different analytical and normative insights into this issue and then considers the social welfare and social justice implications of these different perspectives. But first, it provides a brief discussion of the emergence of the concept of globalization and its social science usage.

The Idea of Globalization

Although the term globalization was popularized in the 1990s, some commentators believe that its roots are far olden Jan Scholte (2000) finds evidence that it was first employed in the social sciences during the Second World War, but notes that it was increasingly used in 1960s and 1970s and became pervasive by the 1990s not only in the social sciences but in everyday discourse. The concept's social science formulation owes much to the Neo-Marxist dependency scholars of the 1960s and 1970s (Cardoso and Faleto, 1979; Frank, 1967, 1975; Rodney, 1972) who examined the way international economic and power relations impeded domestic development effort. Although they did not actually use the term, their focus on global economic exchanges paved the way for the adoption of a wider perspective which was subsequently augmented by Immanuel Wallerstein's world systems theory (1975, 1980). …

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