Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Globalization and Scientific Labour: Patterns in a Life-History Study of Intellectual Workers in the Periphery

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Globalization and Scientific Labour: Patterns in a Life-History Study of Intellectual Workers in the Periphery

Article excerpt


There is a long-standing debate, going back to Comte and Bakunin in the 19th century, about the political and cultural role of intellectuals considered as a social group. Through the 20th century, intellectuals and intelligentsias have been key figures in debates about hegemony, about the sociology of knowledge, about the `new middle class' under capitalism and the `new class' under communism, about technology and about post-industrial societies (Connell, 1997a).

It is a striking feature of these debates that they have almost exclusively concerned the intellectuals of Europe and the USA. This was true of Mannheim, Gramsci and Gouldner and remains the case in recent contributions, whether the structuralist approach of Aronowitz (1992), the postmodernist approach of Bauman (1987), or the eclectic work of Eyerman (1994). Bauman calls his field of argument, with mock modesty, `the northwestern tip of the European peninsula'. By tacitly defining `modern' or `postmodern' society as the society of the global North, these authors--like many others--avoid questions about the world structures within which the history of the North is constituted.

Yet it is widely acknowledged in other contexts that broad questions about social structure and dynamics must now be considered on a global scale (Lechner and Boli, 2000). The world integration of economies, technologies, communications, political and military systems is now so far advanced that it is no longer useful to analyse any local `society' in isolation from the whole. This issue is specifically relevant to understanding intellectuals as a social group. As Martin (1998) shows, globalization and its accompanying processes of corporate restructuring and the flexibilization of labour play havoc with conventional accounts of middle-class and professional groups. If, as Waters (1995) suggests, globalization is most advanced in the domain of culture, then it would be particularly important to understand the specialist producers of culture, those who work in knowledge and communication. A similar conclusion is often reached in discussions of the `global information economy', where globalization and the development of `information technology' go hand in hand, and a need for a more highly educated workforce is deduced (Information Industries Taskforce, 1997). Studies such as Eyal's (2000) account of the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe go even further, showing intellectuals as brokers of general economic and political globalization.

Accordingly, it is necessary to reframe contemporary discussions of intellectuals, to emphasize world context and global scale. The best-known attempt to do this is Said's brilliant and moving Representations of the Intellectual (1994). Putting this together with studies of regional intelligentsias outside the metropole (e.g. Konrad and Szelenyi, 1979; Head and Walter, 1988), we have some bases for a discussion of the way intellectuals and intellectual life are related to the processes constructing global society.

`Globalization' of course is not a simple process. Sklair (1998) distinguishes four broad interpretations within the social-science literature, focused on world-system, global culture, global society and global capitalism. One of the crucial issues in this literature is the extent of international hierarchy. Popular images of globalization suggest a sweeping process that has homogenized and equalized world society, and some postmodernist theorists suggest that centre-periphery distinctions have been made obsolete by fragmentation, flexibility and cross-cutting differences (Green, 1994). World-systems theory and economic investigations of globalization tend to emphasize that power is concentrated in a centre, `core' or `metropole'--basically, the rich, capital-exporting countries of North America and western Europe, plus Japan, which broadly correspond to the centres of the old colonial empires (Hirst and Thompson, 1996). …

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