Magazine article The Spectator

And Yet

Magazine article The Spectator

And Yet

Article excerpt

I have often thought that sociology is, as someone once said, a scientific way of telling us what we know already. I thought of this as I sat in the Faraday Lecture Theatre at the Royal Institution in London listening to this year's Reith Lecturer, Professor Anthony Giddens, a fashionable sociologist and director of the London School of Economics. It was the first of five pre-recorded lectures entitled Runaway World and his theme was globalisation. It was broadcast on Radio Four on Wednesday this week. The next three lectures will be given in Hong Kong, Delhi and Washington before the final occasion in London.

As happened last year, when the lecturer was the military historian John Keegan, an invited audience asked questions afterwards. Giddens, unlike Keegan, though, is a Third Wayer whose writings have been used by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. He has, according to the BBC, helped to lead `brain-storming seminars' on the subject in both Downing Street and the White House. Melvyn, Lord Bragg introduced him as `Blair's leading guru'. I read in the Guardian recently that his critics believe his sociological theory is a mixture of old hat and rhetorical obscurity and it became apparent to me that they might have a point.

He began by telling an anecdote about a friend who'd been invited to an African village expecting to learn something of her host's way of life, only to find that they were to watch a video of the film Basic Instinct which had not even reached London then. This he cited as evidence of globalisation, something that he thought was fairly new. As little as ten years ago the term was hardly used and yet he hadn't been to a single country where globalisation wasn't being discussed.

There were several `And yets' throughout the lecture. Just as one thought he might be offering his own opinion he would introduce a qualification or an alternative view. He presented a number of familiar factual examples to make his point that globalisation was in danger of moving out of control: the massive increase in worldwide currency trading; the increase in satellite communications and television; the growth of the Internet and so on. 'Television played a direct role in the 1989 (Soviet and Eastern European) revolutions which have rightly been called the first television revolutions.' Up to a point, it did, to the extent that people in one country could see on television the demonstrations on their screens and follow suit, but there was also the realisation that their communist systems no longer worked or were sustainable. …

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