Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2002


Paula Black, Nick Crossley, Colette Fagan, Mike Savage and Laura Turney (2002) 'Globalisation and Social Change: Editorial Introduction'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 7, no. 3, <>

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary

Received: 14/10/2002      Accepted: 22/10/2002      Published: 22/10/2002

Globalisation and Social Change: Editorial Introduction

The papers in this special issue of Sociological Research Online were all presented at the 50th Anniversary British Sociological Association conference held at the Manchester Metropolitan University in April 2001. This is the first time that the papers presented at the BSA Conference have been published in a journal rather than as an edited book (or books), and as members of the organising committee, and guest editors of this special issue of Sociological Research Online, we are delighted with the result. In this short introduction we explain how we chose nine papers out of the 72 that were submitted in written form, and briefly explore the intellectual context for the special issue as a whole.

The 2001 BSA conference celebrated 50 years history of the British Sociological Association. Unusually, we decided that the BSA conference in 2001 should not be themed around a specific issue or topic. Instead, under the broad, even grand, title of 2001: A Sociological Odyssey, we invited contributions from any area of sociology, with the papers being grouped into streams adopted from the themes of earlier BSA conferences. A series of plenary sessions (which were not produced in written form, and hence not available for publication here) were organised to provide intellectual context for the changing sociological agenda. Professor Gayatri Spivak, from Columbia University, explored the global context for intellectual change and development. Professor Jennifer Platt, from the University of Sussex, talked about the history of the British Sociological Association, which she placed in international context and in relationship to other national sociological associations. Professor David Morgan was the star turn of a reception held by the University of Manchester to mark the 50th anniversary of the BSA and the 150th anniversary of the University as he talked us through his auto/biography.. The conference ended with a lively roundtable on the future of British sociology, with contributions from Professor Rosemary Crompton from City University, Professor Gordon Marshall, then Chief Executive of the ESRC, and Profesor John Urry from Lancaster University. In organising the conference, we hoped that delegates would leave with a sense as to where British sociology was coming from and going to.

The six strands into which papers were grouped were

  1. Health, the Body and Sexuality;
  2. History, Development and Time;
  3. Power and Conflict;
  4. Science, method and Methodology;
  5. Social Difference - class, gender and race;
  6. State, education and law.

There was also an open stream. Since there were very few aspects of sociology that could not have fitted into one of these themes, we hoped that this would encourage a broad-ranging conference. As paper submissions were made, it became clear, however, that the various streams attracted differing amounts of interest. Indeed, as plans for the conference progressed the uneven spread of papers between streams itself became a telling comment on British sociology. Those areas of sociology which had their own specialist conferences, journals and specialist practitioners tended to have other priorities and were not well represented. This was especially true of sociologists of education and criminologists (who we hoped might contribute to the 'state, education and law' theme), and to a lesser extent for sociologists of health and medicine (who might have contributed to the health, the body and sexuality theme. It appeared that in areas such as these where other professional channels have been established as normal outlets for research, the BSA conference is of relatively little significance. In addition, it was striking that there were few papers presented in the science, method and methodology stream. Here it appears, understandably, that more specialised conferences devoted to particular theoretical currents and concerns attract more interest and that few sociologists felt energised by the invitation to speak in a diffuse stream.

The BSA Conference in 2001 therefore did not operate as a general purpose conference for the discipline as a whole, in the way that the American Sociological Association Conference does in the USA, for instance. Indeed, it is noteworthy that paper submissions for (and delegate attendance at) the 2001 Conference were rather less than for the BSA Conferences in 2000 and 2002, both of which were more specifically themed. However, this did not detract from the many strengths evident at the conference, where the range of topical and lively papers addressing issues of global importance, and often using research and perspectives from outside the UK, was striking. Especially in the streams of Conflict and Power, and Social Difference, there were some very lively contributions. The fact that these two streams attracted such interest is an interesting commentary also on how traditional sociological concerns with stratification, power and inequality continue to energise the sociological imagaination. This collection brings together what we saw as the best papers of this kind.

The papers selected here were chosen using two criteria. All 72 papers that were submitted in written form were read by two of us, and an initial discussion of those that were of publishable standard took place, with our criteria being that papers should be publishable in a leading refereed journal. We chose fifteen papers that could potentially be published, and these were then read by all of us to confirm that they were excellent papers. It became clear at this stage that some papers were excellent in their own right but - because of the wide range of the conference theme - did not fit closely with other papers. As we thought about how the publishable papers might be grouped, it became clear that there was a strong cluster of papers related to themes of globalisation, social capital, and social division. There were some excellent papers in other areas, notably in health and social theory, that we regretfully decided could not easily be integrated into a cohesive issue, and which were therefore not selected for this special issue[1].

The papers included here are diverse, and include overviews, empirical studies and theoretical reflections. The papers cohere in that they offer critical engagements with popular accounts of social and economic change, and insist on the need for careful accounts attuned to the diversity of local circumstances in different parts of the world. In attending to this latter point we especially wanted to avoid any charges of being parochial and giving undue weight to research on Britain, and we therefore were keen to select work examining and/or attentive to issues in other parts of the world.

The theoretical issues which command most attention are globalisation, social capital and, at the most general level, social division. Firstly, the concept of globalisation has emerged as one of the 'big ideas' that have energised international research agendas in recent years. It has gone through a cycle of theoretical development followed by empirical scrutiny. Thus, studies of globalisation have been inspired by theoretical elaborations of globalisation itself from major social theorists, such as Anthony Giddens's (1990)The Consequences of Modernity, Martin Albrow's (1996) The Global Age, Ulrich Beck's (2000) What is Globalisation? and Zygmunt Bauman's (1998) Globalization: the human consequences. More recently there have been major works of synthesis exploring the nature of contemporary globalising processes on economic, social and political relationships, notably Manuel Castells's (1996/97) three volume The Information Age trilogy . Over the past five years more critical accounts have emerged which question some of the more unilinear views of globalisation, such as Hirst and Thompson's (1996) Globalisation in Question, John Tomlinson's Globalisation and Culture, and Franklin, Lury and Stacey's (2000) Global Nature, Global Culture. This recent work disputes some of the theoretical elements of globalisation theory, emphasises more clearly, the negative features of globalisation, and thirdly develops greater sensitivity to local variation and complexity. Interests in new forms of racism, the control of migration (notably through concerns about asylum seekers), Eurocentrism, and American domination of global networks are significant examples of this kind of critical thinking. Many of the papers in this collection exemplify this critical perspective, and should command considerable attention on this basis.

We have grouped the first two papers into a section on 'Globalisation' since they are of direct and immediate relevance. Larry Ray's paper is a powerful riposte to some of the bolder claims made in the globalisation debate, and in particular engages with the arguments developed by John Urry for a 'mobile sociology'. Ray argues for the need to recognize limits to movement, and the continued significance of nation states in contemporary social affairs. Graham Crow's piece is in some respects complementary to Ray's. Crow notes the value of returning to the rich documentary tradition of community studies as a means of grounding theories of social change. He shows that community studies need not be read as accounts of gemeinschaft, fixed, communities but that over the past fifty years have proved an excellent way for understanding social change. Indeed, he shows that many ideas about change have been derived from, or at least are present in, such studies. Interests in globalisation can thus be highly compatible with local research, and might indeed help re-invigorate this tradition.

The second section of this collection comprises four papers devoted to mapping out 'contours of social capital'. This interest in social capital developed primarily in the American social sciences by James Coleman and Robert Putnam, with a somewhat more critical perspective by Pierre Bourdieu. The concept of social capital focuses around the role of trust relationships, sometimes seen as rooted in voluntary associations or other local social relationships, in encouraging a range of positive social outcomes, such as good health, democratic political cultures, and so forth. As with debates on globalisation, it is possible to trace an increasing critical reaction to some of the earlier formulations of the concept. The papers in this section use empirical data to explore trends and issues in the study of social capital, which are also relevant to understanding whether there are common global trends. Tim Butler draws on his research on five areas of London to show how the imprint of globalisation is complexly drawn. He adopts Bourdieu's concept of habitus to argue that we need to differentiate parts of London according to the specific nexus of institutions and opportunities present. He gestures to the significance of different kinds of capital in explaining these local variations, and thereby indicates the potential overlap between interests in globalisation and social capital.

Talja Blokland's paper shows how interest in urban community studies lends itself to interests in the area of social capital. She outlines contemporary debates relating to social capital and then applies and evaluates them in her own case study of a particular geographical locality in a New England college town. The residents of this neighbourhood in the USA are mixed in terms of both class and ethnicity. Blokland studies the effects of urban re- generation on this community, and asks in particular if and how the assets of the middle-class residents become a shared social resource. She concludes by stating that community or neighbourhood are not stable with fixed amounts of social capital, but rather than inclusion and exclusion are used to facilitate collective action. These processes depend on the levels of power and social capital available to the participants.

This issue of the relationship between power and social capital is a theme that is taken up in two other papers bearing on this question. Yaojun Li et al use data from the Oxford Mobility Study and the British Household Panel Study to show how trends in the distribution of social capital in England and Wales have shifted in complex ways, with there being no straightforward trends in the distribution of social capital in the manner suggested by Putnam for the USA. However, they show that subtle changes in the composition of membership have meant that it is increasingly the middle classes who colonise voluntary association membership, and that this is likely to have implications for social inequality. This point is developed by Muriel Egerton which also draws BHPS data to investigate the role of families in reproducing dispositions to engage in social and civic activities. She examines the relationship between young people's civic/social engagement and their parents' social class, sector of employment, education and social engagement, arguing that middle-class parents and their offspring are both more likely to be involved in civic activities. Furthermore, her model suggests that mothers, in particular, play an important role in the reproduction of civic dispositions. To understand these results properly, Egerton argues, it is necessary to set them within the context of post-war transformations in both education and civil society more widely. Her paper therefore traces these developments too, drawing out their significance for her findings.

The theme of social division is present in all papers of this issue, and in the final section three papers have been selected with arresting arguments. In his paper Andrew Sayer discusses the reasons for the apparent unease and ambivalence which many of us experience in relationship to talk of social class, and particularly our own social class. The temptation of the sociologist, he argues, is to want to gloss over this ambivalence. We find it annoying and mysterious in equal measure. Against this, however, he argues that it is an entirely reasonable response. Class, he argues, is a difficult moral concept and the tendency of sociologists to treat it otherwise is testimony to our 'blase amoralism'. Sayer explores these issues by way of a discussion of the concept of mutual recognition and an exploration of the relations between economic evaluation and ethical evaluation. In addition, given the importance of Bourdieu's work in interpreting the divisions of the social field and how they are lived, he offers a particularly detailed reading of Bourdieu on these matters, contrasting the later study, The Weight of the World (Bourdieu et al, 1999), which is attentive to 'moral experience', to those earlier works where, in Sayer's view, Bourdieu subordinates issues of morality and recognition to questions of 'interest'.

Finally, as a means of drawing the special issue to a close, the two papers by Deirdre Wicks, Gita Mishra and Lisa Milne and by Angela Dale explore the complex and intersecting issues relating to women's choices and options in education and the labour market. Both these papers are based on rich and detailed quantitative and qualitative data and provide food for thought on the varying factors affecting women's educational and employment choices. The first paper by Deirdre Wicks, Gita Mishra and Lisa Milne: 'Young Women, Work and Inequality: Is It What They Want or What They Get?' examines the aspirations of young women (aged 18-23) in terms of work, relationships and education. Their analysis considers the extent to which established gender inequalities in the labour market are a consequence of personal choice and preferences or to what extent they are structured by a socio- economic context that reproduces inequalities. This paper challenges the idea that women's labour market participation is based largely on free choice and preferences and looks at the connections between gender and class in structuring young women's decisions around type of work, hours of work and family responsibilities. The results of the study undertaken by the authors reveal that many women have to make significant compromises in terms of their aspirations and the options available to them.

These issues are also crucial for the paper by Angela Dale, 'Social Exclusion for Pakistani and Bangladeshi Women', which looks at the diverse factors that structure Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi women's labour market participation in the borough of Oldham. This paper is different to the Wicks et al paper in that it focuses on a much more local picture in contrast to the national study and in doing so Dale considers the intersection of ethnicity, class and gender in the structuring of women's educational choices and labour market participation as opposed to the broader intersection of class and gender. Dale's paper looks at both external and internal factors that influence women's options and choices and in doing so argues that whilst the influence of the tradition and religion certainly have some role to play, that employer's stereotypical perceptions of Muslim (and/or 'Asian') women leads to exclusion and restricted choices.

Both these papers provide useful contributions to the debates about women's labour market participation and whilst highlighting the differences across age, class and ethnicity they also suggest that, as these studies are long-term and require further analysis, that we still have some way to go before we can understand the long-term, complex and diverse factors affecting women's educational and labour market participation.

We hope that readers will not only find particular papers of interest but will also be able to make connections between the papers, and finish reading this collection with an upbeat assessment of the state of sociology at the turn of a new century. We think that the papers show that sociology presented at BSA conferences continues to use high quality empirical research and theoretical reflection to cast new light on issues that are in some respects new, for instance bearing on current arguments about globalisation or social capital, yet in other respects continue sociology's traditional concerns with issues of power and inequality. At the risk of ending on a pompous note, this all suggests that the Sociological Oddessy draws upon its experience of old domains as it goes forward to new terrain.


1It should be noted, in view of the fact that Ray and Crow are editors of Sociological Research Online, that both their papers were chosen for selection before there was any idea that we might publish the collection in Sociological Research Online. In addition, it should be noted that Mike Savage was not involved in discussions over the publishability of his joint-authored paper.


ALBROW, M., (1996), The Global Age, state and society beyond modernity, Cambridge, Polity.

BAUMAN, Z., (1998), Globalisation, the human consequences, Cambridge, Polity.

BECK, U., (2000), What is Globalisation?, Cambridge, Polity.

CASTELLS, M (1996), The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford, Blackwells.

CASTELLS, M., (1997a), The Power of Identity, Oxford, Blackwells.

CASTELLS, M., (1997b), The End of the Millenium, Oxford, Blackwells.

FRANKLIN, J, LURY, C., STACEY, J., (2000), Global Nature, Global Culture, Cambridge; Polity.

GIDDENS, A., (1990), The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity.

HIRST, P., and THOMPSON, G., (1997), Globalization in Question, the international economy and the question of governance, Cambridge, Polity.

TOMLINSON, J., (1999), Globalisation and Culture, Cambridge, Polity.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2002