Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2002


Larry Ray (2002) 'Crossing Borders? Sociology, Globalization and Immobility'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 7, no. 3, <>

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Received: 30/9/2002      Accepted: 30/9/2002      Published: 22/10/2002


Globalization theorists frequently claim that the disembedding of social relations across various dimensions renders obsolete the former object of sociology, namely 'society'. The exceptional change to social life arising from globalization demands that sociality is viewed in more fluid and complex ways than in the past. A closer examination of classical concepts of the social would reveal more nuanced and multidimensional concepts. I suggest that globalization does not entail the stretching of social relations beyond recognition, but reconfigures spaces and identities according to powerful dynamics. Classical theory emphasizes the embeddedness of exchanges and flows in social and cultural relations. This will be exemplified with reference to migration, which both epitomizes globalizing tendencies and illustrates its limitations. Along with mobile subjects there are immobile subjects (racialized migrants) policed by actual and threatened violence, who have been underplayed in globalization theory. The paper concludes that concepts of the 'social' may need rethinking but central to this should be an understanding of the interlocking of mobility with the circulation of capital, commodities and cultural practices.

Globalisation, Urry, Mobilities, Society, Migration


This paper critically analyses the concept of globalization in relation to new sociological theories of mobility. Globalization is one of the dominant though highly contested concepts of contemporary sociology and is fraught with ambiguities. It is unclear, for example, whether globalization is a process or outcome; it is not a unitary phenomenon but a complex overdetermined effect of multiple structures and their (often-unintended) consequences. It refers to a loose agglomeration of processes, including: the international division of labour and global or multi-national production processes (Jessop 2000); the emergence of a global culture (Robertson 1992); global finance and capital movements (Ohmae 1994); international organizations (Held et al. 1999); global flows of images, commodities, people as refugees, tourists and travelers (e.g. Appadurai 1996, Urry 2000a&b); global social movements (Keck & Sikkinik 1998); global civil society and citizenship (Urry 1998 and 2000b); multiple and fluid identities (Maffesoli 1996; Poppi 1997); global risks, pandemics and organized crime (Beck 1995). This paper will not attempt to address all of these, but will focus on the impact of globalization for sociological understanding of 'society'. In the process it aims to address the importance for sociological theory of borders and national space.

There is considerable disagreement as to the pace and significance of globalization. 'A new eschatological narrative haunts the world' says Lloyd, of a 'doom-laden, dystopic future or homogenized free-market utopia' in which the 'Anglo- global-speaking consumer flits on an endless quest forever greater material satisfaction' (Lloyd 2000). 'Hyper-globalization' (or 'radical') theses predict a 'borderless world' and other utopias (or dystopias) of global homogeneity. Here globalization leads towards an end state in which whole earth will be criss-crossed by global processes to the extent that individual places lose significance and there is a single global society. Disembedded production and consumption chains, placeless capital, homeless subjects, fluid global networks by-pass and reconfigure locales. For the strong globalization thesis, all socialites are formed within context of global flows, including resistance to globalization itself (Robertson 1992).

Critics of globalization differ in their approaches. Some argue that such processes are occurring but regard them as undesirable, perhaps representing contemporary forms of imperialism, which are open to resistance (e.g. Petras and Veltmeyer 2001). Others are skeptical that the process is occurring at all and regard the core claims of globalization theory as unfounded. For example, Hirst and Thompson (1996) argue that in the late twentieth century the economy returned to an inter-national mode that it attained between 1870-1914 but which remained grounded in national and regional economic and political economic functions. Others regard globalization as conceptual imperialism that projects American concerns and viewpoints worldwide, thereby facilitating the very process of globalization (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999)[1].

This paper is an assessment of the validity and limits of some types of globalization theory - it avoids identifying with the so-called radicals or skeptics in order to address new patterns of social solidarity and inequality of mobility[2]. My argument is that globalization is a depiction of profound social changes in contemporary social organization, which do not however spell the end of the social as an analytical concept. These changes include the shift from industrialism to what Castells (1998) calls 'informationalism'- the emergence of information, rather than production, led capitalism that is flexible with networking, distant communication, decentralization. This is bound up with unprecedented levels of spatial differentiation between core and peripheral economic activities, the retrenchment of welfare and a post-communist world in which systemic alternatives have become hard to imagine.

The very the complexity of this process makes it senseless to attribute causality to globalization or to subsume everything under it so that whatever happens can be its result. Moreover, the complexity of globalization is such that it cannot be judged, as a whole, either beneficial or nefarious and such perceptions will change with current events. Writing after September 11th, Stephen Holmes (2001) talks about the end of 'the long postcommunist "decade" which had been the 'heyday of happy globalization'. The long postcommunist decade ran from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the fall of the Twin Towers 2001, during which time there was widespread optimism that as capitalism gained access to the whole planet it opened a decade of prosperity to the poor, peaceful dialogue and progress towards democracy and rule of law. After September 11th globalization took on much more sinister and threatening connotations.

This paper will focus on the implications of globalization and new mobilities for the ability of sociology to analyze the social. Confronted by the cataclysmic transformation of European society in the nineteenth century, classical social theorists focussed in different ways on the dislocation of community and disembedding of social relations in the modern world (Ray 1999). Sociology is in many ways the discipline of transformation. This is not to deny, however, that features of the present transformation might be qualitatively distinct from what has gone before. In particular, current debates are informed by the alleged decline of the nation state in a globalized world. It is argued that during the latter part of the twentieth century the role and functions of the nation state changed fundamentally so that the state became 'hollowed out' (Jessop 1992). The contours of this are now familiar - the end of the Keynsian welfare state, loss of territorial control of flows of finance, de- regulation and privatization, dismantling of state functions and a consequent transfer of sovereignty upwards and downwards. More decisions previously within the competence of the nation state are now the province of international agencies (UN, World Bank, IMF, TNCs, WTO, and World Intellectual Property Organization). At the same time regions have become increasingly autonomous and economically viable as quasi-independent units. The role and function of the nation state is clearly being transformed although the extent to which this is happening, and its implications is a matter of extensive debate[3].

In the process, there arise transformations of the self, subjectivity and the constitution of sociality. 'The point of my discussions' says Robertson (1992:85) 'has been to promote a fluid perspective'. This is developed into a 'post-societal' sociology by Urry, whose case against 'society' rests on the claim that 'sociological discourse has ... been premised upon "society" as its object of study' (Urry 2000b:6) that with the demise of the nation state has now been surpassed. Urry acknowledges that there are various senses of 'society' in different sociological perspectives but claims that these formulations neglect 'how the notion of society connects to the system of nations and nation-states'. (2000b:7) societies come to be understood as sovereign entities organizing the rights and duties of each societal member, while the spheres of economy, politics culture etc constitute territorially bounded 'social structure'. Although this claim is not substantively demonstrated with reference to a wide range of sociological theorists, it underpins much of Urry's subsequent critique of sociology. This will be the focus of the present discussion.

Sociology beyond Societies?

A central theme in these discussions is the claim that the conventional sociological notion of the social and in particular the concept of 'society' as a bounded, self- functionally integrated and self-reproducing entity is redundant. Let us be clear though that this is not a debate about a word, 'society'. The issue concerns the conceptual structure of the sociological endeavour and the nature of our explanations of social phenomena. There is a claim, made more explicit in some writers than others, that the structural mode of explanation, in which outcomes are the effects of underlying processes, has also had its day. Instead we deal with chaotic turbulence in which entities that were once seen as 'empty' or dependent on social processes, such as things, spaces and time become in themselves constitutive of forms of sociality. I want to take issue with this approach, although I should stress that I am not making a case for some enduring and pure notion of sociological endeavour. Many of the processes and changes outlined above are real and do provoke a rethinking of sociological theories.

One of the strongest claims made by radical globalists is that the processes associated with globalization are so extensive as to overturn most conventional styles of social theorizing. The globalized world of diverse mobilities of peoples, objects, images, information and wastes points towards a 'sociology beyond societies' (Urry 2000a). Whereas past sociology regarded society as a uniform space, the world of mobile subjects, information networks, technohybrids, imaginative and virtual travel is 'post-societal'. Urry even suggests that Thatcher might have been right to claim 'there is no such thing as society', or at least that 'the riposte to [her] from the sociological community was not fully justified'. (Urry 2000a) The networked subject is an exchanger and consumer embedded in complex social relations with things in the ways indicated above.

According to this view, classical and more recent sociology understood societies as existing within uniform spaces defined by nation states and borders. The exceptional change to social life arising from globalization demands that sociality is viewed in fluid and complex ways. The post-societal agenda requires 'new rules of method' (Urry 2000b:18-19) the gist of which are that sociology has given insufficient attention to multiple hybrid mobilities of people and objects and the ways these generate novel spaces and temporalities. Sociology needs to mobilize theory and research to address these in the context of a 'post-societal epoch' which will draw on concepts of chaotic systems and decentred networks rather than on structure and social order. Actually, these are not really rules of method so much as generalized (though largely unsubstantiated) empirical claims and topics to be researched, understood, examined, and investigated. For example, the sixth rule is to 'examine how class, gender, ethnicity and nationhood are constructed through powerful and intersecting temporal regimes and modes of dwelling and travelling' (Urry 2000b:18, emphasis added). This is not a methodological rule but a claim about the causal primacy of temporal regimes, dwelling and travelling in the construction of class, gender and race. I will comment on this later, to suggest that this claim is flawed.

The core concepts of the new socialites are space (social topologies), regions (interregional competition), networks (new social morphology), and fluids (global enterprises). Mobility is central to this thesis - the globalization process is constituted by the complex movement of people, images, goods, finances etc. across regions in faster and unpredictable shapes, all with no clear point of arrival or departure (Urry 2000b: 49). We are being asked to abandon methodological nationalism and methodological territorialism and conceive of social spaces, such as cyber space, as non-territorial and 'distance-less' (Scholte 1996). These kinds of arguments imply that exchange, flows and ephemeral movement across surfaces and fibre-optic cables now constitute the extent of the social.

This view of the social is highly dependent on metaphor and it is difficult to see what empirical argument or specific examples might affect it. Nonetheless, I will attempt to explore some of its limitations. One should note that 'society' has meant many different things in sociological theory. It might imply a territorially bounded entity with an internally self-closed structure and interrelationships of sub-systems, such as economy, culture, polity and community. The concept can refer to the 'property' of a specific group of people but just as easily admit the notion of social relations beyond the nation. Critiques of reified understandings of society are so well established as not to need repeating here and are therefore not at all novel. But this is not what really seems to be at issue. The core issues here seem to be whether national boundaries remain relevant for determining global flows and whether there are coherent, underlying structural processes that might account for these patterns.

Sociology and Globalism

Urry's depiction of the sociological concept of 'society' a caricature, and is based on a tautologous slippage between 'society' and the 'state'. Urry says that (for much sociology) 'to be human has meant that one is unambiguously a member of a particular society..... Society involves an ordering through a nation-state, clear territorial and citizenship boundaries and a system of governance.... Societies involved the concept of the citizen who owed duties to and received rights from their society' (Urry 1998). The steps in this argument may not be sustainable - the concept of society has always been wider than that of the state or citizenship, which is a juridical relation to a state, not to the abstraction of 'society'. Further, the premise of this argument is the much disputed demise of the national societies, yet Urry does not counter claims to the contrary, to the effect that globalization is actually associated with rise of the nation state (e.g. Fulcher 2000). Either way, whether the nation state is in decline or becoming more central to the globalization process, it is not obvious that nation- states have been core to sociological understandings of 'society'.

This can be illustrated as follows. Classical conceptions of 'society' offer multi-dimensional and fluid conceptions of social relations that acknowledge the internationalization of world connections. There is not the space to do any more than allude to examples of this. There was Saint-Simon's vision of a politically and socially integrated Europe and system international governance (his journal was entitled The Globe) based on common practices and shared values (Ray 1999). Likewise, Comte's concept of the future was one in which national identifications would be superseded by commitment to Humanity guided by transnational universal values (Comte 1976:168). Marx of course had a grasp of global process unrivaled by other classical theorists, to the extent that he tended to overlook the ways in which internationalization both of capital and the revolutionary proletariat would be counteracted by national capitals and interests. The historical mission of capitalism was to 'demolish Chinese walls' and bring the world within a single system of production. Hence 'national differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto' (Marx and Engels 1969). Weber's comparative sociology did regard civilizations (rather than nation states) as historically persistent and socio-economically bound entities but his sociology did not simplistically identify 'society' with the state. For one thing, his conceptual focus was on social action rather than 'societies' and the structuring of action through multiple configurations of economic, cultural, institutional and value systems (Weber 1968:4). Further, his grasp of social development was historical and global in the sense that he was concerned with world- shaping events - the rise of capitalism, the growth of bureaucratic organizations, rationalization as a world-historical fate, the rise of world religions. One could hardly accuse Weber of parochialism - neither of identifying 'society' with the 'nation-state' nor of neglecting the global dimensions of sociality.

A better target for this critique could be the organic tradition of social thought that includes Durkheim and later Talcott Parsons, for which the concept of the social was indeed frequently national. Even here though there are subtleties. Durkheim's view that social integration in highly differentiated organic societies was possible only though commitment to abstract and formal principles of human rights, and his own pioneering involvement in the human rights movement, pointed to the possibility of transnational forms of solidarity and sociality (e.g. Durkheim 1969). Durkheim was aware that the simple and spatially contiguous settings of social integration were undermined by industrialization and increasingly abstract solidarities. But perhaps the real target of the post-societal critique is mid-twentieth century sociology. For Parsons societies were bounded by common forms of adaptation, goal attainment, integration and latency, although these interact collectively and separately on multiple levels. Parsons (1970:23) defines 'society' as follows. 'It is not essential to the concept of society that it should not be in any way empirically interdependent with other societies, but only that it should contain all the structural and functional fundamentals of an independently subsisting system'. He did not say that these systems equated nation states but in practice they would tend to do so. But even if it were true that some mid-twentieth century sociologists did identify 'societies' with 'nations', we are surely not still laying this ghost in the first decade of the twenty-first century?[4] In any event, I will suggest below that the principle informing comparative approaches, the possibility of treating societies for certain purposes as spatially bounded domains, has not invalidated by globalization or mobility.

Moreover, to regard flows, scapes, networks etc as constitutive of sociality in a broad sense might be to lose sight of this and 'de-societalize' the social. Sociology has an important role to demonstrate that what may appear to be spontaneous flows are actually embedded in constituting and constraining cultural and economic structures. Classical sociology was resistant to the idea that exchanges, such as economic life, could be abstracted from the broader framework of institutions and social relations. Thus Comte thought economics was too abstract; Durkheim wrote of the non-contractual bases of contract; Marx regarded the apparent autonomy of the market as a fetishistic illusion; Simmel regarded money as an expression of the stylization of culture. Weber shared this broad and historical view of the integration of economic and social analysis, reflecting the influential German Historical School. He described as 'societalization' (Vergesellschaftung) the constant formation and dissolution of social relationships in ways that presuppose conflict and co-operation. A similar theme runs through Parsons and Polanyi. Thus, even abstract and formal exchanges (like markets) are culturally embedded and supportive but constraining social, organizational, institutional and normative frameworks.

This can be further illustrated with reference to Habermas' distinction between system and the lifeworld[5]. Much of the processes described as flows, scapes, mobilities etc are part of the circulation of objects, commodities and symbols within social systems. But these are effective only if culturally embedded and inscribed into forms of social reproduction. Confidence for example, is central to economic life and the boundaries between the economy and other domains are dependent upon the institutionalization of rules, for example against bribery, separating of business from private property; work from family; friendship from business. With the expansion of exchange and credit new regulatory structures emerged that re-coupled the market to the lifeworld through laws of property and contract (Habermas 1989:261). The development of capitalism entailed an institutional structure of trade associations, information exchanges, and networks of non-market contacts. Ties that extend beyond the very brief moment when the act of exchange is accomplished link members of society, as Durkheim (1933:173) argued. Thus, contracts require large amounts of trust and cultural embeddedness to produce stable patterns of action extending beyond immediate co-presence through space and time. Corporate trust itself is moreover dependent on institutional guarantees and regulation, is accorded conditionally and subject to experience. Not only this, but the cultural embeddedness of institutional systems entails learning that is increasingly institutionalized in civil law, liberal democracy, and citizenship rights, even if these are continually subject to renegotiation. Tensions are nonetheless embedded in these institutional exchanges. If systems of power and money forcibly circumvent linguistic and normative structures, that is 'colonize the lifeworld', pathologies, such as loss of meaning, confusion of orientations and collective identities, anomie and withdrawal of motivation will result.

One could continue in this vein, to the effect that the conceptual apparatus for comprehending a more globally integrated world exists already in the intellectual repertoire of sociology, but this does not necessarily address the crucial issue. There is still the argument that the past few decades have witnessed such a qualitative leap in the material, cultural and technical conditions of life that all previously existing conceptual frameworks have become redundant. Indeed, the claim of hyper-globalists is stronger than this, namely the redundancy of the explanatory frameworks of theories deploying the notion of 'society'. It is this claim I wish to challenge. The patterns of globalization have structures and outcomes that are sociologically familiar and in which capital and politics are central. Giddens (1999) claims that globalization is not primarily economic but is driven particularly by the communications revolution. Clearly, it is a multiple process not reducible to a single dimension, but I will argue that the political economy of globalization does highlight some limitations of the notion of 'mobile subjects'.

Fluids and Solids - Markets and Embedded Capital

Flows, scapes and networks are socially embedded and reproduced through solidaristic ties that constitute the social. A central traditional sociological question is the problem of social solidarities (Crow 2002). There is an assumption in much of the above that technological changes drive, and indeed meld with patterns of social interaction. This might be true in some respects, but it is also the case that technologically mediated communications occur principally between people who already know each other. Giddens (1999) might be right that if one instantaneously communicates with someone across the world sociality has been 'stretched'. But this mode of communication facilitates and does not constitute the interaction. The mode will structure what is possible, depending on its speed, ease of use, specifications and so on, and social conventions might influence its content. Emails and even more, text messages, tend to be brief or even curt and avoid customs of spelling, grammar etc. But it is the shared social solidarities amongst the communicators that will sustain the interactions; solidarities that are in turn embedded in contexts of institutional power and organization.

There is a further facet of social solidarities. How is it that, despite inequalities, actual and potential conflicts, rationality crises and all the other threats to social integration, most societies remain cohesive most of the time, persist and are able to reproduce themselves? Doing research in Eastern Europe during and after the communist period, I became aware of the crucial importance of informal networks and socialites that could circumvent, subvert and above all channel goods and services where the official systems were failing, inefficient or mistrusted. At the same time these informal networks of labour exchange, non-monetary reciprocation, illegal dealing, moonlighting and clientelism were symbiotic in complex ways with the official systems in which people also generally participated (Ray 1996). These culturally embedded forms have had a huge impact on the forms of market organization that could emerge in postcommunism.

This suggests a serious objection to the notion of fast, fluid mobile flows as dominant metaphors for a globalized age. Globalization does not have the same effects in all parts of the world and the theories outlined above are often criticized as being Americo- or Euro-centric (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999). Yet, things are more complex still. Take for example the notion of the market (see Figure 1). On the one hand, there is the market of neoliberal textbooks and policy discourse, which is not unlike the construct of hyper-globalization theorists, on the left of the Figure. These markets are fluid, rapid entry/exit, high trust (impersonal) auction prices. Smart capital flows seamlessly across borders driven by global consumption and regional advantages. This is a spontaneous order of auction market prices, high risk and rapid entry and exit dependent on institutionalized and impersonal trust. On the other hand, on the right, are markets that bear greater resemblance to postcommunist arrangements, are highly networked, clientelistic, localized and stable. Impersonal trust will generally be low and trust will be dependent on face-to-face contacts and connections (see Ray 1996:167-99 for a more detailed analysis). Both of these are exaggerations of course, but unless one understands the complex solidaristic ties and processes that enable the daily world to occur, one will have great difficulty understanding how social life happens at all in many parts of the world. This is precisely the difficulty with theories of globalization that assume transnational and delocalized networks are weightless fluids. Further, these bonds constitute and are constituted by inequalities and exclusions in ways I will address below.

In terms of developing adequate explanations of the social, a fixation on flows, commodities and subjectivity can be misleading. A further example from Eastern Europe is relevant to this. The end of communism in Europe for example is often cited as a definitive moment in the movement towards a globalized world that was brought about by the very processes of mobility and fluidity that characterize globalization. Detailed accounts of the emerging crisis in state socialism (e.g. Castells 1998:4- 69) point out that the system was increasingly unable to manage an over-extended military-industrial complex. It could no longer cope with the irrationalities of the Plan, which was locked into an old industrial base while the political-bureaucratic control of information blocked innovation and prevented the successful deployment of IT successfully. This was not a purely economic and administrative crisis but also a crisis of legitimation and motivation in which there was a profound loss of confidence amongst the political elite in their ability to govern (Ray 1996). This is all generally consistent with sociological theories of crisis and political change and focuses on the dynamic interaction of crisis tendencies from within these systems and exogenous pressures, such as rising indebtedness of countries such as Hungary and Poland. But Urry (2000b:41- 2), Waters (1995) and Bauman (1992) wish to emphasize the growth of mobilities and consumer cultures in Eastern Europe in the formation of crisis, as the frustration experienced by unsatisfied demand provoked mass disaffection. Gradually the regional frontiers of each state socialist society were transgressed by fluid-like movements. The Berlin Wall had been the most dramatic example of an attempt to insulate 'society' thus its fall showed the bankruptcy of the model of autarkic productivism. Waters (1995:139) similarly describes the collapse of communism as a mass assertion of the right to privatized consumption.

These may well have been factors in the fall of communism, though hardly evidence for a post-societal condition. For one thing, this argument ignores the differential national patterns of counter-communist movements. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid re- unification of Germany within a reconstituted nation state attested to the strength of national solidarity and identity rather than its demise. Again, only in Poland was there sustained mass opposition to the communist system. Polish Solidarity, which was crucial in the delegitimation of the Soviet system, was a Catholic syndicalist workers' movement in alliance with dissident (often Jewish) intellectuals. This uneasy coalition is understandable in the context of the Polish syndicalist and Bundist history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Solidarity was deeply suspicious of, if not hostile to, the capitalist system and Western values. The legacy of this was apparent, despite considerable erosion over the past decade, of a considerably higher number of enterprises organized by worker-management collectives than in any capitalist society (EBRD, 1995). It is difficult to explain this, and the particular trajectory of postcommunist development in Poland without reference to 'Polish society' - its culture, collective identity and history. Similarly, in the former Soviet Union there was little opening to Western flows of goods, capital and culture prior to 1991 and the system collapsed largely as a result of unintended consequences of reforms, the intention of which had been to stabilize the regime. This can again be understood only with reference to Russian society and history. That the collapse of communism was global in its effects (which are highly variegated) does not mean it was caused by globalization or fluid mobilities. Without understanding the embedding and 'placing' of these processes, one will not really grasp the nature of contemporary social change. This is relevant to theorizing society if one agrees that globalization is itself a process that renders obsolete earlier spatially bound frameworks.

The effects of globalization are embedded in particular locations within national territories. The postcommunist experience of the region highlights further the problems of abstract metaphorical theorizing. For example the level of foreign direct investment in postcommunism has been considerably lower than many expected a decade ago. Between 1990-95 CEE and FSU received 15% of total capital flows to developing economies and there was a differential pattern of investment, with the Hungary receiving the largest per capita share, Poland 22%, the Czech Republic 16%, Bulgaria 2% and the FSU negligible. Flows are moving in different directions of North America, East Asia and the EU (Martin 1998). Simple factors such as low cost labour and natural resources are less important to competitive advantage than skilled scientific and technical personnel and advanced infrastructure. The crux of the issue is that flows and mobilities of capital and labour reflect the embeddedness of capital in localities in the global economy while national boundaries remain relevant to its decision making and global organization (Yeung 1998).

These processes are not confined to postcommunist societies. Capital clearly flows globally in fast and sophisticated ways. However, as Jessop (2000) argues, it flows into concrete moments where it is materialized in specific types of spatio- temporal locations. Capital remains dependent on fixed place-bound ensembles and configurations of technology, means of production, industrial organization and labour process combined. Post-Fordist economic restructuring in western societies has created new dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. These arise in part from Veltz' (1996: 12) paradox: that capital depends upon increasing interdependence between the economic and extra-economic factors making for structural competitiveness. This generates new contradictions that affect the spatial and temporal organization of accumulation. Temporally, there is a contradiction between short-term economic calculation (especially in financial flows) and the long- term dynamic of 'real competition' rooted in resources such as skills, trust, collective mastery of techniques, economies of agglomeration and size. The latter take years to create, stabilize, and reproduce. Spatially there is a contradiction between the economy considered as a pure space of flows and the economy as a territorially and socially embedded system of extra-economic as well as economic resources and competencies (Jessop 2000).

Regulation theory had asked whether 'the shifts in surface appearance [of capitalism] betoken the birth of a new regime of accumulation, capable of containing contradictions of capitalism for the next generation' (Harvey 1994:189). The mode of embedding of economic relations within locales (what Harvey called the 'spatial fix') have profound consequences for patterns of mobility. This will now be illustrated with reference to some examples.

The spatial effects of restructuring of labour markets can be inscribed into ethnic and racialized divisions. Those with access to the information rich, mobile, service-finance sector economy, have opportunities and rich, varied, life-styles. However, for those excluded, immobile within isolated socially disorganized peripheral urban regions, there is a sense of crisis, loss and fragmentation. Urry argues that inequalities result from hugely uneven forms of access to or effects of various kinds of mobility (Urry 2000b:195). This might be so, but this is an effect of other structures and processes, in particular the ways markets are embedded in local social relations.

The research I undertook with David Smith on racist offending has illustrated how the immobility of those locked into marginalised spaces can manifest in typical behaviour of alienation and disaffection (Ray and Smith 2001). Our research focussed on two estates, one in the south, another in the north east of Manchester. Both had been communities of origin of significant numbers of racist offenders. Mobilities were certainly an issue. These estates were static, predominantly white, had high unemployment, and relatively close networks of local connections. The collapse of local amenities combined with the paucity of public transport meant that there was a sense of both insularity and resentment. Marginalization in turn can be linked to the externalization of an inner sense of threat, which is projected onto external objects of difference. The collapse of regional manufacturing in Manchester has resulted in delocalization and uprooting of social relationships. These discontents are projected into racialized cognitive 'maps' of the city in which beliefs about belonging and territory become hostile local borders to be fought over and defended. This is a resource for offloading shame at being globalization losers, with little cultural capital or life skills. These geographies of exclusion in deindustrialized cities are the source of new peripheries and borders.

It was noted above that Urry regards mobilities as constitutive of identities (of race, class and gender). If true, this would be strong evidence for the theoretical significance of mobilities but it is really a dubious claim. Following the civil conflicts in North West English towns in summer 2001[6] the Cantle Inquiry was commissioned to locate the causes and propose strategies for building community cohesion. The report claimed that the causes of the violence lay in a territorial mentality, residential segregation and the deep fracturing of communities on racial, generational and religious lines compounded by some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country (Home Office 2002). The issue of residential segregation was evident in the early 1990s and was symptomatic of deeper issues of racism, especially racist attacks, and economic exclusion. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that rather than regard dwelling and mobility as forces constituting racism, racialised economic structures themselves intersected to create the preconditions for violent conflict. Dwelling and (im)mobility were themselves effects of radicalized and classed structures - the reverse of Urry's proposed 'methodological' rule.

Migrants, Borders and Racialization of Place

Let us look in more detail at the consequences of unequal instantiations of capital flows. Urry claims that central to the (now redundant) concept of society was the idea of citizenship as membership of a particular society. Therefore, he argues, citizenship needs to be recast in terms of mobility rights. These include rights to be able to migrate from one society to another, to be able to return, to be able to carry one's culture with one, to be able to buy the products, services and icons of diverse other cultures, to form transnational social movements, to be able to engage in leisure migration and hence to 'consume' other places and environments (Urry 1998). The problem is that this programmatic formulation avoids examining the real obstacles to any meaningful global citizenship. The obstacles to these rights (which we should remember are within the power of states to grant or to deny) are central to the political and economic structuring of the global order. Citizenship and mobility rights themselves remain a critical determinant of life-chances and hence of membership of social networks. Migratory flows are increasing worldwide in response to new displacing pressures including poverty, widened material inequalities, increased ecological degradation, sustained militarism, fragmented communities, marginalization of subordinated groups (Scholte 1996) all of which combines with reduced transportation costs. Even so, migratory flows in and out of the UK have shown only a recent rise after maintaining a cyclical flow during the most intense period of globalization (see Figure 2). The relationship between globalization and migration is complex since deregulation in one area does not automatically imply loosening restrictions in another. Yet capital increasingly defines labour costs in terms of lowest global costs and through sub-contracting in home and overseas markets is able to achieve lowest costs in some sectors, such as textiles. Low cost and often forced labour migration is a crucial facet of global mobilities (Papastergiadis 2000:40). The presence of undocumented workers in advanced capitalist economies has the important effect of reducing costs in sectors that are structurally dependent upon them, such as textiles, minicabs, cleaners, food service and agriculture (Rivera-Batiz 1999).

Migration and ethnic divisions are processes that epitomize the differential way in which global elements are localized, labour markets are constituted, and culture de- and re-territorialized (Sassen 1998). They further attest to the continuing salience of state borders and powers and its ambivalence towards the global economy when the ability of the state to constitute itself is a distinct political community is threatened. The metaphor of mobility envisages the existence of decentred, flexible and knowledge-rich networks continually re-structuring themselves according to the signals of a fast fluid nexus of global scapes and flows. This could be read as essentially a celebration and idealization of free markets and exchanges in which inequalities and discontents appear, where they do at all, essentially in passing. Yet the neoliberal project that underlies the global economic explosion is also a project of control. Advocates of the free market are actually those most prone to insist on border controls on migrants and asylum seekers. She may have thought there was no such thing as society, but Thatcher also said 'I did not join Europe to have free movement of terrorists, criminals, drugs, plant and animal diseases and rabies, and illegal immigrants' (O'Dowd 1998). Borderlands are actually taking on increased significance as resources and means of exploitation (Donnan and Wilson 1999). When inequalities are linked to ethnic divisions the potential for the reemergence of conflicts at local and regional levels increases. The decline in the material significance of territory fails to register what state borders mean if you are poor, non-white, or unemployed, much less if you are an illegal migrant.

It has often been commented that human beings have considerably less freedom to move across international borders than does capital. Urry chooses not to theorize 'the various kinds of forced migration which have resulted in at least 140 million migrants and refugees worldwide' (Urry 2000b:50) though he does not explain why. This is unfortunate because in relation to forced migration the theory of flows encounters some difficulties. There was less asymmetry between immobile labour and immobile capital before 1913 than for most of the rest of the twentieth century (Scholte 1996). So this differential arose along with the process of globalization in the twentieth century, which has been increasingly uneven with differential abilities to stretch, compress and shape capital and resistance.

Contrary to claims that the significance of borders is eroding, some states are working to endow them with meaning in innovative ways and immigration policy is crucial to the maintenance of the national community (Goff 2000). Flows of global movement are proliferating while the fortification of national boundaries is becoming more vigilant - a trend intensified since September 11th and the rise of anti-migrant politics in Europe. Every state is seeking to maximize investment opportunities for transnational corporations while closing its doors to the forms of migration that these economic shifts stimulate (Papastergiadis 2000:2-3). One example of this is the 1998 Schengen Agreement instituting extensive systems of controls on and surveillance of migration into the EU from further east, especially the former Soviet Union and Middle East. These controls include expansion of the Eurodac computerized fingerprint database to refugees and asylum seekers, harmonization of sanctions on carriers of illegal migrants[7], and a whole raft of policing measures and requirements for controls on external borders. Similarly, the UK 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act is the most restrictive piece of migration legislation of the past 20 years, under which asylum seekers lost entitlements to benefits or support under provisions of the National Assistance Act. Instead, the Home Office has set up a new department called the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to provide support for asylum seekers outside mainstream UK welfare services. They are also being dispersed to cluster areas outside London to help ease pressure on services in Southeast England, a process that, where it is enforced, has increased their vulnerability to harassment and assault.

Whilst Urry, for example, acknowledges the growth of the 'surveillance society' (2000b:90) he does not integrate the implications of this into his argument. In particular the suggestion that mobility generates the regulatory state (2000b:189) is naively functionalist and ignores the underlying structural conditions and forces at work. For example, migration controls cannot be understood without reference to racism and racialized labour markets. Dispersal under the Immigration and Asylum Act did not arise as a direct consequence of mobilities but because of threats to public order from violent racism and xenophobia. These are in turn embedded in other structures and forms of cultural reproduction. Costs are borne in some areas and exploited in others whilst racialized divisions within the labour market generate strategic sites where very different regimes of circulation can operate. Surveillance and controls such as those mentioned above enhance exploitation of migrants. There are estimated to be around one million undocumented workers in the UK working without employment rights, benefits, for under the minimum wage in conditions lacking health and safety controls and often living in conditions again lacking basic legal protection. The tighter the regime of surveillance and punishment, the more vulnerable are undocumented workers to exploitation because of the potential for threats of exposure (Gibney 2001). Regulation is not simply a response to mobilities but has the effect of consigning undocumented migrants to places beyond regulation.

Finally, the movement of migrants and refugees exemplifies the stretching of social relations across the world but also attests to their embeddedness in social solidarities. Exiles are not usually cosmopolitans, but are rather tied to their cultures of origin. They seek solidarity and refuge in communities of shared language and identity. Cosmopolitans can afford to experiment with an uprooted sense of self but migrants, asylum seekers and exiles too acutely experience dislocation and displacement (Hannerz 1990). The most frequent reasons for migrants' choice of destination are the transmission of ideas, stories told by migrants and returnees, rumours of opportunities and recruitment agencies (Papastergiadis 2000). These social networks create chain migration effects that stretch from destination countries back to locales, villages and families (Glover et al 2001). Indeed Bloch (1999) suggests that as many as 66% of asylum seekers in a London survey had had no choice over their destination, this having been determined by agents or smugglers. This attests to the importance of closely bound networks and face-to-face transactions rather than to the mediatized flow of disembodied fluids. Underlying the movement of people there are dense and powerful webs of identity and sociality. In the UK migrants are concentrated in London because of the size of the labour market, the unmet labour demand, links to others via networks, including networks for undocumented migrants providing work, forged papers, accommodation etc (Glover et al 2001). In theses transactions, local knowledge is crucial e.g. the Wailing Wall side window of a London newsagents that advertises jobs in a variety of languages (Gibney 2001). Migration (especially 'asylum seeking') may exemplify contemporary mobilities but also the embedding of these in complex networks and solidarities structured by inter-relations between states and economies.

Conclusions: A Sociology of Immobilities

This paper has reviewed post-societal theories, especially Urry's. I do not dispute that globalization stands apart from earlier theories of modernization, colonialism, world systems and Marxism. Nor do I dispute that globalization attempts to liberate itself from territorial assumptions and avoid state centred approaches that equate 'society' and 'nation'. However, globalization is a complex process but specific organizational features of contemporary society drive it, which do not render previous notions of society redundant. The flows of people, capital and culture are crucially shaped by, indeed are embedded forms of the material relations of wage/skill levels and market protection. Migrations are not autonomous movements but structured by specific forces such as TNCs (effects on small-scale producers), military action (displacement and refugees), the IMF (mobilizing the poor into survival strategies) and neoliberal state strategies (Sassen 2000). This has intensified over the past two decades but does not represent a fundamentally novel departure in human affairs.

Globalization is an overdetermined process in which social relations are reconfigured along various dimensions. This should not require abandonment of existing sociological frameworks but rather points to the centrality of embedding global movements within contexts of cultural reproduction, power and capital. For example, there is an implicit technological determinism in many accounts of post-societal sociology but the case for this is weak. Insubstantial goods, such as media, cultural images, electronic money and so forth can be moved with relative ease across national borders. Yet physical objects can be monitored and controlled - the ease with which this is the case is illustrated by the controls enforced during the 2001 foot and month epidemic in the UK. The limits to the virtualization and de-territorialization of mobilities are most clearly apparent in relation to the mobilities of people, which is embedded in processes on various levels. These are motives for movement, systems of appropriation and exploitation, regimes of regulation, which generate exclusions and immobilities.

This paper began by noting the diversity of meanings associated with 'globalization', a concept of which Bauman says 'All vogue words tend to share a similar fate: the more experiences they pretend to make transparent, the more they themselves become opaque'. (Bauman 1998:1) Despite its current vogue, the concept will no doubt in due course go the way of other vague and over-extended concepts. However, the processes to which it refers are real. This is a call to abandon neither the concept of globalization nor the study of mobilities but to situate these within processes structured by economic, political, cultural embedding. But it does question the view that territorially defined social entities are no longer relevant objects for sociology. States too may actually be increasingly important to the organization and regulation of temporal and spatial embedding of global processes within locales. The concept of a territory bounded by systems of welfare, language, taxation, currency, institutions, and histories is essential to twenty-first century sociology. It is not of course exhaustive of modes of sociality, which sociologists have generally recognized as being complex and multi-dimensional. The flow of people and objects across borders, the very experience of transnationalism, is itself dependent on and in some ways reconstituive of borders. Flows cross borders and in the process enable the innovation of new identities. The concept of 'British Asian' for example like other forms of hybridity, is dependent on the historical relations, a particular pattern of post- coloniality, that defines a relation to being both 'Asian' and 'British', in a way that could not be the same say, in France, Germany or Scandinavia. The configurations of these identities will in turn depend on the embedding of national and transnational relations within locales.

Urry is right to point to the crucial importance of mobilities in the contemporary world. But just as we need a sociology of mobility we also need a sociology of immobility that addresses those who are excluded from global consumption and movement, or whose movement is compelled by war, poverty and ecological disaster. The happy long decade of globalization is over - the belief that the end of communism heralded the resolution of global conflicts and contradictions proved to be an illusion. To grasp the challenges facing sociology in the twenty-first century we need a theory of the inter-relations of states, borders, nations and societies in the context of global transformations.


Figure 1: Idealized and embedded markets
Idealized global markets Embedded local markets
Finance/service drivenSunken capital and high exit costs
Auction market pricesCustomer market prices
Spontaneous orderVisible construction of relationships
High riskPersonal networks and obligations reduce risk
Abstract rulesSituationally specific rules
Institutionalized (systemic) trust Low impersonal trust and high informal regulation
Expansion of creditCredit limited and tied to obligations

Figure 2. Net annual flows of international migration 1975-98


1 It is not entirely clear though whether they regard globalization as real (but a projection of Americo-centrism) or an illusion projected onto the world

2 The polarization of the debate into 'radicals' and 'skeptics' might be useful for teaching purposes, to guide students through a maze of conflicting positions, but it is not particularly illuminating in academic discussion.

3 In particular, critics of the decline of the nation state argument regard this as an obstacle to developing an egalitarian and welfare based socialist strategy of (notably Hirst and Thompson 1996). The hollowing out and the emergence of the regulatory state is not necessarily equivalent to the implosion of nation states that retain crucial and arguably increasing powers over the management of space and mobility.

4 It is worth mentioning too that many mid-century theories explicitly did not equate the social with national societies, notably symbolic interactionism, in which larger structures and entities are secondary to the dynamics of situated interactions. Likewise the earlier Chicago tradition, including people like Thomas and Znaniecki developed nuanced and multi- dimensional concepts of the social.

5Language and culture embody a stock of knowledge - the stored interpretative work of preceding generations - that renders every new situation familiar, in that understanding takes place against the background of culturally ingrained pre-understandings. This 'pre- reflective background consensus' can become an object of reflection only piecemeal, because we cannot suspend judgement on everything at once (Habermas, 1984:123).

6The main centres were Bradford (April and July), Burnley (June) and Oldham (May). There were a total of 1500 violent disorders, 476 people injured and around £10 million worth of damage done (Home Office 2002).

7This is includes fines, possible imprisonment and confiscation of carriers' vehicles, which increases the risks and potential costs of trafficking and makes traffickers increasingly ruthless.


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