New Political Economy, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2004
Examining the Ideas of Globalisation
and Development Critically: What
Role for Political Economy?
The purpose of this article is primarily to situate the rise of the idea of
‘globalisation’ in terms of its broader intellectual context, with some emphasis
on the relevance for ‘development’, an equally contested concept.
In part, the
aim is to provide an answer to the question that has recently been succinctly
posed by David Harvey. He recognises that globalisation ‘is now one of the most
hegemonic concepts for understanding the political economy of international
capitalism. And its uses extend far beyond the business world to embrace
questions of politics, culture, national identity, and the like. So where did this
concept come from?’
I offer a broad and partial answer to this question in the
next section, arguing that ‘globalisation’ neatly captures two intellectual trends,
the dual retreat from the excesses both of neoliberalism and of postmodernism.
From preoccupation with deconstruction and semiotics across the social sci-
ences, attention has increasingly been directed towards understanding the nature
of contemporary capitalism as a system of power and conﬂict, of poverty and
inequality, of environmental degradation, and so on. ‘Globalisation’ predomi-
nantly represents a return in emphasis to the study of material realities other than
as a system of signs. Interest has focused on how the world is organised and
functions internationally and nationally, reﬂecting intellectual departure from a
‘virtual’ world of increasingly free and unconstrained markets. Such concerns
have also reduced the appeal of neoliberalism, the idea that the world could and
should be run as if a perfectly functioning set of markets with at most a light,
facilitating touch by the state.
In short, the rise of globalisation represents a reaction against, if not an
absolute rejection of the inﬂuence of, neoliberalism and postmodernism. Not
surprisingly, the globalisation reaction against neoliberal and cultural turns
inevitably tends to incorporate an economic content. In this light, the second
section advises of a third intellectual trend, the emergence of a new and virulent
strain of ‘economics imperialism’ based on market, especially informational,
failure. Whilst mainstream economics has become absolutely intolerant of
dissent within its own discipline, it has increasingly sought to colonise other
Ben Fine, Department of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of
London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H OXG, UK.
ISSN 1356-3467 print; ISSN 1469-9923 online/04/020213-19
2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd