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Smart Library on Globalization > Smart Library on Law and Globalization > The Global Spread of Law > Overview: Aspects of Diffusing Law Globally
Translating Power in Globalization
Power and influence must be translated along webs of relationships in order to be effective. However, power and influence are changed during the process.
How is power exercised in the process of globalization?
Scholars John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos argue that it is too simplistic to say that the most obviously powerful actors (those with the most resources and most obvious influence, like states) are the movers behind globalization.
Simple notions of power do not explain globalization.
A different understanding of power is necessary in order to understand how ideas and practices become globalized.
In order for ideas, laws, patterns of behavior, values or whatever to be diffused across the globe, they must move along relationships among actors. Power is not power if it remains merely a set of sovereign pronouncements. To make a difference in behavior, power must be exercised and “translated” through webs of relationships.
Power, then, is necessarily diffused. It depends on links between the places where action actually happens (in local settings and contexts) and where knowledge is created and accumulates. This does not mean that the “stuff” of globalization—be it values, regulations or practices—originates only in paneled boardrooms. Practices or understandings can originate in very local circumstances to meet particularly local needs. However, these can be translated along webs of relationships across the globe. Sometimes states are involved, and sometimes not.
Changed in Translation
Translating power through webs of relationships is never perfect. Power is changed in translation. For instance, an idea or goal transmitted along a web of relationships will often be reinterpreted by the actors along the way in terms of their own understandings, projects or concrete situations. Government ministers, industry representatives, NGO staff or any other agent may put a different “spin” on an organization's position. Individuals who do this may not be disingenuous (though, in the case of the government minister who takes a bribe, they may). Rather, in the heat of negotiation or in the concrete application in a local setting, new ideas, perspectives or viewpoints may open up.
Cleavages in the Powerful
Powerful states and organizations are not monolithic. People have very different ways of understanding how a state or organization should work. Some groups have greater access to resources and so may be better placed to champion their interests and ideas. However, while other interest or issue-oriented groups may be relatively weak in terms of resources, this does not mean that they have no influence in the process of globalization.
Because power is translated through webs of relationships, relatively weak groups may increase their influence by enrolling others in their cause. Two examples demonstrate how weaker groups can end up wielding significant influence in the globalization of an idea.
A state like the U.S. may take an official position on some issue (for instance, an environmental issue). However, cadres within the government may be split on the issue. Even though the most powerful group within a government may get to define the official position, this does not mean that the less powerful group is without influence.
One strategy that has worked for changing a state's position is for members of the minority group to enroll like-minded minority members from other governments. This coalition of like-minded minsters or agency administrators can then influence policy in an international forum where they are representatives. Once international policy is formed, the administrator can then return to his government and argue that the state should change its position to be in accord with international policy. These coalitions of minority interests may act together as a kind of “benevolent conspiracy” to lessen the influence of the stronger groups.
U.S. oil-price deregulation in the 1970s is an example of this kind of process at work. Domestic policy advisors within the Carter administration, along with a strong majority in Congress, opposed oil-price deregulation. However, a coalition within the administration favored deregulation. The minority group signaled to like-minded members of other governments that international pressure on the issue would be welcome. The outcome was that, at the Bonn Economic Summit of 1978, the “weaker” minority interests won the day.
Doing an End Run around the Strong
Most government ministers, even if they are in the minority on an issue, can hardly be described as “weak.” However, an NGO within a particular country may genuinely lack the resources or relationships to influence their government's policies. For instance, a small, local NGO may not have any important government contacts—either in its own government or in any other government.
In this case the smaller NGO may enroll the help of a larger, more influential NGO in the U.S. or the European Union. Building a relationship of this type is aided by the fact that the NGOs share a common vision and commitment to a moral imperative. The small NGO can then enlist the help of the influential NGO to lobby the more powerful government to put pressure on the smaller NGO's government.
The ability to influence the course and the content of globalization is not simply a matter of control over material resources or military might. Because of the way power is translated through webs of relationships, it is changed and can be realigned. Weaker actors, by building coalitions and enrolling the help of others, can have a significant influence on globalization.
Data and Methods:
Braithwaite, John, and Peter Drahos. 2000. Global Business Regulation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 20, pp. 475-506.
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