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While the role of individuals in globalization is often missed, they are often powerful agents of globalization. The influence of some individuals is obvious (like a head of state). The role of others is much less obvious, though no less important.

The roles of individuals in globalization is often missed. However, individuals are not simply passive “recipients” of globalization.

On the contrary, some well placed individuals actively enroll the support of organizations or even mass publics to globalize ideas or practices. The influence of some individuals is obvious, while others work behind the scenes.

Leaders of Power States

Perhaps the individuals most obviously involved in forwarding globalization are the leaders of powerful states. For instance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Elenore were active in creating a transnational financial and human rights order after World War II.

Movers of Mass Publics

Some individuals have been very successful in enlisting the support of mass publics for international causes. Ralph Nader is an obvious example. By defining and publicizing otherwise unknown dangers or crises, Nader has been able to mobilize public interest and concern that leaders in a number of business arenas must take into account.

State Agents

States send delegates to international policy-making meetings. In theory, a delegate is only supposed to support state interests and policy. In behind-the-scenes committee meetings, however, a delegate has some freedom from the official state policy. Because the meetings are behind closed doors, a delegate can exercise judgment that may or may not be in line with the state's position. In short, there may be some “slippage” between the state's and a delegate's positions.

This does not mean that state delegates act in a sinister manner. In fact, for the delegate to gain a reputation among her peers as fair-minded and reasonable, she must demonstrate the ability to make her own decisions based on the information and situation at hand. States may be aware of this “slippage,” but be willing to trade inflexible policy support for the influence that comes with a delegate's legitimacy and reputation as a fair and reasonable negotiating partner.

NGOs and Mass Movements


NGOs and INGOs (international non-governmental organizations) have become more influential during the 20th century. While their influence on international policies is rarely direct (sitting on committees or having voting rights in important forums) they can influence decision makers by providing well researched information supporting their values and principled ideas. NGOs may also have the ability to publicize the decisions of international policy makers and so mobilize public sentiment for or against certain policies or actions.

Mass Publics

Mass publics demonstrate the collective force of individuals in contrast to organizations.

In contrast to the centralized structure of NGOs (run by a staff), mass movements are more diffuse. Mass movements, like the anti-slavery, temperance or women's movements, had no centralized organizational structure. These movements were composed of webs of many smaller, less well organized associations.

The power behind mass movements derives from wide-spread public support. It may also play to the benefit of a mass movement when there is no central organization. While a centralized NGO may be “captured” by outside interests, mass movements have no single head and so are less susceptible to capture.

Bottom Line

Even though the role of individuals (including the individual members of mass publics) is often overlooked in the process of globalization, their influence can, nonetheless, be considerable.

Data and Methods:

Data Sources

  • Information for this study was gathered from interviews with 500 people involved in international business regulation,
  • About half of the interviewees were interviewed by both authors (providing two interviews per person),
  • People were identified for interviews by tracing "webs of influence." That is, one actor implicated in a network of regulatory relationships would identify others also involved. This is not the same as an atheoretical snowball technique since interviewees were not nominated at random, but according to the authors' framework of following networks of relationships to identify major players.
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Braithwaite, John, and Peter Drahos. 2000. Global Business Regulation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 20, pp. 475-506.

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