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Scholars say five questions guide understanding of ways that global laws influence changes across the world.

Global Law Is Deeply Involved in Global Change

Sociologists maintain that law is more deeply involved in globalization than most observers or participants realize. For instance:

  • Global markets require predictability. Business regulation increasingly comes from international organizations.
  • The spread of movies, music, software and other cultural artifacts involves struggles over intellectual property rights,
  • Global protections of vulnerable populations, such as indigenous peoples, rely on human rights and international criminal law,
  • Global contests over democracy as a form of government cannot be understood without constitutional rights or principles.

Sociologists Terry Halliday and Pavel Osinsky present a systematic way to make sense of these and other very different trends.

Five Questions

Observers of any global change should ask five questions.

1. Which Global Actors Create Law?

Global players come in many guises—international organizations (e.g., United Nations), international professional groups, regulatory bodies (e.g., for air transport, banking), NGOs (e.g., Amnesty International), even influential individuals (e.g., pop-star Bono on poverty) or countries (e.g., U.S. on financial policies). These are all “actors” or agents on the global stage. Who are they in the domain of global change?

2. How Is Power Exercised by Global Actors?

Global actors exercise power through different mechanisms. Common mechanisms for exercising power include:

  • Military coercion (e.g., colonialism, the U.S. intervention in Iraq),
  • Economic coercion (e.g., trade threats or conditional loans from the International Monetary Fund [IMF]),
  • Modeling (e.g., when global actors provide models of how countries should change their laws),
  • Rewards (e.g., when global actors provide financial incentives),
  • Capacity building (e.g., when the World Bank provide technical assistance for roads and police),
  • Suasion (e.g., global actors persuade nations they will be more “modern” if they conform to global standards).

3. Where Are Global Laws Developed and How Are They Transmitted?

In every domain of activity (e.g., human rights, immigration), there are global arenas where laws get developed. These roughly correspond to three branches of government:

  • Transnational legislatures (e.g., UN forums),
  • International regulatory bodies (bodies that regulate pharmaceuticals, air transport, banking, the environment, etc.),
  • International bodies that resolve disputes (e.g., WTO appeal body, International Criminal Court).

Over time these arenas become more formal as they are used and they are accepted as legitimate.

Global laws get transmitted through many channels—international media, networks of professionals, non-government organizations, networks of government officials, programs by international organizations, and private communications via the Internet. Each domain has its distinctive structure of transmission.

4. In What Domains of Life Is Law Globalized?

Law is globalized within many spheres of life: global markets, human rights and security (e.g., women’s rights, crimes against humanity), health, politics. Each domain usually has its own actors, its distinctive forms of leverage, and its ways of creating and enforcing global laws.

5. Is Globalization Occurring?

The outcomes of global influences are much disputed. How do we know if it has occurred? If globalization is occurring, to what extent? The authors say that signs of globalization can be found in two places:

  • Structures. for instance, changes in government agencies, creation of new organizations, changes in families, schools, health delivery, in fact, any organizational or community changes in a country,
  • Culture or discourse. For instance, how people think about issues, how they talk about them, what assumptions they make about what is right and what is wrong.

To measure globalization of structures and culture requires a combination of four measures:

  • How extensively do global forces reach in a society? The business districts of major cities? Throughout major cities? To provincial cities? To the far corners, rural and remote, of a society?
  • How intensively do global forces penetrate into various regions? Are global influences deep as well as broad?
  • How fast do global influences change local practices?
  • Do global forces make a tangible impact on social organization?

How Do These Questions Help to Understand Different Perspectives on the Globalization of Law?

There are a number of different theoretical perspectives on the globalization of law, each with its own account of the process of globalization. However, using the five questions listed above can provide a useful tool for comparing different approaches. Halliday and Osinsky's framework can help to weave together insights from different theoretical perspectives.

Data and Methods:

Data Sources:

Review of research.

Funding Sources:

Not provided.

Full Text Availability:
Available at:

Halliday, Terence C., and Pavel Osinsky. 2006.  "Globalization of Law." Annual Review of Sociology 32:447–70.

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