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Scholars David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton develop a framework for understanding and analyzing the process of globalization.

Scholars David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton argue that while the “time has come” for the concept of globalization, the existing approaches to understanding globalization are inadequate. The authors develop a general framework for understanding the process and characteristics of globalization.

The authors say that, “in its simplest sense globalization refers to the widening, deepening and speeding up of global interconnectedness.” This definition of globalization requires explanation. What is global about globalization?

Spatial Attributes

Globalization involves an increase in flows and networks across the globe. Additionally, globalization increases the likelihood that an event in one part of the world will have an effect in a distant part of the world.

However, the nature of these transnational flows, networks and events is differentiated. Four spatial characteristics help make sense of the spatial and temporal reach of globalization. Rather than understand the characteristics of globalization in an either/or manner, globalization should be understood in term of a range of values across four characteristics.

How Far Does It Reach?

Globalization involves a “stretching” of social, political, and economic activities. Events and actions have a broader geographical effect. One implication is that events in one part of the world have an increasing effect on situations in other parts of the world.

How Interconnected Is It?

Globalization involves the growing magnitude of interconnections of patterns of interactions and flows between societies and states.

How Fast Does It Progress?

Globalization involves changes in the speed at which global interactions and processes take place. Velocity is largely a result of developments in travel and communication technologies.

What Kinds of Impact?

The processes of globalization do not have only one type of impact or outcome. Rather there are four different types of impacts:

  • Decisional impact. How do globalizing processes affect how individuals, corporations, organizations and governments make decisions?
  • Institutional impact. How does globalization change the agendas of organizations and individuals, structure their choices and influence their preferences?
  • Distributive impact. How does globalization change the way wealth and power are distributed within and among countries?
  • Structural impact. How does globalization structure patterns of behavior (social, political, economic, etc.).

Shapes of Globalism

How do the different spatial and temporal aspects of globalism interact? Focusing only on globalizing processes and structures that have a more global than local reach, types of globalism differ in terms of their intensity, velocity and impact.

  • Thick globalization is characterized by high extensity, high intensity, high velocity and high impact across all domains of social life. The authors suggest that for some skeptics of globalism, an example of thick globalization would be late nineteenth-century global empires.
  • Diffused globalization is characterized by high extensity, high intensity, high velocity and low impact. In this type, the impacts of globalism are highly mediated and regulated. The authors say that there is no historical example of this type of globalism. However, they observe, some critics of the excesses of globalism may find this type attractive.
  • Expansive globalization is characterized by high extensity, low intensity, low velocity and high impact. This type of globalization is characterized more by the magnitude of its impact than by intensity or velocity. The authors cite the impact of Western European expansion on other civilizations as an example of expansive globalization during the modern period.
  • Thin globalization is characterized by high extensity, low intensity, low velocity and low impact. The authors suggest that the early silk and luxury trade connections between Europe and China are an example of this type.

The Organizational Profiles of Globalization

In addition to different types of effect, historical forms of globalization have distinct organizational profiles. These organizational profiles have four characteristics.


Flows, networks and relations are made possible and regulated by infrastructures. Infrastructures may be physical (for example, travel and communication structures), legal/regulative (for example, common laws or regulations) or symbolic (common culture, understandings, tastes, etc.)


Regularized patterns of interactions allow networks, flows and relations to be reproduced over space and time. Global networks and relations become embedded within the normal operation of organizations and agencies.

Power and Stratification

During different periods of history globalization is characterized by different patterns of stratification. Access to global networks and infrastructures is characterized by different hierarchy structures and unevenness of access.

Closely related to the idea of stratification is the notion of power. Power involves the ability of actors to control or transform their circumstances. Power also involves the resources necessary to exercise this control. However, power is always relative. That is, the ability for one actor to exercise control always depends on the resources for control of other actors.

Ways People Relate to Each Other

Each historical epoch is characterized by a dominant way that people interact with each other. They tend to exercise power in some ways more than others. Are human relationships defined more by:

  • Coercion?
  • Cooperation?
  • Competition?
  • Conflict?

Domains and Epochs

The authors argue that all historical forms of globalization can be analyzed in terms of the four spatial aspects as well as the four organizational aspects.

It is important that the application of the above framework not be limited to single domains of social life (for example, military, economic, cultural or political). The process of globalization may be quite uneven across different domains and this can have a critical effect on the overall shape of globalization within a given historical epoch.

In their book, Global Transformations, Held and his coauthors use the above framework to analyze globalization within four epochs:

  1. The premodern period,
  2. Western expansion during the early modern period,
  3. The modern industrial period,
  4. The contemporary period from 1945 to the present.
Data and Methods:

Data Source:

Historical and theoretical research.


Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Full Text Availability:
Available for purchase at

Held, David, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton. 1999. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Introduction, pp. 32-86.

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