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Back | Programme Area: Overarching Concerns

The Sources of Neoliberal Globalization

In reflecting on the future fate of neoliberalism, it is important to understand where the doctrine has come from and what sustains it: know the past and present in order to shape the future. On this inspiration, this paper offers an account of the institutional and deeper structural forces that have given neoliberalism its primacy in shaping globalization over the past quarter-century. This analysis proceeds through four stages.

Following a brief introduction, the paper undertakes a closer examination of globalization. What, more precisely, does globality entail? It is argued that globalization involves the growth of transplanetary—and in particular supraterritorial—connections between people. Hence, globality is in the first place a feature of social geography. A distinction therefore needs to be rigorously maintained between globalization as a reconfiguration of social space and neoliberalism as a particular—and contestable—policy approach to this trend.

Next, the paper elaborates on the character of neoliberal policies toward globalization. Building on the opening remarks, this section identifies the broad principles that define neoliberal policy agendas and summarily reviews the general consequences for human security, social justice and democracy that have been associated with neoliberal policy frameworks. Recent moves to amend or transcend the Washington consensus are also assessed.

The paper then goes on to dissect the dynamics that have lain behind the pre-eminence of neoliberalism in contemporary management of globalization. The account offered is one of multifaceted causation, including conditions in the interrelated realms of governance, production, knowledge and social networks. In terms of governance, the key trend promoting neoliberal policies has been a shift from statist to decentred regulation. With respect to production, the pre-eminence of neoliberalism has resulted from certain turns in contemporary capitalist development. Concerning knowledge, the general power of modern rationalism and the more specific power of economic science have provided key spurs to neoliberal globalization. In regard to social networks, dense connections across a global managerial class have also given neoliberalism considerable strength.

Finally, the paper’s conclusion reflects on current prospects for neoliberal globalization and challenges to it. On one hand, the negative consequences of neoliberalism for human security, social equity and democracy provide substantial impetus to opposition and change. On the other hand, deep structures and powerful interests support a continuation of globalization-by-marketization. In this situation, it is possible to anticipate more of the political struggles that already figure on the present scene.
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  • Pub. Date: 10 Oct 2005
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-816X
    From: UNRISD