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Network Power and Globalization

Network Power and Globalization

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Published by conlib
Ethics & International Affairs
Volume 17 Issue 2, Pages 89 - 98
Published Online: 30 Aug 2006
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

David Singh Grewal 1

1 David Singh Grewal is a graduate student in the Department of Government at Harvard University where he is studying political theory and the history of political thought. He received a J.D. from the Yale School of Law, where he focused on legal theory and international law. He is currently finishing a book on power and globalization.

ABSTRACT
Against the celebratory view of globalization comes the charge that globalization represents a kind of empire. But this charge requires a framework in which we can identify the power at work in apparently voluntary processes, such as learning English or joining the World Trade Organization. I advance a concept of "network power" to explain the dynamic that drives many key aspects of globalization. A network is united via a standard, which is the shared norm or convention that enables coordination among its users, such as a language that allows communication among its speakers. A widely used standard is more valuable than a less used one, simply because it governs access to a larger network of people. The idea of network power generalizes this fact to describe globalization as the rise to global dominance of standards that have achieved critical mass in language, high technology, trade, law, and many other areas. It also characterizes the rise to dominance of a successful standard as involving a form of power. While these new standards allow for global coordination, they also eclipse local standards, rendering them unviable to the extent that they prove incompatible with dominant ones. Therefore many of the choices driving globalization are only formally free and, in fact, are constrained because the network power of a dominant standard makes it the only effectively available option. It is this dynamic that generates much of the resentment against globalization and the criticism that it reflects a new imperialism.

DIGITAL OBJECT IDENTIFIER (DOI)
10.1111/j.1747-7093.2003.tb00441.x
Ethics & International Affairs
Volume 17 Issue 2, Pages 89 - 98
Published Online: 30 Aug 2006
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

David Singh Grewal 1

1 David Singh Grewal is a graduate student in the Department of Government at Harvard University where he is studying political theory and the history of political thought. He received a J.D. from the Yale School of Law, where he focused on legal theory and international law. He is currently finishing a book on power and globalization.

ABSTRACT
Against the celebratory view of globalization comes the charge that globalization represents a kind of empire. But this charge requires a framework in which we can identify the power at work in apparently voluntary processes, such as learning English or joining the World Trade Organization. I advance a concept of "network power" to explain the dynamic that drives many key aspects of globalization. A network is united via a standard, which is the shared norm or convention that enables coordination among its users, such as a language that allows communication among its speakers. A widely used standard is more valuable than a less used one, simply because it governs access to a larger network of people. The idea of network power generalizes this fact to describe globalization as the rise to global dominance of standards that have achieved critical mass in language, high technology, trade, law, and many other areas. It also characterizes the rise to dominance of a successful standard as involving a form of power. While these new standards allow for global coordination, they also eclipse local standards, rendering them unviable to the extent that they prove incompatible with dominant ones. Therefore many of the choices driving globalization are only formally free and, in fact, are constrained because the network power of a dominant standard makes it the only effectively available option. It is this dynamic that generates much of the resentment against globalization and the criticism that it reflects a new imperialism.

DIGITAL OBJECT IDENTIFIER (DOI)
10.1111/j.1747-7093.2003.tb00441.x

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G
lobalization is often celebrated as anadvance ofhuman freedom in whichindividuals are ever freer to lead livesoftheir own choosing.Transnational flows of money,goods,and ideas,it is argued,willaccompany an increasingly liberal interna-tional order in which individuals can partici-pate in a global economy and culture.At thesame time,however,critics ofglobalizationclaim that it involves the imposition ofa setofcommon global standards.These stan-dards involve the exercise ofpower,and caneven be said to constitute a kind of“empire.How should we understand this claim thatglobalization represents a kind ofempire?After all,the choices ofpeople to learn Eng-lish or ofnations to join the World TradeOrganization (WTO) are voluntary,freechoices—and reflect the reasoned assess-ment ofthose doing the choosing.I advancea concept of“network power”to explain howthe dynamic operating in globalization nev-ertheless reflects a kind ofdomination.It isthe awareness ofthis kind ofdominationthat breeds the resentment that is articu-lated in accusations ofempire.The idea of network power captures the ways in whichthe systematic features ofour social worldemerge from human action and remainintelligible in light ofit,even while they con-strain us in ways that do not reduce straight-forwardly to the power ofcommand.Itexplains how the convergence on a set of common global standards is driven by theaccretion ofindividual choices that are freeand forced at the same time.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL EMPIRE
The characterization ofglobalization asimperial is no longer the exclusive province of anti-globalization activists but has becomethe subject ofmainstream discussion.
1
Gen-erally,the term “empireis invoked todescribe a situation in which one politicalsociety controls another.The most obviousexamples ofthis control are the outright con-quest and domination offoreign societies,asin the modern empires ofWestern Europe.However,the control ofone society banother need not be so direct.The term“empire”originally comes from the Latin“imperium,which means the mixture ofter-ritorial conquest,informal commercial dom-ination,and cultural hegemony thatcharacterized the Roman rule ofthe Mediter-ranean in the early phase ofits expansion.The contrast between formal and infor-mal empires is now a familiar one,serving todistinguish the situations in which directcontrol is needed to secure benefits from asubordinated society from those in which itis not.In the latter,the subordinated society acts in a way that serves the interests ofthecontrolling society,whether through rela-tions ofeconomic dependency,military 
89
Network Power and Globalization
David Singh Grewal 
1
For a review ofcontemporary works on empire andAmerican hegemony,see Anatol Lieven,“The EmpireStrikes Back,”
 Nation
,Jul
7
,
2003
;available atwww.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=
20030707
&s=lieven.The most interesting ofthese is Michael Hardtand Antonio Negri,
Empire
(Cambridge:Harvard Uni-versity Press,
2000
).Reprinted from
Ethics &International Affairs
17
,no.
2
.©
2003
Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
 
cooperation,or some other form ofindirectcontrol.
2
In either case,the subordinate soci-ety is coerced,but the means by which suchcontrol is maintained may vary.Certainly,asmany studies ofimperial history conclude,formal and informal imperial strategies arenot an opposing pair ofstrategies.Whenpursued simultaneously in different con-texts,they can be mutually reinforcing.Ifcontemporary globalization representsa kind ofempire,then it must be an infor-mal empire,since direct imperial control isabsent in most ofthe world.But the idea of informal empire—however intuitive andapt it may seem—is empty unless the mech-anism ofinformal control can be identified.Part ofthe problem is conceptual.To eachidea ofempire is necessarily tied a model of the power underlying the control ofthesubordinate society.Formal dominationassumes a Weberian model ofpower,oper-ating as the command ofa political superiorand backed up by outright force.
3
In certainregions ofthe world,this kind ofanalysiswill seem more plausible than in others.Asan account ofglobalization,however,it willfall short,failing to offer insight into the eco-nomic,cultural,and institutional aspects of globalization that are often the most inter-esting.Analyses ofglobalization as empirethat aim to address more than military forceand outright occupation will necessarily confront the problems in theorizing powerthat does not resemble the command ofapolitical superior.
4
In fact,any plausiblecharacterization ofglobalization as empiremust rely upon heterodox understandingsofpower.
NETWORK POWER
To develop an adequate account ofthepower underlying globalization,we mustexplain how the collective structures andprocesses with which globalization is promi-nently associated can at once be the prod-ucts ofchoice and the outcomes ofpower.Ina globalized world,certain practices,institu-tions,or cooperative regimes at the transna-tional level play a role in coordinating socialexchange and their coordination has aneffect upon those who participate in them.Philosophical studies ofcoordination gamesor social conventions can offer insights intothese processes ofglobalization,in whichthe coordination solutions and conventionsare scaled at the transnational level.
5
Consider any system ofcoordination,such as a language,measurement system,currency,or even a rendezvous point in acity,like the clock in the middle ofGrand
90
David Singh Grewal 
2
The distinction between formal and informal empirewas developed in the mid-twentieth century historicalstudies ofthe British Empire.See,e.g.,John Gallagherand Ronald Robinson,“The Imperialism ofFreeTrade,”
Economic History Review
6
,no.
1
(
1953
),pp.
1
15
.
3
Weber is famously associated with the argument thatdomination takes the form ofa command by a politicalsuperior,the “authoritarian power ofcommand.Herecognized other forms ofpower,however,and hisviews on the subject are more nuanced than is oftenrecognized.See Max Weber,
Economy and Society 
,ed.Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Totowa,N.J.:Bed-minster Press,
1968 [1921]
).
4
The social theories ofAntonio Gramsci and MichelFoucault rely on such heterodox accounts ofpower.Michel Foucault,
Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviewsand Other Writings,
1972–1977 
,ed.Colin Gordon (NewYork:Pantheon Books,
1980
);Michel Foucault,
Power 
,ed.James Faubion (New York:New Press,
2000
);Anto-nio Gramsci,
Selections from the Prison Notebooks of  Antonio Gramsci
,ed.and trans.Quintin Hoare andGeoffrey Nowell Smith (New York:International Pub-lishers,
1971
);and Joseph V.Femia,
Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony,Consciousness,and the Revolution-ary Process
(Oxford:Clarendon Press,
1981
).See alsoSteven Lukes,
Power: A Radical View
(London:Macmil-lan,
1974
).
5
For foundational works in the study ofcoordinationgames and the analytic philosophy ofconventions,seeThomas C.Schelling,
The Strategy ofConflic
(Cam-bridge:Harvard University Press,
1960
);and DavidLewis,
Convention: A Philosophical Study 
(Cambridge:Harvard University Press,
1969
).
 
Central Station.When we speak a languageor use a measurement system or go to meetup with a lost friend in Grand Central,we doso because we know that others will behavein this way,and will be counting on us to dothe same.We choose to do these things forthe sake ofconnecting with others,notbecause these activities are uniquely valu-able in themselves.When such isolated con-ventions and systems ofcoordination areconsidered as multiple,competing systemsofcoordination,and the reasons for whichwe choose among them are analyzed,they can help us to make sense ofthe power inglobalization.I refer to the power in globalization as“network power.”
6
A network is a group of people united in a particular way thatmakes them capable ofmutual recognitionand exchange,whether ofgoods or ideas.Itis united via a standard,the particularshared norm or practice that its membersuse to gain access to one another.Forexample,the global network ofEnglishspeakers all use the English language tocommunicate.Many forms ofcontemporary globaliza-tion can be understood as involving the riseto dominance ofshared standards in trade,media,legal procedures,and technology.These forms ofsocial coordination are diffi-cult to alter once in place because they man-age interdependent expectations.Standardshave power because they provide the con-vention by which people can jointly coordi-nate their activities and expectations.Thenotion ofnetwork power consists in the joining oftwo ideas.First,the coordinatingstandards are more valuable when greaternumbers ofpeople use them.Second,aneffect ofthis coordination is that it progres-sively eliminates the alternatives over whichfree choice among standards can effectively be exercised.Importantly,we should distinguish twokinds ofstandards:
mediating standards
inherent in an activity,like a language ormeasurement system,and
standards for membership
that serve as the criteria by which a group governs access to an activity,as in the rules for joining a club or the tradetreaties overseen by the WTO.Either kind of standards can possess network power ifitbecomes the privileged point ofaccess toforms ofcooperation.Since the reason we use standards is tobenefit from cooperation with others,themore people who adopt a given standard,themore valuable it would be for others to adoptthe same standard.For example,a languageis more valuable for us to learn ifmany oth-ers speak it.The reasons for the adoption of a standard are subject to what political econ-omists call network externalities,whichcause the increase in the value ofa standardsuch as a language when more people use it,unlike the case ofsimple goods such as ahamburger or a road.Ifwe can adopt onlone standard—one language or measure-ment system—we will choose the standardwith the greatest number ofother usersbecause we can then coordinate with themost people.(Ofcourse,we care about thegreatest number ofpeople who are relevantto us,and not the number in the abstract.)The effects ofthis increasing benefit areclear ifwe focus on the case in which multi-ple,competing standards come into contact.Network power can induce people to“switchnetworks—by learning new lan-guages or adopting different technical stan-dards,or through joining organizations thatrequire adherence to new rules ofconduct.Inthe context oftwo networks in competition,any individual member ofone ofthe net-
network power and globalization
91
6
Network power is explored in greater detail in my forthcoming book,
Globalization and Network Power 
.

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