Regimes of Social Cohesion: Societies and the Crisis of Globalization

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Social theorists frequently argue that social cohesion is under threat in developed societies from the multiple pressures of globalisation.

Book Review – Regimes of Social Cohesion: Societies and the Crisis of Globalization

This article seeks to test this hypothesis through examining the trends across countries and regions in key indicators of social cohesion, including social and political trust, tolerance and perceptions of conflict. It finds ample evidence of long-term declines in cohesion in many countries, not least as exemplified by the erosion of social and political trust, which is particularly dramatic in the UK. The trends are not entirely convergent, since on most indicators Nordic countries have become more cohesive, yet each country faces challenges.

In the final section the authors argue that different 'regimes of social cohesion' can be identified in specific clusters of countries which are based on different cultural and institutional foundations. In the 'liberal model', which applies in the UK and the US, the greatest threat to cohesion comes not from increasing cultural diversity, but from increasing barriers to mobility and the subsequent atrophy of faith in individual opportunity and meritocratic rewards--precisely those beliefs which have traditionally held liberal societies together. This article reviews the state of social cohesion across a range of developed countries at the beginning of the second millennium.


Social cohesion is defined in broad and non-normative terms as 'the property by which whole societies, and the individuals within them, are bound together through the action of specific attitudes, behaviours, rules and institutions which rely on consensus rather than pure coercion' see Green and Janmaat, forthcoming. We explore a number of questions. What are the recent and long-term post trends in different countries and regions on the key aspects and measures of social cohesion? Are they converging or diverging?

Do countries face similar or different pressures on the social fabric in the face of the economic crisis?

Green, Andy 1954-

Do some of us live in a 'broken society' --as Prime Minister David Cameron once described the UK--or are the bonds which bind societies still holding? We start in section 2 by summarising some of the macro social theories concerning the impacts of social change on societal cohesion. These generally predict, for a variety of reasons, the increasing atomisation of societies and a secular decline in social solidarity across the developed countries. In sections we put these theories to the test, examining in some detail the trends across different countries and regions for key indicators of social cohesion, such as social and political trust, tolerance and perceptions of social conflict.

Organized crime and threats from other "non-state" actors.

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Through the increasing ease of communication and transportation flows, and the growing permeability of national borders, organized crime networks, terrorists, drugs and weapons traffickers, and even human smugglers face fewer constraints on their activity. Some participants suggested that these threats may prove to be some of the most pernicious of the 21 st century.

Weakening Regional Institutions? Globalization may ultimately bring about new concepts of sovereignty and regional security interaction. The combination of rapid Chinese economic growth and extended stagnation in Japan, for example, could significantly alter the balance of political, economic, and military power in Asia in a relatively short period of time. Participants noted that globalization could also give rise to new sources of rivalry.

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Deepening economic integration, for example, could contribute to the emergence of regional economic blocks that compete for power and influence. Military organizations will have to take on new roles, a trend that may spark resistance within the ranks of uniformed personnel. At the same time, other demands in Asian societies will compete for financial resources, and growing economic opportunities elsewhere will likely reduce recruitment levels. How Important is Globalization? Whether the forces of globalization will fundamentally transform the regional order is another question, however.

The picture is mixed. In other parts of the region, however, the case is much less clear. In Northeast Asia, for example, traditional, state-centered patterns of interaction still appear to prevail, despite increasing trade and investment ties. South Asia, too, remains relatively untouched by the global economy, and therefore traditional patterns of interaction remain dominant. Whether the forces of globalization will serve to remold the international system and create fundamentally new forms of interaction, remains to be seen.

G lobalization is often viewed as a threat to the authority and sovereignty of the state. The Asian financial crisis demonstrates that governments are increasingly hard-pressed to insulate their populations from the pressures of the world economy. Embracing Globalization - Several participants argued that Asian states have played a key role in promoting globalization in the region.

One participant from Singapore argued that until the financial crisis, regional governments perceived globalization as a tool for enhancing national power. China and Vietnam have undertaken substantial economic reforms to break out of isolation and strengthen the positions of those in power. For these and other countries, participation in the global economy has certainly entailed costs. Greater openness to trade, foreign investors and visitors, and information from the outside world all have contributed to the erosion of sovereignty in Asia.

Behind the Asian embrace of globalization was the assumption that economics could be separated from politics. Globalization helped to give legitimacy to ruling regimes across Asia. In countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and even South Korea, growing prosperity and authoritarianism walked hand-in-hand. New Doubts - In essence, as a Singaporean participant noted, Asia saw itself as a "winner" in the new global contest, although even during the years of the Asian miracle regional governments worried that global forces would corrode national identity.

In the wake of the financial crisis, however, in the words of a participant from Singapore, doubts about the benefits of globalization have been "redoubled. Governments that previously embraced globalization as a tool for strengthening domestic legitimacy have come to see the phenomenon as a possible threat to their power. Further, to the extent that globalization weakens governments and erodes notions of national identity, a concern several participants cited, social cohesion in Asia could suffer.

Globalization and Democracy - Several participants argued that authoritarian regimes may have more to fear from globalization than more democratic states. No government is immune to the effects of globalization, and democracies are no exception; the financial crisis swept aside democratic leaderships in South Korea and Thailand, for example. Indeed, one Malaysian participant argued that the forces of globalization may actually strengthen the institutions that support democracy, by demanding reforms that result in more open political and economic systems.

In authoritarian regimes, the norms and institutions that appear necessary to manage the pressures of globalization are often in short supply. In the face of globalization, the authoritarian state thus suffers from two central weaknesses: the absence of democratic norms and institutions, and reliance on economic performance to sustain political legitimacy.

Few Asians perceive the North Korean and Burmese models to be viable alternatives to the global economy, and even Malaysia has moved recently to loosen the capital controls it imposed during the depths of the financial crisis.

A participant from Singapore noted that throughout the region there is growing anxiety over the impact of global forces on "national ways of life. In the years ahead, Asian governments will be tested by two related challenges: the task of compensating the victims of the world economy, and the need to balance increasingly global political and cultural norms with traditional values and identities. One participant from Singapore argued that to prevent globalization from emerging as a source of tension in U.

For its part, the West must abandon triumphalist rhetoric, and recognize that Asian concern over eroding values and social cohesion is legitimate. Asia, in turn, must cease demonizing the West for its role in spurring globalization. Participants were quick to note that Western countries have also been buffeted by globalization, and managing its challenges will be a central item on the policy agendas of Washington, London, Paris, and Bonn long into the 21 st century. Indeed, the resilience of U.

About the Conference.

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As the crisis wore on, it became clear that the debate in Asia had shifted to the larger issue of globalization in the region. With financial support from the U. Pacific Command, APC organized a three-day meeting to examine the longer-term impact of the financial crisis, and globalization more broadly, on the Asia-Pacific region.

This report was written by Christopher B.

Societies and the Crisis of Globalization

For more information on this and other programs, contact the Research Division at , or visit the APC web site at www. Capt Mark H. Jerry H. Donald L. Vadm Ret. Christopher B. James A. admin