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A Theory of Global Capitalism

, 224 pages

4 line drawings

February 2004



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A Theory of Global Capitalism

Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World

In this book, sociologist William I. Robinson offers a theory of globalization that follows the rise of a new capitalist class and a transnational state. Growing beyond national boundaries, this new class comprises a global system in which Japanese capitalists are just as comfortable investing in Latin America as North Americans are in Southeast Asia. Their development of global, interconnected industries and businesses make them drivers of world capitalism.

Robinson explains how global capital mobility has allowed capital to reorganize production worldwide in accordance with a whole range of considerations that allow for maximizing profit making opportunities. As a result, production systems that were once located in a single country have been fragmented and integrated externally into new globalized circuits of accumulation. What this means, however, is not simply that factories are located overseas where labor might be cheaper, but rather that the whole production process is broken down into smaller parts and each of those parts moved to a different country, depending on where investment might be highest. Yet at the same time, this worldwide decentralization and fragmentation of the production process has taken place alongside the centralization of command and control of the global economy in transnational capital.

In turn, this economic organization finds a political counterpart in the rise of a transnational state. The leaders of global businesses and industries think about themselves and how they live in new ways. Hegemony in the twenty-first century, Robinson argues, will be exercised not by a particular nation-state but by this new global ruling class through the machinery of this transnational state. Robinson observes, for example, that global elites, regardless of their nationality, increasingly tend to share similar lifestyles and interact through expanding networks of the transnational state. Globalization is in this way unifying the world into a single mode of production and a single global system and bringing about the integration of different countries and regions into a new global economy and society. But the new global capitalism is rife with contradictions, such as the growing rift between the global rich and the global poor, concludes Robinson. The twenty-first century is likely to harbor ongoing conflicts and disputes for control between the new transnational ruling group and the expanding ranks of the poor and the marginalized. Sure to stir controversy and debate, A Theory of Global Capitalism will be of interest to sociologists and economists alike.

William I. Robinson is associate professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American and Iberian studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Robinson has some interesting things to say... What began as a dry theoretic treatise has morphed into a tub-thumping harangue."

"Clever and panoramic analysis. Written in a conversational, yet rigorous style."

"This book is an impressive accomplishment. One need not agree with its thesis... to find it interesting and worthy of further study."

"A must read, presenting a powerful theoretical thesis."

"William I. Robinson has earned a reputation as one of the leading critical analysts of capitalist globalization as a system of power. This book—both rigorous and readable—develops his thesis that we are witnessing a world-historical transition into a new phase of capitalism, with new forms of power, resistance and struggle. Whether or not you agree with Robinson's controversial thesis, you will agree that this book represents formidable scholarship and raises crucial political questions for the twenty-first century."

"This is a fine, succinctly argued, presentation of a critical theory of 'global capitalism.' The author regards globalization as a new phase in the history of capitalism—specifically, in the development of a transnational global economy. This book is particularly striking with respect to its cogency, vitality and great commitment to a democratic global order."

"The leading analyst of transnational class formation provides a clear, straightforward, and convincing account of the economic, political, and social contours of contemporary capitalism. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the global condition and prospects for its amelioration."

"Yet another book on globalization? If you think you have read too many already, think again! Here is a fresh look at the subject which shatters the illusion that globalization has to do with either free international trade or the disappearance of the state. Robinson expertly gathers the diverse threads that run through our world order and unerringly hones in on class and transnational power at the heart of it."

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