Inequalities and stratifications among world populations are increasing in the light of globalization, Harvard University professor Ulrich Beck said Tuesday.
Beck’s lecture on modernization, “risk society” and cosmopolitanism, titled “Remapping Social Equality in the Global Age,” drew an audience of about 100 at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Beck is a sociologist and a sociology professor at the University of Munich, who also holds a position at the London School of Economics in sociology, and has written seven books on the topic.
Beck said the injustices in global society come from misplaced nationalism and protectionism.
“These inequalities cannot exist in a modern society,” he said. “We must not cling to old loyalties.”
Beck also coined the sociological term “risk society,” meaning “the process of societal progress by assessing and organizing according to the risks it faces,” he said.
The current risk, he said, was a lack of individual involvement in globalization and global society, resulting in insularity and xenophobia.
He said there are cultural, social and economic boundaries between countries, so it is important for government to engage in exchange rather than isolation.
“Active members in this exchange, who embrace a cosmopolitan perspective, are the ones who are succeeding in the twenty-first century,” he said. “Young people, transnational organizations [and] the global elites who have power and influence accept and embody this idea.”
Beck also said there are other global issues that play into the risks and balances of social groups, contributing or hindering progress. His main example was climate change.
“This is a border-transcending issue,” he said. “The normal inequalities and vulnerabilities are exposed and exaggerated by this issue.”
Beck said it is necessary to address climate change in a global dialogue that was not subject to national interests.
“The more that ecological conflicts become stratified and divided by national borders, the more that impoverished and subjugated people will suffer,” he said.
Harvard urban planning professor Susan Fainstein said she came to the lecture because she was interested in Beck’s perspective on how communities and governments could incorporate global concerns in planning infrastructure and development.
“Professor Ulrich is foremost in his field and in innovative understanding of the challenges we face today,” she said. “His ideas are the ideas we need to incorporate in planning for our future.”
Harvard sophomore student Chris Ivey said he found Professor Beck’s lecture interesting and provocative.
“I wouldn’t have drawn all of the connections that he did,” Ivey said. “It was a good perspective on issues and what needs to happen in the future for a more equal society.”
Harvard freshman Bennett Locke said the lecture was illuminating.
“I learned a lot about interconnectedness among issues and how not engaging in global really is damaging.”
Inequalities and stratifications among world populations are increasing in the light of globalization, Harvard University professor Ulrich Beck said Tuesday.
Human rights are for all people, everywhere, and under all circumstances. There are no exceptions. That is what all governments promised when they signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the small committee that drafted the Declaration (1948) and the aim was to clarify the universality of human rights --- consistent with all political ideologies, all ethical systems, all world religions, and the tenets of all economic systems. The Declaration is truly international, embraced by peoples everywhere.
But then Eleanor Roosevelt made this remarkable statement:
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.
The Center is located in the barrio, in the tradition of Saul Olinsky, Cesar Estrada Chavez, and Barack Obama. Students who take Judith Blau's classes on human rights have the opportunity to connect theory with practice through service-learning. Their idealism and commitment inspires us. As they say, "Si se puede --Changing the world, two cities at a time." They are truly amazing and we thank them all.
Judith Blau, Director
Rafael Gallegos, Assistant Director
Mark Frezzo Interview with Walda Katz-Fishman
- Since the 2004 Conference of the American Sociological Association (ASA), there has been considerable debate on the concept of "public sociology." On the one hand, proponents of public sociology have been divided between those who advocate deploying sociological research to alleviate inequalities of gender, race, and class—something akin to "applied sociology"—and those who favor mobilizing sociological acumen to support the agendas of activists. On the other hand, opponents of public sociology have fallen into two camps: those who find the concept tautological and superfluous (on the assumption that professional sociology is, by definition, geared to the service of the public); and those who find the concept contradictory (on the assumption that professional sociology is duty-bound to avoid taking political positions). What is your perspective on public sociology? To what extent does the concept inform your research and teaching at Howard University? To what extent does it inform your activist work with Project South?
The ASA in 2004 was a wonderful confluence of events. It was the year of Michael Burawoy's presidency, with his programmatic focus and address on public sociology, as well as the year Jerome (Scott) and I received the ASA award for public sociology. Not surprisingly, as you suggest, the whole concept and practice of public sociology is a highly contested terrain between those who embrace a sociology dialectically connected to social struggle and collective human agency, and those who profess a value-neutral sociology, which of course supports the politics of the status quo and is quite the opposite of apolitical.
And even among those who support engagement with various publics, the question is always which publics and whose interests are we really serving? Are we putting sociology in the service of the interests of the mandarins of the state and NGOs looking for policy reforms and program funding to extend the life of capitalism in crisis, or are we linking sociology as theory and practice to a liberatory vision and praxis that serves the interests of those most dispossessed and oppressed in today's world, and the very survival of humanity and the planet?
Translated by Louis Edgar Esparza
How is it possible that an economic system that benefits merely ten percent of the populace is accepted by a plurality of the population?
How is it possible that well-regarded popular economists defend this system uncritically, especially now that there is an international reaction against it, translating into political transformations under the thumb of neoliberalism?
Neoliberalism is the ultimate and most extreme version of capitalism, begun by heads of state, Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States taking advantage of the moment of collapse of the communist system. This final version is accentuated by globalization.
But Globalization is the third chapter in the history of capitalism. The first was state capitalism, colonization, exercised by powerful states over other, weaker ones, to defend themselves against their own risks and to control their activity, generally preferring the use of force. This is the case between Spain and Latin America, between England and India, and between Belgium and the Congo. The protection of states against their own business enterprise will be the subject of the second chapter. The United States sends their Army to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company in Central America, founding the expression "banana republic." In another sense, this is the origin of the military coup in Chile and as usual, with the petroleum problem, with the crisis in the Middle East. In the third chapter, the protagonists are the multinational corporations that benefit from the protection of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and especially the World Trade Organization, to privilege their own interests over the interests of the states on which they are sitting upon. This chapter represents the moment of the most amount of liberty of capital, not so much to open up the borders to free trade, but more to impose upon those countries onto which the labor and environmental laws they exploit. This freedom allows an organizational reinforcement that goes from foreign direct investment to the creation of monetary paradises where they hide their money, leading to the overvalued financial sector and again, the exploitation of the countries in which this occurs.
See full text here
by Immanuel Wallerstein
The depression has started. Journalists are still coyly enquiring of economists whether or not we may be entering a mere recession. Don't believe it for a minute. We are already at the beginning of a full-blown worldwide depression with extensive unemployment almost everywhere. It may take the form of a classic nominal deflation, with all its negative consequences for ordinary people. Or it might take the form, a bit less likely, of a runaway inflation, which is simply another way in which values deflate, and which is even worse for ordinary people.
The capitalist world-economy has had, for several hundred years at least, two major forms of cyclical swings. One is the so-called Kondratieff cycles that historically were 50-60 years in length. And the other is the hegemonic cycles which are much longer.
In terms of the hegemonic cycles, the United States was a rising contender for hegemony as of 1873, achieved full hegemonic dominance in 1945, and has been slowly declining since the 1970s. George W. Bush's follies have transformed a slow decline into a precipitate one. And as of now, we are past any semblance of U.S. hegemony. We have entered, as normally happens, a multipolar world. The United States remains a strong power, perhaps still the strongest, but it will continue to decline relative to other powers in the decades to come. There is not much that anyone can do to change this.
The Kondratieff cycles have a different timing. The world came out of the last Kondratieff B-phase in 1945, and then had the strongest A-phase upturn in the history of the modern world-system. It reached its height circa 1967-73, and started on its downturn. This B-phase has gone on much longer than previous B-phases and we are still in it.
The characteristics of a Kondratieff B-phase are well-known and match what the world-economy has been experiencing since the 1970s. Profit rates from productive activities go down, especially in those types of production that have been most profitable. Consequently, capitalists who wish to make really high levels of profit turn to the financial arena, engaging in what is basically speculation. Productive activities, in order not to become too unprofitable, tend to move from core zones to other parts of the world-system, trading lower transactions costs for lower personnel costs. This is why jobs have been disappearing from Detroit, Essen, and Nagoya and factories have been expanding in China, India, and Brazil.
As for the speculative bubbles, some people always make a lot of money in them. But speculative bubbles always burst, sooner or later. If one asks why this Kondratieff B-phase has lasted so long, it is because the powers that be - the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and their collaborators in western Europe and Japan - have intervened in the market regularly and importantly - 1987 (stock market plunge), 1989 (savings-and-loan collapse), 1997 (East Asian financial fall), 1998 (Long Term Capital Management mismanagement), 2001-2002 (Enron) - to shore up the world-economy. They learned the lessons of previous Kondratieff B-phases, and the powers that be thought they could beat the system. But there are intrinsic limits to doing this. And we have now reached them, as Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke are learning to their chagrin and probably amazement. This time, it will not be so easy, probably impossible, to avert the worst.
In the past, once a depression wreaked its havoc, the world-economy picked up again, on the basis of innovations that could be quasi-monopolized for a while. So, when people say that the stock market will rise again, this is what they are thinking will happen, this time as in the past, after all the damage has been done to the world's populations. And maybe it will, in a few years or so.
There is however something new that may interfere with this nice cyclical pattern that has sustained the capitalist system for some 500 years. The structural trends may interfere with the cyclical patterns. The basic structural features of capitalism as a world-system operate by certain rules that can be drawn on a chart as a moving upward equilibrium. The problem, as with all structural equilibria of all systems, is that over time the curves tend to move far from equilibrium and it becomes impossible to bring them back to equilibrium.
What has made the system move so far from equilibrium? In very brief, it is because over 500 years the three basic costs of capitalist production - personnel, inputs, and taxation - have steadily risen as a percentage of possible sales price, such that today they make it impossible to obtain the large profits from quasi-monopolized production that have always been the basis of significant capital accumulation. It is not because capitalism is failing at what it does best. It is precisely because it has been doing it so well that it has finally undermined the basis of future accumulation.
What happens when we reach such a point is that the system bifurcates (in the language of complexity studies). The immediate consequence is high chaotic turbulence, which our world-system is experiencing at the moment and will continue to experience for perhaps another 20-50 years. As everyone pushes in whatever direction they think immediately best for each of them, a new order will emerge out of the chaos along one of two alternate and very different paths.
We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive. What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual pressures. But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times.
As for our immediate short-run ad interim prospects, it is clear what is happening everywhere. We have been moving into a protectionist world (forget about so-called globalization). We have been moving into a much larger direct role of government in production. Even the United States and Great Britain are partially nationalizing the banks and the dying big industries. We are moving into populist government-led redistribution, which can take left-of-center social-democratic forms or far right authoritarian forms. And we are moving into acute social conflict within states, as everyone competes over the smaller pie. In the short-run, it is not, by and large, a pretty picture.