Understanding Waves of Globalization and Resistance

in the Capitalist  World(-)System*:

 Social Movements and Critical Global(ization) Studies


Christopher Chase-Dunn <chriscd@mail.ucr.edu>

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California, Riverside


Barry Gills <gills@hawaii.edu>

University of Hawaii



Abstract: The world(-)systems* perspective provides a useful framework for discerning the continuities and discontinuities (emergent properties) of long historical waves of global integration (globalization) and social resistance to (capitalist) globalization.. The capitalist world(-)system has experienced long cycles of economic and political integration for centuries and these have been interspersed by periods of social resistance to capitalist globalization, in which disadvantaged, exploited and dominated groups contest the hierarchies that global capitalism and hegemonic states have constructed. In the contemporary period the intensification of capitalist globalization has been accompanied by a strengthening of social resistance and the emergence of new social movements that resist neoliberal globalization and attempt to build alternatives. Careful study of these long waves of globalization and resistance can provide us with important insights that are relevant to the task of building a more humane and democratic global commonwealth in the 21st century. Research and teaching on the role of the new social movements and the historical dialectic between globalization, resistance, and democratization should be a central aspect of the new critical Global(ization) Studies.


To be presented at the conference on Critical Globalization Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, May 2-4, 2003. V. 4-30-03 (xxxx words) This paper is available on the web at https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows12/irows12.htm

*This odd construction is meant to signify both the presence and the absence of the hyphen. See page four.


Waves of Decolonization, 1750-2000:  Henige 1970. Colonial empires of Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and France were coded. 


“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


The debate on the politics of globalization and resistance is being simplified by advocates of neoliberalism into a binary opposition between  (good and right) pro-globalization (read neoliberal corporate led economic globalization) and (bad and wrong)  ‘anti-globalization’ forces who are depicted as first cousins of the Luddites, i.e. wrong headed fools opposing the natural laws of historical development and the march of progress. However, it is our view that we need to avoid this dichotomy, which represents social forces of resistance to neoliberalism around the globe as merely a reaction, or simply a ‘negative’ ‘anti-globalization’ protest. At this point in history, the only truly ‘anti-globalization’ forces are extremists of nationalist or fundamentalist bent (in whatever religion, including Christianity and Hinduism) and extreme ‘localists’ of any bent. Indeed, all of these forces are ‘bent’ and tend to be reactionary.

Everyone else engaged with the new politics of globalization are actually  ‘for’ some version of a preferred globalization or some ‘alternative globalization, for example under the slogan from the World Social Forum -- ‘Another World is Possible.’  In other words, even the resistance to neoliberal capitalist globalization is largely becoming a global social movement for ‘another globalization’, one not based on narrow corporate interests and leadership, but rather a globalization reflecting the broad popular interest and based on values of social justice, equality, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the politics of resistance to neoliberal globalization (Gills 2000) is perhaps not best characterized as a ‘backlash’  (Broad 2002), but rather has a historical set of social forces engendered by the conditions of contemporary global capitalism but seeking to transform social relations and the global system. These social forces are therefore fundamentally progressive rather than reactive. It is true that among the progressives there are differences with regard to the analysis of the historical situation, the emphasis on one or another aspect of global social problems, and also with regard to strategies for overcoming the inadequacies of the current global social order. Some emphasize local self-reliance while others focus on the reform or transformation of global institutions. Critical Global(ization) Studies should make the study of the role of these social movements, past, present and future, a central aspect of its approach to constructing knowledge and contributing to social change.


            The study of world historical systems (including comparative analysis of different world(-) systems) uses whole world(-)systems (i.e. intersocietal interaction networks) as the unit of analysis to describe and explain social change. All world(-)systems, large and small, experience oscillations in which interaction networks expand and larger-scale interactions become denser, and then the networks contract spatially and large scale interactions decrease in intensity. These historical oscillations, which we term “pulsations,” have even been found also even in a very small-scale world(-)system in Northern California before this region was incorporated into the expanding Europe-centered world-system (Chase-Dunn and Mann 1998) as well as in the very large scale ‘Afro-Eurasian world system’ (Gills and Frank 1992) In this paper we will provide a conceptualization of globalization that sees recent waves of international and transnational integration in the modern world(-)system as a continuation of the pulsations of  intersocietal interaction networks that have been occurring in world

(-)systems for millennia. We will seek to comprehend both the continuities and the discontinuities or newly emergent properties that have occurred in the  long waves of globalization and resistance.

The scientific study of globalization should begin with the recognition that globalization is a contested concept (Gills 2000). One reason why there is so much confusion and contention about the meaning of globalization is that it is both a political ideology and a long-term structural process of spatial integration of formerly unconnected or only loosely connected peoples. In order to sort this out we distinguish between what we call structural globalization – the expansion and intensification of large-scale interaction networks relative to more local interactions (Tilly 1995),[1] and the “globalization project” (McMichael 2000) – a specific political ideology that glorifies the efficiency of markets and privately held firms in order to attack labor unions, entitlements and other institutions that have protected the incomes of workers. This neoliberal political ideology emerged as Reaganism-Thatcherism in the 1970s and then spread to almost all state-level and international institutions as the “Washington Consensus.” The ideological hegemony of neoliberalism was bolstered by new developments in information technology that were used to justify privatization, deregulation, streamlining and downsizing of organizations across the world. Neoliberalism replaced an earlier dominant paradigm – Keynesian national development – that focused state policies on the development of industrial capabilities in the context of institutions that were designed to increase the purchasing power of workers. Neoliberals adopted several of the tactics and some of the ideological principles of the 1968 New Left – the attack on bureaucracies, direct action protests, and support for selected opposition movements in the non-core.

     We will study both structural globalization as integration and the globalization project in order to make sense out of contemporary world history. Structural globalization has several different but inter-related dimensions. We find it useful to distinguish between two types of economic globalization (trade and investment), and to conceptualize political and cultural globalization in terms of interaction networks that are analogous to economic globalization (Chase-Dunn 1999).  The latest wave of post World War II structural economic globalization was preceded by an earlier great wave of expanded international trade and investment in the second half of the nineteenth century (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000, O’Rourke and Williamson 2000). These waves of global economic integration were separated by a troubled trough of deglobalization and globalization backlash that included the decline of British hegemony, the Great Depression of 1873-1896 the Mexican, Russian and Chinese revolutions, the worldwide depression of the 1930s, the rise of fascism, World War II and the decolonization of the periphery.

This essay provides a brief summary of the main concepts and theoretical propositions that have come to be associated with the structural and comparative world(-)systems perspective on world history and a discussion of the implications of this approach for comprehending the contemporary period of globalization and globalization backlash.


World(-)Systems Theory

            The intellectual history of world-systems theory has roots in classical sociology, Marxian revolutionary theory, geopolitical strategizing and theories of social evolution. But in explicit form the world-systems perspective emerged only in the 1970’s when Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein began to formulate the concepts and to narrate the analytic history of the modern world-system. 


This essay uses an intentionally inclusive definition of “world(-)systems/world systems theory” (with and without the hyphen).  The use of the hyphen emphasizes the idea of the whole system, the point being that all the human interaction networks small and large, from the household to global trade, constitute the world(-)system. It is not just a matter of “international relations” or global-scale institutions such as the World Bank, etc. Rather at the present time it is all the people of the earth and all their cultural, economic and political institutions and the interactions and connections among them.  This said, the hyphen has also come, for some scholars, to connote a degree of loyalty to Wallerstein’s (2000) approach.  Other versions drop the hyphen (e.g. Denemark,, Friedman, Gills and Modelski 2000; Gills 2002) Hyphen or not, the world(-)systems approach has long been far more internally differentiated than most of its critics have understood.


We work within the tradition of world(-)systems theory. We agree on the necessity for structuralist long term historical sociological analysis of both the processes that led to the present global system going back many millennia and that there are many continuities from these historical patterns that are intrinsic to present-day capitalist accumulation and globalization patterns. We contend that a focus on capital accumulation patterns and the formation of social forces of resistance to capitalist accumulation are key elements of a world(-)systems analysis of globalization.  Moreover, we both strongly agree on the necessity of maintaining a focus on the structurally reproduced inequalities and the differentiation of the core and peripheral and semiperiperhal zones of the capitalist world(-)system.  We agree that peripheral and semiperipheral zones play a very significant role not only in waves of capital accumulation on global scale but also in waves of resistance for understanding the past, the present and the future.


  The world(-)systems perspective looks at human institutions over long periods of time and employs the spatial scale that is required for comprehending whole interaction systems.  Single societies have always interacted in consequential ways with neighboring societies, and so intersocietal interaction must be studied in order to understand social change. This does not mean that all the important processes causing social change are intersocietal, but rather that enough of them are so that it is usually disastrous to ignore intersocietal relations. 


The world(-)systems perspective is neither Eurocentric nor core-centric, at least in principle.  The main idea is simple: human interaction networks have been increasing in spatial scale for millennia as new technologies of communications and transportation have been developed. With the emergence of ocean-going transportation in the fifteenth century the multicentric Afroeurasian system incorporated important parts of the Western Hemisphere. Before the incorporation of the Americas into the Afroeurasian system there were numerous local and regional world(-) systems (intersocietal networks).  Most of these became inserted into the expanding European-centered system largely by force, and their populations were mobilized to supply labor for a colonial economy that was repeatedly reorganized by the changing geopolitical and economic forces emanating from the European and (later) North American core societies.

This whole process can be understood structurally as a stratification system composed of economically and politically dominant core societies (themselves in competition with one another) and dependent peripheral and semiperipheral regions, a few of which have been successful in improving their positions in the larger core/periphery hierarchy, while most have simply maintained their relative positions as the whole system develops. 

            This structural perspective on world history allows us to analyze the cyclical features of social change and the long-term trends of development in historical and comparative perspective. We can see the development of the modern world(-)system as driven primarily by capitalist accumulation and geopolitics in which businesses and states compete with one another for power and wealth.  Competition among states and capitals is conditioned by the dynamics of struggle among classes and by the resistance of peripheral and semiperipheral peoples to domination and exploitation from the core.  In the modern world(-)system the semiperiphery is composed of large and powerful countries in the Third World (e.g. Mexico, India, Brazil, China) as well as smaller countries that have intermediate levels of economic development (e.g. the East Asian NICs). It is not possible to understand the history of social change in the system as a whole without taking into account both the strategies of the winners and the strategies and organizational actions of those who have resisted domination and exploitation.

            It is also difficult to understand why and where innovative social change emerges without a conceptualization of the world-system as a whole. New organizational forms that transform institutions and that lead to upward mobility most often emerge from societies in semiperipheral locations.  Thus all the countries that became hegemonic core states in the modern system had formerly been semiperipheral (the Dutch, the British, and the United States). This is a continuation of a long-term pattern of social evolution that Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) have called “semiperipheral development.” Historically, it can be argues that  Semiperipheral marcher states and semiperipheral capitalist city-states often acted as the agents of empire formation and commercialization, for millennia. This phenomenon arguably also includes organizational innovations in contemporary semiperipheral countries (e.g. Mexico, India, South Korea, Brazil) that may transform the now-global system.

This approach requires that we think structurally. We must be able to abstract from the particularities of the game of musical chairs that constitutes uneven development in the system to see the structural continuities.  The core/periphery hierarchy remains, though some countries have moved up or down.  The interstate system remains, though the internationalization of capital has further constrained the abilities of states to structure national economies.  States have always been subjected to larger geopolitical and economic forces in the world-system and, as is still the case, some have been more successful at exploiting opportunities and protecting themselves from liabilities than others.

In this perspective many of the phenomena that have been called “globalization” correspond to recently expanded international trade, financial flows and foreign investment by transnational corporations and banks. The globalization discourse generally assumes that until recently there were separate national societies and economies, and that these have now been superseded by an expansion of international integration driven by information and transportation technologies.  Rather than a wholly unique and new phenomenon, globalization is primarily international economic integration, and as such it is a feature of world-systems that has been oscillating as well as increasing for centuries. Recent research comparing the 19th and 20th centuries has shown that trade globalization is both a cycle and a trend (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000).

The Great Chartered Companies of the seventeenth century were already playing an important role in shaping the development of world regions. Certainly the transnational corporations of the present are much more important players, but the point is that “foreign investment’ is not an institution that only became important since 1970 (nor since World War II).  Giovanni Arrighi (1994) has shown that finance capital has been a central component of the commanding heights of the world-system since the fourteenth century.  The current floods and ebbs of world money are typical of the late phase of very long “systemic cycles of accumulation.”

            An inclusive bounding of the circle of world(-)system scholarship should include all those who see the global system of the late 20th century as having important systemic continuities with the nearly-global system of the 19th century.  While this is a growing and interdisciplinary band, the temporal depth criterion excludes most of the breathless globalization scholars who see such radical recent discontinuities that they need know nothing about what happened before 1960. The information age, the New Economy, global cities, the transnational capitalist class, and other hypothetically new and radical departures are seen as digging a huge chasm between recent decades and earlier world history. Those who believe that everything has changed must be subjected to some historically grounded criticism.

            A second criterion that might be invoked to draw a boundary around

world(-)systems scholarship is a concern for analyzing international stratification, what some world(-)system analysts call the core/periphery hierarchy.  Certainly this was a primary focus for Wallerstein, Amin and the classical Gunder Frank.  These progenitors were themselves influenced by the Latin American dependency school and by the Third Worldism of Monthly Review Marxism. Wallerstein was an Africanist when he discovered Fernand Braudel and Marion Malowist and the dependent development of Eastern Europe in the long sixteenth century.  The epiphany that Latin America and Africa were like Eastern Europe – that they had all been peripheralized and underdeveloped by core exploitation and domination over a period of centuries -- mushroomed into the idea that international stratification is a fundamental part of capitalist development and that core/periphery inequalities are systematically reproduced.

It is possible to have good temporal depth but still to ignore the periphery and the dynamics of global inequalities.  The important theoretical and empirical work of political scientists George Modelski and William R. Thompson (1996) is an example. Modelski and Thompson theorize a “power cycle” in which “system leaders” rise and fall since the Portuguese led European expansion in the 15th century. They also study the important phenomenon of “new lead industries” and the way in which the Kondratieff Wave, a 40 to 60 year business cycle, is regularly related to the rise and decline of “system leaders.” Modelski and Thompson largely ignore core/periphery relations to concentrate on the “great powers.” But so does Giovanni Arrighi’s (1994) masterful 600-year examination of “systemic cycles of accumulation.”  Andre Gunder Frank’s(1998) latest work on economic history shines the spotlight on the centrality of Asia before 1750 and particularly on China in the Afroeurasian world(-) system. Frank argues that the rise of European power to global hegemony occurred in the period between approximately 1750-1800.[2] However, his analysis of this transition does not focus on core/periphery exploitation.

So too does the “world polity school” led by sociologist John W. Meyer (1997). This institutionalist approach adds a valuable sensitivity to the civilizational assumptions of Western Christendom and their diffusion from the core to the periphery. But rather than a dynamic struggle with authentic resistance from the periphery and the semiperiphery, the world polity school stresses how the discourses of resistance, national self-determination and individual liberties have mainly been constructed out of the assumptions of the European Enlightenment. This is not entirely wrong, but the focus on the diffusion of ideology deflects attention from the real expansion of material global inequalities and the instances in which indigenous cultures contributed to effective resistance.

 Most world-systems scholars contend that leaving out the core/periphery dimension or treating the periphery as inert are grave mistakes, not only for reasons of completeness, but also because the ability of core capitalists and their states to exploit peripheral resources and labor has been a major factor in deciding the winners of the competition among core contenders. And the resistance to exploitation and domination mounted by peripheral peoples has played a powerful role in shaping the historical development of world orders (Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000).  The comparison of the modern world-system with earlier regional systems has also revealed that all hierarchical world-systems have experienced a process of semiperipheral development in which some of the societies “in the middle” innovate and implement new technologies of power that drive the processes of expansion and systemic transformation (see below).  Thus world history cannot be properly understood without attention to the core/periphery hierarchy.


Comparing World-Systems

            It is often assumed that world-systems must necessarily be of large geographical scale. But systemness means that groups are tightly wound, so that an event in one place has important consequences for people in another place. By that criterion, intersocietal systems have only become global (Earth-wide) with the emergence of intercontinental sea faring. Earlier world-systems were smaller regional affairs. An important determinant of system size is the kind of transportation and communications technologies that are available. At the very small extreme we have intergroup networks of sedentary foragers who primarily used “backpacking” to transport goods. This kind of hauling produces rather local networks.  Such small systems still existed until the 19th century in some regions of North America, and Australia. But they were similar in many respects to small world(-)systems all over the Earth before the emergence of states.  An important theoretical task is to specify how to bound the spatial scale of human interaction networks (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997).  Working this out makes it possible to compare small, medium-sized and large world(-)systems, and to use world(-)systems concepts to rethink theories of human  social evolution on a millennial time scale.

            Anthropologists and archaeologists have been doing just that. Kasja Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman (1982) have pioneered what they have called “global anthropology,” by which they mean regional intersocietal systems that expanded to become the Earth-wide system of today.[3] Archaeologists studying the U.S. Southwest, provoked by the theorizing and excavations of Charles DiPeso, began using world-systems concepts to understand regional relations and interactions with Mesoamerica (e.g. Wilcox 1986). It was archaeologist Phil Kohl (1979) who first applied and critiqued the idea of core/periphery relations in ancient Western Asia and Mesopotamia. Guillermo Algaze’s (1993) The Uruk World System is a major contribution, as is Gil Stein’s (1999) careful examination of the relationship between his village on the upper Tigris and the powerful Uruk core state. Stein develops important new concepts for understanding core/periphery relations in early state systems. Research and theoretical debates among Mesoamericanists has also mushroomed (e.g. Blanton and Feinman 1984). And Peter Peregrine’s (1992) innovative interpretation of the Mississippian world-system as a Friedmanesque prestige goods system has cajoled and provoked the defenders of local archaeological turf to reconsider the possibilities of larger scale interaction networks in the territory that eventually became the United States of America (see also Chase-Dunn and Hall 1998). 


Metatheoretical Issues

Especially for Wallerstein, the study of the modern world-system was explicitly delineated as a perspective rather than a theory or a set of theories. A terminology was deployed to tell the story. The guiding ideas were explicitly not a set of precisely defined concepts being used to formulate theoretical explanations.  Universalistic theoretical explanations were rejected and the historicity of all social science was embraced. Indeed, Wallerstein radically collapsed the metatheoretical opposites of nomothetic ahistoricism/ideographic historicism into the contradictory unity of “historical systems.”  Efforts to formalize a theory or theories out of the resulting analytic narratives are only confounded if they assume that the changing meanings of “concepts” are unintentional. Rather there has been sensitivity to context and difference that has abjured specifying definitions and formalizing propositions.

                Thomas Richard Shannon’s (1996) Introduction to the World-Systems Perspective remains the most valuable tool for introducing the main ideas to undergraduates. But Shannon displays a misplaced exasperation when he encounters apparently inconsistent terminological usages in Wallerstein’s work. This is because Shannon’s effort to explicate assumes a single and unvarying set of meanings, while Wallerstein allows his vocabulary to adapt to the historical context that it is being used to analyze.

            Some theorists have adopted a more nomothetic and structuralist approach to world-systems theory with the understanding that model building can interact fruitfully with the more historicist approach.  All macrosociologists may be arrayed along a continuum from purely nomothetic ahistoricism to completely descriptive idiographic historicism.  The possible metatheoretical stances are not two, but many, depending on the extent to which different institutional realms are thought to be law-like or contingent and conjunctural.  Fernand Braudel was more historicist than Wallerstein. Samir Amin, an economist, is more nomothetic.  Giovanni Arrighi’s (1994) monumental work on 600 years of “systemic cycles of accumulation” sees qualitative differences in each hegemony, while Wallerstein, despite his aversion to explicating models, sees rather more continuity in the logic of the system, even extending to the most recent era of globalization.  Andre Gunder Frank (1998) now argues that there was no transition to capitalism in the modern era, and that the logic of “capital imperialism” has not changed since the emergence of cities and states in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago.  Metatheory comes before theory. It focuses our theoretical spotlight on some questions while leaving others in the shadows. 


Globalization and Contemporary Social Movements of Resistance

Because of alleged overemphasis on large-scale social structures like the core/periphery hierarchy, some critics have asserted that the world(-)systems perspective denies the possibility of agency. On the contrary, the focus is on both how successful power-holders concoct new strategies of domination and exploitation, and how dominated and exploited peoples struggle to protect themselves and build new institutions for social justice. The structuralist aspects of the world(-)systems perspective make it more possible to understand where the agency of social forces is more likely to be successful, and perhaps where not. 

            Phillip McMichael (2000) has studied the “globalization project” – the abandoning of Keynesian models of national development and a new (or renewed) emphasis on deregulation and opening national commodity and financial markets to foreign trade and investment.  This approach focuses on the ideological aspects of the recent wave of international economic integration. The term many prefer for this turn in global discourse is “neo-liberalism” but it has also been called “Reaganism/Thatcherism” and the “Washington Consensus.” The worldwide decline of the political Left predated the revolutions of 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union, but it was certainly also accelerated by these events. 

It has been argued that the main structural basis of the rise of the globalization project is the new level of integration reached by the global capitalist class. The internationalization of capital has long been an important part of the trend toward economic globalization. And there have been many claims to represent the general interests of business before. Indeed every modern hegemon has made this claim. But the real integration of the interests of capitalists all over the world has very likely reached a level greater than at the peak of the nineteenth century wave of globalization.

This is the part of the theory of a global stage of capitalism that must be taken most seriously, though it can certainly be over-stated.  The world(-)system has now reached a point at which both the old interstate system based on separate national capitalist classes, and new institutions representing the global interests of capital exist, and are powerful simultaneously In this sense, the old inter-state system now co-exists with a more globalized or ‘transnationalized’ world economic system brought about by the past two decades of neoliberal economic globalization. In this light each country can be seen to have an important ruling class or capitalist class fraction that is allied with the transnational capitalist class. A central question is whether or not this (new) level of transnational class integration will be strong enough to prevent competition among states for world hegemony from turning into warfare, as it has always done in the past, during a period in which a reigning hegemon (i.e. the United States) is  entering  its declining phase  (Chase-Dunn and Podobnik 1995).

            Neo-liberalism began as the Reagan-Thatcher attack on the welfare state and labor unions. It evolved into the Structural Adjustment Policies of the International Monetary Fund and the triumphalism of the ideologues of corporate globalization after the demise of the Soviet Union.  In United States foreign policy it has found expression in a new emphasis on “democracy promotion” in the periphery and semiperiphery.  Rather than propping up military dictatorships in Latin America, the emphasis has shifted toward coordinated action between the C.I.A and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy to promote electoral institutions in Latin America and other semiperipheral and peripheral regions.   William I. Robinson (1994) and Barry Gills et. al (1993) point out that the kind of “low intensity democracy” being promoted by global and national neoliberal elites is really best understood as a regime form in which elites orchestrate a process of electoral competition and governance that legitimates state power and undercuts more radical political alternatives that might threaten their ability to maintain their wealth and power by exploiting workers and peasants. Robinson convincingly argues that ‘polyarchy’ and democracy-promotion are the political forms that are most congruent with a globalized and neo-liberal world economy in which capital is given free reign to generate accumulation wherever profits are greatest. Gills et. al. (1993) argued that low intensity democracy is a form that facilitates the imposition of neoliberal economic policies, including liberalization, marketization and privatization, the three pillars of the Washington Consensus.

            The insight that capitalist globalization has occurred in waves, and that these waves of integration are followed by periods of resistance to capitalist globalization, has important implications for the future. Capitalist globalization increased both intranational and international inequalities in the nineteenth century (O’Rourke and Williamson 2000) and it has done the same thing in the late twentieth century. Those countries and groups that are left out of the “belle époque” either mobilize to challenge the hegemony of the powerful or they retreat into self-reliance, or both. Globalization protests emerged in the non-core with the anti-IMF riots of the 1980s. The several transnational social movements that participated in the 1999 protest in Seattle brought globalization protest to the attention of observers in the core, and this resistance to capitalist globalization has continued and grown despite the setback that occurred in response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 (Podobnik 2003). The recent global antiwar demonstrations against the Bush administration’s “preventative” war against Iraq have involved many of the same movements as well as some new recruits. The several transnational social movements face difficult problems of forming alliances and cooperative action. The idea of semiperipheral development implies that support for more democratic institutions of global governance will come from democratic socialist regimes that come to power in the semiperiphery. This has already happened in Brazil, where the new labor government strongly supports the movement for global social justice.

            There is an apparent tension between those who advocate deglobalization and delinking from the global capitalist economy and the building of stronger, more cooperative and self-reliant social relations in the periphery and semiperiphery (e.g. Bello 2003, Amin 1998), on the one hand, and those who seek to mobilize support for new, or reformed institutions of democratic global governance. But in fact these strategies are complementary, and each can benefit by supporting the other. Self-reliance by itself, though an understandable reaction to exploitation, is not likely to solve the problems of humanity in the long run. The great challenge of the twenty-first century will be the building of a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth. World(-)systems theory can be an important contributor to this effort.

The intensification of trans-border or transnational economic interaction, including global financial flows, requires a corresponding transnational social and political response and elicits precisely this response from social forces. As Barry Gills has argued, “to the extent that there is now… already a truly global economic system based on the free movement of capital, then there is also an objective and logical need for new forms of global political order to accompany this global economic system”(Gills 2002: 160) The primary questions are how such a new global political architecture will be built and whose interests will it represent- the global elite or the global popular majority? While many governments and political parties seem captured by neoliberal dogma, the new social movements appear to have more maneuverability and better potential to bridge the gap between national and global political spheres. It is precisely because neoliberal elites and governments are constraining the ability of governments and traditional political parties to pursue substantive democracy and social justice that neoliberal globalization can be understood to be activating new social movements across the globe.  So widespread and so deep are the deleterious effects of neoliberalism that it works to stimulate people into action in defense of their own interests. (Gills 2000) Therefore, the new political economy of neoliberal globalization encourages a great diversity of movements and more over creates both the objective need and the material conditions for these movements to unify at global level. Thus the globalization of capitalist economics leads directly to the globalization of political activism.

It is not a coincidence that the new global social movements of resistance are led primarily from the South, i.e. from the global periphery and semiperiphery.  This composition of social forces of resistance reflects the fact that much of the gains of neoliberal economic globalization have been at the expense of the South and among its poor or working majority.  The advent of better global communications has served not only the expansion of global capital but also the expansion of global solidarity among resistance forces. We can call this ‘the globalization of resistance’. With such a broad array of social forces coming into action and able to communicate with one another, even to meet physically, it is natural that global solidarity movements pursue a politics that is not only more participatory and direct but also more inclusive than in the past. This is useful in order to mobilize the maximum strength of global social forces in opposition to corporate led neoliberal globalization, and in the post 9/11 era, in opposition to war.  Opposition to corporate control of the global economy and globalization is the over-arching theme unifying the social movements of resistance (Broad 2002, p. 3) However, positive values also characterize these movements, which are ultimately about reinvigorating a politics based on grassroots motivation, participation, democracy, decentralization and autonomy, while at the same time striving to build bridges and solidarities.

The core values of the new global social movements of resistance include non-violent struggle, democratic practice, social justice, inclusiveness, secularism (as opposed to religious fundamentalism), peace (in opposition to the use of force in international affairs), solidarity (in opposition to localism, parochialism and narrow nationalism or chauvinism) and equality (including opposition to patriarchal forms of oppression against women as well as class, caste, and ethnic based discrimination).

The new movements differ in important ways from those that characterized the earlier wave of resistance to colonialism and imperialism in this century. Unlike the traditional armed revolutionary movements, with their focus on taking state power, and the traditional left parties, with their too often typical hierarchical discipline and single ideologies, the new movements do not seek violent revolution or the capture of state power to this end. There is now a much more diffuse pattern of ideas and organization that characterizes many of the new movements, and there is a higher participation by women and other previously marginalized groups. The diverse and often ad hoc nature of these social movements and their spontaneity and autonomy can make them appear somewhat disorganized. However, the movements themselves recognize this situation but are not prepared to attempt to unify all the movements under a single ideology (even a general one such as ‘anti-capitalist’), organization, or party.  Rather, there primary goal today appears to be to create a new political space at national, regional and global levels in which the many movements can meet together and share experiences of action and resistance, and sometimes plan or take common actions based on areas of agreement.  The World Social Forum, which met for the third annual gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January 2003, continues to argue for this approach and for an open and plural process that works with a great diversity of resistances, organizations and proposals (WSF International Council, 2003). The world social movements that convene at the WSF reflect an extremely broad agenda of the new social movements of resistance. These social movements declared at Porto Alegre in 2003 that they are ‘fighting for social justice, citizenship, participatory democracy, universal rights and the right for peoples to decide their own future.’ (WSF, 2003)

To date the main features of the new social movements of resistance acting on global scale has been their focus on protests, popular education, and networking. The global protests that began in Seattle in November 1999 and continued in Washington DC, Prague, Davos, Porto Alegre, Quebec City, Genoa, Sydney, and Florence made the invisible visible, i.e. exposed the important social-political relations underlying the technical decision-making taking place in the elite led organizations that run the global economy. This was a crucial achievement of the new movements. Post 9/11 and in the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq, the movement shifted to anti-war demonstrations, with a million marching in Florence in late 2002, some 100,000 marching in Porto Alegre in January 2003, and the largest coordinated anti-war demonstrations in world history taking place in several cities in mid February 2003, including some 2 million marching in London.

However, despite all these important achievements and the momentum established to continue networking and mobilization, there is a growing self-criticism and concern among the movements that a new stage is needed if the movements are to be successful in the long term. Critics of the new movements argue that there is a serious lack of specific goals and coherent platform, and that tactics and strategy remain unclear. Weaknesses of the new form of resistance point to a lack of coherent ideology, a lack of formal organizational structure, and the lack of a common political platform and strategy to achieve its goals. The great diversity of the new movements may explain the lack of ‘coherence’ and the prudent choice to avoid a premature effort to unify all the movements in this way, but it does not relieve the anxiety that such a diffuse set of movements will suffer from inherent weaknesses or limitations on action.


The most important theoretical and practical political question facing the new social movements of global resistance is whether they are capable of acting as a ‘counter-hegemonic’ bloc in global politics and achieving significant transformation of the global system. Can they overcome the political weakness inherent in such a broad and inclusive movement and work towards achieving more coherence in organization, program and action?  Can they move beyond the initial phase of protest, education and networking and develop a more structured organizational form that allows them to enter into a position of political ‘negotiation’ with the neoliberal power structure, forcing it to make concessions to popular demands? The real challenge in this new wave of resistance to capitalist globalization is to maintain the impetus to action and to global solidarity and achieve more concrete political results. It is the diversity of the movements and their insistence on participation, inclusiveness, and autonomy that gives the new movements their real strength. However, these same qualities now challenge the global movement to solve the problem of political representation and organization in the new global politics of resistance.


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[1] Charles Tilly’s (1995:1-2) definition of globalization is “…an increase in the geographic range of locally consequential social interactions, especially when that increase stretches a significant proportion of all interactions across international or intercontinental limits.” In this sense globalization only become global (i.e. Earth-wide) after the emergence of intercontinental transportation, and once it had become global it could no longer get larger, but the big interaction networks could become denser.  Thus recent waves of globalization involve increases in large-scale interactions relative to the total among of interaction.

[2] But see Chase-Dunn and Manning (2002) for evidence that the European rise began in the 12th century.

[3] See http://www.globalanthropology.com/