Globalization, uneven development and economic inequality

Keywords: international political economy, social inequality, development paradigms, global governance, global justice

Organizers: Fabienne Bossuyt (Centre for EU Studies) and Michiel van Meeteren (Social and Economic Geography)

Speakers: Ben Derudder (Social and Economic Geography) and Ferdi De Ville (Centre for EU Studies)

Moderator: Michiel Van Meeteren (Social and Economic Geography)

The workshop started from the proposition that epistemic structures and programmes of mainstream social sciences in studies of ‘the global’ remain (too) closely attached to, and shaped by, the experience of modern nation-state imaginaries, typically known as ‘methodological nationalism’. Taking a human-geographical perspective, Ben Derudder’s presentation started off by indicating that this methodological nationalism (or ‘territorial trap’ in Agnew’s formulation) also applies to studies of globalization, uneven development and economic inequality. He then went on to show that territorial alternatives to this ‘methodological nationalism’ abound, but that these do not always appropriately address the territorialist assumptions associated with ‘methodological nationalism’ (i.e. treating space as a set of mutually exclusive, fixed, pre-given containers). The final part of his presentation focused on some recent geographical work that adopts a non-territorialist framework based on e.g. relational perspectives on scales and networks.  Concluding his presentation, Ben Derudder emphasized that the adoption of other territorial (i.e. non-state) scales and non-territorial lenses generates new questions and new answers, and thus enriches the scholarly knowledge on globalization, uneven development and economic inequality.

Following up on the central proposition of the workshop, Ferdi De Ville’s presentation focused on the territorial trap in EU studies, taking the Eurocrisis as an example. Challenging existing accounts of the Eurocrisis, Ferdi De Ville argued that the ‘success’ of Germany is the result of several complementarities at different scales. Hence, to explain the Eurocrisis, we need to take into account interactions between scales and analytically place economic developments in the EU within the global economy (cf. Jessop’s notion of variegated – or uneven – integration). In this context, Ferdi De Ville pointed out that we need to take into account ‘scale politics’ (cf. neoliberal nationalism, Harmes 2012). His presentation ended with the note that alternative perspectives to understanding the Eurocrisis are still rather state-centered, to the extent that they pay more attention to uneven development between states than to inequality within and across states.

The general discussion following the two presentations explored how we can apply these insights to our own studies of the ‘global’. The debate focused chiefly on the different scales on which globalization, uneven development and economic inequality manifest themselves, ranging from the global level to the regional level to the community and even the individual level. The discussion also contemplated the possible complex interactions between these different scales. Such interactions can be non-linear, but in interrelated, reciprocal causal or conditional processes. Scales may influence each other, but also factors at different scales may influence each another. This brings about important questions on how to operationalize these issues empirically in the various disciplinary backgrounds of the participants, as not every discipline is attuned to these issues. With several of the participants admitting to have a “scale problem”, possibilities were discussed on how to resolve those. This brought us to the conclusion that in studies on globalization, uneven development and economic inequality it would be interesting to examine which scales and factors are relevant for specific issues in specific contexts when studying the ‘global’. And last, but not least, further cross-fertilization of disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds in this area would be greatly beneficial.

By Fabienne Bossuyt