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A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World

October 24, 2007

By Perry, Matthew L

Robinson, William I. A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 200 pp. William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, admits that his views on global capitalism are controversial. To articulate his theory and present it more comprehensibly to a wide audience ranging from scholarly circles to the general public, Robinson has attempted to unify his recently posited theories about global capitalism in the book under review. The task requires not only a careful and clear presentation tof a difficult subject, but also an examination of the history of capitalism, a discussion of past and present economic and social theory, and an evidentiary demonstration of global capitalism at work in today’s world. Although A Theory of Global Capitalism requires careful reading due to the often abstract nature of the subject, Robinson successfully explains his theory by defining terms that might be unfamiliar to those not versed in the social sciences. In addition, new terms introduced by Robinson are defined to avoid confusion as to their meaning and purpose.

According to Robinson, the world in which we live is witnessing the fourth epoch in the history of capitalism. The first epoch began with the end of feudalism and the rise of mercantilism; the second was identified with the industrial revolution and the formation of the bourgeoisie and the modern nation-state; and the third came into being with corporate capitalism at the dawn of the twentieth century. Currently, at the beginning of the fourth epoch, capitalism has emerged victorious in the aftermath of two global wars and the rise and fall of international socialism. In addition, capitalism has withstood the appeal of Third World liberators who sought to establish an alternative to capitalism. The world economy is currently undergoing a transition toward a global economy. Although seemingly congruous, the definitive difference between these economies lies in their respective reach. The first three stages of capitalism operated and produced from within a nation-state serving a national economy and were financially linked to other nation- states through trade and the international market, while the current stage, thanks in large part to the technological advances of the late twentieth century, is more deeply intertwined with (and dependent on) a larger number of nations as the mobility of capital has allowed for the modes of production to cross borders.

As Robinson aptly demonstrates by recounting the current method of automobile manufacture, production is “decentralized and fragmented” (p. 10). Whereas once US cars were built entirely in the United States and shipped to a world market, now one finds numerous foreign automotive parts on American made vehicles. Hence, the global economy is more than internationalized; it is transnationalized . Transnationalization, Robinson argues, is more than the mobility of capital and production processes across borders. It is the integration of international production and the ability “to work as a single unit in real time” due to advances in communication technology (p. 14). Transnationalization requires a new examination of previous social, historical, and economic theories. Robinson notes, however, that breaking nation-state- centric mind sets is a difficult undertaking and requires new methods of thinking.

To prove this theory, Robinson calls for interdisciplinary cooperation in order to seek out empirical evidence of transnational ization. At a minimum, Robinson seeks to uncover indicators of a transnational economy, class, and state. To his credit, Robinson invites scrutiny of his premise and challenges the reader to reexamine history through this new lens.

In describing this transitional period in the history of capitalism. Robinson reminds the reader that his theory may become difficult to grasp due to abstract ideas and unfamiliar terms. He endeavors to promote an understanding of his theory so that it may be integrated into discussions in the classroom, the boardroom, and the living room. Furthermore, Robinson applies his theory not only to relations between the more easily recognized primary forces of the global economy, but also to the peripheral nations in the Third World. His theory is a benefit to scholars of most areas of study. In reading Robinson’s work, students of military, economic, and diplomatic history as well as various other social sciences will discover a useful tool with which to examine the world.

Matthew L. Perry Armstrong Atlantic State University

Copyright Association of Third World Studies, Inc. Fall 2007

(c) 2007 Journal of Third World Studies. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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