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Teaching guide: Globalisation in sociology (podcast)

These podcast teaching guides cover topics from our AS and A-level Sociology specifications. You can download them below.

Podcast 2: Globalisation in sociology

Globalisation is integrated within our topics at AS and A-level. Let us give you an overview of globalisation, and ideas on how you could deliver it to your students through a range of examples for different topics.


Hello and welcome to AQA’s sociology podcast aimed at supporting your teaching of our new AS and A-level Sociology specifications. This podcast aims to give you an overview and guidance on delivering the concept of globalisation to your AS and A-level students.

The first thing to point out is that the concept of globalisation is now important in each topic area of the specifications. In the legacy specification globalisation was only part of some topic areas, such as Crime and deviance and Global development, but now integrating it into your teaching of topics such as Education, and Families and households may well be something you haven’t done before. This podcast will focus first on the concept of globalisation itself, and then on ways in which you can incorporate it into your new schemes of work.

Globalisation became a popular idea, both in sociology and more widely, towards the end of the twentieth century. There were several reasons for this, including advances in travel and in communications and media technology; distant parts of the world were brought into greater contact with each other. It became clear that many issues and problems, including economic and environmental ones, were global in scale and that governments and people of the world would have to work together. The idea that we all share one small planet became popular, helped by, for example, the famous ‘Earthrise’ image of the planet from space.

While the term globalisation is new, global or international approaches are nothing new in sociology; the founding fathers all looked well beyond their home countries. It has become conventional to talk about globalisation having three main aspects: cultural, political and economic. While the cultural aspects are the ones that are most central to sociology’s traditional concerns, globalisation is best studied in an interdisciplinary way, drawing on other social sciences.

Most sociologists agree that what we can call generic globalisation has been happening. There is plenty of evidence in, for example, the global origins of the food and other products we consume, our awareness of events and life in distant places and the ease and low cost of communications. But beyond this there are disagreements. There are continuing linked debates about globalisation: about how it should be defined, how long it has been going on, who benefits from it and who loses out, whether overall it’s a good thing or not and whether it can be slowed or reversed. Due to the different positions sociologists take on these issues and the different combinations of views possible, it’s not as easy to classify the positions of sociologists and others as it sometimes is with other topics.

Broadly speaking, however, we can say that there are globalists, those who see globalisation as a new and overwhelmingly important development of our age, transforming social life; and others, sometimes referred to as traditionalists, who are more sceptical and see globalisation today as the latest stage in a long historical process and one which has not gone as far as the globalists claim.

Globalists tend to see globalisation as the global spread of capitalism. Some globalists are neo-liberals. Advocates of the free market argue that bringing the whole world into the capitalist system will create growth and that through the ‘trickle down’ effect even poorer people in poorer countries will see their lives improve. But there are also those who take a radical view, negative globalists, who see the global spread of capitalism as only leading to intensified exploitation of people and degradation of the environment. For them, globalisation means a growing global divide between rich and poor. Capitalism takes with it as it spreads globally, a materialistic, consumerist lifestyle which will wipe out traditional values; this is the cultural imperialist view. Your students may be interested here in attempts such as the New Economics foundation’s happy planet index or Bhutan’s gross national happiness to try to measure the well-being of societies by looking beyond the material.

Not all see globalisation as inevitably having positive or negative effects. If globalisation is a juggernaut, as a common metaphor suggests, perhaps we can steer it in a direction we choose. Transformationalists see globalisation as changing the world but not in pre-determined ways. For example, where the global pessimists see Western or American culture obliterating all in its path, they point to the hybrid and creole adaptations, to the popularity of, for example, aspects of Eastern culture in the West such as Bollywood, yoga, ‘ethnic’ jewellery and clothing, and Japanese children’s characters such as Pokemon. They suggest that what happens when two cultures meet may be a dynamic blending or transformation.

Many writers on globalisation emphasise that its effects can be seen locally, this is referred to as glocalisation. The complexity of globalisation can be seen in the way that although there is evidence of the creation of a homogenised global culture, there is also evidence of heterogeneity, with greater interaction between cultures and greater diversity. To take a well-used example, McDonalds can spread globally so that its golden arches are recognised everywhere, but it has to adapt what it sells and the way it operates to local conditions; in India for example where for Hindus cows are sacred, there is no market for beef burgers.

Globalisation has met with resistance. In both more and less economically developed countries, many people want to retain what they see as their traditional culture and identity, resisting the influence of American or Western culture, of the English language and so on and asserting their local culture and language. This has been particularly noticeable in the Middle East and parts of Africa where rejection of Western influence has been accompanied by assertions of an Islamic identity (rather than on identity based on nation state or ethnicity). Elsewhere, people develop strong collective identities. In Scotland and Catalonia, British and Spanish identities respectively have weakened. Manuel Castells has usefully suggested three types of collective identity in the globalised world today: legitimate identities, such as citizenship, promoted by states but excluding for example non-citizens; resistance identities, where marginalised groups reject the stigmatisation of their identity; and project identities, where alternative identities are constructed. The latter include global movements such as environmentalism, which give people around the world a shared ‘green’ identity.

Globalisation has not been a smooth or continuous process, and some writers have suggested that globalisation slowed or even halted in the early twenty first century. The global economic downturn since 2008 has affected international trade and reined in the global ambitions of some corporations. Terrorism and concerns about climate change may slow down international travel. The world’s countries often fail to act together in the face of global threats and the United Nations is a long way from being a world government.

Globalisation is an established aspect of the second year of the A-level topics such as Beliefs, Global Development, Mass Media, Crime and Deviance and Stratification and Differentiation, and it’s likely teachers have incorporated globalisation into their teaching of these topics for some years. The rest of this podcast will therefore concentrate on the optional topics in the AS and A-level.

For Education, sociology students will benefit from being able to see the British education system in a global context. For example, they could learn about alternative teaching methods, such as those from China featured in the August 2015 BBC TV documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough?: Chinese School and they could discuss the relative methods of teaching approaches. Comparisons with other countries can be made too as the UK government has done, in wanting to emulate Finland’s education policies. Such comparisons can show that the basics of the UK system, the ages at which people start and end their schooling, the reliance on testing, privatisation and marketisation and the low status of vocational education, are not inevitable.

You could look at the UK’s ranking in PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) or other international rankings. The data on the PISA website, giving test results every three years for 15 year olds in 65 different countries, is very relevant for critical sociological analysis. Students can be guided to recognising, for example, that the UK has been less successful than some other countries in raising the achievement of the economically disadvantaged, but that it has a good record in the achievement of first and second generation immigrants, especially in maths.

There is also now the development of a global education market; UK universities, educational publishers and others now seek a global market. Students can also discover how, while there has been progress towards the Millennium development goal of primary education for all, many children are still not in school in less economically developed countries and others leave having achieved little because of poor quality resources and teaching. There has also been a reaction against Western style education in some countries; for example in Afghanistan where the Taliban try to prevent the education of girls, and in Nigeria where the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram (which is usually translated as ‘Western education is sinful’) have targeted schools in terrorist attacks.

For Families and households, sociology students need to be able to see British families and households in a global context. The nuclear family, often thought of as the ‘normal’ family, is far from the norm elsewhere. Students have often learned about, for example, polygamous marriages, early on in this topic and there is an opportunity now to expand this and to make international comparisons on, for example, ages at which males and females marry and the number of children they have.

Globalisation is included in the specifications in the context of demographic trends. As well as awareness of how trends in the UK have been influenced by migration (for example, immigration of working age adults has contributed to a rise in the birth rate) students will benefit from, for example, looking at why the UK population is expected to continue to grow, while population growth will slow or halt in some other Western European nations. The ageing population is a Western phenomenon and students will understand it better through comparison with countries with younger average populations such as many in Africa. Demographic trends everywhere are affected by increasing migration, which is a central feature of globalisation. The UK has many diaspora communities with strong links to their countries of origin, often with significant money transfers going to family members there. Migration has also changed in that a growing proportion of migrants are female – migration has been feminised, with many women from poorer countries working in low paid service jobs, such as childcare and domestic work, in the West.

For Culture and identity, globalisation is mentioned specifically in relation to identities. Cultural influences on lifestyles and use of the internet and social media bring young people in Britain and elsewhere into daily contact with changes arising from globalisation. More and more people have complex hybrid identities, as a result of migration or of having families from more than one culture. Many migrants move from country to country, without settling or assimilating, relying on diasporic networks; they develop what Thomas Hylland Erikson calls ‘transnational identities’. Globalisation can undermine identities based on class, ethnicity, nationality and gender as it leads to a more complex and diverse world.

For Health, the specifications refer to the globalised health industry. Our National Health Service illustrates the global nature of health care; from its beginnings it has depended very heavily on doctors and nurses from other countries. There are huge differences between countries when it comes to health care. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 showed how few doctors, nurses and hospital beds the three affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) had. These countries wouldn’t have controlled Ebola without the World Health Organisation, volunteers from other countries (including the UK) and non-profit organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières also known as Doctors Without Borders. Yet some less economically developed countries, notably Cuba, have excellent health care and relatively high life expectancy, showing that the outcomes are to some extent the result of the priorities countries set themselves.

Another aspect of global health is the power of transnational pharmaceutical companies. ‘Big Pharma’, as Ben Goldacre has called them in his book which exposes malpractice even to the extent of inventing illnesses to sell more drugs. Students could also usefully consider Wilkinson and Pickett’s view of the relationship between health and income inequality, comparing the UK with other countries.

For Work, poverty and welfare, effects of globalisation are referred to in relation to the significance of work and worklessness and people’s life chances, but students will also benefit from studying poverty and welfare globally. Globally wealth and income inequality have both increased over the last few decades, as has happened in the UK. At the global level Marxists would point to the role of transnational corporations, moving to where wages are lowest so that poor countries compete to undercut each other. In relation to work, students can consider the ways in which employment in the UK has been affected by the new international division of labour and the movement of production to where costs are lower, leading to the closing down of large sections of British industry. At the same time new jobs have been created in the UK in finance and service industries, but these jobs are highly dependent on global connections. The experience of work has changed too, with greater standardisation, the breaking up of work into small discrete tasks and greater surveillance; George Ritzer has described these changes as McDonaldisation.

Whichever topic you are tackling, you’re likely to find that your students are aware of empirical evidence and examples of globalisation from their own experiences; giving them the sociological concepts to contextualise these can lead to a greater understanding of the ways the world is changing and to greater insights.

Thank you for listening to this instalment in AQA’s series of sociology podcasts. We hope that this has helped to effectively introduce concepts of globalisation to you and ideas of how you could embed it in your topics. If you have any questions feel free to contact us by phone on 01483 477 822 or email us at sociology@aqa.org.uk. Thank you and goodbye.

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