For all the attention globalization has received in recent years, little consensus has emerged concerning how best to understand it. For some, it is the happy product of free and rational choices; for others, it is the unfortunate outcome of impersonal forces beyond our control. It is, in turn, celebrated for the opportunities it affords and criticized for the inequalities in wealth and power it generates.
©2008 Yale University Press (P)2008 Yale University Press
"This is a major, learned and wide-ranging contribution to our understanding of the processes of globalization. Grewal, whose knowledge of sociological theory is thorough, studies globalization as the development of a complex and often contentious civil society across borders. He focuses on the diverse forms of network power and on the conflicts among conceptions of cooperation (particularly in the world economy). He also pays attention to the battle between this civil society of multiple networks, and the political sphere of multiple sovereignties that have not abdicated their traditional powers. An indispensable work." (Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University)
I am the author of two books on global issues, who listens to at least a hundred serious non-fiction books a year.
Network Power is special for a number of reasons. It is a robust theory of networks and their power to influence and shape our choices that can be applied across multiple domains. We are drawn into dominate language networks, prevailing economic systems, hegemonic cultures, monetary regimes - often through choice and yet as if against our will. Grewal fleshes out the dynamics of network power and how it differs from legal power and sheer force. The presence of a network delimits our horizons of opportunity, thereby giving shape to the paths we might or might not take in life. In this sense, it controls our choices, which nevertheless remain our own.
In this masterful work, Grewal manages to develop what appears to be a completely new theoretical model. Perhaps it exists elsewhere, but in reading anywhere from a hundred to a couple of hundred serious non-fiction books a year, for the last couple of decades, I have not come across anything like this. After all this reading, giving such a compliment has become vanishingly rare. This book really challenged me to think afresh.
That it is so strikingly original and so widely applicable at the same time makes it a book deserving several readings. You should expect to give it some attention, for it is abstract enough to require serious attention. There is no light storytelling here or grabbing narrative. And there is really no need. The ideas stand on their own and continue to be freshly applied through to the end.
If you want to understand globalization on a profound level and contextualize the facts, I can think of no better place to start or finish your studies. If you have not yet heard of Grewal, perhaps it is because he is still very young. So much the better. If all goes well, we should expect to be hearing from him and about him for several decades to come.
This engaging book presents the remarkable positive potential of social networks in wielding power, but also exposes the darker side of such power as it inexorably moves to a collectively self-inflicted conformity that can constrain choice. As a Harvard doctoral student in political science (or "government" as people in the old yard like to call it), the author is clearly well-versed in all the theoretical literature on the topic. While the book is written in a fairly accessible narrative, occasionally some rather cerebral passages make their way as well that may put off a casual reader of globalization.
Grewal is particularly concerned about globalization in its darker context since he believes that "everything is being globalized except politics". He is referring to our tendency to move towards common norms on language, dress and other harmonizing influences of globalization.
Coming from a multi-ethnic family with roots in America and India, he is perhaps personally influenced by this constant challenge between positive conformity and cultural dilution.
Grewal gives examples of the historical dominance of the gold standard and the growing dominance of English as a language to make his point. He also considers other areas where network power has encountered difficulties such as the failure of global trade talks in 2008. He does not have much sympathy for the collapse of the Doha Round of trade talks because the network power generated by this kind of system would have required a "suppression of democratic politics at a national level".
However, Grewal is perhaps too sanguine about the triumph of national politics, given various other challenges that confront us on a planetary scale. Environmental governance necessitates making connections across intrinsic ecological networks that are endowed by nature and often influenced negatively by anarchic human behavior. This is where making as many connections between individuals and societies in a systems-oriented approach to politics is so vitally consequential.
Grewal clearly has a bright future ahead as a scholar, and his voice will assume more clarity in years to come -- for a first book this is a commendable achievement.
Sets out to describe a way of thinking about how decisions are influenced by norms. It emphasises in particular how norms or standards sit on a network can be more important to their propagation and longevity than their intrinsic value. There are a number of thorough examples and the analysis is qualitative, and (mostly) modest in what it tries to convince the reader. I feel a little conflicted in that it is refreshing for a book not to overreach much in the scope of the theory, but at the same time leave wanting for a deeper application of network theory to the propagation of politics and technical standards. The implications toward policy at the end leave with what felt to me like a desperate faith in lawmaking because a more cynical view of our ability to intentionally and effectively control network dynamics would have been too nihilistic to conclude with. Overall it was a consistently interesting Introduction to a paradigm that hopefully can be further developed going forward.
Listened to 50", then skimmed through another half of book. The author analyzed and dissected, ad nauseam, the many obvious factors boding for and against the adoption of "standards" of commerce and culture by other nations and groups. Very general analysis, with only occasional examples of what he was talking about; very academic. One of the most boring books I've listened to.
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