In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Economic Globalization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Origins of the Global Economy
  • Governance and Regulation of the Global Economy

Sociology Economic Globalization
Elizabeth Sowers
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0271


Economic globalization is a term generally used to encompass the wide variety of interrelationships, networks, and processes that integrate economies across and above nation-states. While there is much consternation in the popular press about globalization generally and economic globalization specifically that suggests that something new and never before seen is taking place, social scientists across a handful of decades offer a more tempered view, depicting a functionally integrated global economy as an historical thing that nonetheless transforms and develops over time. The rich literature that has developed on this topic draws the readers’ attention to particular historical times and processes that constitute the early formations of the global economy we know today, even as its size and scope has intensified in recent decades. In this vein, scholars have devoted much attention to specifying the key indicators of economic globalization including—to name just a few— trade, global commodity chains, foreign direct investment, and financialization. All of these processes are the means by which economies are globally interwoven through the production, distribution, and circulation of goods, information, money, culture, and people. A similar amount of scholarly attention has examined the outcomes of economic globalization, and how they vary for different actors. Here inequalities of resources and power are central focal points, including those within and among nations, between capital and labor, and within the world-system hierarchy. The impact of economic globalization on marginalized people and places, as demarcated by gender, race, migration status, and environmental locations, as well as on nation-states and their capacity to govern effectively, are also topics of much interest. Finally, scholars have examined the many important issues related to the governance and regulation of economic globalization, which as a set of processes is occurring at a higher level than the nation-state and includes an ever-shifting balance of power between a number of actors and institutional bodies. International organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, are examples of quasi-governmental organizational bodies, though of varied effectiveness, as are international financial institutions. Finally corporate regulation in the global economy remains scarce, although recently corporate social responsibility initiatives have begun to be investigated and evaluated as a type of self-regulation. Although economic globalization is nothing if not hotly contested subject matter, scholarly research provides an exciting conversation, mapped here through its origins, its contemporary state and constituent elements, its differential outcomes for various actors, and the problems and possibilities of its governance.

General Overviews and Reference Works

Economic globalization is a well-researched topic within the social sciences, and many high-quality overviews and guides exist to help orient readers to the key issues of concern and debate within the field and how they manifest in particular places at particular times. Guillén 2000 offers a concise overview of some of the key scholarly debates that shaped the development of discourse around globalization at the turn of the century, including how old a process globalization might be, how it is measured, and how its impacts manifest. While this piece is not restricted to economic globalization, but rather examines globalization in its broadest sense, there is much in this article relevant to this specific area, including concise reviews of key texts and arguments as well as the examination of economic indicators. Similarly, Turner and Holton 2019 is a comprehensive handbook of scholarly work related to globalization broadly, and its content covers issues of the economy as well as those related to politics, society, and culture, which makes this another informative read for those new to the subject matter. A similar but more focused resource is Babones and Chase-Dunn 2012, an edited handbook specific to world-systems analysis containing a wealth of information, both theoretical and methodological, for those interested in the global economy, the world-system, and economic development, both in terms of the historical processes that shape them and the contemporary dynamics that surround them. Another handbook of sorts focused only on the economy, Dicken 2015 offers both a macro analysis of the changing connections, actors, and networks of economic globalization as well as a number of trenchant case studies of particular industries or sectors that demonstrate broader findings in specific contexts. Looking specifically at China, a country whose transformation is of much scholarly and popular interest within the area of economic globalization, So and Chu 2016 offers a historicized account of China’s journey from underdevelopment to global ascendancy. Finally, resources for undergraduate students on this topic might include Rodrik 2012, which offers a rich history of the global economy and a thorough discussion of what the future might hold; for a quite readable and accessible case study, also for students, Rivoli 2009 makes the processes of economic globalization more visible through a study of trade and production of clothing.

  • Babones, S., and C. Chase-Dunn, eds. 2012. Routledge handbook of world-systems analysis. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

    A handbook full of chapters from leading scholars of varied disciplines, this text orients the reader to world-systems analysis, which is one of the leading research traditions in the area of economic globalization and development. This volume includes chapters on theory and methods, and specific dynamics in countries and regions all across the globe.

  • Dicken, P. 2015. Global shift: Mapping the changing contours of the world economy. 7th ed. New York: The Guilford Press.

    A key text that offers an historically contextualized examination of the processes and interactions that give the global economy its shape in an accessible way suitable for students. Six industry or sector case studies illustrate the broader arguments, including chapters on agro-food production, the extractive industries, logistics and distributions services, and advanced business services.

  • Guillén, M. F. 2000. Is globalization civilizing, destructive or feeble? A critique of five key debates in the social science literature. Annual Review of Sociology 27:235–260.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.235

    Although written at the dawn of the twenty-first century, this article concisely summarizes main debates related to globalization in its most expansive sense, and is important reading for those looking to find their footing in the field. While there is content specifically focused on economic globalization, the article provides a much broader look into how the scholarly study of globalization developed over time.

  • Rivoli, P. 2009. The travels of a T-shirt in the global economy: An economist examines the markets, power, and politics of world trade. 2d ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    Although a bit of an older book, Rivoli examines trade and production through the lens of T-shirts in a lively and engaging way—and is thus a particularly appropriate text to use with students. While focused on clothing production, there are many comparisons to be made to other global commodity chains.

  • Rodrik, D. 2012. The globalization paradox: Democracy and the future of the world economy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

    Written by a longtime critic of globalization, this text offers an engaging examination of the history of the global economy and its institutions, as well as a critical look at key topics such as trade, finance, and governance. Concluding with a focus on sustainable and less extreme globalization, Rodrik also provides some hope for those concerned that crises and inequality are inexorable outcomes of globalization.

  • So, A. Y., and Y. Chu. 2016. The global rise of China. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    A subject of much interest is the recent global ascendance of China. This text offers a novel explanation by suggesting that the Chinese case is defined by “state neoliberalism,” where the communist-party controlled state is interventionist and pursues market-oriented policies that enable economic growth and expansion. This text is rich in history and nuanced in its suggestion that the most important force shaping the Chinese economy is neither state nor market—but rather the interplay of both.

  • Turner, B. S., and R. Holton, eds. 2019. The Routledge international handbook of globalization studies. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    A comprehensive resource on the many facets of globalization, this is a quality reference text for those new to the subject matter. Chapters on topics such as economic theories, inequalities, and taxation may stand out for those focused on economic phenomena.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.