Working Paper

IDS working papers;141

Globalisation and the Future State

Published on 1 January 2002

This paper provides a critical overview of debates about the role of the state in development in a context of globalisation. It is argued that globalisation can best be thought of as a political project that has to be understood in the context of the historical setting in which it is evolving and at the same time helping to define.

Central to this project are narratives around state power and incapacity. Globalisation may have certain corrosive effects on the sovereignty and territoriality of states, but this does not render them politically impotent in the way many accounts suggest. The economic changes associated with globalisation in many, but not all, cases have been produced and continue to be produced by state actions and non-actions. Some parts of the state have internationalised more than others, and are more subject to the disciplines of global markets than others.

While the menu of policy choices available to governments is clearly more à la carte for some than others, and questions of capacity and malleability to global economic forces are suggestive of a North-South dynamic, it is important to transgress such a distinction when thinking about winners and losers from globalisation. There are important gender, racial and class dimensions which mediate the relationship between globalisation and poverty. What does seem to be emerging, however, is a set of key dilemmas which all countries face, but which developing countries face more acutely.

These centre on the reconcilability of competing pressures upon state managers, from nationally and internationally organised neo-liberal élites, to accelerate and consolidate processes of global market integration on the one hand, and on the other, divergent, but dissident, voices from the rural poor, micro-enterprises and nationalist elements calling for protection and, in some cases, a reversal of the logic of global integration.

The political implication of these choices and non-choices is what has been referred to in other contexts as a ‘democratic deficit’, which has key implications for responsive government. In so far as the possibility of, and nature of, state interventions in the economy are increasingly shaped by, and mediated through, global actors whose approval is sought and required, we are forced to ask ‘who will the future state be accountable to?’

Publication details

published by
Newell, Peter
IDS Working Paper, issue 141
1 85864 392 9


Related content