Global Politics

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter 1 Notes: Introducing Global Politics

  • What is meant by 'global politics'?
  • How has international politics been transformed into global politics?
  • What have been the implications of globalization for world politics?
  • How do mainstream approaches to global politics differ from critical approaches?
  • How has global politics changed in recent years in relation to the issues of power, security and justice?

How should we approach the study of world affairs? How is the world best understood? World affairs have traditionally been understood on the basis of an international paradigm. In this view, states (often understood as 'nations', hence 'international') are taken to be the essential building blocks of world politics, meaning that world affairs boil down, essentially, to the relations between states. This suggests that once you understand the factors that influence how states interact with one another, you understand how the world works. However, since the 1980s, an alternative globalization paradigm has become fashionable. This reflects the belief that world affairs have been transformed in recent decades by the growth of global interconnectedness and interdependence. In this view, the world no longer operates as a disaggregated collection of states, or 'units', but rather as an integrated whole, as 'one world'. Global politics, as understood in this book, attempts to straddle these rival paradigms. It accepts that it is equally absurd to dismiss states and national government as irrelevant in world affairs as it is to deny that, over a significant range of issues, states now operate in a context of global interdependence.

However, in what sense is politics now 'global'? And how, and to what extent, has globalization reconfigured world politics? Our understanding of global politics also needs to take account of the different theoretical 'lenses' though which the world has been interpreted; that is, different ways of seeing the world. What, in particular, is the difference between mainstream perspectives on global politics and critical perspectives? Finally, the world stubbornly refuses to stand still. Global politics is therefore an arena of ongoing and, many would argue, accelerating change. And yet, certain aspects of global politics appear to have an enduring character. What is the balance between continuity and change in global politics?

  • Global politics is based on a comprehensive approach to world affairs that takes account not just of political developments at a global level, but at and, crucially, across, all levels – global, regional, national, sub-national and so on. In that sense, 'the global' and 'the international' complement one another and should not be seen as rival or incompatible modes of understanding.
  • 'International' politics has been transformed into 'global' politics through a variety of developments. New actors have emerged from the world stage alongside states and national governments. Levels of interconnectedness and interdependence in world politics have increased, albeit unevenly. And international anarchy has been modified by the emergence of a framework of regional and global governance.
  • Globalization is the emergence of a complex web of interconnectedness that means that our lives are increasingly shaped by events that occur, and decisions that are made, at a great distance from us. Distinctions are commonly drawn between economic globalization, cultural globalization and political globalization. However, there are significant debates about whether globalization is actually happening and how far it has transformed world politics.
  • The two mainstream perspectives on global politics are realism and liberalism; these are both grounded in positivism and focus on the balance between conflict and cooperation in state relations, even though they offer quite different accounts of this balance. Critical theories, by contrast, tend to adopt a post-positivist approach to theory and contest the global status quo by aligning themselves with the interests of marginalized or oppressed groups.
  • Global politics is an ever-shifting field, with, if anything, the pace of change accelerating over time. Debates have emerged about the changing nature of power and the shifting configuration of global power, about whether national security has been displaced by international, global or even human security, and about the extent to which justice now has to be considered in cosmopolitan or global terms.