David Harvey’s Contributions to Understanding Globalization: Strengths and Weaknesses

Subject: Globalization
Pages: 18
Words: 4942
Reading time:
17 min
Study level: PhD


The theoretical base of globalization and principles for development faces different philosophical and economical approaches. In this respect, the drive for understanding how globalization spreads in the contemporary world props up against the previous hypothesis. The historical analysis of the humanity in past few centuries admits the fastened tempos of economical development in major countries of the world. Some collapses concerned with wars and conflicts dampened the economical growth in such countries. On the other hand, some countries used critical and uneasy situations in the rest of the world for personal interests. Thus, history represents the prerequisites for the development inn the economies of different countries of the world.

Looking at the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such philosophical thoughts are dominant in the works of Adam Smith, John Keynes, Karl Marx, and other influential persons in this field. Their approaches were used for the main idea of how the development in the countries forces the world markets. On the other hand, in their works, these researchers outline also how globalization, development, and neoliberalism coexist. Hence, various models were represented by these economists and philosophers. However, the modern glimpse at them will make some difference in understanding of strengths and weaknesses of the theoretical base in this sphere.

Thereupon, the works by David Harvey recollect the arguments of his predecessors about the concepts of development, globalization, and neoliberalism. The role of his participation in the discussion of this issue is high. Notwithstanding the Marxist direction of Harvey in terms of his theoretical approach, the author leads to further explanation of the world’s situation. The twentieth century is fruitful in global events. Two World wars, crisis, decolonization of many Latin American, African, and Asian countries made specific contributions to the contemporary picture of the world. The political map of it had recently changed. Political powers also followed this way. Regardless of the general view on the political, social, and economical issues, the position of Harvey is quite categorical. His explanation of the main mechanisms in the global policy for development in countries presupposes a merely Marxist point of view. However, the points underlined in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, The Condition of Postmodernity, and other works made impacts on understanding the real situation. The economical basis is paramount in them. The standpoints are grounded on the scope of economical, political, and social issues. However, the position of David Harvey underwent criticism. In this respect, there are two camps of supporters and opponents of Harvey’s position. His contributions to the understanding of globalization, development, and neoliberalism give grounds for the main discussion in the paper.

To say more, the paper leads toward critical observation of the works by Harvey. His contributions and ideas are at the core of the discussion. Furthermore, this is supported by primary and secondary sources. The anthropological perspectives are the field for criticizing the pros and cons of Harvey’s position. All in all, how David Harvey conceptualizes the term “globalization” is a challenge for other researchers in proving the idea of market-driven models.


Historical Analysis

The historical approach is significant in this discussion. Pointing out the position of David Harvey one cannot but assume his preferences in observation of the world’s economy. In this case, Harvey (2006, pp. 88) outlines the statement of Marx and Engels that “the relation of man to nature is excluded from history.” First of all, it is vital to mention that in the discourse of any global change the historical analysis should be implemented. Contradictions and the supporting idea of how the way of development changed in past centuries and decades, of course, have a causative-consecutive consistent pattern. The main factors for this were the growth of the economical and financial resources for the strengthening of the positions of this or that country in the world arena. The twentieth century is very significant in this respect. Those changes which happened in this period showed the trustworthiness of Keynesian and Marxist theories in practice. Two approaches became dominating in the world after World War I: capitalism and Marxism. Before continuing this idea it is vital to admit that the First World War weakened the positions of most influential countries in Europe, such as Great Britain, France, Germany (especially), and others. The concept of Third World countries appeared in the diplomatic lexicon. On the geographical variable, all European countries inevitably became involved in the war. Only those that are situated rather far from the Continent saved their economical position almost undamaged. It is referred to as the USA. Since the end of World War I this country began growing in political and economical relations among other players in the world. The provision of American help to European countries made the USA the greatest creditor to other economics. The design of economic restoration in European countries, also known as the Marshal Plan, made possible the development of global perspectives between two continents.

David Harvey (2006) could not but mention the natural needs of humanity and the results of them in practice. In his work, he remarks: “The concept of embeddedness in “the web of life” understood both in ecological and social terms, therefore, becomes crucial to the theorization of uneven geographical development” (Harvey, 2006, pp. 88). The point on the uneven geographical development became crucial for the USA, as the major economical, financial, and military center of the world in the period between two wars. This is why such changes renovate greatly the “face” of capitalism. On the other hand, it served as a primordial danger for the Marxist principles and the USSR, as the representative of this branch of power.

The synopsis then drives an observer to the event of World War II and its consequences. The main difference of this war in contrast to the previous one is in the fact that it damaged much the economical conditions of major countries of the world along with the USA. It then resulted in the Cold War. The USSR became the major enemy of the Western world. Hence, the second decade of the twentieth century is the period when the economies and policies of countries were under direct impact of progress and military hazard. Harvey (2007) asserts that in the 1950s and 1960s the competition between countries in better business models was not as significant as in the 1970s. The general outlook on how Europe and the USA followed the way of constructive and strategic agreements presupposed a move from efficient financial to efficient labor markets. The process of globalization increases greatly. The decentralization of global business structures finds better perspectives. Old models for regulation and verification of economical variables in countries lose their significance. However, Harvey (2007) was interested in another aspect of the issue. He tried to work out the significance of local changes on the broader trends (Harvey, 2007).

In this respect, the concept of neoliberalism outlined the urge of the vast majority of countries toward a new model of business relations between countries. Needless to say, that the Keynesian model for economical growth was predominant for the USA. In terms of Keynesian compromise and military Keynesianism, the state power in the US changed from hand to hand. It correlated the policy against the major enemy of the capitalist world, namely the USSR. However, in the 1980s the positions of main leaders in the capitalist world, the US and the UK contradicted the neoliberal theory (Harvey, 2007).

Coming to the end of the century the world also felt the uneven geographical development with the full decolonization of countries and territories. The end of the 1990s provided a great crisis for the world economies. Afterward, the effects of this crisis inevitably fell into the economical crisis of 2008. On the other hand, the world saw the destruction of the main communist power, the USSR. On more touch presupposes the movement of the society from the industrial type to post-industrial. All in all, this brief historical approach gives a field for Harvey’s ideas. It is especially seen in the example of the end of the twentieth century until the present day.

Advantages of David Harvey’s understanding of globalization

David Harvey, as a social geographer and anthropologist, describes the stimuli and the outcomes of the recent changes in the world’s economies. He also adds arguments in his observation that emphasize globalization from the side of neoliberalism. The first advantage of Harvey in terms of globalization presupposes his strict statement that economic growth cannot be completed without social and political initiatives. The observation touches upon two main theories in this aspect of the discussion: Keynesianism and Fordism. The examples which prove such assertion are several since the end of World War II.

The economical recoveries of Japan and the USA provided a great concernment for economists worldwide. Their interest was not complete because all of them considered the economical growth in terms of financial inflows. However, in the cases of the US and Japan, the prerequisites for fast restoration of economies were supposed with the correct political course and applicable social relations. On this ground, two models of management emerged: American and Japanese. It was the result of the political and social readiness of the countries to implement the capitalist principles at large. Moreover, such an approach by David Harvey has a logical line in explanation. It is fair to admit that these countries experienced saturation in the internal markets. Thus, they needed to find appropriate export markets for their production. Such search for markets in the world made the process of globalization apparent at the time. Harvey insists on the dialectics of political and social domains of the country so that to provide appropriate conditions for relations between economies.

In terms of globalization, as it is one should understand that the corporate interests in global relations are before the interests of individuals. In other words, capitalism builds its hegemony on finding more efficiency in labor costs. It means that notwithstanding one has worked, he/she can simply lose it due to the move of labor sources to East-Southern Asia, for example. To be precise, globalization stands on the corporate interests, appropriate financial climate, and labor opportunities.

David Harvey concentrates special attention on the issue of labor. Such an approach is vital for production. Using the Marxist fundamental works, Harvey (2000) outlines that unity of working men is not felt, unless it touches upon the individual body. This approach leads to the separation of the micro and macro outlooks on the individual and economy. In other words, Harvey (2000) designates two concepts in spatial parameters: labor power and global economics. The corporate needs serve as the stimulus for globalization. On this ground, David Harvey builds up a hypothesis that globalization is the result of capitalism and it will exist until the existence of capitalism (Harvey, 2000).

Simply speaking, capitalism stands on the market relations between corporations. It is a circle of agreements that enable countries to drive their economies in terms of import-export scales. Capitalism also is an opportunity for everyone. The main argument is possession of money in the initial stage. Capitalism is the main reason for globalization because the economical surplus of capitalist countries encounters the need to sell products or services. For this reason corporations of the USA seek the appropriate areas for influence. Of course, such plans undergo some consultations and agreements. Thereupon, the power of capital seems to resolve any disagreements.

On the other hand, capitalism resulted in globalization due to the demographic and geographical increase. The growth of population provided the growth of demand. From the global perspective, such growth is meant with aggregate demand. From the logical point of view, the growth of demand promotes the growth of supply. In the condition of constant scientific and technological development, such readings acquire more significance. It is so owing to the high tempos of economical variables in major players in the world arena. Old technology is changed new one and a new model of economic relations changes the old one as well. This view Harvey (2000) considers looking at the financial deregulation in the first half of the 1970s. He pretends to highlight product innovation and the role of competition among strategically important corporations.

Demographic changes reflected changes in the sphere of labor. This is why globalization made people migrate more intensively. Urbanization was taken for granted. The urge of people for having deserved work with appropriate wages only heightened the influence of globalization. It is known that the winner among corporations with the same product line is that one that suggests products of proper quality but for a lower price. Technological mechanisms and financial support counter the problem of taxation and other state regulatory procedures. This is why the main point for the increase of production presupposes the importance of cheap labor. In turn, it makes the appearance of centers with cheap labor possible.

In this respect, one more assertion by David Harvey notes that globalization is supposed with the geographical reorganization. This point is emphasized by Harvey in terms of the classical Marxist concept, namely ‘uneven geographical development’. Geographical position leads corporations to prior positions in the market. This is why the principles of decentring of the headquarters are usable in the contemporary business world.

One more significant approach for an explanation of globalization by Harvey (1989) is accumulation by dispossession. It is a remark of rather direct negative examination of how corporations function. In this respect, the rights of people and their wealth is at risk of being dispossessed. In other words, the capitalistic machine presupposes diminishing people in rights for the increase of financial opportunities among corporations. This approach leads toward the anthropological significance of a working man, as a part of the economical process in a definite country. It is a question that needs thorough examination. One should have assumptions of how companies become influential and how their directors become rich so fast? One of the most applicable ways is to take away other people’s rights to prepare the path for financial growth in a corporation. For such a purpose capitalism uses pension funds and other budget-based organizations. The corruption may simply appear. In this respect, the rights of people play a very significant role in the spread of globalization. This approach is even stronger when looking at the countries where globalization is taken for granted. Asian “Tigers” and China are the most viable examples of it.

The thing is that these countries win in the competition for most employed economies. It is vital to admit that since the early 1970s the tendency for placing enterprises in this region of the world began moving toward total replacement of all enterprises from, for instance, the USA or Europe. The competition grew greatly. Such a situation gave growth for the investments. However, people in the USA lost their jobs due to the process of globalization. Thus, one may call it the “negative development for the positive inflow into a national economy.” Such interpretation is the logical way for observation of how the world moved toward greater volumes of production. However, it does not mean that the companies are playing by the laws of the parent country. Here is a wise trick, because most of them are apt to place their financial headquarters in a country with a lower taxation policy (Desai, 2008). However, Chase-Dunn & Babones (2006) admit that even with a mere extent of peoples’ rights violation due to globalization, the space-time compression and deepening for people promote the global society.

David Harvey is known for his dedication to the movement known as “regulations.” This means that Harvey could explain how crises can appear in markets. In other words, the claim by Adam Smith that free markets are driven by an invisible hand is incorrect. Two reasons serve for support of this idea. The first goes with the statement above, i.e. that globalization presupposes competition. In terms of competition-free markets encounter crises from time to time. The second one explains the role of political and social conditions for developing economies. From the theoretical point of view, working men are willing to work if they are supported by social guarantees. Moreover, the state should provide educational perspectives for those who can reach a certain position at work. This encouragement based on the legislative level provides the urge for people to compete. The psychological characteristics of people in most points are the same as in the wild. It means that the principle “the strongest survives” becomes prior. In this respect, governments see in such cooperation with corporations and society the reasons for national growth and budget increase.

Smith & Harvey (2008, p. 234) provide a survey on the Marxist attitudes to capitalism: “For Marx, the end of capitalism marked the end of pre-history in which social change was directed not by the citizens but by the abstract social laws akin to laws of nature, e.g., the economic laws of capitalism.” This explains the determination of two variables significant for the mutual process of state affairs. These are social and political conditions. They provide the background for the state in space-time relation. Hence, the historical analysis of capitalism is the way to reconsider the pros and cons of it for people living in different areas of the world. It also concerns that globalization was inflicted by the formation of different organizations for regulatory aims. UN, NATO, ASEAN, OPEC, GATT and then WTO, IMF, and others are influential for the relations between countries.

To say more, contemporary cooperation presupposes the points of whether a country is a member of a suchlike organization or not. This then will make it competitive or not; appropriate for direct investments or not. Again Harvey’s concept of “uneven geographical development” acquires its significance. Harvey (2005, pp. 55-56) gives certain points on overlapping as of understanding this feature:

  1. Historicist/diffusionist;
  2. Constructivist;
  3. Environmentalist;
  4. Geopolitical interpretations.

Each of these categories gives a way to better understand the development of capitalism and globalization as well. Thus, the historicist/diffusionist interpretation explains the capitalist system from the Western center to other territories. The constructivist approach grounds the sum of geopolitical, economical, and military interventions of the most powerful nations into other territories. Such nations use the cultural, territorial, and other peculiarities of countries so that to promote “neo-colonial” exploitation (Harvey, 2005). The environmentalist argument underlines the threads of contemporary overuse of natural resources and its negative impact on nature and society. Capitalist countries are still developing in their urge for having more precious resources. The geopolitical approach in uneven geographical development means the sum of social and political contradictions between territorial entities. This is the most apparent approach in Harvey’s theoretical explanation of globalization through uneven geographical development.

All these points explain the tendency for the neo-liberal development of countries. Moreover, the result of such developmental processes is implied into probable conflicts or agreements. Notwithstanding the historical role of modernity is primordial in this case. The examples of such developmental relations between countries are the influence of pro-capitalist and pro-communist powers in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia after World War II. This fell into the conflict situation. It was supported by the external and internal dramatic outcomes for the USA, as one of the main participants in global processes. The social instability confronted with the counter-cultural movement of a hippy. The external policy aced with the division of Korea into North and South. It also contemplates the transformation of the political system toward leftist orientation in China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It also moved Japan toward so-called “economical wonder.”

One more concept by David Harvey which explains the anthropological perspectives of globalization is “flexible accumulation.” This idea was elaborated by David Harvey to make out the transition step from Fordism (Harvey, 1989). Flexible accumulation was significant after the economical crisis of 1973. From the start of the war in Vietnam until this event the theories of Keynesianism and Fordism were not effective (Harvey, 1989). The situation needed more explanation of how the economical variables should be developed in the future. The world, again and again, felt the effects of busts and booms. After the Bretton Woods agreement, fixed exchange rates were replaced by the volatile course of ratings. The instrument of rigidity became the most important in understanding this new trend in economical growth. The inflationary tendency in the USA and most European countries was resolved due to the monetary policy. FED began printing more banknotes for its spread all over the world. All in all, this made the United States the major player in the capitalist world. Great Britain was another great player. Both countries united by several agreements cannot but stop the development of flexibility in the labor market. Harvey (1989, pp. 147) gives a wider explanation to flexible accumulation: “It rests on flexibility concerning labor processes, labor markets, products, and patterns of consumption.” All in all, it resulted in a contemporary way of making business between countries emphasizing the role of labor. Furthermore, the point on outsourcing and relations between central and peripheral labor groups were determined by contracts. Contracting has an extraordinary place in the structure of the labor market under conditions of flexible accumulation. This approach fosters the process of employment.

Disadvantages of David Harvey’s understanding of globalization

The article by Anna Tsing (2000) “Global Situation” demonstrates criticism of understanding of globalization by Harvey. The author argues the position of David Harvey. The thing is that he places the USA at the center of the discussion. In turn, it gives no surveillance on the rest of the world. For instance, the process of globalization and the role of totalitarian regimes in it need more observation. Of course, the capitalist countries of the Western camp were the main reasons for the spread of economical market relations in the world. However, one cannot but agree that, for instance, the USSR and other countries stimulated the appearance of globalization in the world. With more points on these geopolitical formations, Harvey could have somehow another opinion. On the contrary, one should not forget the Marxist belonging of Harvey in opinions.

In many points, the article by Tsing (2000) is similar to Harvey’s in, for example, determination of space and time in anthropological understanding of globalization. However, the categorically chosen trend of the Marxist interpretation of globalization provides a lack of survey from other points of view. It creates the ground for a one-sided approach. Thus, the point of David Harvey about the “uneven geographical development” is true about the drives of globalization. However, it does not give more information on the further elaboration of such a geopolitical process. It is taken for granted by David Harvey as a Constanta.

David Harvey points out that globalization makes people lose their rights due to the global interests of corporations. However, Anna Tsing highlights that globalization promotes freedom. Her persuasion is based on the theoretical approach of Keynesianism which was denied by David Harvey. Tsing (2000, pp. 340) remarks the following idea about freeing up: “On the one hand, it shows us new dreams and schemes of world-making; on the other, as an aspect of its liberatory project, it also turns attention away from the quirky eccentricities of culture and history…” This author pays more attention to the role of different projects provided by governments so that to improve the situation in states.

On the other hand, the Marxist theory presupposes the manifestation of labor above any market relations. The slogan “Working men of all countries, unite!” presupposes that working men influence the global processes. Such an assumption has some arguments. First of all, without conditions for labor, there is no production. Second, people tend to agree or disagree with the current political, social, economical, or cultural course of the government. David Harvey (2000) outlines these points, as the decisive for global transformation. The Marxist revolution is grounded on the primordial role of working men. Long (2001, pp. 220) argues this position of Harvey when he states: “…people do not merely respond to programs or services provided by ‘outside’ bodies, public or private; nor do they simply react to market conditions, global or otherwise.” Such a position of the author takes into consideration the alternative for people in searching for employment. Such opposite side is the emotional, cognitive, and institutional struggle with the bodies of direct power.

One more attempt to argue with Harvey’s statements as for globalization concerns the fact of communication. Harvey disregards in his research the role of communication development, as a catalyst for globalization. His attempts are more concentrated on the industrial type of society and production line, in particular. However, in post-industrial society the main product is information. It caused a dramatic increase in global relations. Harvey (2005) points out that in the 1980s the skills which people had in a definite specialization should be changed faster than before. The role of education increased. This point of Harvey gives solely a little bit of general verification of facts.

The significance of media in contemporary society is above any previous understanding of it. It serves the purpose to expand the cultural peculiarities of the world countries. It is the source of straightforward influence on the global society. It correlates the steps of corporations in their movement toward more profits. All in all, the public opinion makes it possible to put respect or blame on the reputation of huge business structures. The point is that multinationalism and multiculturalism are widely practiced among such giants as Microsoft, The Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s, etc. Tsing (2000) represents the shift from new to old anthropology. In other words, earlier cultures could not move out of the place where they were established. This provided opportunities solely for the regions where they were concentrated. The new anthropology presupposes the shift toward more space throughout the world. Such an approach was not fully disclosed by David Harvey. He mostly emphasizes the role of labor, as the unification means for all cultures (Harvey, 1989). Global flows promote the features of liberation. Neoliberalism still exists, but with flows of globalization. It means that the social and political background of a country can inevitably experience the tendency of globalization.


To sum up, the discussion provided in the paper showed the pros and cons of theoretical points by David Harvey on globalization. The anthropological perspectives for the process of globalization can be explained by Harvey through the Marxist theory. His main assertion is that globalization is the result of capitalism. It appeared in the early 1970s with the oil crisis in the world, The economies of major Western countries provided more intensive methods for stabilization. The monetary policy after the Bretton Woods agreement made the dollar not fixed but volatile. In turn, it elaborated into Eurodollar reciprocal relations between the USA and Europe. It is vital to note that the role of the historical changes is initially high. History of the mankind in the eighteenth, nineteenth centuries was the main impulse for scientific thought and economical relations in the twentieth century. The result of political and social controversies among major countries of the world fell into capitalist and communist countries. This provoked a series of conflicts in East and South-East Asia. Thus, the capitalist system was structured into the central part (West) and the periphery (the rest of the countries in different regions of the world).

Harvey designates several concepts through which he examines the anthropological aspects of globalization. The first is the concept of “uneven geographical development.” It provides a scope of issues on the explanation of geopolitical changes being so rapid in the contemporary world. However, it does not touch upon the cultural domain of countries. Anna Tsing (2000) provides some points to criticize David Harvey and his understanding of globalization. Along with Norman Long, she tends to better exemplify the reasons and the results of globalization.

The second concept presupposes the accumulation by dispossession. It reconstructs the scheme of corporations in their competition. The main point emphasizes the loss of some rights by people. Globalization caused unemployment in Western countries due to the insignificance of expensive labor. Cheap regions of the corporate concerns are paced today in East and South-East regions of Asia. China and Asian “Tigers” represent the most strategic group of countries. Dispossessing people of their rights gives more opportunities for the capital and investments to be shared among business and governmental structures.

Another approach by Harvey that helps understand the role of globalization is flexible accumulation. This variable presupposes the importance of labor for the elaboration of more precise forms for profit gains. Here the bilateral division of straightforward spheres of interest supposes the center and periphery. It also demonstrates the urge of globalization for outsourcing. Main arguments for this claim Harvey (1989) imposes in the term of rigidity.

The role of people, as the movers of social progress represented by Harvey, was highly criticized. Thus, Long (2001) insists on the fact that David Harvey did not take into account the psychological feature of human beings. Moreover, the syndrome of the crowd and the ability of an individual to react to it should be understood in terms of the emotional, cognitive and institutional struggle of people. This merely promotes how humanity can oppose globalization. However, struggling for their interests in the central capitalist countries employers encounter the same interests in the periphery. This machine of money-making and economical relations has a relevantly long history. Its tools are stable, and any change can inflict the ruination of markets and crisis, as a result. Thus, it should be taken into consideration, as the inevitable feature of a modern global society. David Harvey proved this idea, however, with some limitations.

Reference List

Chase-Dunn, CK & Babones, SJ 2006, Global social change: historical and comparative perspectives, JHU Press, Baltimore, Maryland.

Desai, MA 2008, The Decentering of the Global Firm, Harvard University and NBER, Cambridge, MA.

Harvey, D 2007, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Harvey, D 2006, Spaces of global capitalism: towards a theory of uneven geographical development, Verso, Memphis, TN.

Harvey, D 2005, Spaces of neoliberalization: towards a theory of uneven geographical development : Hettner-Lecture 2004 with David Harvey, Franz Steiner Verlag, Koln.

Harvey, D 2000, Spaces of hope, University of California Press, Berkley, CA.

Harvey, D 1989, The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change, Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ.

Long, N 2001, Development sociology: actor perspectives, Routledge, London.

Smith, S & Harvey, D 2008, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space, Ed. 3, University of Georgia Press, Atlanta.

Tsing, A 2000, “The Global Situation”, Cultural Anthropology 15(3): 327–60.