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Globalisation and State Sovereignty

The impact of Globalisation on state sovereignty has been transformative rather than corrosive. This transformative nature of state sovereignty is influenced by a state’s communicative practice, which reflects the significant relationship and role that structure, and agency play. A social constructivist analysis with key reference to the work of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas (1989), can help illustrate how and why this transformation occurs. To demonstrate this a specific case study, the 2015 Greek Bail Out Crisis, is considered. 

For the purposes of this essay specific terms are both defined and specified. Globalisation refers to “economic globalisation”, defined by Cohen as the “increase in trade… [flow of capital and] …. in goods and services” (Cohen & Derrick, 2006). I refer to the third wave of globalisation (1960 – present day) enabling me to refer to my contemporary case study. State sovereignty is defined under the terms of the 1648 Westphalian treaty; a state’s right to exercise its own political and legal authority, within the constraints of its territory/borders irrespective of external influences (Croxton, 1999). Transformation will refer to the capacity for a state to adapt parallel to the structural changes driven by globalisation in International Relations (IR). To measure globalisation’s impact on state sovereignty I intend to analyse the transformative process state sovereignty undergoes through social constructivism. Social constructivism will link this transformation process to the communicative practice of a state’s agents in the public sphere. This will reflect the state’s continually active role in engaging, managing/attempting to manage globalisation, and how as a result state sovereignty has transformed, rather than receded.

Social constructivism is rooted in social ontology, unlike the positivist approaches of alternative theories, such as Realism, this distinction proves beneficial in illustrating globalisation’s transformative impact on state sovereignty. Social constructivism sees knowledge acquisition determined via interpretations and subjective analysis, instead of it being provided per objective reality  (Brown, et al., 2018). These interpretations, therefore, influence our normative, political understanding and behaviour  (Brown, et al., 2018). Rather than emphasise on the structural nature of international politics, which alternative IR theories normally do, social constructivism focuses on the role of agents and their relationships with their “social environments”, and how this relationship constitutes the course of action taken by said agents (Risse, 2007, pg. 127). Instead of focusing on the empirical impact globalisation has had on state sovereignty, it is more fruitful to recognise the role human agency has played in globalisation’s flourishment. Thus, globalisation should be viewed as a process that has continuously developed due to changing agency ever since its inception during the industrial revolution(O'Rourke, et al., 2010;  Risse, 2007). 

 A Habermasian perspective of globalisation through social constructivism further demonstrates the transformation of state sovereignty. As previously asserted, constructivism distinguishes itself from other IR theories; focusing instead on the relationship of structure and agency. Aristotle captures this reasoning when asserting how the state is a platform shaped by the discourse undertaken by agents (Aristotle, 2015, pp. 14-15). Habermas delved deeper into this theory by emphasising the role the public sphere of a state dictates state action.  (Habermas, 1989, p. 28). The public sphere consists of a discursive process among agents on their perception of their social environment. To Habermas the public sphere, can act as an area whereby “state authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by … [agents]" (Habermas, 1989,  p. xi). Incorporating this Habermasian perspective with social constructivism narrows the focus of my assessment on globalisation’s transformative impact on state sovereignty.

Case Study

The Greek referendum of 2015 demonstrates the transformation of Greek state sovereignty and the influential role of the public sphere, in determining a state’s response to globalisation. Following the financial crisis in 2008, the neoliberal transnational class advocated for the implementation of “Austerity measures” – cuts in public expenditure and deregulation of financial infrastructure (Mason, 2016). The Greek state was assured a bailout agreement so long as it implemented the Austerity policies demanded by the transnational class, specifically that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC), and European Central Bank (ECB) (Commission, 2015). However, the state challenged these transnational demands through agency reflecting the role of its public sphere. In the Greek public sphere, a Yes-No referendum was held after Greek Prime Minister Tsipras galvanised Greek agency on “whether [Greeks] should accept the extortionate ultimatum that calls for strict and humiliating austerity…” end to these austerity measures were accepted (Anon., 2015; BBC, 2015). The result was a majority rejection of 61%, as Greek agency overwhelmingly rejected the transnational class. Despite this, the Greek state failed to acquire a better deal as the transnational class not only ignored the referendum result but imposed greater austerity measures  (Commission, 2015). 

The Greek state’s response to the demands of the transnational class underscores two points. First it emphasises the pivotal role of agency in the discursive process which ultimately determines state action. Second, it shows the transformation of state sovereignty because unlike under the Westphalian state sovereignty model, Greece was unable to dictate its financial situation without sharing authority with the transnational class. Returning to the Aristotelian perspective; the structure and nature of the state is determined by the attitudes of its agents we are reminded again of the role of agents (Aristotle, 2015, p. 21). The Habermasian perspective underlines the role of agents influencing the communicative practice occurring in the public sphere (Habermas, 1989, p. 14;  Risse, 2007, p. 142). Greece reflects these perspectives as the state acted upon the prominent discourse, in this case the result of the referendum, of its agency by challenging the globalist entities of the transnational class (Commission, 2015; Weiss,  1997; Fairless, 2015). This counters the notion that state sovereignty has eroded because an erosion of state sovereignty would mean a state is simply an observer, and, due to Greece actively engaging with dimensions of globalisation, reinforces the argument that state sovereignty has transformed and not declined. 

To further argue the transformative, rather than erosive, nature of Greek state sovereignty regarding globalisation, a social constructivist perspective on the definition of sovereignty is made. Social constructivism, argues how the definition of state sovereignty outlined in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia is simply an outdated regulatory norm (Croxton, 1999; Risse, 2007). The interconnected structure of IR has dramatically changed the dimension of the relationship states, agency and institutions share (Kratochwil, 1989,  p. 56; Haynes, et al., 2013, p. 119). In addition, the nature of a state’s transformative capacity in determining the nature and degree of globalisation’s impact, has also evolved (Risse, 2007, p. 142; Kratochwil, 1989, p. 32). According to, Weiss’; a state’s transformative capacity allows them to maintain management over their international and domestic linkages due to their “great adaptability” (Weiss, 1997, p.  26). This transformative capacity is directly influenced by agency within a public sphere, which is also transformed over time (Cohen & Derrick, 2006; Risse, 2007, p. 132). This is further underlined  when recognising how a state is shaped by its history, physical geography and continually evolving nature of its agency (Agnew, 1990, p. 71; Risse, 2007, p. 147) Thus, when considering the changing nature of IR both in terms of structure and agency behaviour, the definition of state sovereignty ought to also transform in order to better regulate and explain the nature of the state in a globalised world  (Risse, 2007; McGrew, 1999). 

Furthermore, this case study accurately captures how significant the public sphere plays in determining the role of agency in forming the nature of state action and highlights a transformative state sovereignty. The Greek state recognised the increasing economic burdens of neoliberal globalisation. The recognition only became conclusively apparent once a discursive process occurred in the public sphere, when agency engaged and debated the prominent and counter discourses (Risse, 2007, p. 141). The rejection of austerity following the referendum, reflected a counter discourse in opposition to the transnational class and more specifically globalisation, the transnational class. However, even though the Greek state was forced to bitterly adhere to the demands of the IMF, EC and ECB, a transformation of state sovereignty rather than an erosion can be noted.  Additionally, anti-globalist sentiment has emerged transnationally highlighting the impact of globalisation on communicative practices on states and transformed state sovereignty.

Globalisation has impacted the communicative discourse on a transnational level including at state level, as counter discourse/anti-Globalist movements demonstrate. Both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK) with Brexit in 2016, and a possible “Nexit”, evoking counter discursive processes against neoliberal globalisation (Hunt &  Wheeler, 2019; Risse, 2007, p. 138). Put simply by a certain a British Member of the European Parliament “…want[ing]…the EU to end…” (BBC, 2016). It is evident that with Brexit the popular discourse saw agency challenge the transnational class significantly compared to the Netherlands and Greece which did not attempt or reflect a tangible desire to leave the EU (Mason, 2016; BBC, 2016). 

A Habermasian view of social constructivism, would argue how the transnational anti-Globalist movement has emerged due to a global public sphere, yet although reflects transformed state sovereignty, appears invalid. The Greek state’s counter discourse sentiment challenged Austerity measures, while the UK, ultimately, rejected the European-single-market via Brexit (BBC, 2016). Even if agency has trans-nationalised it has yet to deter a state from being free from the influence of the discursive processes occurring in a state’s public sphere. Evidently this counter discourse on a transnational level could not have occurred without the continuous expansion of globalisation. The increasing advancements in information and communication technology and influence of transnational bodies have played vital roles in transforming state sovereignty and impact a state’s communicative practice  (Mason, 2016; Risse, 2007) An increase in interconnectivity within a globalised network can be inferred from the above state’s counter discursive processes, their respective agents determined in their public sphere. Although this public sphere has gradually transcended borders the nature of the discourse is still determined at the state level rather than at a transnational level. Further, the counter discursive practice of states in rejecting or challenging globalisation’s seemingly inevitable expansion, not only reflects transformed state sovereignty but also emphasises the significance of state agency, via the public sphere, in determining state action regarding globalisation (Weiss, 1997, p.  21; Cohen & Derrick, 2006, p. 231).

The following has demonstrated how the effects of globalisation has led to the transformation of state sovereignty rather than its decline. Reference to the Greek Bailout Crisis in 2015 illustrates a transformed state sovereignty rather than an erosion. An erosion of state sovereignty would confine the state as an observer rather than an actor, which throughout this work has proven false, and thus strengthens the idea of a transformation not a decline of state sovereignty. Social constructivism and a Habermasian perspective helped explain transformative state sovereignty further, while also underline the relationship between structure and agency specifically in the public sphere in determining state action. Although the Greek state failed to challenge the transnational class, it still reflected transformed sovereignty due to it being unable to autonomously dictate its economic decisions without consulting the transnational class. In addition, reference to the emergence of a transnational anti-Globalist movement that, in some cases has proven successful (Brexit), helps to emphasise the transformative nature of state sovereignty further. This transition from the Westphalian model of state sovereignty to a more contemporary understanding has not only been impacted by globalisation, but also by the communicative practices of a state’s public sphere. Aristotle asserted how the “state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purpose of life”, and if this is the case a Habermasian perspective on the discourse taken by citizens gives that state life and purpose, which has seen its transformation rather than its decline  as a result of globalisation (Sharma &  Sharma, 2006, p. 176).


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