Sixteenth-century Europe saw the emergence of a modern project that soon spread to other parts of the globe through conquest, colonization and imperialism, and finally globalization. In its historical development, modernity has radically remade the institutional and organizational structures of many traditional societies worldwide. It followed two distinct trajectories: the transformation of traditional societies within Western cultures, on the one hand, and the implementation of modernity in non-Western cultures, on the other. The emergence and development of modernity can be explained using three interrelated domains: ideology, politics, and economy. Enlightenment thinking constituted the ideological background of modernity, while the rise of individualism and the secularization of political power reflected its political dimension. The economic dimension of modernity involved the massive mobility of people into cities and the emergence of a market economy through the commercialization of human labor, along with production for profit. The recent phase of globalization has led to new developments that exposed the contradictions of modernity and forced us to rethink its fundamental assumptions. Two approaches that have attempted to redefine the universality in modern thinking and its relationship with particular cultures are the institutional cosmopolitanism approach and the multiple modernities approach; the latter rejects the universality of Western modernity and instead sees modernity as a distinctly local phenomenon. Future research should focus on how different cultures relate to one another within the boundaries of global modernity, along with the conditions under which local forms of modernity emerge.
José da Mota-Lopes
The current scholarship on European colonialism may be divided into two approaches: colonial studies, sometimes referred to as a political-economy approach, and postcolonial studies, also known as “postcolonialism” or “subaltern studies.” Whereas the field of colonial studies appeared with the emergence of colonialism, the second emerged with decolonization, the national liberation armed struggles, and the political, formal, or institutional collapse of colonialism. The two approaches became or appeared as protests against very similar circumstances and critically complemented one another, but they soon tended to follow parallel and very different trajectories. Three basic conceptual references offer important insights not only about the geostrategic, historical, and socioeconomic trajectories of colonialism but also on its cultural evolvement and its present consequences: colonial encounter, colonial situation, and colonial legacy. In addition, the field of colonial or postcolonial studies today may give rise to three major evolvements in the near future. The first consists in the recovery of what started to be the initial subject matter of postcolonialism. The second arises from the requirement of a return to the political, historical, and economic origins of postcolonialist studies. Finally, it will perhaps be at the point of conjunction of world-systems analysis with postcolonial studies that a fundamental problem affecting our world will find the beginning of a possible solution. The combined application of world-systems analysis and postcolonial studies is a promising intellectual instrument for confronting the in-depth influence of Eurocentrism or Euro-American universalism in the current practice and teaching of the social sciences.
The global political economy is a multilevel system of economic activities and regulation in which the domestic level continues to predominate—in other words, it is a global system comprising national capitalist economies. Nations differ in terms of the regulations and institutions that govern economic activity, an observation that is embodied in the so-called “varieties of capitalism” (VoC) literature. Contemporary VoC approaches highlight the significance of social and political institutions in shaping national economies, in stark contrast to neoclassical economics which generally ignores institutions other than markets or sees them as hindrances to the functioning of free markets. Three analytical premises inform the diverse conceptual frameworks within the VoC literature: the firm-based approach, national business systems approach, and the governance or “social systems of production” approach. The VoC literature offers three important contributions to our understanding of the global political economy. The first is that different sources of competitive advantage for firms and nations are institutionally rooted and not easily changed. The second contribution is that these distinct national arrangements give rise to different interests/preferences in how the global economy is constructed and managed. Finally, the VoC approaches provide a framework for analyzing long-term institutional changes in capitalist systems and the persistence of diverse forms of capitalism, including the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 that may usher in yet another epochal change in the “battle of capitalisms.”