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Response to Review no. 1000

We are grateful to Professor Ward for his considered and constructive response to our book. He conveys very clearly and crisply its main avenues of enquiry and lines of argumentation. He also helpfully situates our study in the wider historiographies of the economics of imperialism, the study of globalisation’s past, and British world history – the latter a subject upon which he himself has written incisively.(1) In view of this, we have kept our response relatively brief, and framed it around the main points that his review raises.

First, we would perhaps softly challenge the notion that modern globalisation is impersonal in nature, or culturally neutral, or truly global – albeit we recognise that many contemporary commentators on modern globalisation suggest that it was so. Integral to any proper analysis of globalisation is a full understanding of the role played by the mass movement of people. Indeed, the migrant as ‘everyman’ is arguably a defining feature of our times. Certainly the recent literature on globalisation tends to see it as being ‘mediated by migration’.(2) In the present, as much as the past, therefore, migration would appear to us to be highly personal, changing the way in which individuals – and the families they leave behind – imagine their social and political spaces, thereby making their migration a defining aspect of their identity and turning national (and indeed regional) identities into trans-national ones.

Nor, would we suggest, is modern globalisation culturally neutral. Indeed, it is often perceived to have been driven largely by American (or Western) values and initiatives. According to this view, the current intensification of ethnic and religious divisions around the world is in part the product of the globalising forces unleashed by 21st-century advances in transport, technology and communications. So maybe the culture-specific element of the first ‘wave’ of modern globalisation, promoted by the 19th-century British world, is not that different after all.

Finally, unlike some of the media representations of contemporary globalisation, we do not see it as quite the all-encompassing planetary event, dramatically steamrollering diversity into oblivion, that it is sometimes cracked up to be. Here, as Professor Ward notes, the international business literature on ‘regionalised integration’ in the 21st century informed our reading of globalisation’s past. We acknowledge that our discussion of this important yet emerging literature on regional economic integration was brief. Since we began our research it has been supplemented by a very interesting series of publications on the concept of the ‘global factory’ – defined as a structure through which multinational enterprises integrate their distribution and production strategies, and considered to be the key to understanding changes in, and the configuration of, today’s global economy.(3) Inter alia, this concept highlights the limitations of the two contrasting paradigms of self-contained national economies and a ‘borderless world’. It argues that these two paradigms are incomplete and ‘capture only part of a complex and subtle story’.(4) It then seeks to show how the way in which ‘nationality’ is defined can in turn serve to influence the strategy of the modern multi-national firm. In particular, it draws attention to the different dimensions of distance (including cultural or ‘psychic’ distance) that still impinge upon international trade. The location and management of global factories is said to be subject to cultural differences across countries and classes, it primarily being ‘in the arena of the creation and fostering of regional goods and service markets that firms are able to exploit economies of scale across several countries’.(5) The general message we take away from the new international business literature, therefore, is that contemporary globalisation, a process that continues to be driven by a combination of economic and cultural forces, is far from uniform across space.

Second, as far as the interaction between identity and economy is concerned we readily accept that our study did not delve into this issue as fully as we might have wished. We were, as Professor Ward explains, keen to emphasise the racially-circumscribed nature of many of the networks we studied, as well as how their racial dynamics shifted over time. Freemasonry would be a good specific example here, and a useful study of the subject appeared during our research.(6) More generally, in this (and other publications) we pay attention to the controversy over Chinese indentured labour in early 20th-century South Africa, when skilled workers from Britain (and Australia), who had migrated to Transvaal, invoked a doctrine of ‘white labourism’ or ‘racial socialism’ to challenge the presence of ‘ethnic outsiders’ in the workplace who threatened to undercut their wages.(7) Understood in this way, one of the key features of our book – the extensive remittance culture that developed across the 19th-century British world – might be likened to a form of imperial-wide social insurance – part of a bigger push to shore up a separate racial status (including job security, better pay and welfare) for white British subjects. Nonetheless, given the growing separation between cultural and economic histories over the last decade or so, there is, of course, much more that could be done to unpack this relationship between cultural identity, on the one hand, and consumer and investor confidence and behaviour, on the other. We hope our study will be a spur to others to do so.

Third, Professor Ward is absolutely right to note how difficult it is to fit the United States into a narrative of the British world, or a narrative of the imperial vision of globalisation pursued by the British. Our response would be that the world is a complex place where not everything fits into neat boxes and never changes. Nor should it. That said, there is considerable scope to develop our understanding of the nature and strength of the Anglo-American connection over the period from the 1870s to 1914 – a connection which strengthened in some spheres as it weakened in others. For example, further research into the concept or doctrine of ‘Anglo-Saxonism’, and its relationship to imperialism, would help here, as Professor Ward himself suggests. Also important are the demographic ties between Britain and the US: we need to dig deeper into the effects of emigration to America on British society back home, especially in view of the growing volume of remittances and return migration from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Interestingly, several younger scholars have been drawn to the subject of emigration, and a number of recently completed doctoral dissertations are likely to improve our understanding of Anglo-American cultural and political exchanges in the later-Victorian and Edwardian eras.(8)

Fourth, Professor Ward helpfully draws attention to elements of the British world (economy) that remained after 1914. This is a subject upon which that he is well qualified to comment, especially in view of his publications on Australia’s experience of empire in the twentieth century.(9) Elsewhere, we have looked at the role of British non-market advantages in dominion markets after the First World War. These remained evident until at least the 1950s, after which they started to wane significantly. But the ‘cultural economy’ of the 20th-century British world is indeed a book that awaits its historian.


  1. See, for example, S. Ward, ‘Imperial identities abroad’ in The British Empire. Themes and Perspectives, ed. S. Stockwell (Malden, MA, 2008), pp. 219–44.Back to (1)
  2. M. Kearney, ‘The local and the global: the anthropology of globalization and transnationalism’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 24 (1995), p. 549.Back to (2)
  3. We are grateful to Professor Peter Buckley for guiding us through this literature. See, for example, his own essays: ‘International integration and co-ordination in the global factory’, forthcoming Management International Review; ‘The theory of international business pre-Hymer’, Journal of World Business (2011), 61–73; and ‘The impact of the global factory on economic development’, Journal of World Business (2008), 1-13.Back to (3)
  4. Buckley, ‘The Impact of the Global Factory’, 3.Back to (4)
  5. Ibid., 2.Back to (5)
  6. J. L. Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire. Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–1927 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2007).Back to (6)
  7. J. Hyslop, ‘The imperial working class makes itself “white”: white labourism in Britain, Australia and South Africa before the First World War’, Journal of Historical Sociology (1999), 398–424. See also A. S. Thompson, The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Harlow, 2005), pp. 69-74.Back to (7)
  8. See, for example, Amy Lloyd, ‘Popular Perception of Emigration in Britain from 1870-1914’, PhD thesis (University of Cambridge , 2009), and Edmund Rogers, ‘The Impact of the New World on Economic and Social Debates in Britain, c.1860–1914’, PhD thesis (University of Cambridge, 2009).Back to (8)
  9. See, especially, Australia’s Empire, ed. D. M. Schreuder and S. Ward (Oxford, 2008) and J. Curran and S. Ward, The Unknown Nation., Australia After Empire (Melbourne, 2010).Back to (9)