Five Questions With Tim Bartley

This week’s conversation with a Framing the Global fellow deals with rules and regulations — specifically, the “puzzle of rules.”

Tim Bartley is an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. His research interests include globalization, labor, social movements, and political sociology.

In addition to his teaching and research duties at Ohio State, Bartley also serves as a co-editor of Regulation & Governance — an interdisciplinary journal that publishes the work of scholars exploring “issues of regulation, standards, and governance within and across countries.”

In his Q&A, Bartley explains to Rosemary Pennington how he uses the idea of “rules” to enter the global in his project Transnational Governance and the Layering of Rules: Beyond the Regulatory Void.

Rosemary Pennington: What drew you to Framing the Global?

Tim Bartley: I have been oriented to interdisciplinary work since early points in my academic training, but that has had more to do with literatures on institutions, social change, organizations, and social movements than with this project’s focus on global studies.  So this was an exciting opportunity to get involved in conversations about interdisciplinary global studies and to figure out how my work fits into that world.

RP: What is your entry point and why did you choose it?

Image via sarowen (Flickr).

Image via sarowen (Flickr).

TB: My entry point has become “rules.”  I’m not sure if I chose it or if it chose me. I think it was more the latter, in that I came to realize that a lot of the dynamics I am interested could be described as what I call the “puzzle of rules.”

The basic idea is that the global economy is both “unruly” and generative of many new rule-making projects.  In the past, we’ve tended to see the process of globalization through one of the other of these frames.

Globalization has been framed by many as a destructive, unruly phenomenon, in which complex, fast-moving global markets outstrip democratic capacities and the territorial nation-state.  On the other hand, a lot of scholars have rejected this account to show how building global markets has also required the creation of new kinds of rules—not only rules that facilitate trade but also rules for “fair” and “sustainable” forms of production.

My idea is that both frames are basically correct, so the puzzle becomes how globalization can be both unruly and rule-generating at the same time.

 RP: What challenges have you faced as you’ve navigated the global this way?

Inside an abandoned Chinese clothing factory. Image via Chris (Flickr).

Inside an abandoned Chinese clothing factory. Image via Chris (Flickr).

TB: I’ve tried to navigate these issues by looking at two particular industries—the apparel/footwear industry and the forest products industry—and their operation in two different countries—Indonesia and China.

As you might expect, the biggest challenge is to navigate this pretty wide array of places and issues.

On the other hand, even without being a specialist on either of these countries, I’ve been able to find many people there who have been generous with their contacts and their time.

RP: In her introduction to the upcoming book, Dr. Hilary Kahn writes that one of the questions scholars of the global are faced with is “How do we know its global?” How do you answer that question in your work?

TB: I suppose I have been less concerned with whether my phenomenon is truly “global” than with its “transnational” aspects.

I would not claim that the rules for fair and sustainable production truly touch the entire globe — indeed, they are essentially irrelevant to factories and forests around the world that are not producing for export to Europe and North America. But it’s clear that they are transnational.

The initiatives I’m studying seek to bypass nation-states and regulate through supply chains.  Potentially, they are creating new forms of authority and regulation that do not rely directly on the nation-state system.

My argument is that nation-states still matter in a variety of ways, but there’s no doubt that many new transnational structures have arisen in the past 20-30 years.

RP: How have your discussions on the space of global studies within the Framing the Global interdisciplinary group affected your view of your home discipline?

TB: The project has helped me further appreciate the breadth of my own discipline — sociology.  It’s a discipline with both more humanistic and more positivist wings, as well as many people who bridge this divide, which is what I’m hoping to do.

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.