The Global Particular: Rachel Harvey

Framing the Global Fellow Rachel Harvey, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Global Legal Transformation at Columbia Law School, recently discussed with us her project: “The Particular.”

Previously, we spoke with Harvey in the early stages of this scholarship, and today we are happy to share an update as she expands her chapter into a book-length manuscript. She has also previously discussed a sociological perspective to globalization to students at Occidental College.

Harvey’s project extends from the foundational text Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research published by IU Press in which a multidisciplinary team of scholars have been working to define and redefine globalization research.

The Persistence of the Particular in the Global

Harvey began her project by teasing apart three dynamics of globalization that have been heavily researched and debated. Overviewing the field, she condenses the perspectives into three key categories—all of which hover around the concept of “particular.”

The first dynamic is the “global particular,” and this view argues that global processes tend to conceal the concrete particulars that condition globalization. Such a dynamic produces a view of globalization that is “a homogenizing and placeless force.”

The second dynamic is a “global in the particular,” and this view holds, as an example, that individuated countries develop policies that are context-specific yet mediated by transnational links.

The third dynamic is a “particular in the global,” and this view contends that “globalized processes are dependent upon, and constituted by, particulars.”

These dynamics are further framed by three unique arguments on what globalization is: (1) hyperglobalist, (2) local, regional and national autonomy and (3) transformationalist.

Harvey smartly synthesizes these views and arguments into a conceptual rubric in order to help us better understand the interplay between the global and the particular:

Global Particular
Global “Global Particular”

Global without a particular


“Global in the Particular”

Global constitutes the particular

Partial overlap with Second Framework

Particular “Particular in the Global”

Particular constitutes the global

Third Framework

“Particular without a Global”

Second Framework

The hyperglobalist position stresses the “compressed and homogenized space” of globalization. That is, globalization is a tool that exerts pressure in order to produce similar results in spite of local, regional and national processes.

The second framework argues that these local, regional and national actors still have some degree of autonomy, and it suggests that globalization is not nearly the homogenizing force some would believe.

The transformationalist stance argues that “nation-states retain some degree of autonomy, but often construct and support the very global processes that supposedly undermine their influence.”

While it is rare that any process could easily fit solely into a single category, the conceptual rubric is a useful tool for scholars hoping to better understand global flows in all their variety.

At its core, the rubric illustrates a relational perspective of globalization that highlights the shifting classifications of how the particular shapes and is shaped by transnational flows of people, things and ideas.

The Global Particular as Hermeneutic Tool 

“When does one moment extend beyond its specificity? When do global moments become highly local? Where does the shift happen, and what are the processes that are a part of that?”

Starting the process of picking apart the global and the particular in August 2014, Harvey credits the collective process of the Framing the Global working group for pushing her to critique the differences between what is local and what is particular.

Whereas the local is often seen as encompassing a specific spatial arrangement, the particular is often less bound by spatial specificity.

“The global particular doesn’t assume any type of spatial arrangement,” she says. “Instead, it allows us to think outside of the local-national binary to see if new spatial categories emerge.”

Her analysis rests on the foreign exchange market. One way she originally approached the topic was to look at the London Gold Fix.

While it was originally viewed as an example of a particular in a global, and thus transformationalist, the London Gold Fix is moving toward a global particular.

“It is a node that extends out and reaches multiple sources,” she says, “and this allows for more thinking and exploration of new spatial categories and spatial arrangements that emerge from globalization.”

While the London Gold Fix as a specific place disappeared earlier this year, it lives on as an electronic trading platform that was necessitated by an overhaul in benchmarks.

“The spatial arrangements of gold-fixing had ceased to be legitimate.” Harvey says.

The place-based market may be gone, but Harvey urges us to understand the electronic market that has arisen as a new space for the global particular.

“There is a need to think of markets as socio-technical tools that reconfigure the nature of the market, and we need to look at different technical infrastructures to understand the dynamics of the market.” She says.

The impetus for this reconfiguring and reconceptualization is because “markets do not make themselves; they require market-makers.”


Investors watch the stock market (Photo by Rafael Matsunaga. Flickr Creative Commons.)

This understanding can help scholars more clearly see that the market is taking on a new global form in which individuals can participate in the financial market more readily.

It has created new ways to gain access to participation in the market.

Previously, the financial market was largely controlled by nation-states. Today there is a shifting landscape of participants working both in localized capacities and globally.

“We need to then clarify these spatial-temporal arrangements.” Harvey says, so that we better see how the global financial market works.

Doing so will allow us to ask key questions as we examine global processes.

How do we identify what is a global process? How can we see what is a global particular?

“Often, for me, this is how people talk about it.” Harvey says. “Once you start seeing the hyperglobal slip in, then you know you might be bumping up against a global particular because they seem to be outside of human history and not rooted in particular events.”

She contends that recognizing the global particular in this way can help globalization scholars recover artifacts that are often hidden by globalization and assumed to be ahistorical.

“We need to figure out how space-time are still heavily involved in global flows” in order to identify how we shape and are shaped by the global financial market.

The rubric originally proposed by Harvey has largely remained the same, but she hopes to pose questions of transformative aspects of globalization.

Largely, the project is concerned with fattening out the notion of time.

While reintegrating history into the story is important, Harvey wants to push us to think more critically of global flows in order to mine the spatio-temporal moments often presumed to be ahistorical.

“When does a particular construct a global? When does a global start to shape a particular?”

Answering these questions can illuminate transformative moments of different temporal orders.

The global particular is an exciting lens through which we can begin to rethink and reimagine studies of global processes.

“The global and the particular will be an invitation to a conversation to see where it works and where it might not work.” Harvey says. “It pushes us back to the fundamental categories that shape our research: silences, power dynamics, and histories.”

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