Imperialism or globalisation? … Or imperialism and globalisation: Theorising the international after Rosenberg's ‘post-mortem’

  • Ray Kiely


This article examines the concepts of globalisation and imperialism, both in terms of their explanatory status, and in the light of changes in the international order since the end of the Cold War. It does so both through detailed theoretical and empirical analysis, and in part through focusing on a key contributor to this debate, Justin Rosenberg. It is argued that Rosenberg's theoretical post-mortem for globalisation is correct. However, it is also argued that Rosenberg's historical post-mortem is far less convincing, not least when related to his subsequent attempts to draw on the concept of uneven and combined development in order to explain the reality of geopolitical conflict in the international order. It is here that the concept of imperialism enters the picture, and the article suggests that attempts to update theories of geopolitical competition based on Lenin and Bukharin's work on imperialism are unconvincing, as they fail to take full account of the changes in the international order since 1945. These changes — the internationalisation of capital and rise of global production networks, the rise of manufacturing in the developing world, the internationalisation of the state, cooperation between developed capitalist powers, and US hegemony — are well described, if not necessarily explained by the concept of globalisation. However, this does not mean that the concept of imperialism is no longer of use, and the idea is defended through a discussion of the hierarchies associated with the globalisation of production. It is further illustrated by relating liberal military intervention to this continued reality of global hierarchy and inequality in the international order. The article concludes by defending the ideas of imperialism and uneven and combined development, but argues that these cannot be used to explain the nature of the international state system (or geo-politics), but rather the hierarchies associated with the international capitalist order (or political economy).


globalisation imperialism liberal intervention uneven development 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ray Kiely
    • 1
  1. 1.Queen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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