3 July, 2022


Globalisation & The Role Of Elites: Impact On Social Structures

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

There are differing views on the impact of globalisation and development associated with it on various communities and social segments or classes in developing countries in the relevant academic literature. Globalists emphasise the positive aspects of globalisation such as open borders, ability for the movement of capital, goods and services, access to employment, migration and educational opportunities, increased travel, global culture and cosmopolitanism, increased trade and market opportunities. They further point out how the development policies implemented by governments in developing countries have lifted millions of poor people out of poverty e.g. in China and India. Critics emphasise the negative effects of globalisation and associated neoliberal development by pointing out the ways they benefit the political, business, military, and other elites in developing countries while pushing the middle class, working class, and the poor to the margins of society. They also explain how communities that survived close to forests, beaches and valuable natural resources have been removed from their habitats and the land given to multinational resource and/or tourism companies for their operations. The social and cultural impact on communities and middle to lower classes by the expanding global market forces and processes in various fields have also received their attention. Various conflicts generated by the globalisation and anti globalisation forces in the context of heavy competition for natural resources are cited as examples of negative effects of globalisation. Within this opposing views what is clear is that there are unequal relations between countries and companies with large-scale capital and know how for investment and those without. Irrespective of such unequal relations, the political, bureaucratic, and military elites in developing countries tend to promote market friendly investment policies to attract foreign capital and technology to developing countries saying it is necessary to accelerate development even when such countries are caught in a severe debt trap.

The purpose of this article is to not discuss above stated problem, i.e. whether such investments are desirable or needed? The purpose is to examine the impact of globalisation on social structures in developing countries like Sri Lanka that hitherto provided identity, stability, and a way of life. Sociologists have defined social structure as a network of social relations in the whole society or within social institutions such as the state, family, market, religion, education, media, military, bureaucracy, kinship, caste, and class. Each of these arenas provides a normative framework and a certain way of life to its participants. These social institutions nurture certain values, norms and practices through hierarchical or egalitarian mechanisms depending on the case and context. They thus embody sub cultures. Thus we speak of office culture, university culture, school culture or military culture. Alumni relating to formal institutions maintain close relations while sustaining distinctive identities of respective institutions. For example, we can see many alumni organisations representing businesses, universities, schools within countries and in the diaspora.

There is no doubt about the fact that globalisation and associated neoliberal economic policies implemented by governments of developing countries during the last half century have had tremendous impact on these social structures or institutions creating substantial change. Changes can be seen in the way we consume products and services mostly imported, our communication methods, education and employment, celebrations, media, our attitudes toward material and spiritual life, our values and norms, reading materials and writing, treatment for illnesses, travel modes and patterns, worship styles, dress, music and more. In the cultural field some argue that there is a tendency for creating a global culture and homogeneity due to globalisation while marginalising and even destroying place specific cultures and localisms in developing countries in the name of modernity and progress. Measurement of progress and development in such a culture is based on, among others, the number of shopping centres in a given locality and the nature of shops and restaurants, the exotic food, clothes, music, liquor, nature of visitors, cars etc. on road. Globalisation thus facilitates the movement of goods, services and people from multiple locations around the globe to distant locations depending on where the demand is. If there is no or poor demand in a given location, a demand or desire is constructed by using modern marketing and advertising strategies. Constructed desire thus becomes part of the modern, globalising world, individual and groups.

Getting back to the topic of social structures that provided certainty and stability as well as a certain lifestyle within societies and social institutions, let’s take an example to explore how globalisation and the spaces opened by it have impacted on the former? Let’s take family and gender. When the economies of West Asia and broader Asia started to expand, the middle classes started to receive more income. The neoliberal market values and consumer products introduced to these societies encouraged a certain lifestyle for women. For example in Saudi Arabia, the policy of Saudisation encouraged women to work in public and private sectors. When this process started, they needed additional help in the domestic sphere. Thus started the movement of female domestic workers from South Asian countries to Saudi Arabia and other countries. Employment of domestic workers became a status symbol also. Yet the fact that South Asian women left their own family and children to earn an income under very trying circumstances have had tremendous impact on the female domestic workers and their families. Economists are only interested in analysing the remittance patterns. But some sociological studies have highlighted along with media reports how many such domestic workers have to endure harassment, bullying, injury and even death. The laws in host countries favour the hosts rather than employees. When I visited Singapore recently I could see hundreds of such female domestic workers from countries like Philippines, Indonesia, spending their free day (Sunday) with fellow workers sitting in front of lavish shopping centres. They were seen eating food packets in small groups rather than shopping in shopping malls because they cannot afford to spend hard earned money on expensive consumer products, as they have to send money home. What is the impact then of this process of employment on gender relations and families as well as stability of family relations? Is it enough to focus only on the income received? What about the exploitation occurring from the point of recruitment, employment, to termination of employment? Obviously employment agencies make a profit through their activities. Such agencies have sprung up in South Asian capitals and provinces similar to education agencies recruiting fee-paying students. If these examples represent globalisation, what is the bigger story and picture associated with it beyond the income and opportunity to work that are promoted by globalists, including government officials and politicians? Can we understand the true story and picture here without examining multiple dimensions of the story from the origin to destination. A doctoral student under my supervision looked at the story of Sri Lankan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to find various abuses these women endure and violations of labour conditions. In such sociological studies, it is important to look at the big picture rather than limiting oneself to positivist research methods of empirical data collection from a sample of women and writing about their views and experiences alone. Results have to be contextualised to highlight the big picture issues associated with globalisation and corresponding development logic.

We can examine how globalisation has affected other social structures, institutions, their norms and values, modes of interaction and communication, way of life, attitudes, methods of production and consumption also. Economy in developing countries itself being such a social structure or institution can be examined in terms of the impact.  For example, we can examine how indigenous products and production methods have been impacted by globalisation and its predecessor colonisation. When tea was introduced as a commercial crop to satisfy the taste buds of the British initially and popularised among the Ceylonese, it is said that over one hundred indigenous drinks disappeared from the local food habits. Now such drinks are limited to a few street hawkers in places like Kandy who sell them as hot drinks on the streets in little carts. Many more examples can be stated starting from the local handloom cottage industry to milk industry to what’s happening to fruits and vegetables in Sri Lanka. Examples can also be cited from other South Asian countries on the impact of neoliberal economic policies that favour donor countries and how they encourage imports while replacing local products and services? The globalisation process thus highlights and add value to products and services coming from the developed West, i.e. Europe and USA and now China and India, while devaluing the products and services that are local or indigenous. This is achieved by using multiple brainwashing, marketing strategies and the consent of local elites. These imported products and services are sold at double or triple the value of local products and services. Companies selling such products and services target social segments and classes within developing countries that are either resourceful or the aspiring middle classes. Resource rich include those who are benefitting from the new enterprises such as import trade or recruitment agencies, political and other elites, t hose who moved to the diaspora, and professionals such as doctors, accountants, lawyers. An attitude and value have been created in the minds of colonial subjects that if it is produced in a foreign country it is better! This attitude continues even today in the minds of people in developing countries. It gives an economic advantage to foreign producers and service providers while creating a dependency among local population. Access to high value foreign products becomes a status symbol not only among the elites but also the aspiring classes. It becomes the defining feature of class distinction as well.

The point I am raising here is not only about these structural factors associated with the big picture story about globalisation and its predecessor colonisation. It is also about the lifestyle, norms and values thinking patterns, reading and writing, consumption, and how market forces are controlling us supported by the elites who control key social institutions in our day to lives? How in the process we are being led to believe their story, not our own story is right?

I can go on talking a lot about what impact colonisation and globalisation have had on our language, learning, literature, religion and rituals, indigenous medicine, art and music etc. also. Rather than prolonging the article, I refer readers to my academic and other publications for more on these topics (see Research gate or Academia. edu under my name). I hope this article provides a starting point and a framework for others to critically examine what is happening in the developing global south, including South Asia and Sri Lanka, as a result of globalisation promoted by the elites and other globalists as the only solution to our problems of existence in a time where the gap between the rich and the poor/working class etc. is being widened more and more irrespective of globalization and neoliberal economic development!

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Prof. Siri,

    Global corruption has fed local corruption. Take President Sirisena’s track record on doing nothing about the Pharmaceutical companies that blocked the national Drugs Policy Bill and now the so called Solar Power War which is also going to ONLY benefit the companies that Manufactures and sell Solar Panels.

    The much hyped Solar Power War launched by the ignorant President of Sri Lanka who has been let up the garden Path by the Solar Panels company is a massive corruption scandle.

    No real technical assessment has been done on how much solar power energy a few panels on a roof top can generate! Solar panels on roof tops do not generate adequate energy to run even a FRIDGE!

    So how is the CEB going to purchase solar energy from private consumers. This is fiction generated by an ignorant and foolish President of Sri Lanka!

    Please CT Editors do some investigative reporting on the solar power war SCAM being launched in collaboration with corrupt engineers at the CEB!

    • 1

      Sri Lanka needs a clear long term Energy Policy and a Strategic Plan for balanced energy development focused on Renewable Energy.

      What is the company that is selling solar panels for the Presidents Solar War? Was wondering how this solar project would work.. very strange! Corruption must be the name of this game too!

      Where are these solar panels being manufactured? What is their quality? If they are made in Sri Lanka it may benefit the local economy, if not..? Why is the GoSL going to subsidized such a silly joke, without technical feasibility studies?

      This so called War for Solar Power sounds like a JO-KE? Like a JO- style scam..? After all JO is Sira’s old buddies..

      • 2

        Sri lanka has a culture of sabotage.

        Sri lankan can utilize wind power by using off shore ocean winds, solar panels as well as sea shore currents to produce electricity.

        I think solar panels are a very idea.

        Even temperature climates are using solar panels where ever possible.

        • 3

          Solar power is a very good idea in a country like Sri Lanka but it should be strategically planned and implemented,

          This Solar power war sounds like cheap publicity for the President to show his local colors but will be an expensive waste of money because the feasibility of the CEB buying solar power from small home owners is NON-EXISTENT and technically IMPOSSIBLE since small solar panels do not generate much energy and are only able to light 5 bulbs and run a fan or two!

    • 1

      As far back as 1980, I have seen houses lit by solar panels in Sri lanka. Sri lanka has ample sunlights. SOlar panel is not a thing. Now, china is producing solar panels cheap. On other hand, europe had new technology which makes solar panels more effective.

      Therefore, what kind of studies for what purpose, you are talkinga bout ?

      It is like Ranil Wickrmasinghe’s environmental study about the port city once it is completely finished.

  • 2

    Globalization is an ancient phenomenon, and has brought many positives and exposure to new ideas and cultures and enriched us though time BEFORE the current NEO-LIBERAL phase of Globalization led by the Washington Consensus and WTO.

    This recent phase has seen the GLOBALIZATION OF CORRUPTION, off shore Tax havens for the rich and globally networked, Panama Papers style financial fraud and TRICKLE UP policies, with massive growth in ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY, promoted by World bank and IMF in the guise of Structural adjustments all over the world.

    You reap what you have sown.
    Today we see a massive growth in INEQUALITY, Black Lives Matter Protests in the US and UK and ISIS and other terror groups in the Middle East, war and human displacement also caused by environmental damage. One of the hidden root cause of the wars in the MIddle East and Africa is due to massive INEQUALITY within and between countries and neo-liberal corporate led globalization and greed.

    Hence, the EU last week ruled that Apple must pay $24 billion to Govt. of Ireland which is Apples’s Tax haven to park all the profits it has made selling I Phones in Asia and Africa, where it should be paying taxes.

    Corruption is everywhere and INSTITUTIONALIZED in the Neoliberal project promoted by the World Bank, IMF and Washington Consensus, which is why today the west is facing a massive refugee crisis!

    • 1

      Globalization goes hand in hand with war. Recent Arab springs all over the middle east and north africa created lot of refugees on the other hand, those new govts become west friendly – capitalist govts. As those are sammle shanti – countries, they won’t be self sufficient and they always need to import things and will depend on imports to live.

  • 2

    Dear Dr. Siri Gamage.

    Yours is a timely article.

    The President of Sri Lanka is not about to be sell us out to globalization. The opposite is true. From the attempt to control the pharmaceutical industry, ban certain fertilizers, and other environmentally friendly measures, he is on the right track.

    You may be surprised to know that our Prime Minister also shares the view that the West failed in certain areas and he is not about to make us copy the so called developed nations.

    We all look up to developed nations, but they have not lived up to expectations. In terms of family life, economic growth, stability, the United Kingdom and the United States have degraded. There is a large impoverished working class and these countries have been affected by economic downturns and wars that ironically they have created. Divorce rates are high.

    The fight against globalization continues. It is up to the centuries old cultures to use their collective wisdom handed down over generations to ensure their civilization and values continue. You must be aware that until the second world war Western countries shared the same conservative values that eastern countries shared, but since has given up. It is a matter of time when Asia and Asian and conservative values shared by all major religions values again take centre stage as they have done for centuries, replacing with sanity the nations that have lost their heart, soul and spirituality. No nation is perfect, but the slide towards imperfection is taking place faster and faster in developed nations.

    Solar power is a catalyst to devolution of world power : without the need for oil for our electricity generation and transportation, those countries that use oil as a remote control for other nations will soon have us out of range, out of their power, it is inevitable. The shift to solar has huge consequences, and everyone knows it, so I support the President in his efforts.

  • 2

    Prof Siri
    I agree that globalization is a two edged sword .We get good stuff and bad coming in to our economy.Highly efficient German Solar Panels that work even in low light is a good thing .Western junk food is a bad thing.Eastern Junk food is even worse.

    If we did not have globalization we will have ended up with Koththu roti which should be banned anyway!

    The main problem is that we are energy dependent on oil imports .Unless we break that dependency we will be a under developed country for ever .So bring in the renewable energy boys!!

  • 0

    Conservative liberal national governments in Australia also do not support solar industry that much compared to labour and greens. They have close links to the polluting coal industry. Households with solar including mine provide excess energy and it goes to the power company for which we get very small sum,ie. Eight cents per kilo watt. But our power bill has been reduced with only six solar panels. So,households can benefit from solar. In the New England region where I live some companies have started solar and wind farms. It is reported that from one such project, energy can be provided to 15000 houses. So Sri Lanka can benefit from solar,especially it is subsidised for those who cannot afford initial cost. The battery technology to retain excess energy produced has to become more affordable. Otherwise,energy companies benefit more than households as they pay very little for the excess energy that households supply from solar.

  • 0

    One of the most important articles for Sri Lanka by Dr. Siri Gamage! Let’s hope Ranil reads this, and curbs his excitation into all things Globalized-Western.

    More than ever do we need Trump as President, rather than Clinton (although this is not conclusive). Rights of the majority indigenous/Masses need to be protected (White Masses rights in US included), so the rest of the earthly conservation and sustainability takes place.

    But with the wealth of the world upon their shoulders, US presidents tend to become One-World-Order-ish (the power-quest). Don’t know if we should take that chance with Trump; Clinton already known as the continuation of the Obaman policies…..known dogs better than the unknown dog.

  • 2

    Globalization brought us Buddhism, the Brahmi script, the umbrella, kokis and baila.

    It also has brought rich expats who buy up houses in the Galle Fort to turn into expensive resorts, Ukrainian hookers and drug couriers.

    Who decides which of these examples of globalization we encourage and which we find repugnant? And how should we institute policies to promote the ones we want and prevent the ones we don’t?

    • 0

      Modern globalization is a squashed conglomerate within small time-frame, of all historical globalizations, thus negating any true meaning of globalization for progeny. With modern globalization comes environmental, social, and aeon destruction.

  • 1

    Dr. Siri

    Globalization creates local agents and partners who work in the client states to the will of multinational masters.They impose “solutions” against the interest of the locals.The Sri Lankan ‘Diesel Mafia’ is such a blatant example of dirty power brokers.
    Global warming & climate change are portrayed as jokes of the elite.Who try to force a Hummer lifestyle in the country.Who can stop them because the lackeys in the CEB sing-along -with them.

  • 1

    What poor countries like Srilanka need are access to Global markets while protecting their share of the local base,

    Not Batalanada Ranils’s Globalization, where Indian are going to take over every thing.

    Plus what ever jobs even, which our folks have in Medicine, Engineering, IT, Manufacturing and Business..

    Hindian Mano Ganeshan’s latest propsal that Tamil is a must to get Public Sector jobs in addition to English says it all.

    In addition, Batalanada Ranil’s plan is to cull the Sinhala Buddhists from all important jobs in Armed Forces, Police and Government.

    And change the education system to stop the flow of rural Sinhala Buddhists to Universities.

    Obviously our average Sinhala Buddhist Jo Blows in the UNP have no idea about Batalanada Ranil’s big Agenda.

    Or they don’t care..

    Batalanda says he going to list Mattala Airport, and Hambantota Harbour on the CSX.

    Who are the investors who are going to buy shares in outfits where there is no business, let alone any revenue.

    This is a gimmick to give his his Western Buddies our National assets at mates rates.

    And use them for their Military needs going forward .

    It is all directed towards Elite , Anglican and Vellala rule over the rural Sinhala Buddhists, just like the good old days, when Batalanda Ranil’s ancestors ruled the roost.

    • 4

      KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera

      “Hindian Mano Ganeshan’s latest propsal that Tamil is a must to get Public Sector jobs in addition to English says it all.”

      Has he been travelling on Hindian passport? Please check his passport, IC, Birth Certificate, hospital records, …..

      As for Public sector jobs, the employee should be rewarded for learning more than one language by giving them incentives, not punishment as your hero the public racist number I Banda and his gang did in the 1950s.

      Once a Rawatte was seen chatting in flawless Tamil. A surprised onlooker asked him as to how he learnt flawless Tamil. Ratwatte told baffled man “When you go up in the Kandyan society Tamil improves”

      Please refer to D D Nanayakara’s article “Sinhala Tamil Unity” in International Tamil Conference 1974. He a retired principle hailed from Panadura who wrote about affinity between Tamil and Sinhala languages. Therefore it is not too difficult to learn languages provided people are given choices.

      Once in a while you should pull your head out of wherever it is now and see the world outside your “Vellala Abraham, Dalit Sinhala/Buddhism” realm.

      “What poor countries like Srilanka need are access to Global markets while protecting their share of the local base,”

      Are you sure you know what you are talking about?

      “In addition, Batalanada Ranil’s plan is to cull the Sinhala Buddhists from all important jobs in Armed Forces, Police and Government.”

      Don’t you think it is good idea. Get the aged, corrupt, inefficient, murderous, Killans (petty chiefs of small towns in ancient Tamilakam), out of the system and bring in new blood with sense of duty?

      “And change the education system to stop the flow of rural Sinhala Buddhists to Universities.”

      Isn’t it a noble idea? The universities should go to Villages, given that advanced communication systems are capable of connecting people of different continents and time zones. Since the introduction of conference calling facilities, the number of trips the executives and non executives enjoyed have been cut down to bare minimum or at least that’s the idea.

      This will enable the rural Sinhala Buddhists stay at home, help their parents when they need them, cost effective lodging at home, good food prepared by mother or grand mother, enable them to avoid ragging, avoid boozing culture, avoid strikes, avoid violence, city congestion, pollution, noise and smell…. When necessary they should be able to attend uni once in a month or as the uni wants them to.

      One more advantage the students can still be with their sweet hearts, no need to find new ones in the city.

      Being MR’s official b***s carrier you cannot see beyond his b***s.

      What is your problem?

    • 0

      Hindian Mano Ganeshan’s latest propsal that Tamil is a must to get Public Sector jobs in addition to English says it all.

      Sri Lanka is becoming a Kerala where majority hindus are governed by Muslims and Christians. Hinduism is every where in Hindusthan.

      Only problem is Sri lanka is a sovereigncountry. Sinhala – buddhist is a unique civilization. In Sri lanka, Sinhala buddhists are threatened by Tamils and muslims.

      Ranil wickramsinghe is writing and talking about economy. but, when he does only thing they dop is taking loans by selling bonds and treasury -bills.

      CBK and Mangala Samaraweera are fixing the Tamil civilization in Sri lanka at the expense of Sinhala people.

      Some one has to revive Mr. Kadiragamar.

      • 3

        jim softy dimwit

        “Only problem is Sri lanka is a sovereigncountry.”

        What is sovereignty?

        “Sinhala – buddhist is a unique civilization.”

        What is Sinhala – buddhist civilization?

        Why it is unique?

        “In Sri lanka, Sinhala buddhists are threatened by Tamils and muslims.”


        “CBK and Mangala Samaraweera are fixing the Tamil civilization in Sri lanka at the expense of Sinhala people.”

        Is there something called Tamil civilization?

        I don’t see any difference between Tamil and Sinhala civilisations?

        Are they both really civilised?

        I would not think so. Both are corrupt to the core, rage 24/07/52, represented by crooks at all levels, never contended with what they have, both are idol worshipers, stupid, war criminals,believe in astrology and all kind voodoo (huniyama), ….

  • 2

    Dear Prof Sri Gamage,
    The reality has been and will be materialism is part and parcel of the human race for various reasons.

    If your title is the head of a sovereign coin ( or a country ) there is also a tail to that coin .

    The title on the tail is
    ” Globalisation & The Role Of Clergies be they be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or any other: Impact On Social Structures for economic self sufficiency without any moral corruption.

    NB : Not only the West, even China , Russia , Cuba and many other socialist or communist countries are also part of the players actively involved in the game of globalisation and are transforming by leaving behind their ideologies.

    PS : May triple Gem bless mother Lanka and all her children regardless of race , language, religion, cast or colour.

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