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Bernd Sommer: Externalisation, Globalised Value Chains and the Invisible Consequences of Social Actions. [Abstract]

Recently, advanced political economies have been described as externalisation societies whose relatively well-off majorities live off the resources, labour forces, and life chances of others. This paper illustrates social processes of externalisation by referring to the example of globalised value chains for the production of common consumer goods, in particular, cars and clothing. Drawing on Norbert Elias’s figurational sociology, globalised value chains can be described as chains of interdependence. Elias identifies the growing length and complexity of chains of interdependence as one of the central social preconditions that contribute to the civilising of behaviour and emotions, including increased foresight and growing empathy with people independent of their group affiliation. Zygmunt Bauman provides an alternative perspective to theorise externalisation processes related to the current formation of value chains: Due to the length and complexity of functional dependencies, significant consequences of social actions recede from the sight of actors. Conceptualised this way, globalised value chains are no social prerequisites for an increased foresight and scope of mutual identification, but – on the contrary – undermine these processes. The paper critically discusses both theoretical perspectives on the behavioural and emotional implications of the globalisation of value chains.

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