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11 - High-end globalization and low-end globalization: African traders across Afro-Asia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2020

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter describes low-end globalization – the informal economy; the shadow economy – as practised by African entrepreneurs in Guangzhou, China. It shows how low-end and high-end globalization are ideal types, with individual entrepreneurs weaving between them in terms of sending copies or original goods, paying bribes or not, and numerous other areas. The chapter addresses these types of globalization in terms of contracts vs. reputation, legality vs. illegality, bureaucratic procedures vs. personal linkages, and universalism vs. particularism. It examines how these idealtype dichotomies play out in entrepreneurs’ actual practices and choices in a variety of complex and carefully calculated ways. The geopolitics of high- and low-end globalization as they are practised and developed by individual entrepreneurs within global trade are also examined.

Keywords: Low-end globalization, high-end globalization, African entrepreneurs in China, contracts, copies, bribes

Introduction

Globalization in the developed world is typically characterized by the goods and services of multinational corporations, such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Apple, Samsung, Sony, Starbucks, Facebook, and Google. This is what I term ‘high-end globalization’, which is typically practised by vast organizations with billion-dollar budgets, global advertising campaigns, and battalions of lawyers. However, there is another type: ‘low-end globalization’, which I define as ‘the transnational flow of people and goods involving relatively small amounts of capital and informal, sometimes semi-legal or illegal transactions, commonly associated with “the developing world”’ but, in fact, is apparent across the globe (Mathews, 2011: 19-20). This is globalization as experienced by most of the world's people, as practised by traders with a few friends or family members, who buy a relatively small quantity of goods, often knock-offs or copies, and who use bribery to get them through customs. These goods are typically sold by street vendors or on sidewalk stalls rather than in malls or department stores.

Low-end globalization has been analysed by various scholars in recent years, including Hart (1973), Portes, Castells, and Benton (1989), Hansen and Vaa (2004), and Neuwirth (2011), and is often referred to as the ‘informal economy’. This relates to the formal economy as low-end globalization does to high-end globalization. I suggest that the latter terms are more appropriate than the former, because the world is becoming increasingly linked, and national economies cannot be seen as separate entities.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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