Notes Towards the New Zealand Centre for Globalisation Studies

Keywords: Globalisation & Trade;


The conditions for a Marsden Grant require some technology transfer above the publication of articles and teaching. My successful application for a contribution to my research program on globalisation proposed that I would establish a virtual New Zealand Centre for Globalisation Studies (NZCGS), since I am not in a position to supervise research students directly.

The broad aims of the centre would be to foster the study of globalisation in New Zealand by providing a virtual venue where New Zealand researchers can interact . Additionally it is likely to be an interface between New Zealand globalisation research and the world research community.

For the purpose of the centre I propose to adapt the Stiglitz/Fisher definition and define globalisation as the phenomenon of greater economic integration of nations and regions. I have added ‘regions’ to their definition, because there is a continuity between the regional integration of the nineteenth century which led to national economies (e.g. the German Customs Union/Zollverein evolving into Germany) and the current national integration (e.g. Germany in the EU). My earlier definition of ‘globalisation as the consequence of the falling costs of distance’ has a number of analytic merits, and I shall continue to use it as the basis of my research program. But I do not want others to be forced to sign up to it.

Although I have defined globalisation in economic terms, it should be emphasised that the Centre is not concerned with narrow economic issues, and needs to include every other relevant discipline. (I have never been sure about the boundaries between economics and the other social sciences.)

I add that I think globalisation is one of the defining characteristics of the modern world, the greatest economic challenge New Zealand faces, but also the greatest source of opportunity for a successfully developing New Zealand.

What Kind of Centre?

There is very little funding in the Marsden Grant for a centre – sufficient for a webmaster and the related website fees. In any case there is a piquancy both that a globalisation centre should be virtual, and that it offers the possibility to avoid all the institutional rivalries which arise from the fragmentation of research in NZ between universities (and campuses), and to integrate in the growing off-campus research. (I have already reserved for the site.)

Having said that, if any institution was to offer a physical base – with appropriate resources – one would have to give the offer careful consideration. In some respects the ‘branch’ structure proposed below gives the possibility of a physical base.


Since Centres have directors, I suppose the founding director is Brian Easton. He is a researcher, not an administrator, and as soon as anyone wants to take over (providing they also supply the resources) Brian will happily step down.

Centres usually have boards. The whole aim of a virtual centre is to have an administratively simple structure, but there may be a place for a board, not only to moderate the director, but also to get more involvement of others. A simple board might arise by inviting each NZ university to nominate one person to act as link person to the Centre. Collectively the liaison people could be ‘the Board’. It might be worth adding to the Board up to a further (say) eight people to cover New Zealand researchers overseas, research institutions outside the universities (including polytechnics) and also disciplines not otherwise covered in the membership. They would be added by the existing Board following nomination. I don’t expect the Board to ever meet formally in real space, its transactions being in virtual space.

If we have a board we need a chairperson to keep the director in line. He or she will have to be in Wellington (as long as the director is). Someone eminent and informed with the time, I’d have thought (but that is an oxymoron). Probably not in a university? Does the director appoint a temporary chair as a part of the setting up process?

We need to allow the possibility for branches of the Centre. The sort of thing I have in mind would a group of enthusiasts at a university meeting over a seminar series, perhaps with a sub-website. However, we should not be prescriptive about what they cannot or can do, EXCEPT to be clear the centre and branches are essentially research organisations; they should never make public policy announcements – other than that we are in favour of more research funding for, and debate about, globalisation.

What about members? Centres usually have fellows, and some researchers like the title. So let’s have Fellows, defined as active researchers on globalisation. The only ‘privilege’ that the Fellows would have would be to have their names in the list of Fellows on the website, with their main interests, and a link to their personal web pages. I suppose the Board would have to approve each Fellow, but the criterion needs to be simple: an active research program and a webpage. There is no need to restrict the Fellows to living in New Zealand. I am promoting Diaspora Studies.

There will also be non-researchers interested in the activities of the Centre. I envisage the Centre’s website being open to the public. Perhaps there will have to be a registration system for associates on the discussion boards.

This could be formalised as a preliminary ‘constitution’ to be put up on the website for discussion and amendment.

It is easier to see the final shape of the centre than the transition to setting it up. Hopefully people will bear with the mistakes that occur during that period.

Should there be ‘corporate sponsors’ (including government departments)? It would be a way of involving non-academic institutions which have an interest in promoting the objectives of the centre.

The Website

I am proposing, tentatively, that the website have the following features.

1. The usual introductions and administration material
2. News
3. Diary of conferences seminars and visitors
4. A list of Fellows with links to their websites, and a search facility for identifying Fellows with particular interests.
5. Links to relevant websites
6. Links to relevant web-published research papers.
7. Possibly – a refereed web-based publication of occasional papers.
8. Synopses and reviews (say less than 500 words, or links). These need no be confined to NZ studies.
9. Bulletin boards for discussion. (I suppose it will be moderated. The only bit I really care about is to contain personal abuse while promoting vigorous debate about ideas. Any other reasons for moderation – relevance?)
10. Research questions (bulletin board format)
11. Anything else? – presumably it can evolve.

Note that the branches should be able to be part of the board, via links and news.


It is perhaps ironic that despite research being the focus of the Centre, and despite an attempt to minimise the Centre as an administrative/resource institution, the section on research comes last.

The Centre will enhance New Zealand research on globalisation by the synergies which come from New Zealand (including those overseas) researchers better connecting. There is a lot of New Zealand research which is isolated within institutions, by discipline and by location. I have already been contacted by a range of people doing research in the area I had not previously known about. My impression, too, is that there are numerous post-graduate students desperate for New Zealand material and contacts.

Hopefully too a vigorous website will encourage others – both full researchers and post-graduates – to work on globalisation projects.

And the website as a portal for the rest of the world may promote synergies between local and overseas researchers (perhaps not just in the globalisation research area)..

While the Centre itself will do no research – its Fellows do – perhaps it could facilitate the funding of research on globalisation. Examples are

1. The applications for some public research funds involve minimum amounts which exceed the requirements of individual researchers. Perhaps the Centre could facilitate the amalgamation of small packages into one which meets the minimum quantum.

2. I have some research I want done for my project which I don’t intend to do myself (I don’t have a comparative advantage in the methods, nor the time). In one case I even know a potential funder, who will probably want to do it under the aegis of the Centre.

3. There are overseas New Zealanders who are involved in cross-country comparisons. The cost of adding New Zealand to their study is small compared to the potential gains of comparative information. Could the Centre promote these add-ons? (Incidentally these studies need not be about globalisation per se. Rather they are an illustration of the globalisation of research.)

As things proceed there may be more such opportunities. A centre by its presence can attract funds, offering the opportunity to leverage existing research. On the other hand this director does not see himself as raising funds for others to spend. We need to be modest in our objectives.

Conferences and Visitors

It has been suggested the centre could run conferences and host visitors. Well yes, except the centre has not yet the resources. (What would a ‘virtual conference’ be like?)

Brian Easton (December 2003)

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