Who Are the Subjective Losers of Globalization? Evidence from a Global Survey in 26 Countries

About this Session


Thu. 11.04.'24 15:25



In recent decades, scholars across different disciplines have examined the heterogenous effects of globalization on individuals’ life chances. Economists have analyzed the unequal distribution of international trade benefits among occupations, workers with different skill levels, or rural and urban areas. Sociologists have stressed the relevance of social class positions and educational attainment for access to transnational mobility and cosmopolitan cultural capital. Political scientists have argued that globalization has created new groups of winners and losers with opposing political preferences. These perspectives predominantly center on objective socio-structural characteristics for identifying those who benefit from or are disadvantaged by globalization processes.

In this study, I shift the focus toward individuals’ perceptions of globalization, specifically examining whether they perceive themselves as negatively affected by it. Shifting our attention to subjective perceptions of globalization holds importance for two reasons. First, drawing on research on perceptions of inequality and the relationship between objective and subjective social class, we know that people’s subjective experiences are intertwined with but distinct from their objective social position. Analyzing the alignment between people’s perceptions of globalization and their actual objective exposure to its effects will deepen our understanding of the societal impact of globalization. Second, subjective experiences play a pivotal role in group formation, by shaping the formation of collective identities and coherent political preferences. Whether globalization produces groups of losers that subsequently mobilize against it politically, as cleavage theory suggests, fundamentally hinges on the relevance of globalization to people’s subjective experiences.

The aim of this study is to analyze factors influencing individuals’ self-perception as losers of globalization. To investigate this question, I use data from a comparative survey with over 50.000 respondents in 26 heterogenous countries, spanning both the Global North and South, which features an item measuring whether respondents see themselves as losers of globalization. Preliminary findings suggest that identifying as a subjective loser of globalization is less contingent upon adverse material conditions or adherence to traditional values. Instead, it appears to be part of a nexus of feelings of exclusion and a sense of being left behind in society that can get activated by political actors. The study picks up on to the themes of the conference concerning individuals’ perceptions of societal transformations, their own position within structural inequalities, and how these perceptions can underpin political conflicts.