Globalization, Transnationalism and Trade

Global Entrepreneurship
and Transnationalism
Ivan Light
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Los Angeles
Once diasporas were . . .
Ethno-national communities scattered
around the globe in continuous, long-term
contact with one another.
Hub and spokes organization with the
homeland as hub
Middleman minorities
Historic trading peoples who undertook
commercial functions wherever they
Middleman minorities were organized into
Exemplary middleman minorities:
Chinese in SE Asia
Parsees of India
Sikhs of East Africa
Armenians of the Levant
Jews of Europe and North Africa
Hausa of Nigeria
Resisting Assimilation
Immigrants assimilated. Middleman
minorities successfully resisted
assimilation for centuries. Result: they
were bi-cultural in mono-cultural
Retention of their ethnic culture enabled
them to retain the diasporic structure for
Trading Diasporas
Middleman minorities exploited the commercial
resources that their diasporic communities
afforded them.
Quickly perceived business opportunities
International social networks
Enforceable Trust
Business skills
Speaking their ethnic language as well as
the vernacular of their country of
residence, middleman minorities could
communicate across linguistic barriers that
stymied others.
In Turkey
In Peru
Turkish > Armenian > Armenian > Spanish
weaver merchant merchant customer
Perception of opportunities
Living simultaneously in two or more
societies, middlemen minorities readily
perceived entrepreneurial opportunities for
moving goods or services from one to the
International Social Networks
Thanks to the hub and spoke organization of
their diasporas, middleman minorities
could readily find co-ethnic trading
partners abroad.
Enforceable Trust
The international social networks produced
an international system of enforceable
trust that subjected to sanctions any who
violated the presumption of honesty.
Jewish diamond merchants in Amsterdam.
Business Skills
Middleman minorities acquired advanced
business skills and passed them along to
younger generations.
There weren’t any business schools then!
Resisting assimilation is crucial
When immigrants or ethnic minorities
assimilate, they lose their commercial
international social networks with enforceable trust
ethnic repository of business skills
advantageous perception of market opportunity
Transnationalism Now
Transnationalism provides today’s migratory
ethnic minorities with most of the same
diasporic advantages that were once
reserved to middleman minorities.
Transnationalism’s effect
Transnationalism increases the number of
people who have access to the diasporic
advantages that were in the past restricted
to middleman minorities.
Transnationalism does not suppress or
replace middleman minorities.
Transnationalism, defined
When immigrants build persistent, bi-cultural
diasporas that link their country of origin
and their country of settlement.
Transmigrants are resident in at least two
societies, and active participants in all at
the same time.
Encouraging Transnationalism:
Instantaneous electronic communications
Jet airplanes and low fares
Host country multiculturalism
Sending country retentionism
dual citizenship
Entrepreneur visas
Transnational Diasporas
Hub and spokes structure
International social networks
Enforceable trust
But transnationals lack a cultural heritage of
business skills in the historic short run
From above and below
“Transnationalism from below” refers to
social conditions that result in wholesale
production of transnationals among
immigrant minorities.
“Transnationalism from above” refers to
state policies that encourage
transnationalism among migratory elites.
Is transnationalism eternal?
Will transnationals resist assimilation for
Possibly globalization creates a new
transnational for every one who finally
If so, transnationals ultimately assimilate,
but transnationalism persists.
In the past, immigrants to the USA became
monolingual in English in the third
generation. Monolingualism is a litmus
test of assimilation.
Globalization means the accelerated
economic integration of previously less
integrated national economies.
Globalization and Transnationalism
Transnationals are well endowed to do the
work of linking and integrating economies.
bi-cultural, spoke and hub organization, international
networks, enforceable trust, prompt perception of
opportunity conditions
Who’s in charge?
Globalization is much bigger than
Transnationalism is globalization’s helper.
The dominance of English
English has become the dominant language
of the globalized world, esp. the business
English is the largest language group in the
world when we sum native speakers and
those who acquire it as a second
Consequences of English
English-speaking business people in Turkey
and Peru no longer need the intermediary
help of resident Armenians in order to do
This intermediary service was an important prop of
middleman minorities’ commercial advantage and its
loss undermines (but does not extinguish) the
commercial advantage of transnational entrepreneurs.
Asymmetrical Effects of English
In the 1990s, immigration increased the
exports of both Canada and the United
States without increasing their imports.
That is, increased immigrants from country A
increased Canadian and US exports to
country A without increasing imports from
A possible explanation
Foreigners abroad now speak English so
they need no help from transnational
immigrants from the USA or from Canada
in order to export to Canada or the USA.
Speaking English, Swedes don’t need transnational
Americans in Sweden in order to export to the United
True, Swedes made some
Vacuum cleaner advertising slogan: “Nothing
sucks like Electrolux.”
Jens and the “pirate ship” to Copenhagen
But conversely
Mono-lingual Americans and Englishspeaking Canadians need the help of
resident transnationals in order to export
to their homelands.
Speaking only English, Americans need the help of
Swedish transnationals in the US in order to export to
My friend Sharon C
Got nowhere exporting American cheese to
Mexico until she hired a Mexican American
salesman. Now he’s her partner.
Transnational Entrepreneurs
Transnational entrepreneurs in Englishspeaking countries enjoy enhanced
opportunities in the export trade thanks to
their bi-cultural competence.
It’s better to be a transnational Polish entrepreneur in
Canada than a transnational Canadian entrepreneur in
“The merchant speaks the
customers' language”
This ancient adage of international
commerce is still true, and it means that
mono-lingual Anglophone entrepreneurs
need bi-lingual helpers in order to
find/build markets abroad.
Lost in translation
Chevy Nova = Chevy no va = Chevy doesn’t
go in Spanish
Chevrolet sales bombed in Latin America!
Global English
English dominance is now a structure, not a
friction. The effects of global English
dominance are asymmetrical.
One advantage
Native speakers of English enjoy an
asymmetrical commercial advantage in
that their foreign trade negotiations are
carried on in their native language.
This situation also confers an asymmetrical
Additional advantage
The English-speaking countries also derived
advantages from transnational business
migrants who increased their exports
without increasing their imports.
Cui bono?
Transnational entrepreneurship does not
have identical economic consequences or
bestow equal benefits everywhere in the
Conclusion 1
Transnational entrepreneurs
enhance the international trade of
all countries.
bi-cultural, spoke and hub organization,
international networks, enforceable trust, prompt
perception of opportunity conditions
Conclusion 2
The English-speaking world obtains
the most benefit from immigrant
Looking out of the goldfish bowl is their unique challenge.
The case for the advantageousness of
transnational entrepreneurship is
somewhat weaker in non-Englishspeaking countries than in Anglophone
Ivan Light. 2007. “Global
entrepreneurship and
transnationalism.” Ch. 1 in Handbook
of research on ethnic minority
entrepreneurship, ed. Leo-Paul Dana.
Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar

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