The term ‘crisis’ played a central role in many national political debates during the 1970s, although definitions of it varied widely. Towards the end of the century it had largely been replaced by another, more optimistic term, ‘globalization’.  An earlier version of this paper was given at the World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology in Yerevan on 13 June 2009. Since 2008, however, the tone has turned sombre again, and the notion of ‘crisis’ has abruptly resurfaced; but its usage is just as loose as ever. The questions of how to define a crisis, and how to explain its origins, have once again come to the fore.
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