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Globalization has become one of the central but contested concepts of contemporary social science. The term has further entered everyday commentary and analysis and features in many political, cultural, and economic debates. The globalized world order originates in the international organizations and regulatory systems set up after World War II – including the United Nations, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now the World Trade Organization), the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. However, the end of the Cold War was the prelude to the maturity of the concept of globalization, since after 1989, it was possible at least to imagine a ‘‘borderless’’ world in which people, goods, ideas, and images would flow with relative ease and the major global division between East and West had gone. A world divided by competing ideologies of capitalism and state socialism gave way to a more uncertain world in which capitalism became the dominant economic and social system. Coinciding with these changes, a major impetus to globalization was the development and availability of digital communication technologies from the late 1980s with dramatic con sequences for the way economic and personal behavior were conducted. The collapse of communism and growth of digital technologies further coincided with a global restructuring of the state, finance, production, and consumption associated with neoliberalism.
There are many views on the nature and impact of globalization, which is not a single process. Economic globalization refers to such things as the global dominance of transnational corporations, global finance, flexible production and assembly, and the rise of information and service economies. Political globalization can be understood in terms of the growth of international organizations, subnational regional autonomy, the spread of post welfare public policies, and global social movements. Further, globalization possibly weakens the effectiveness and cohesion of the nation state as its traditional functions are ‘‘hollowed out’’ – transferred ‘‘upwards’’ to international organizations and ‘‘downwards’’ to regional bodies. Again globalization is a cultural process, indicated by the growth of global consumption cultures, tour ism, media and information flows, and transnational migration and identities. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the growth of global brands and media that carry both cultural and economic significance. A globalized world is one of increasing instantaneity, where events are experienced instantly even by people in spatially distant locations through access to digital communicative technologies. This creates a complex range of social interconnections governed by the speed of communications, thereby creating a partial collapse of boundaries within national, cultural, and political space. However, the meaning and significance of globalization remains far from clear. Some are optimistic (e.g., Friedman 2000), but some are more pessimistic and critical about globalization’s con sequences (e.g., Falk 1999). Urry (2003) and Giddens (1999) regard globalization as an emergent process with effects in its own right, although this view is rejected by Rosenberg (2000), for whom it is the effect of a complex combination of social, economic, cultural, and political changes such as internationalization, imperialism, the ‘‘weightless economy,’’ post Fordism, and neoliberalism. It might appear as though global western media create a homogeneous world culture dominated by global brands and TV networks. But at the same time they create increased heterogeneity between globalization winners and losers, global cities and surrounding locales, and eclectic hybrids of local and global cultures.
Globalization is a spatial process that has facilitated the emergence of a new kind of global city based on highly specialized service economies that serve specific, particularized functions in the global economic system at the expense of former logics of organization tied to manufacturing based economies. To enable global markets to function effectively, they need to be underpinned by specialized managerial work that is concentrated in cities. Further, privatization and deregulation during the 1980s and 1990s shifted various governance functions to the corporate world, again centralizing these activities in urban centers. In post industrial cities there is a concentration of command functions that serve as production sites for finance and the other leading industries, and provide marketplaces where firms and governments can buy financial instruments and services. Global cities become strategic sites for the acceleration of capital and information flows, and at the same time spaces of increasing socioeconomic polarization. One effect of this has been that such cities have gained in importance and power relative to nation states. There have emerged new ‘‘corridors’’ and zones around nodal cities with increasingly relative independence from surrounding areas. Networks of global cities densely connected by air have also emerged (Sassen 1996).
There is a wide range of social theories of globalization. Robertson was one of the first sociologists to theorize globalization and central to his approach is the concept of ‘‘global consciousness,’’ which refers to ‘‘the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole’’ (1992: 8). Through thought and action, global consciousness makes the world a single place. What it means to live in this place, and how it must be ordered, become universal questions. These questions receive different answers from individuals and societies that define their position in relation to both a system of societies and the shared properties of humankind from very different perspectives. This confrontation of worldviews means that globalization involves ‘‘comparative interaction of different forms of life’’ (1992: 27). Unlike theorists who identify globalization with late (capitalist) modernity, Robertson sees global interdependence and consciousness preceding the advent of capitalist modernity. However, European expansion and state formation have boosted globalization since the seventeenth century and the con temporary shape of the world owes most to the ‘‘takeoff ’’ decades after about 1875, when international communications, transportation, and conflict dramatically intensified relationships across societal boundaries. In that period, the main reference points of fully globalized order took shape: nation state, individual self, world system, societies, and one humanity. These elements of the global situation became ‘‘relativized’’ since national societies and individuals, in particular, must interpret their very existence as parts of a larger whole. To some extent, a common framework has guided that interpretive work; for example, states can appeal to a universal doctrine of nationalism to legitimate their particularizing claims to sovereignty and cultural distinction. But such limited common principles do not provide a basis for world order.
By the end of the twentieth century, if not before, globalization had transformed the way people saw themselves in the world. Everyone must now reflexively respond to the common predicament of living in one world. This provokes the formulation of contending world views. For example, some portray the world as an assembly of distinct communities, highlighting the virtues of particularism, while others view it as developing toward a single overarching organization, representing the presumed interests of humanity as a whole. In a com pressed world, the comparison and confrontation of worldviews are bound to produce new cultural conflict. In such conflict, religious traditions play a special role, since they can be mobilized to provide an ultimate justification for one’s view of the world – a case in point being the resurgence of ‘‘fundamentalist’’ groups that combine traditionalism with a glo bal agenda. A globalized world is thus integrated but not harmonious, a single place but also diverse, a construct of shared consciousness but prone to fragmentation.
For Anthony Giddens the concept of time space distantiation is central. This is a process in which locales are shaped by events far away and vice versa, while social relations are disembedded, or ‘‘lifted out’’ from locales. For example, peasant households in traditional societies largely produced their own means of subsistence, a tithe was often paid in kind (goods, animals, or labor), money was of limited value, and economic exchange was local and particularistic. Modernization replaced local exchange with universal exchange of money, which simplifies otherwise impossibly complex transitions and enables the circulation of highly complex forms of information and value in increasingly abstract and symbolic forms. The exchange of money establishes social relations across time and space, which under globalization is speeded up. Similarly, expert cultures arise as a result of the scientific revolutions, which bring an increase in technical knowledge and specialization. Specialists claim ‘‘universal’’ and scientific forms of knowledge, which enable the establishment of social relations across vast expanses of time and space. Social distance is created between professionals and their clients as in the modern medical model, which is based upon the universal claims of science. As expert know ledge dominates across the globe, local perspectives become devalued and modern societies are reliant on expert systems. Trust is increasingly the key to the relationship between the individual and expert systems and is the ‘‘glue’’ that holds modern societies together. But where trust is undermined, individuals experience ontological insecurity and a sense of insecurity with regard to their social reality.
Ohmae’s (2005) concept of a ‘‘borderless world’’ epitomizes enthusiasm and the belief that globalization brings improvement in human conditions. Ohmae describes an ‘‘invisible continent’’ – a moving, unbounded world in which the primary linkages are now less between nations than between regions that are able to operate effectively in a global economy without being closely networked with host regions. The invisible continent can be dated to 1985 when Microsoft released Windows 1.0, CNN was launched, Cisco Systems began, the first Gateway 2000 computers were shipped, and companies like Sun Microsystems and Dell were in their infancies. Back then, the economic outlook was gloomy and few saw this embryonic continent forming. Now, of course, it affects virtually every business. Transnational corporations increasingly do not treat countries as single entities and region states make effective points of entry into the global economy. For example, when Nestle? moved into Japan, it chose the Kansai region round Osaka and Kobe rather than Tokyo as a regional doorway. This fluidity of capital is creating a borderless world in which capital moves around, chasing the best products and the highest investment returns regardless of national origin. The cyberworld has changed not only the way business works but also the way we interact on a personal level – from buying and selling online to planning for retirement, managing investment and bank accounts. Decisions made on the invisible continent (the ‘‘platforms’’ that are created by businesses rather than governments) determine how money moves around the globe.
Giddens (1999) is less unambiguously enthusiastic about globalization than Ohmae and describes it as a ‘‘runaway world’’ which ‘‘is not – at least at the moment – a global order driven by collective human will. Instead, it is emerging in an anarchic, haphazard fashion, carried along by a mixture of economic, technological and cultural imperatives.’’ The global order is the result of an intersection of four processes – capitalism (economic logic), the interstate system (world order), militarism (world security and threats), and industrialism (the division of labor and lifestyles). However, Giddens does not say what the weight of each of these factors is and whether they change historically.
Similarly, David Harvey emphasizes the ways in which globalization revolutionizes the qualities of space and time. As space appears to shrink to a ‘‘global village’’ of telecommunications and ecological interdependencies and as time horizons shorten to the point where the present is all there is, so we have to learn how to cope with an overwhelming sense of compression of our spatial and temporal worlds (1990: 240–2). Time space compression that ‘‘annihilates’’ space and creates ‘‘timeless time’’ is driven by flexible accumulation and new technologies, the production of signs and images, just in time delivery, reduced turnover times and speeding up, and both de and reskilling. Harvey points for support to the ephemerality of fashions, products, production techniques, speedup and vertical disintegration, financial markets and computerized trading, instantaneity and disposability, regional competitiveness. For Harvey, flexibilized computer based production in Silicon Valley or the ‘‘Third Italy’’ epitomizes these changes.
John Urry argues that the changes associated with globalization are so far reaching that we should now talk of a ‘‘sociology beyond societies.’’ This position is informed by the alleged decline of the nation state in a globalized world, which has led to wider questioning of the idea of ‘‘society’’ as a territorially bounded entity. This in turn prepares the ground for claims to the effect that since ‘‘society’’ was a core sociological concept, the very foundations of the discipline have likewise been undermined. The central concepts of the new socialities are space (social topologies), regions (interregional competition), networks (new social morphology), and fluids (global enterprises). Mobility is central to this thesis since globalization is the complex movement of people, images, goods, finances, and so on that constitutes a process across regions in faster and unpredictable shapes, all with no clear point of arrival or departure.
Despite the contrasting theoretical understandings of globalization, there is some measure of agreement that it creates new opportunities or threats. For example, globalization offers new forms of cosmopolitanism and economic growth but also new threats and global risks such as ecological crisis, global pandemics, and international crime and terrorism. Globalization may be seen as encroachment and colonization as global corporations and technologies erode local customs and ways of life, which in turn engenders new forms of protest and assertion of local cultural identity. Enthusiasts argue that the effects are positive and that integration into the global economy increases economic activity and raises living standards. Legrain, for example, claims that in 2000 the per capita income of citizens was four times greater than that in 1950. Between 1870 and 1979, production per worker became 26 times greater in Japan and 22 times greater in Sweden. In the whole world in 2000 it was double what it was in 1962. Even more significantly, he argues that those countries isolated from the global capitalist economy have done less well than those that have engaged with it. Poor countries that are open to international trade grew over six times faster in the 1970s and 1980s than those that shut themselves off from it: 4.5 percent a year, rather than 0.7 percent. He claims that cross national data indicate how openness to international trade helps the poor by a magnitude roughly equal to each percentage increase in GDP (Legrain 2002: 49– 52). By contrast, it can be argued that global patterns of inequality have become increasingly polarized. According to UN data, the richest 20 percent in the world ‘‘own’’ 80 percent of the wealth; the second 20 percent own 10 percent; the third 20 percent own 6 percent; the fourth 20 percent own 3 percent; and the poorest 20 percent own only 1 percent. Throughout the world, 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 per day. These global inequalities predate globalization, of course, but there are global processes that are maintaining a highly unequal social system (Akyuz et al. 2002).
Contradictions in the global economy are illustrated in other ways too. Liberalization and globalization of capital may not have driven costs down in developed countries where few workers are prepared to tolerate the conditions this new model creates. Flexible global ordering systems need not just produce flexible labor, but flexible labor in excess, because to manage the supply of labor it is necessary to have a surplus. Migrants, many of whom are drawn into the North by collapsing agricultural prices at home, have met this need. But in the wake of hostility manifest in many developed countries, especially following threats of terrorist attack, migrants face tightening border controls and deportation of those who are not in areas where there is a shortage of skills.
Globalization has been the focus of extensive social movement activism and resistance, especially to neoliberal globalism represented by bodies such as the WTO. Glasius et al. (2002) identify the emergence of a ‘‘global civil society’’ in, for example, the growth of ‘‘parallel summits’’ such as the 2001 Porto Alegre meeting in Brazil attended by 11,000 people to pro test against the Davos (Switzerland) World Economic Forum. These are organized through multiple networks of social actors and NGOs operating on local and international levels. There may appear to be an irony that many of the internationally organized or linked movements use globalized forms of communication (notably the Internet) and operate transnationally, mobilizing a global consciousness and solidarities. However, many activists are not necessarily opposed to globalization as such but to economic neoliberal globalization and a corporatist agenda that is intent on constricting individual freedom and local lifestyles in the name of profit. Some further claim that globalization is a new form of imperialism imposing western (especially US) political and economic dominance over the rest of the world. For anti globalization critics, international bodies such as the World Bank and IMF are not accountable to the populations on whom their actions have most effects – for example, when loans are made conditional on structural adjustment and privatization of public facilities such as health, water, and education. Activists also point out that globalization creates a ‘‘borderless’’ world for capital and finance but not for labor, since strict and increasingly severe immigration controls exist in most developed countries while labor lacks basic rights in many developing countries. The movement (if something so diverse can be called a ‘‘movement’’) is very broad, including church groups, nationalist parties, leftist parties, environmentalists, peasant unions, anti racism groups, anarchists, some charities, and others. If we take a broad view of globalization, though, these movements are themselves part of the process by which global solidarities (albeit rather weak and transitory ones) come to be formed.
- Akyuz, Y., Flassbeck, H., & Kozul-Wright, R. (2002) Globalization, Inequality, and the Labour Market. UNCTAD, Geneva. Online: http://www.flassbeck.com/pdf/2002/25.10.02/GLOBALIZ.PDF
- Falk, R. (1999) Predatory Globalization: A Critique. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Friedman, T. (2000) The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Anchor Books, New York.
- Giddens, A. (1999) Runaway World. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Glasius, M., Kaldor, M., & Anheier, H. (Eds.) (2002) Global Civil Society 2002. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity. Blackwell, Oxford.
- Legrain, P. (2002) Open World: The Truth About Globalization. Abacus, London.
- Ohmae, K. (2005) The Next Global Stage: Challenges and Opportunities in our Borderless World. Warton School Publishing, Philadelphia.
- Robertson, R. (1992) Globalization. Sage, London.
- Rosenberg, R. (2000) Follies of Globalization Theory. Verso, London.
- Sassen, S. (1996) Cities and Communities in the Global Economy: Rethinking Our Concepts.
- American Behavioral Scientist 39(5): 629-39.
- Urry, J. (2003) Global Complexity. Polity Press, Cambridge.