Defining of Globalization What is globalization? You have probably heard the word before since it is so commonly used in the media. It has become a buzzword used to denote both good and bad things. For some, globalization is synonymous with the spread of free market capitalism. For others, it is the source of economic domination and oppression of poor nations by rich ones. What both advocates and adversaries of globalization share is a focus on economic aspects. For sociologists, this focus on economics is too narrow. Globalization has economic, political, social, cultural and ideological aspects that we will outline below. But first, how do we define globalization? Below are the definitions coined by the major globalization theorists and summarized by Manfred Steger (2003). Definitions of Globalization “Globalization as deterritorialization or (…) the growth of ‘supraterritorial’ relations between people. (…) Globalization refers to a far-reaching change in the nature of social space” (Scholte, 2000: 46). “All those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single society, global society” (Albrow, 1990: 9). “Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole… both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole” (Robertson, 1992:8). “Globalization can thus be defined as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa” (Giddens, 1990: 64). “Globalization is a social process in which the constraints of geography on economic, political, social and cultural arrangements recede, in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding and in which people act accordingly” (Waters, 2001: 5). “Globalization can be thought of a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions – assessed in terms of their extensity, Definitions of Globalization intensity, velocity and impact – generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction, and the exercise of power” (Held et al, 1999: 16). Taken together, these definitions give us a good summary of the major characteristics of globalization. Globalization is a set of processes of social change. A process can be defined simply as a series of developing changes. In this sense, globalization is the process of becoming global, but not yet complete. In other words, there is so far no globality, that is, the condition of being global. There is no global society. There are, however, processes that point in that direction. These processes are multiple and cover most areas of social life and human relations such as economy, polity, culture, ideology, religion. Since globalization is a work-in-progress, the end result – what a global society would look like – is yet undetermined. What is obvious though, is that globalization involves changes in conceptions of space as part social relations. One of such processes central to globalization is deterritorialization. This complicated concept simply conveys the idea that, under conditions of globalization, territory becomes less relevant to human relations. For instance, thanks to information technology, anyone in the United States equipped with a computer and an internet connection can play the stock market in Tokyo, chat online with friends in Canada, upload or download all sorts of information and data from any place in the world from other individuals similarly equipped, as well as watch Al Jazeera (a television network from Qatar, in the Arabic peninsula) via satellite. Territories and borders have become irrelevant to such interactions that are therefore global in nature. The process of deterritorialization is what makes globalization different from any other processes of social change in human history. David Harvey (1990) described this process as time-space compression. When one America individual exchanges instant messages with someone in another country, this instantaneous interaction erases distance and occurs as if these two individuals were in the same place, a virtual space. Time and space have therefore been compressed through the technological creation of a virtual space of interaction unaffected by distance. The real physical distance between these two individuals is covered, literally, in no time. Practically every phenomenon that we can think of has acquired such supraterritorial (above space) qualities: electronic communications, environmental degradation, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, financial flows, health threats, etc. All these areas of human life are being globalized insofar as they are no longer attached to specific territories but develop and affect us at a transnational level. The process of globalization, as deterritorialization, turns the world into a single space. Globalization involves a process of stretching or extension of human activities, relations and networks across the globe Events taking place in one part of the world have an impact for other people in distant locations, a process akin to the butterfly effect. For instance, the Al Qaeda terrorist network has no known central headquarter located in a specific territory but is a global network that has conducted terrorist activities in many different countries. Less devastating is the extension of economic activities and financial transactions on a worldwide scale (Steger, 2003). Globalization involves a process of intensification of human activities and relations Intensification refers to the sheer magnitude of existing global relations. More and more aspects of our lives are tied, in one form or another, to locations and peoples in other parts of the world. Most of our consumer goods were manufactured and assembled in different places. We are also more intensively connected to the whole world through a growing number of treaties and agreements that cover practically every area of social relations, from human rights to environmental statutes to the production and sale of weapons of mass destruction. In a sense, we are all embedded in an increasingly dense global network of global regulations. Globalization involves a process of speeding up, or increasing velocity, of human activities and relations Developments in technologies of transportation and communication have accelerated the speed of social interactions as well as the diffusion of material goods and ideas, money and people. Globalization involves specific impacts on different societies This refers to the way globalization constrains choices that can be made by governments, corporations, households or individuals. For instance, a government might hesitate to impose an increase in minimum wage if it is faced with the relocation of jobs in areas where labor costs are cheaper. Impact also refers to the way the effects of globalization are felt differently by different categories of people. If Ford decides to close a plant in Michigan and open one in Mexico, American workers, shareholders and Mexican workers will all experience different effects, which leads us to the next characteristic of globalization. Globalization produces winners and losers Globalization produces new patterns of inequalities. Some categories of people benefit from it, but others are hurt. In this sense, globalization involves interconnectedness, more than interdependence. Interdependence conveys a sense of equality (I depend on you, you depend on me). In the case of contemporary globalization, there is no such equality. Global relations are asymmetrical. Certain parties are dominant (Western countries, multinational corporations), others are subordinate (indigenous populations, women). As a result, globalization has become a heavily contested process, with its supporters and adversaries. Different groups and organizations try to influence governments and corporations as well as other powerful institutions to shape globalization according to their conception and values. As a result, global ideologies have emerged to provide intellectual underpinnings to such social movements. Two major such ideologies – globalism and alter-globalism – are developed below. Globalization involves a process of reflexivity, that is, the growing awareness of living in a single global space People are more and more aware that many phenomena that affect our lives have global ramifications. For instance, most of us are aware of the dangers of global climate change or the depletion of the ozone layer. Such environmental consciousness is global by definition because it involves the realization that we are all interconnected on “spaceship Earth” and have no other place to go. In other words, people of the world, irrespective of their differences, share a community of fate. As a result, more and more people realize that “we’re all in this together” and that the promotion of narrow self-interest (such as the enormous consumption of natural resources by Western countries) is ultimately putting the entire planet at risk. In other words, to be globally reflexive means to integrate global elements into one’s identity and sense of self and to act upon such elements (for instance, through recycling or giving money to global charities, or by demonstrating against sweatshops in Bangladesh). Globalization Theorem The idea of globalization as deterritorialization may seem contradictory at first. After all, we know there are factory workers in China making our running shoes, or call center workers in India trying to sell us long-distance plans, or people in the Darfur region in Sudan being exterminated as you read this. These people are located in specific places. Their circumstances are different from ours precisely because of the difference in location. In this sense, geography and territory still matter. Doesn’t this all contradict the very idea of globalization? According to Malcolm Waters (2001), there are three types of human exchanges that can be more easily globalized, that is, deterritorialized: Material exchanges refer to any interaction involving the transmission of material items, such as factory work, trade in goods, tenancy. Material exchanges tend to be localized in spaces. Raw materials – agricultural goods, petroleum – are extracted from specific locations. Factories are located where labor is available and cheap. Manufactured goods are transported to western markets for sale and consumption. Power exchanges refer to the exercise of leadership through coercion or legislation, for instance. By definition, the exercise of power applies to territories but also to international relations, that is, relations between nation-states, such as war, diplomacy or alliances. Power exchanges therefore extend internationally across territories. Symbolic exchanges refer to any form of communication, exchange of information or data. This includes the mass media, the entertainment industry, advertisement and propaganda, etc. Symbolic exchanges involve the transmission of signs and symbols. Because technology makes it possible to disseminate symbols rapidly and widely, symbolic exchanges can be easily detached from territories and therefore, globalized.
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