Globalization: The Key Concepts

By Thomas Hylland Eriksen | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The very popularity of the word 'globalization signals a need for caution. The word was scarcely used before the late 1980s, even in academic circles, but today you can hardly open a newspaper without encountering the term. It might easily appear to be a fashionable label used to designate phenomena about which one has only the vaguest ideas. Yet to discard the concept of globalization, and the huge attention accorded the phenomena it encompasses, on such grounds, would be foolish. There is a real need for a common, generic term to describe the manifold, multisided ways in which the world is interconnected, and increasingly so. However, used by itself, the word 'globalization' is empty or at least fuzzy. Before moving to some substantial areas of globalization research in the subsequent chapters of this book, it is therefore necessary to do some sorting and sifting, to delimit some fields of enquiry and to propose a theoretical approach.

The fact that the term globalization is new does not mean that people have not been thinking and theorizing about global interconnectedness before. Perhaps the philosopher Hegel (1770—1831) was the first theorist of globalization, as he did not merely talk of connections between disparate areas and places but about the emerging consciousness about such connections. Through his famous concept of the world-spirit (Weltgeist) an abstract entity immanent in all peoples but unevenly developed, Hegel saw the possibility of imagining all of humanity as a kind of community. However, Hegel's older contemporary Kant (1724—1804) had already developed, chiefly in his important essay on eternal peace (Kant 2001 [1795]), an idea of cosmopolitanism that entailed equitable and respectful dialogue between the peoples of the world, regardless of their differences. Now, the philosophies of Kant and Hegel were developed in the same period as modern nationalism, and as will later become clear, the ideology of nationalism, although it is often contrasted with and seen as an enemy of globalization, shares many of its characteristics.

The nineteenth century was an era of colonial expansion, scientific discovery and industrialization in the North, and accompanying these processes were new forms of thought, new models of the world. Karl Marx's political philosophy was certainly global in its ambitions, and nineteenth-century cultural historians tended to include

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