Globalization: The Key Concepts

By Thomas Hylland Eriksen | Go to book overview

3 STANDARDIZATION

INTRODUCTION

Imagine a non-standard world. You would live in a town or village with your relatives, with few prospects of moving anywhere else. Everything you knew was handed down by your older relatives; all skills were taught face to face. The language you spoke was mutually intelligible with that of neighbouring areas, but not quite identical, and comprehension faded with distance. Trade with outsiders took place through barter, but within your local area certain goods could be exchanged for shell money. Your religion was associated with ancestors and the nature surrounding your home area. There was no script, no money, no calendars, no standards of measurement operating beyond the immediate neighbourhood.

In the pre-modern world, most products and services were non-standard. They conformed to no commonly established norm or set of parameters. They could not be mass produced, and if they travelled, they were recognized as exotic and precious. Language, too, was mostly local, spoken only in a restricted area and with marked dialect differences between localities. With the coming of literacy and later printing, the development of the modern state and its institutions (Anderson 1991 [1983], Gellner 1983), standardization of phenomena such as language, measurements and law took place at the national level. The development of the banking system contributed to the standardization of money and eventually other financial instruments.

In an important sense, globalization continues the work of nation building by creating shared standards, comparability and 'bridging principles' of translation between formerly discrete and sometimes incommensurable worlds (Barloewen 2003; Eriksen 2003; Meyer et al. 1992). Anything from consumer tastes to measurements and values is now being standardized at a global level. This does not mean that everybody is equally affected (it would be foolish to assume this), nor that standardization is perfect and all-encompassing. However, it is indisputable that the range of common denominators is widening in its scope and deepening in its impact, as a result of the accelerated disembedding processes discussed in the previous chapters.

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