Introduction: Globalization, Social Justice, and Social Welfare

By MacDonald, Frederick; Midgley, James | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Globalization, Social Justice, and Social Welfare


MacDonald, Frederick, Midgley, James, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Although the literature on globalization has increased exponentially over the last decade, the term is still poorly defined and its many facets and complexities are under-appreciated. A major problem is the way the effects of globalization on social welfare have been reduced to simplistic, rhetorical statements that either condemn all aspects of globalization or uncritically extol its benefits. In reality, however, globalization has complex and paradoxical consequences for human well-being. For example, international trade is widely viewed by many progressive observers as being exploitative and unequal and many are appropriately critical of the way neo-liberal writers wax lyrical about its purportedly positive impact. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that some countries have benefited from export led development, and that incomes and standards of living for many of their citizens have improved as a result of the increased rate of employment generated through trade.

However, arguments about the social consequences of globalization cannot be reduced to a simple dichotomy in which globalization is viewed either as having disastrous consequences of otherwise as bringing untold benefits. Thee issues are far more complex. While employment opportunities and incomes have indeed increased for many people in low income countries that have adopted export led industrialization strategies, improvements in incomes and standards of living have come at a cost for many of these countries. Rapid urbanization, congestion, heightened inequalities, the decline of traditional values, emotional stress and other negative manifestations of prosperity now characterize many newly industrializing developing countries. Globalization has also fostered the diffusion of Western cultural beliefs and practices to other parts of the world which many traditionalists abhor. This has resulted in the resurgence of fundamentalist religious and cultural movements that have in some cases used violence to resist the spread of securalism, individualism and consumerism. On the other hand, rapid advances in communication technologies and more the frequent exchanges between people of different cultures through these technologies and travel have produced results that cosmopolitans view as highly desirable. As these examples suggest, a proper analysis of the impact of globalization requires a nuanced understanding of the complexities and paradoxes of the globalization process.

An analysis of this kind not only challenges social work and social welfare scholars to understand the complexities of globalization but to advocate for the adoption of principles, policies and practices that may lead to a socially just system of global exchange that explicitly incorporates social welfare and social justice ideals. Efforts to promote fair trade, equitable economic exchanges and the regulation of the global economy have gained more support in recent years as activists, academics and progressive policy makers have challenged the market fundamentalism that has characterized economic globalization. The goal of creating a socially just global system is now more frequently discussed in both the media and the academic literature. Since social work and social policy have long been committed to social justice ideals, there is a need for more scholarly debate on these issues in social work and social welfare circles. The tendency in the social work and social policy literature to totally dismiss globalization needs to be reassessed in the light of international efforts to promote these social justice ideals. After all, few informed observers today believe that nation states can ignore global realities and retreat into economic nationalism and isolationism. The issue today is not whether globalization should be welcomed or rejected but how globalization can be regulated in terms of principles that promote social justice.

This special issue of the Journal Sociology and Social Welfare presents a number of articles that address aspects of the way the issues of globalization, social justice and social welfare have been addressed in social work, social policy and social welfare. …

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