Globalization: The Key Concepts

Globalization: The Key Concepts

Globalization: The Key Concepts

Globalization: The Key Concepts


The causes and the effects of globalization are hotly disputed and the book aims to present the range of arguments in a clear and balanced way. However, arguing that variation is as characteristic of globalization as standardization, the book stresses the necessity for a bottom-up, comparative analysis. Distinguishing between the cultural, political, economic and ecological aspects of globalization, the book highlights the implications of globalization for people's everyday lives. Throughout, the discussion is illustrated with wide-ranging case material. Chapter summaries and a guide to further reading underline the book's concern to clarify this most complex and influential of ideas.


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 all of humanity in their often vast treatises, which usually had an evolutionist bent, placing the authors own society at the top of a developmental ladder. Thanks to industrial development, colonial expansion and technological change (the steamship first appeared in the 1830s), the growth in international trade in that century was formidable. Another important nineteenth-century invention, the telegraph, made it possible, for the first time in human history, to move a message independently of an object physically carrying it. With the opening of the first functioning transatlantic cable in 1866, messages could be sent from London to New York in a matter of minutes. It goes without saying that such innovations changed the perception of space and distance.

Technological development in both main forms of communication technology — that transmitting messages and that transporting physical objects — continued in the twentieth century with the invention of the aeroplane, the radio and so on. In the 1920s, the Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky argued that socialism in one country was impossible since the world was too interconnected for separate development at the national level to be feasible, and agitated in favour of a world revolution. The Second World War was, despite its name, the first truly global war, which involved fighting in, and troops from, all continents (the First World War was chiefly a European war).

In the first post-war decades, global interconnectedness continued to intensify. The number of transnational companies grew, as did the number of transnational NGOs (non-governmental organizations). The United Nations grew into an immense conglomerate of sub organizations with offices in nearly all countries. International travel became easier and more common. In the 1960s, the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term 'the global village' to designate the new mass media situation, where especially television, in his view, would create shared frames of reference and mutual knowledge between people across the globe (McLuhan 1994 [1964]). In this period, global change — economic, environmental, political — became the subject of many new scholarly books. Some used the term development, intimating that the poor countries would eventually 'catch up with' the rich ones (see, for example, Rostow I960). Others preferred to use the word 'imperialism', suggesting that the rich countries were actively exploiting the poor ones and preventing them from developing (for example, Frank 1975; Amin 1980). The term 'Westernization', usually used in a derogatory way, became common. Around this time, Immanuel Wallerstein developed his influential world-system theory (Wallerstein 1974—9), which traced the development of the contemporary world system to the intercontinental trade beginning in the . . .

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