Academic journal article Journal of Theory Construction and Testing

The Impact of Globalization on Internationally Mobile Families: A Grounded Theory Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Theory Construction and Testing

The Impact of Globalization on Internationally Mobile Families: A Grounded Theory Analysis

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article explores the impact of globalization on the lives of internationally mobile (IM) families. It is based upon the findings of a qualitative research study conducted at a private, international school in Southern England. This study highlights the value of using grounded theory methodology to discover and to study complex phenomena. The concepts of "roots," "home," and "a sense of belonging" take on unique and complex meanings for IM families. Although the families in the study deployed strategies or tactics to manage relocation and transience, they were caught up in a powerful and dynamic process, which had to be struggled with, negotiated, and constantly revisited in these global times.

Key Words: Globalization, families, relocation, global nomad, third culture kid, grounded theory

The impact on peoples lives of a rapidly globalized world is certainly far from understood. Debates about globalization often emphasize the economy and leave out many other relevant dimensions, particularly those related to social and psychological changes in the everyday lives of people. Of special interest is the absence of children and youth as subjects of concern in worldwide debates about the dynamics and consequences of globalization. Yet, children ought to be central. (Ekberg, 2000, p. 5)


The 20th and 21st centuries have been marked by great economic and social change. Before the Second World War, children from the United Kingdom represented the largest number of internationally mobile (IM) children. This was a consequence of the United Kingdom's vast holding of colonial possessions around the world (Gerner et al, 1992). With the end of the Second World War, the number of American children relocating with their parents from the U.S. increased due to the reconstruction of Europe and technological needs of developing nations. The families who relocated were generally associated with military, financial, and international corporations (Gerner et al, 1992; Useem & Downie, 1976).

The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and subsequent elimination of the Iron Curtain led to the opening of closed economies and democratization of economic markets in Eastern Europe (Mittelman, 2000). One result of these historical developments has been the explosion of financial global markets (Brecher, 1993). Mittelman (2000) writes that globalization is "the process of reducing barriers between countries and encouraging closer economic, political, and social interaction" (p. 5). The movement toward globalization has resulted in the continuing and increasing relocation of expatriates and their families around the world for the purpose of managing global economic markets. International corporations are involved in expanding their products and providing their expertise to developing nations. Family mobility further increased when the European Community was established and began to integrate the economies of member countries into one economy.

This increase in family mobility led to the establishment and continued growth of international schools to meet the needs of IM families. Matthews (1989) describes the importance of international schools on education worldwide as being "an influence equivalent to a nation of three to four million where 90% of students go on to higher education" (p. 24). Across the globe, it is possible to chart the growth of international schools. Holton (1998) notes as more people operate within the "global village...geography has, in this sense, been pronounced dead" (p. 1). Paradoxically, geography is very much alive for IM families as they relocate from country to country around the globe.

"Global Nomad" and "Third Culture Kids" (TCKs) are terms often used interchangeably when referring to IM children (Langford, 1998). Schaetti (1998) defines a "global nomad" as "a person of any age or nationality who has lived a significant part of his or her developmental years in one or more countries outside his or her passport country because of a parent's occupation" (p. …

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