At times it seems that there are as many opinions about globalization as there are authors who write about it. This is partly a feature of the peculiarly diffuse nature of the literature on this phenomenon: business gurus, populist journalists, and social theorists are all well represented. Furthermore, globalization has entered the political arena, often bringing out the worst in politicians ranging from the specific and reactive, anti-foreign xenophobia, to the more general and proactive, anti-social neo-liberalism. In fact globalization is a very modern concept, reflecting as it does the ambiguities of living in a world of massive and continuous social change. My purpose here is not to try and "tame" the concept by offering my own narrow definition - that would destroy its authenticity. Rather I seek to provide basic coordinates, both spatial and temporal, through which to interpret contemporary social predicaments.
Globalization is inherently geographical. Hence, there has been much discussion of its spatial coordinates. Two particular perspectives are prominent. Most obviously, globalization implies a changing scale of human activity: processes previously operating at the level of the state have been relocated "upwards" to larger, including worldwide, patterns of operation. A more subtle argument is that globalization is associated with a fundamental change in the nature of social space: from an old "space of places" to a new "space of flows." There is no need for these two geographical perspectives to be contradictory but in most studies one or the other of them tends to dominate the discussion. This is visible in their associated temporal coordinates. Treating globalization as a shift in scale allows for a "comparative globalization" approach wherein historical "trans-continental" societies are compared to contemporary globalization. In contrast, treating globalization as a new form of space means that there are no precedents: globalization is historically unique.
I take neither position here. Both can be criticized for their inability to develop an adequate geohistorical interpretation of globalization. Such an approach requires an integrated framework of time and space. This is impossible with the two perspectives described above: the comparative method elides continuities and connections, while the tradition of seeing the present as unique erases continuities and connections. There is, of course, a very common geohistorical interpretation of globalization, which describes a "shrinking world." The argument is that