The Globalization Website
| Debates | Organizations | News | People |
| Books | Issues | Theories | Glossary |

 

About this site

Metasites
 (links to links)

Data Sources

Emory Links

General Links

Non-English
 Sites

Site Index

Contact Us

Home

 

 

GLOBALIZATION DEBATES

Globalization is a contentious process. Ever since the term was first used to make sense of large-scale changes, scholars have debated its meaning and use. As the term became a globally popular buzzword, it served to crystallize disagreements about the direction of change in the world at large. By the end of the twentieth century, the meaning and merits of globalization were contested in the media and in the streets. Intellectual debate blended with political conflict. In the years to come, debates and conflicts surrounding globalization will increasingly affect the processes captured by the term.

The main debates:

  1. Meaning: Process vs. Project
  2. Interpretation: New Era vs. Nothing New
  3. Evaluation: Good vs. Bad
  4. Explanation: "Hard" vs. "Soft"
  5. Political: End vs. Revival of Nation-State
  6. Cultural: Sameness vs. Difference

 

1. Meaning: Process vs. Project

According to one popular view, globalization is the "inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before-in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach round the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before" (T. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 1999). By contrast, some groups of scholars and activists view globalization not as an inexorable process but as a deliberate, ideological project of economic liberalization that subjects states and individuals to more intense market forces (P. McMichael, Development and Social Change, 2000; P. Hirst and G. Thompson, Globalization in Question, 1996).

2. Interpretation: New Era vs. Nothing New

Discussions of globalization often convey a sense that something new is happening to the world: it is becoming a "single place" and experienced as such (R. Robertson, Globalization, 1992), global practices, values, and technologies now shape people's lives to the point that we are entering a "global age" (M. Albrow, The Global Age, 1997), or global integration spells the end of the nation-state (K. Ohmae, The End of the Nation-State, 1995). A new world order is emerging, according to "hyperglobal" accounts (Held et al., Global Transformations, 1999). Sceptics counter that there is nothing new under the sun since globalization is age-old capitalism writ large across the globe (I. Wallerstein, "Globalization or The Age of Transition?", 1999), or that governments and regions retain distinct strengths in a supposedly integrated world (Hirst and Thompson, 1996), or that the world is actually fragmenting into civilizational blocs (S. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 1996).

3. Evaluation: Good vs. Bad

Globalization used to be widely celebrated as a new birth of freedom: better connections in a more open world would improve people's lives by making new products and ideas universally available, breaking down barriers to trade and democratic institutions, resolve tensions between old adversaries, and empower more and more people (cf. T. Friedman, 1999; J. Mickelthwait/A. Wooldridge, A Future Perfect, 2000). Many leaders in the West supported the advent of a new world order through free trade and political cooperation. By the late 1990s, cheerleading turned into jeremiads, a banner became a bull's-eye. The term globalization was used increasingly to express concern about the consequences of global change for the well-being of various groups, the sovereignty and identity of countries, the disparities among peoples, and the health of the environment (cf. Hirst and Thompson, 1996; J. Mittelman, ed., Globalization: Critical Reflections, 1996). Politicians opposed to America's global influence and activists opposed to the inequities of oppressive global capitalism now portray globalization as dangerous. Globalization has thus become an issue in a wide-ranging global debate.

4. Explanation: "Hard" vs. "Soft"

Many authors attribute the dynamics of globalization to the pursuit of material interests by dominant states and multinational companies that exploit new technologies to shape a world in which they can flourish according to rules they set (I. Wallerstein). An alternative view suggests that globalization is rooted in an expanding consciousness of living together on one planet, a consciousness that takes the concrete form of models for global interaction and institutional development that constrain the interests of even powerful players and relate any particular place to a larger global whole (R. Robertson, 1992; J. Meyer et al., "World Society and the Nation-State," Am. J. of Soc. 1997)

5. Political: End vs. Revival of Nation-State

According to one line of argument, globalization constrains states: free trade limits the ability of states to set policy and protect domestic companies; capital mobility makes generous welfare states less competitive; global problems exceed the grasp of any individual state; and global norms and institutions become more powerful. Others suggest that in a more integrated world nation-states may even become more important: they have a special role in creating conditions for growth and compensating for the effects of economic competition; they are key players in organizations and treaties that address global problems; and they are themselves global models charged with great authority by global norms.

6. Cultural: Sameness vs. Difference

A standard complaint about globalization is that it leads to cultural homogeneity: interaction and integration diminish difference; global norms, ideas or practices overtake local mores; many cultural flows, such as the provision of news, reflect exclusively Western interests and control; and the cultural imperialism of the United States leads to the global spread of American symbols and popular culture (cf. H. Schiller, Mass Communications and American Empire, 1969; C. Hamelink, The Politics of World Communication, 1994). The counterargument stresses new heterogeneity that results from globalization: interaction is likely to lead to new mixtures of cultures and integration is likely to provoke a defense of tradition; global norms or practices are necessarily interpreted differently according to local tradition, and one such norm stresses the value of cultural difference itself; cultural flows now originate in many places; and America has no hegemonic grasp on a world that must passively accept whatever it has to sell (cf. B. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld, 1995; M. Featherstone et al., eds., Global Modernities, 1995; J. Tomlinson, Cultural Imperialism, 1991).

back to the top

 

 

Copyright 2000-2001 - Frank Lechner