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Defining Globalization.

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What I want to offer you, is a simple definition of globalization. I said, a simple definition. But what I mean by that is, in fact, two things. Globalization is two things. It’s the extension, intensification, and acceleration of consequential worldwide interconnections. And at the same time, it’s a big buzzword. A big buzzword of political speech that’s used by business leaders, by political leaders, by protestors, in different ways but nevertheless, used as a buzzword to make politically charged arguments about how the world is shaping up and where it should be headed.

Now, to understand globalization we have to understand both these definitions at the same time and look carefully at how they interact with one another. So let’s look first at globalization in the first sense. Globalization as the extension, intensification and acceleration of consequential worldwide interconnections. What are those interconnections? Well, all together they form ties, global ties, or interdependencies as some social scientists call them. These include global trade ties, the global ties of workers and consumers, the ties of global finance and money flows, the ties of global law-making through trade agreements and human rights law-making, the ties of governments to one another, but also the ties that markets increasingly have around and through government action, including the ties markets have on our governance of our personal relation, the ties also of our spaces, between spaces, between territories, and ties that therefore also change the meaning of territory and the ties of global health.

These are all some of the key interdependencies that we’ll be looking at in the upcoming articles. But as we do so, I want to emphasize that it’s very important that we keep the second definition of globalization in our minds at the same time. This is  globalization with a capital G or big G globalization, as I refer to it in some of the upcoming articles.

Now, looking at globalization with a capital G means paying close attention to how it does discursive work, how it makes political arguments in a simple sound bite. The protestors in Seattle, back in 1999, who were protesting the World Trade Organization often carried banners that said, no globalization without representation. And they, in a sense, were using globalization as a, a political politically charged term of discourse when they were doing so. Of course, they were harkening back to the old  arguments of the American revolutionaries of no taxation without representation. But they were doing so to make an argument that global market ties were creating a kind of market like globalization that came without any kind of political representation for ordinary people. So they were contesting a certain standardized vision of globalization, a packaged market vision of globalization. And so they were using the term in the big G kind of way. But as they did so, I think they did another thing, whether they meant to or not.

They basically said with that slogan no globalization without representation, that globalization is always an act, when it’s used as a term, it’s always an act of representation. It involves representational politics. And this is something I want to address both today and in the upcoming lectures.

So why the need to distinguish between little g globalization, the term for global interdependency, and big G globalization, the term for the buzzword in political speak? I think there are at least three good reasons for doing this. First of all, I want to avoid gesture or tendency that’s found in a lot of other introductions to globalization. Introductions by other academics who offer great studies of the interdependencies, but who often think that we can put the politically charged arguments to one side.

When they do this, they go through what I like to call the Globalization 3 Step. They say first of all, that there’s too much exaggeration by what they call hyper-globalists. The hyper-globalists who exaggerate globalization, who make too much a big deal out of big G globalization, and confuse everybody by making exaggerations and making politically charged arguments. They don’t want to be like that. But secondly, the second move of their 3 step, they also don’t want to be like, what they call the skeptic. The skeptics who are so serious, they think everything is just continuing the way it always has done historically. You know, nothing much has changed, the governments of the world still run their countries, borders still exist. Globalization is all hog wash and too much exaggeration, say the skeptics.

Well, the advocates of the middle way between hyper-globalism and skepticism think that the skeptics have got it wrong too. That things have changed, that the interdependencies are consequential and they have really changed the world. They’ve changed our everyday lives. They think, therefore, that we can chart a sober and unbiased analytical middle way between hyper-globalism and skepticism. And in some respects, I want to follow them in, in, that middle way myself. But, I don’t want to put big G Globalization to one side. I actually am interested in why some people want to be skeptics and why other people want to be hyper-globalists.

I want to look at what arguments those people are making and what they want to achieve politically by making them. So introducing this term, big G Globalization, allows us to do that. It allows us to look at the impact of the discourse on the reorganization of
society around the world. And there are a number of scholars to have done this. Manfred Steger, for example, in his book Globalisms is an example of someone who’s interested in how discourses about globalization make a difference in the world.

So introducing this doubled up definition of globalization not only allows us to look at how big G discourses of globalization have shaped the world, but it also allows up to look at how the world and global dynamics, global interdependencies shape discourses
about globalization.

The relationships go both ways and this in turn helps us understand how academic approaches to globalization have themselves been shaped by the history of global development. The modern social sciences and the humanities the fields of study that give us the, the richest picture of globalization, at least in the way it’s going to be discussed in my upcoming lectures, are all disciplines that have emerged out of a particular kind of global history.

This has enabled them to see the world in particular ways, but it’s also limited what they can see, particularly in our own contemporary moment of globalization. And that’s because many of them were founded in the 19th century and the 20th century, when the nation state was the major object of focus of study, the major analytically counting center for all kinds of statistics. The word statistics goes back to the nation-state, state-istics.

I want to explain why it’s important by turning to the old, very globally traveled fable of the elephant and the blind villagers. Now in the traditional telling of this story, the villagers can’t work out what the elephant is. They feel the side and thinks it’s a wall. They feel the tusk and thinks it’s a spear. They feel the tail and they feel, they think it’s a rope. That’s the traditional idea.

In some religious retellings of this story, it’s as if the elephant is a God that ordinary mortals cannot understand. And to some extent, that’s a good metaphor for big G Globalization, because it’s often invoked as a kind of God about which we cannot fully understand, that has all these grand effects that we can’t fully come to terms with, but that’s not my main point here. I’m interested more in, in how the social sciences are a little bit like the the blind villagers and that they all need to go beyond the limitations of their own particular perspectives by fashioning an interdisciplinary perspective on globalization, the elephant as a whole. To make my point a little bit clearer, let’s think about some social sciences. Economics, for example, sees something of a tusk or a spear of globalization in following the money flows of global finance and of global economic integration. But it doesn’t always put those money flows and economic data into a political context. Political science does focus on the political context but because of its foundation in the modern 20th century tends to look at nation states as the most important political context and doesn’t always look at the transnational state making that has arisen because of economic ties across borders. Geographers my own discipline, tend to focus on what globalization looks like on the ground and the way it’s changed the ground, but in ways that don’t always fully examine the history of globalization. Historians, and, and scholars of English literature, or other world literatures, tend to focus on national history or national culture in ways that don’t fully examine the interconnections of culture and history globally.

Now in all these disciplines you can find examples of scholars, many examples, in fact, of scholars who reach beyond the national template and try to fashion an interdisciplinary perspective on globalization.

 



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