ISS 210: Society and the Individual (Online – 2013)

Globalization, Alter-Globalization and After Globalization 

One of the most accepted and encompassing operational definitions of globalization is the one proposed by Held and his colleagues[1], where this phenomenon can “usefully be conceived as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power”. Globalization is characterized by four types of change: First, it involves a stretching of social, political and economic activities across political frontiers, regions and continents. Second, there exists an intensification, or growing magnitude, of interconnectedness and flow of trade, investment, finance, migration, culture, etc. Third, the growing extensity and intensity of global interconnectedness can be linked to a speeding up of global interactions and processes, as the evolution of world-wide systems of transport and communication increases the velocity of the diffusion of ideas, goods, information, capital, and people. And fourth, the growing extensity, intensity and velocity of global interactions can be associated with their deepening impact such that the effects of distant events can be highly significant elsewhere and even the most local developments may come to have enormous global consequences. In this sense, the boundaries between domestic matters and global affairs can become increasingly blurred.

This is not the only definition that exists. This concept has been used and misused by many social scientists and journalists in its twenty year history. It is relevant, therefore, to critically discuss other definitions that exist and the disciplines they come from. Economists consider that globalization refers to a similarity of economic conditions and policies across national boundaries and to an accelerated movement across national and regional barriers of economic ‘goods’, i.e. people, products, capital, especially intangible forms of capital (technology, control of assets). Sociology has defined globalization as the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole, and also to a social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and people are increasingly aware that they are receding. Finally, history and anthropology consider that globalization is a long-term historical process of growing worldwide interconnectedness. Each social science has not only its own definition of globalization, but also a period of origin and a particular social actor or domain that is involved in it.

From an everyday life perspective, globalization has been seen as an ultimate moment in the development of the world. For many it has signaled the solution to all the problems of humanity and the triumph of liberal democracy, trade and capitalism. Multiple social movements have attempted to show an opposite light on this phenomenon highlighting the problems that globalization brings to traditional cultures, languages and the environment. At the same time, many have seen globalization as the ‘end of History’, without analyzing a post globalization future.

[1] Held, David; Anthony McGrew; David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton. 1999. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture, Stanford University Press, Stanford. Page 18.