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University of Toronto Scarborough
Michelle Majeed

Globalization First published Fri Jun 21, 2002; substantive revision Fri Jun 4, 2010 Covering a wide range of distinct political, economic, and cultural trends, the term “globalization” has quickly become one of the most fashionable buzzwords of contemporary political and academic debate. In popular discourse, globalization often functions as little more than a synonym for one or more of the following phenomena: the pursuit of classical liberal (or “free market”) policies in the world economy (“economic liberalization”), the growing dominance of western (or even American) forms of political, economic, and cultural life (“westernization” or“Americanization”), the proliferation of new information technologies (the “Internet Revolution”), as well as the notion that humanity stands at the threshold of realizing one single unified community in which major sources of social conflict have vanished (“global integration”). Fortunately, recent social theory has formulated a more precise concept of globalization than those typically offered by pundits. Although sharp differences continue to separate participants in the ongoing debate, most contemporary social theorists endorse the view that globalization refers to fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence, according to which the significance of space or territory undergoes shifts in the face of a no less dramatic acceleration in the temporal structure of crucial forms of human activity. Geographical distance is typically measured in time. As the time necessary to connect distinct geographical locations is reduced, distance or space undergoes compression or “annihilation.” The human experience of space is intimately connected to the temporal structure of those activities by means of which we experience space. Changes in the temporality of human activity inevitably generate altered experiences of space or territory. Theorists of globalization disagree about the precise sources of recent shifts in the spatial and temporal contours of human life. Nonetheless, they generally agree that alterations in humanity's experiences of space and time are working to undermine the importance of local and even national boundaries in many arenas of human endeavor. Since globalization contains far-reaching implications for virtually every facet of human life, it necessarily suggests the need to rethink key questions of normative political theory. 2. Globalization in Contemporary Social Theory Since the mid-1980s, social theorists have moved beyond the relatively underdeveloped character of previous reflections on the compression or annihilation of space to offer a rigorous conception of globalization. To be sure, major disagreements remain about the precise nature of the causal forces behind globalization, with David Harvey (1989 1996) building directly on Marx's pioneering explanation of globalization, while others (Giddens 19990; Held, McGrew, Goldblatt& Perraton 1999) question the exclusive focus on economic factors characteristic of the Marxist approach. Nonetheless, a consensus about the basic rudiments of the concept of globalization appears to be emerging. First, contemporary analysts associate globalization withdeterritorialization, according to which a growing variety of social activities takes place irrespective of the geographical location of participants. As Jan Aart Scholte observes, “global events can-- via telecommunication, digital computers, audiovisual media, rocketry and the like -- occur almost simultaneously anywhere and everywhere in the world” (Scholte 1996, 45). Globalization refers to increased possibilities for action between and among people in situations where latitudinal and longitudinal location seems immaterial to the social activity at hand. Even though geographical location remains crucial for many undertakings (for example, farming to satisfy the needs of a local market), deterritorialization manifests itself in many social spheres. Business people on different continents now engage in electronic commerce; television allows people situated anywhere to observe the impact of terrible wars being waged far from the comfort of their living rooms; academics make use of the latest video conferencing equipment to organize seminars in which participants are located at disparate geographical locations; the Internet allows people to communicate instantaneously with each other notwithstanding vast geographical distances separating them. Territory in the sense of a traditional sense of a geographically identifiable location no longer constitutes the whole of “social space” in which human activity takes places. In this initial sense of the term, globalization refers to the spread of new forms of non-territorial social activity (Ruggie 1993; Scholte 2000). Second, recent theorists conceive of globalization as linked to the growth of social interconnectedness across existing geographical and political boundaries. In this view, deterritorialization is a crucial facet of globalization. Yet an exclusive focus on it would be misleading. Since the vast majority of human activities is still tied to a concrete geographical location, the more decisive facet of globalization concerns the manner in which distant events and forces impact on local and regional endeavors (Tomlinson 1999, 9). For example, this encyclopedia might be seen as an example of a deterritorialized social space since it allows for the exchange of ideas in cyberspace. The only prerequisite for its use is access to the Internet. Although substantial inequalities in Internet access still exist, use of the encyclopedia is in principle unrelated to any specific geographical location. However, the reader may very well be making use of the encyclopedia as a supplement to course work undertaken at a school or university. That institution is not only located at a specific geographical juncture, but its location is probably essential for understanding many of its key attributes: the level of funding may vary according to the state or region where the university is located, or the same academic major might require different courses and readings at a university in China, for example, than in Argentina or Norway. Globalization refers to those processes whereby geographically distant events and decisions impact to a growing degree on “local” university life. For example, the insistence by powerful political leaders in the First World that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should require that Latin and South American countries commit themselves to a particular set of economic policies might result in poorly paid teachers and researchers as well as large, understaffed lecture classes in San Paolo or Lima; the latest innovations in information technology from a computer research laboratory in India could quickly change the classroom experience of students in British Columbia or Tokyo. Globalization refers “to processes of change which underpin a transformation in the organization of human affairs by linking together and expanding human activity across regions and continents” (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perraton 1999, 15). Globalization in this sense is a matter of degree since any given social activity might influence events more or less faraway: even though a growing number of activities seems intermeshed with events in distant continents, certain human activities remain primarily local or regional in scope. Also, the magnitude and impact of the activity might vary: geographically removed events could have a relatively minimal or a far more extensive influence on events at a particular locality. Finally, we might consider the degree to which interconnectedness across frontiers is no longer merely haphazard but instead predictable and regularized (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perraton 1999). Third, globalization must also include reference to
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