What is globalisation?

Thankfully, globalisation is not understood as being one thing. Different groups (depending on their social and geographical positioning) interpret it in various ways depending on their own political circumstances. The minimal working definitions of globalisation (or dare I say ‘globalism’) circulate around the belief that complex interconnections are rapidly developing between societies, institutions, cultures, collectives and individuals worldwide. The growth of the  Internet is part of globalisation.

These connections are believed to occur between cultural and economic practices that are local, national, technological and corporate. Globalisation is often discussed in terms of inevitability by governments, activists and academics but in my mind there is no such thing as inevitability only conformity and compliance.

If there is such as thing as globalisation then it has developed as the direct result of strategic choices by governments and corporations in the past thirty years. In Australia, our engagement with the dominant form of globalisation was exacerbated by the Hawke/Keating Labor governments (1984-1996) who deregulated large portions of the economy, floated our currency and embraced the all-trade-is-good mantra of global economic policy.

Discussions of the development of globalisation usually include discourse on post-industrialisation (and the demise of working class institutions in developed countries), the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the expansion of global finance with the resultant formation of a global economy.[1] The global economy is the major defining entity in the globalisation debate.

This is not the first time the world has had a global economy, but as argued by Manuel Castells, it is the first time that we have had a global economy that works in real-time.[2] By real time, he means that the majority of the world’s economic activity is now controlled on a twenty-four hour basis by tens of thousands of flickering computer screens in the world’s key financial hubs. [3]

Not surprisingly, the rich countries define the dominant ideologies of globalisation and corporations are the main catalyst. [4] Many corporations are involved in cultural production, thus creating their own world culture and value system. This value system is based on consumerism and the triumph of individual consumer agency over the collective cultural understandings of both larger and smaller communities. Some even mistake the independent agency of the consumer as democracy. Capitalism has always been international and relied on internationalism to expand; however it is now largely accepted that this expansion has entered a new stage.

Authors such as Falk, Friedman and Castells concur that the end of the east-west logic of the Cold War ended the eighty year ideological wrestle between centralised state economic planning and market driven models and accelerated the globalisation process.[5] Eric Hobsbawn, in his masterful empirical history The Age of Extremes, claims that what we understand as the Twentieth Century ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.[6]

What we are left with is a world with only one major superpower, one major economic ideology, one major political system driven by a laissez faire, post-industrial economy (typified by the Internet) that is increasing the wealth gap between and within communities everywhere.[7]

[1]Since 1979, the turnover in foreign exchange markets has risen to $1.5 trillion each day, 12 times the level of 1979 and over 50 times that of world trade. The effects on societies and individuals can be either catastrophic or enriching, but the circumstances are equally volatile” As quoted by Richard Langhorne, The Coming of Globalisation: Its Evolution and contemporary Consequences, Palgrave, New York, 2001, p.20.

[2] Castells, Op.Cit, 1999.

[3] There are of course, numerous continuities between the present historical period and past periods of globalisation. The free-trade movement emanating from Britain in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and Colonialism and Socialism were enormous globalising forces. Before the First World War, Western Europe controlled most of the world’s landmass, and after the Second World War, communism controlled two-thirds of the world’s people.

Samuel.P.Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations, Touchstone Books, London,1998, p.84.

[4] Jerry Everand, Virtual States: The Internet and the Boundaries of the Nation State, Routledge, London, 2000.p45.

[5] Falk, Op.Cit, Friedman, Op.Cit, Castells (1996), Op.Cit.

[6] Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes: The short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Abucus, London, 1994.

[7] Richard Landes, an American economic Historian, claims that the key to understanding broadening wealth gaps is through the history of Industrialisation (to Post-Industrialisation). He argues that the gap between the richest country, say Switzerland, and the poorest say Nepal, is greater now than during the height of European colonialism.

Richard S Landes: The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, WW Norton, New York, 1999.


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