Scope and Concerns

The Global Studies Conference and Global Studies Journal are devoted to mapping and interpreting new trends and patterns in globalization - from many points of view, at many locations in the world, and in a wide-angle kaleidoscopic fashion. Intellectually, the Conference and the Journal take three steps: the first is a ‘this-worldly’ step, mapping the details and extrapolating to big picture analyses in order to interpret what is at times challenging, dangerous and excitingly positive about the ‘New Globalization’. The second step is to set this New Globalization in the context of earlier globalizations - what are the continuities, and what is genuinely new? The third step is to re-examine and redefine the very concept of globalization - in theoretical, anthropological and philosophical terms. The Conference and Journal work between the most fastidiously empirical and profoundly generalizing modes of engagement with one of the central phenomena of our contemporary existence.

Mapping the ‘New Globalization’

Arguably the twenty-first century momentum of globalization is markedly different from twentieth century globalization and involves a new geography of trade, weaker United States hegemony and a trend towards growing multipolarity. Like a giant oil tanker, the axis of globalization is slowly turning from North-South to East-South relations in trade and finance.

This presents major questions. Is the rise of East Asia, China, India and other newly industrialized economies just another episode in the rise and decline of nations, another reshuffling of capitalism, a relocation of accumulation centers without affecting the logics of accumulation? Or does this phase of globalization mark a departure? Does it advance, sustain or halt neoliberalism? The rise of Asia is codependent with neoliberal globalization and yet unfolds outside the neoliberal mold. What is the relationship between zones of accumulation and modes of regulation? What are the ramifications for global inequality?

About cutting-edge globalization there are two big stories to tell. One story tells of the rise of Asia and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies and the accompanying growth of East-South trade and financial, energy and political relations. Much of this story is being covered in general media. In the words of Paul Kennedy, ‘we can no more stop the rise of Asia than we can stop the winter snows and the summer heat’. The other story, which receives mention only in patchy ways, is one of growing social inequality and major crises in agriculture and urban poverty in the emerging countries.

The new globalization can be mapped as trends in trade, finance, international institutions, hegemony, inequality, social movements and struggles, cultural changes, and ecological dynamics. Here are some trend estimates, indicating some of the dimensions of this discussion:

  • Trade: Growing East-South trade leads to a ‘new geography of trade’ and new trade pacts.
  • Global value chains: Viewed in terms of global commodity chains, the role of emerging economies in East Asia, China, India, Russia and Brazil appears to be more limited. They generally play a subsidiary part in buyer-driven commodity chains and have so far established few producer-driven chains.
  • Finance: The current imbalances in the world economy (American overconsumption and trade and current account deficits and Asian surpluses) are unsustainable and are producing a gradual reorganization of global finance and trade.
  • Institutions: The 1990s architecture of globalization (built around the IMF, World Bank and WTO) is now fragile and the clout and influence of emerging economies is growing.
  • Hegemony: The United States is losing influence. Arguably, what is taking place, rather than hegemonic rivalry, is global repositioning and realignments toward growing multipolarity.
  • Inequality and social struggle: The flashpoints of global inequality are rural crises and urban poverty in emerging economies, chronic poverty in the least developed countries, and international migration. In advanced economies such as the United States social inequality is growing. In terms of political economy, the overall question is what the new trends mean for the emerging twenty-first century international division of labor and the implications of these trends for global futures, in particular from the viewpoint of the world majority.
  • Social movements: Social movements have succeeded in influencing policy changes, notably in Latin America. Planetary social movements such as international NGOs are increasingly important in articulating social demands. They also act as watchdogs of international institutions. The World Social Forum is a major global platform for formulating progressive alternatives. A key question, however, is the extent to which progressive movements are driven by opposition to globalization, or an attempt to imaging a different and more humane globalization.
  • Cultural change: Overall trends are towards the growing hybridization or intermingling of cultural patterns (new combinations of cultural motifs giving rise to new differences). Geopolitical conflicts and resource wars in many arenas produce local political backlashes. An incipient cosmopolitanism is short circuited in some instances.
  • Ecological changes: Climate change and global warming necessitate global collective action.

Globalization in the Larger Human Scheme

The newness of our latest globalization makes another kind of sense within a wider frame of reference. How wide might we cast such a comparative frame? One could make the case, for instance, that human beings have only ever been global creatures. From the moment we became a species, we become the first sentient beings to fill virtually every habitat. Our first act as a symbol-making species was to walk to the ends of the earth. This may have taken as little as one hundred thousand years, a mere instant in biological time. We did not stop walking until there was almost no desert, no tundra and no sea where we did not or could not make a life. This happened during a first globalization, a process unprecedented for any species in natural history.

There have been other globalizations since. Questions of how many, and the peculiarities of their forms, are amongst the subjects of the Global Studies Conference and Journal. Another globalization comes with the spread of farming. This happens independently in five different places over a span of just six thousand years. Another is the emergence of writing, which happens independently in four different places over several thousand years—in Mesopotamia about five thousand years ago and then in India, China and Mesoamerica. With these new material and symbolic modes came material inequalities of a type never experienced in the earlier globalization of hunters and gatherers. Farming brings the possibility of accumulating material wealth and the application of surpluses to the gratuitously monumental projects of ‘civilization’ which stand both as a testament to, and overwhelming reminder of, the scale of that inequality. The relative simultaneity of these developments suggests that the peoples of the first globalization were talking, and that the transition from the one globalization to another was a singular event. This globalization also occurs remarkably quickly. It brings not just the continuities represented by large language groups, ‘world’ religions and ‘civilizations’. There is also a sameness across and between these groups: the handful of domesticable plants and animals that spread like wildfire across the globe; the world-encompassing religions which even share common ancestral figures, such as the Abraham of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims; and the inventions that are so quickly swapped and copied such as the plough, the wheel, monumental architecture and writing. There are nuances, to be sure, and these are the stuff of tourist awe and foreboding about the apparently always-imminent ‘clash of civilizations’. On a broader scale of reference, however, these differences may be regarded as small.

Then there a number of globalizations in the varied permutations of modern imperialism, supporting mercantile then industrial then post industrial capitalism, each involving differing logics of territoriality and sovereignty. These are all preludes to the ‘New Globalization’.

Globalization in Theory

So, what do we mean by this so-many faceted thing, ‘globalization’? Speaking just of the New Globalization for the moment, here is one of many possible definitions: ‘The New Globalization is a state of human affairs, in which for the first time in human history, the globe is the potential domain for any action or representation.’ (Kalantzis and Cope, New Learning, Cambridge University Press, 2008). Global markets are such that there is almost no place in the world where you cannot sell your wares and no place in the world from which people are unable sell their wares into your local market. There is almost no place in the world to which you cannot journey in a few days. There is almost no place in the world that is not instantaneously to be seen or heard at the other end of a telephone line, or the Internet, or a television reporter’s camera.

Here’s a paradox, though. Whilst the globalizations of our recent past forced homogeneity upon populaces, the New Globalization is more equivocal, complex, hybrid, even potentially cosmopolitan. Neighborhoods are constantly changing as a consequence of global migration. The local community comes to feel like a microcosm of the whole world. Products and representations of the world appear more insistently than ever in our markets and on our screens. In this new globalization, anti-cosmopolitanisms (such as racism and discrimination) are not only bad in principle. They are dysfunctional in practice. They are bad for business. If your neighborhood or your workplace is diverse as a consequence of global labor flows, you need to get on with your neighbors, your team-mates and your customers, or least quietly accept their differences. If your workplace is part of a global enterprise, you need to be able to get on with parts of the organisation located in different places, and even move to live there if needs be. If your goods can be sold at the other end of the earth, you need to find out about the kind of people who might be purchasing them if they are going to sell well. If global tourism is one of the new boom industries, you need to be tolerant of the quirks of visitors from distant places in your midst and respectful of cultures you visit. If the big news is now as much global as it is local and national, you need to become an aware global citizen. As for imperialism, there’s no need to take over other people’s countries by force in order to access their markets. Besides, why would you? When other peoples’ markets are open, your enterprises can do business there without having to fire a shot.

Meanwhile, the powers that be discover that all is not happily homogenous amongst their citizens. Civil rights movements, anti-colonial movements, feminists and supporters of multiculturalism all begin to say, loudly and clearly, that exclusion and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability and sexual orientation are not acceptable either in principle or in practice. All manner of social movements vociferously dispute and discredit the very idea of the global homogeneity.

These are just a few of the peculiarities of the New Globalization. The Global Studies Conference and Journal explore these and other aspects of globalization, new and old, in its empirical particularity and theoretical generalisability.