TWO DIMENSIONS OF GLOBALIZATION
There are many important dimensions to globalization, not the least of which include those relating to the environment, the persistence of nation-states, and global democracy and its discontents. I want to highlight two others today: (1) The integration of technology in the operations of transnational corporations and its effects, and (2) increases in social inequality at both national and global levels.
In the last decade we have heard much in the American mass media about the rise of the “information society”. Indeed, today it is common to hear something about the “information age” at every professional conference. Little, however, is said by the media and at national conferences about the role of the “information society” in the global economy, and at least one thinker has referred to globalization as the “Great American Non-Debate” (Tonelson, 1997). Yet, from a global perspective, it doesn’t take much to deduce the hypothesis that the relative position of the United States, an advanced capitalist nation, has shifted toward an even more centralized “management role” in a global capitalist economy. In the language of world systems theory, the scenario that I see is one where core nations use information technology to “manage” the extraction of raw resources from developing nations, the manufacture of commodities in semi- core nations and, as much as possible, the dynamics of currency markets on a global level. In this model, the information society is a significant part of the management of global capitalism, especially the management of finance capital.
Jerry Mander (1993), an advertising executive turned social scientist, for instance, argues that the new phase in the rise of the global economy is made possible by breakthroughs in information technologies (i.e., computers):
. . . [T]he new merger of computer, laser, and satellite technologies [have] combined to produce instantaneous worldwide corporate communication, capital transfer and resource control . . . . At the same time, developments in high-speed transportation [have] facilitated the rapid movement of resources and commodities worldwide and unified all the world’ . . . (p. 15).
Similarly, Gibson-Graham (1996/97), views globalization as “that set of processes by which the world is rapidly being integrated into one economic space via increased international trade, the internationalization of production and financial markets, the internationalization of a commodity culture promoted by an increasingly networked global telecommunications system” (Gibson-Gramham, 1996/97, p. 1).
In sum, we’re talking about a system of global capitalist management that involves the use of technology to manage the affairs of a global economy (and that will most likely be followed by the globalization of political authority). The results have been not only that all peoples have been brought deeper within the orbit of a global capitalist economy, but Western culture has permanently changed other cultures, causing a concern among some who perceive the increasing “. . . homogenization of cultures within a Western economic paradigm” (Mander, 1993, p. 15), a feature of capitalism long-ago noted by other Marxian scholars. For instance, as English and other European languages become the common languages of capitalism, we see the disappearance of other languages, and with their extinction we see the disappearance of the diversity of human experience (Kane, 1997a).
Economic and Social Inequality
Growing inequality within and across nations is a prominent feature of the world today. One of the most repeated views among many scholars is that over the past three decades, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer (Barnet and Cavanagh, 1994; Burbach, et al., 1997; Heredia, 1997; Kane, 1997b). Studies of the United States indicate that absolute downward mobility increased from the 1970s through the 1980s, and that a larger share of the downwardly mobile are coming from the middle and lower classes (Franklin, 1993/94; Smith, 1994). Data show that the share of the country’s aggregate income received by the top 20% of households increased from 40.5% to 46.9% between 1968 and 1994 (Kane, 1997b). Between 1975 and 1990, the richest 1% of the population increased its share of assets from 20% to 36%. A similar pattern is found at the international level.
United Nations data indicate that thirty years ago the richest 20% of the world’s population received 30 times more income than the poorest 20%. Today, that gap has increased to 61 times more income (Kane, 1997b). Moreover, per capita incomes decreased between the years 1980 and 1993 for more than a billion of the world’s population. During this decade, people in over 100 countries, most in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries, have experienced declines in income. Between 1960 and 1993, the gap in per capita income between industrial and developing nations increased from $ 5,700 to $ 15,400. It is the case, as one writer has pointed out, that “. . . the meek show no signs of inheriting the Earth” (Quoted in Kane, 1997b, p. 116).
Why has inequality increased? Part of the answer, it would seem, lies with the fact that many countries have cut tax rates for the rich and the corporations they operate, and held back spending on social programs. This approach is part of the debt management framework promoted by global financial organizations. Liberal economic policies adopted by many countries over the past 15 years have engendered a highly competitive global environment which has increased inequality. Economic restructuring and corporate re-engineering have displaced millions of workers across the globe, as has the expansion of capitalism itself (Burbach, et al., 1997; Hill, 1995).
Some might say that inequality is merely a necessary byproduct of rapid economic growth, and that growth will eventually benefit everybody – this is the trickle-down theory at the global level, but very little actually trickles down to the working poor and the destitute, not even at the national level and much less at the global level. And, that which does trickle down does so through an array of social programs that today are being rapidly dismantled. In this country we have seen it in the policy-produced homelessness and the social abandonment of the mentally ill of the 1980s, and in the abdication of affirmative action practices and programs and the welfare reform movement of the 1990s. Inequality, however, also is related to social malaise, and at certain points in history, has provoked crises and revolutions. What do we know about the emerging international underclass, and what will be its role in the next century (Callaghy, 1997)? Of what utility are the social sciences in this context? Should they have any relevance?
GLOBALIZATION AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Students of globalization are modifying well-worn concepts and attempting theoretical shifts in order to better understand changes at the global level (Giddens, 1994). Most recognize the vast implications that globalization has for the social sciences in terms of meta-theory, conceptual frameworks, methodologies, and institutional forms.
David Harvey (1995), for instance, asks if today’s societal changes are “great enough and synergistic enough when taken together to put us in a qualitatively new era of capitalist development, demanding a radical revision of our theoretical concepts . . . ?” (p. 11). In response to his own question, Harvey has coined several new concepts, including those of spatial-temporal contradictions and uneven spatial-temporal development, to try to capture the emerging realities of globalization. This critical process of conceptual modification can be seen occurring across many social scientific disciplines.
In psychology, Edward Sampson (1989) notes that ” globalization will compel a change in psychology’s current theory of the person, thereby setting a challenging task and future agenda for psychology” (p. 914). Global changes today, for Sampson, are of the same magnitude as the historic changes that ushered in the modern epoch. And, just as psychology’s theories during the era of modernism “. . . were apt descriptions of that era’s framework of understanding”, the new self that is emerging within the developing global world system is better understood, according to Sampson, by using a constitutive conception of the person.
During the industrial period, psychology held a conception of the person as a self-contained individual acting autonomously, free to form associations, and set apart from any community. Modernism’s theory of the person emphasized voluntarism and prioritized the individual over community. The task today, according to Sampson, is to identify the “. . . essential characteristics of a globalized theory of the person” (p. 917). Rather than dissociating persons from their circumstances of life, Sampson urges us to see persons as “. . . creatures whose very identities are constituted by their social locations” (p. 918). Attachments and commitments to community help define them, and this is important as individuals adapt to life in an increasingly interdependent globalized world system.
In the completely individuated life of industrial society, where persons are seen as devoid of constitutive attachments, “. . . no one bears responsibility for anyone’s behavior and so we all pay for each individual’s irresponsibilities” (p. 919). Interventions by the community are seen by the individual as improper intrusions. In an interdependent global world, however, “because individuals are constituted by their communities . . . community involvement is not experienced as an improper intrusion into their personal affairs” (p. 919). Although the new theory of the person is not yet fully developed, Sampson is right in recognizing the need to adapt our theories to the global context.
In anthropology, Michael Kearney (1995a) has noted that sociocultural anthropology is becoming more interdisciplinary and more focused on processes of global change. For Kearney, globalization has consequences for cultural anthropology’s theories and methods. For him, globalization “entails a reorganization of the bipolar imagery of space and time of [the] modern world view” (p. 549), and a “. . . a shift from two-dimensional Euclidean space . . . to a multidimensional global space with unbounded, often discontinuous and interpenetrating sub-spaces”(p. 549). According to Kearney, “transnational spaces, identities, and communities pose difficult problems for ethnographic representation” (1995a, p. 559). In other words, the emergent social reality is not adequately captured by our standard research tools, which are in need of refinement for research purposes.
In law, Susan Silbey (1997), in her address to the membership of the Law and Society Association, argued that sociological scholarship needs to become more sociological in order to capture how matters of time, space, complexity, volume and content help frame legality and globalization (p. 233). For Silbey, globalization is a form of colonial domination impacting local economies and cultures, and one in which legal actors and legal forms are active participants in promoting transnational corporate interests. In this scenario, globalization has resulted in concentrated power and increased inequality, and diminished the possibilities for justice. Although the liberal ideology of globalization promises a better world for all, once again the invisible hand conceals the domination of peoples and nature across the globe. Sociological scholarship, argues Sibley, needs to study the social organization of law within the process of globalization.
Anthony Giddens (1994), the well-known British sociologist, views globalization as a complex mixture of processes which is giving rise to a “post-traditional social order.” It includes not only political economic changes but cultural changes as well. For instance, although economic restructuring and reengineering have produced unpredictability, uncertainty and fragmentation, there also are the unifying effects of shared (emergent universal) values (e.g., justice, the sanctity of human life, sustainable development, etc.) and the common interests and risks that accompany the intensification of global interdependence. Within the post-traditional social order those taken-for-granted practices we call traditions suddenly become objects of public discourses. The result is that social reflexivity is intensified as globalization sweeps individuals into a wider world that disrupts and transforms local lifestyles, and then reintegrates them at a broader level.
According to Giddens, religious fundamentalism expresses the dynamics of increased social reflexivity as it defends traditional practices in the face of emergent social forces. Because fundamentalism rejects the dialogic engagement of ideas in a public space, it has tremendous potential for violence. According to Giddens, fundamentalisms of religion, ethnicity, family and gender are expressions of the “de-traditionalization” of local cultures, including the commitment of citizens to the nation-state. Globalization, then, may be giving rise to increased violence in society through the resurgence of the many forms of fundamentalisms.
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