Globalization and Globalism

  • Richard L. HarrisEmail author
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Foreign Direct Investment World Trade Organization Transnational Corporation Gulf Cooperation Council Global Order 
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The sociologist Cesare Poppi (1997: 285) has noted that: “The literature stemming from the debate on globalization has grown in the last decade beyond any individual’s capability of extracting a workable definition of the concept.” But like many others who have grappled with the definition of globalization, Poppi does end up describing globalization as both an important historical process as well as a contested discourse about the global nature of human society. The contemporary literature and ideological debates on globalization and globalism involve a highly contested, complex, and multidimensional discourse on the nature of the present world order, its historical antecedents, underlying causative forces, and future evolution. Most theorizing and empirical research on this subject tends to be organized around the following key issues or questions: is globalization really taking place on a global scale; is it producing global convergence and integration or divergence and fragmentation, or both; is it undermining the authority and power of nation-states; will globalization continue to characterize the present era of human history; if so how does the present era of what some call “globality” differ from modernity (or postmodernity); and are globalization and globalism producing a single global culture and a global political system as well as a global economic system?

Generally speaking, globalization is regarded as a global (planet-wide) process of increasing cross-border flows of products, services, capital, people, information, and culture. Many observers call attention to the effects this global process is having on our sense of time and space. Roland Robertson (1992: 8) has argued that globalization “refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of our consciousness of the world as a whole.” Manuel Castells (2001: 52) has stressed the instantaneous informational and communications aspects of globalization and characterizes the global economic system that has emerged as a result of the information revolution as an economy with the capacity to work as a single unit in real time on a planetary scale. In the developing countries of the Global South, there are many “locals” who characterize globalization as the third phase of Western colonization (the second phase being neocolonialism), and they criticize the many negative local effects of globalization (e.g., see Adesina 2012). “Globalism” is generally used to refer to ideologies that advocate globalization of one kind or another. “Globalists” advocate for globalization and they often favor freedom of immigration, free trade, lowering tariffs, humanitarian interventionism, democracy, human rights, global citizenship and/or global governance. Globalism and globalists are increasingly viewed as the opposite of nationalism and nationalists, and the clash between these two has become increasingly divisive in the politics of many countries (Miller 2017).

It is important to emphasize that globalization tends to be used to describe global integration that is occurring with increasing intensity “inside” societies and states as well as “between” them and the evolving global system (Robertson 1992: 104–105). In addition, it appears globalization gives rise to “glocalization.” This concept is an amalgam of the terms globalization and localization and is used to refer to the end process in which global phenomena are adopted/imposed and then adapted and differentiated at the local level. It can be argued that in a very real sense all global phenomena originate in some location(s) of the world and become global (globalized) through distribution and/or diffusion to an increasing number of other locations around the world, where they take root and then become locally differentiated (localized) in the local conditions they encounter. In this conceptualization of the globalization process the localized variations of the globalizing phenomena are always a mixture or hybrid produced by the dynamic interaction (glocalization) that takes place between the global phenomena and the local conditions these phenomena encounter. The work of the well-known sociologist Roland Robertson (1991, 1994, 2009) has done the most to develop and popularize this important conceptualization of the transnational social transformations that are now regularly taking place around the globe and producing increasing hybridity.

Globalization and Governance

A variety of structures promote, coordinate, and/or regulate economic globalization at the global level, e.g., the World Trade Organization (WTO), while others promote and regulate economic integration at the regional level. The best example of regional integration is the European Union (EU), and there are a growing number of regional organizations in other parts of the world (see below). They generally facilitate globalization by providing an intermediate level of integration between the local and global levels. Thus, various forms of economic integration are taking place at the same time within the overall process of global integration. The connecting linkages and coordination between these parallel processes of integration are provided by large transnational banks and corporations and to a lesser extent by intergovernmental entities such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, WTO, World Health Organization, and other similar international organizations. The latter can be considered emerging forms of global governance.

The existing system of nation-states is to a certain extent being transformed by the emerging global or globalizing structures, particularly by the large transnational corporations and the intergovernmental institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and regional associations such as the EU (Cole 2017). The nation-states continue to be important structures and actors in the emerging global economic and political system, but their position in this system is increasingly subordinate to the complex array of transnational corporations and intergovernmental institutions which exercise increasing control over not only economic but political, social, cultural, and environmental conditions at the national and subnational levels (e.g., “global cities”) of the emerging global order. In this multilevel global order, contemporary political and economic thought and action appear to be increasingly influenced by what Robertson refers to as “a globe-wide system of rules and regulations” and “a consciousness of the global economy as a whole” (Robertson 1992: 26). In fact, the decisions and actions of the main actors at the national and international levels of this emerging global order are clearly influenced to a considerable and increasing degree by their awareness of and concerns about the global economy.

Western/Northern economic, political, social, and cultural values, ideals, and interests are dominant in the contemporary globalization process (Cole 2017). As a result, some critics call this process “globalization from above” or Western imperialism since it is essentially a top-down process of capitalist expansion and integration that is largely directed and imposed by the transnational corporate elites and their political allies in the Global North. In contrast, the opposing proponents of “alter-globalization” tend to represent the interests of the world’s poor, working poor, and many social movement activists from both the Global North and the Global South. The latter tend to believe “Another World is Possible” (the slogan of the World Social Forum) and they advocate what some call “globalization from below.” They seek to co-create an environmentally sustainable global order that reflects the interests of the majority of the world’s population and that protects and preserves the planet’s biosphere. The various social forces involved in this effort are sometimes referred to as “global civil society” and the “global social justice movement,” which is an evolving and vast assemblage of environmental and social justice movements with overlapping interests operating across the world and beyond the reach of governments (Keane 2003). Many of them send delegations to the World Social Forum (WSF), which is the largest international gathering of global civil society representatives. They meet at the WSF to find solutions to “the problems of our time.” The WSF started in 2001 in Brazil, and it brings together at each of its meetings tens of thousands of participants who engage in hundreds of workshops, conferences, artistic performances on various themes such as creating a solidarity economy, environmental sustainability, human rights, democratization, etc.

As far as the role of the state and public administration in the evolving global order are concerned, there in increasing evidence they are being affected dramatically by the globalization process (Srivastava 2009). A series of political and administrative reforms have taken place since the late 1970s under the aegis of globalization and the neoliberal ideology of the transnational corporate elites in the Global North and their allies in the Global South (Cole 2017). As Ali Farazmand stated in his seminal 1999 article on globalization and public administration: “the nature of the administrative state worldwide” has been changed by both globalization and globalism, and “the globalized economic structure, with its many superstructural changes, including superterritorial power structures, has led to profound implications for public administration” (Farazmand 1999: 510). Jamil Jreisat (2009) contends in this regard that: “the globalization processes underscore the urgency for adopting reforms [in governance and public administration] that work” in the globalized economy, and to do this successfully “public administrators have to expand their intellectual horizons, refine their operational methods, improve their communications and negotiation skills, and conform to higher standards of performance in all aspects of their responsibilities” (Jreisat 2009: 47).

Policy makers and administrators, influenced by the transnational corporate elites and their neoliberal ideological prescriptions, have promoted the deregulation of both commercial and financial markets by the state as well as the piecemeal privatization and reduction of the size and scope of the public sector in countries around the world, especially the privatization of social services. These so-called reforms have taken the guise of corporate managerial and entrepreneurial innovations with euphemistic labels such as New Public Management, which are generally distinguished by out-sourcing public services to private enterprises, public-private partnerships, and the privatization of public property and many public goods (Mohanty 2014). These so-called reforms use corporate managerial jargon and profess to treat the beneficiaries of public services as customers and the citizenry as shareholders. They have placed the emphasis on using private enterprise, private contractors, markets and marketing, business administration principles, and public sector partnerships with private and nonprofit organizations while at the same time reducing public services and public employees. These reforms have reduced the human and material resources, weakened the regulatory authority and downsized the public administrative systems in both the developed countries of the Global North and the developing societies of the Global South, while making at best only minor improvements in efficiency, technological innovation (“E Government”), and cost reductions (Srivastava 2009; Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2015).

Globalization, the Rise of China, and the Global South

The economies of the developing countries in the Global South now produce nearly half of the world’s economic output measured in terms of Gross World Product (UNGA 2014: 2). In fact, a remarkable shift in the ongoing processes of economic globalization has taken place since the 1990s. This is evidenced by the fact the developing countries share of the Gross Word Product jumped from 23% to 40% between 2000 and 2012. Their share of total world trade also increased from 39% to 52% during this same period (WTO 2014: 60). In fact, the African countries have experienced higher economic growth than the developed countries of the Global North. Their average annual growth rate in terms of real output increased from 2.6% in 1990–2000 to 5.3% in the period 2000–2010. According to the World Bank, seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world during this decade were in Africa (Beri 2015). In fact, all regions of the South have experienced significant economic growth and they have done so in spite of the most severe recession in the North since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In addition, since 2009, the developing countries of the South have exported more to each other than to the developed countries, and since 2011, their total trade has risen to over $4 trillion USD (UNGA 2014: 2).

The remarkable growth of China’s economy and its increasing trade with and investments in the developing countries have greatly contributed to these unprecedented achievements in economic development in the Global South. In three decades, China reduced its poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to 10% in 2013 and reached upper-middle-income status (Harris 2015; Schellekens 2013). In doing so, the country lifted over half a billion people out of poverty and contributed to the development of other developing countries, directly through bilateral trade and financial flows and indirectly through growth spillovers and terms of trade effects (Schellekens 2013).

These unprecedented economic developments in combination with the rapid spread of electronic communications connectivity across the South point to a new strength and potential for progress in this important part of the world. As a result, the United Nations (UNGA 2014: 2) has predicted that by 2025, the Global South is likely to have some 600 million households with incomes of over $20,000 USD per annum and total annual consumption of $30 trillion USD. By 2020, the economies of the three largest developing countries – China, India, and Brazil – are projected to produce a greater share of the Gross World Product than the six largest developed countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America combined (UNGA 2014: 2).

Increasing South-South cooperation is directly linked to the growing trade and flows of foreign direct investment between the developing countries, and both of these factors are transforming the world economy. The importance of South-South cooperation should not be underestimated (UNDP 2016). According to the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC 2016: 1) South-South Cooperation (SSC) is defined as the “collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains,” and includes sharing “knowledge, skills, expertise and resources to meet their development goals through concerted efforts.” While this form of cooperation generally involves two or more developing countries, it also increasingly takes place on a regional and interregional basis.

The past two decades have seen SSC grow rapidly in scale and intensity (UNOSSC 2016: 1). It has encompassed an “increased volume of South-South trade, South-South flows of foreign direct investment, movements towards regional integration, technology transfers, financial and monetary cooperation and in-kind contributions.” According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO 2016) SSC has greatly facilitated “the exchange of knowledge, experience, investment, information and capacity between and among Southern countries through government, civil society organizations, academic institutions, national institutions and networks to accelerate political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical development” (UNIDO 2016). UNIDO also points out that SSC is characterized by the pursuit of “mutual benefit between countries, respect for national sovereignty and ownership, establishment of partnerships among equals, non-conditionality and non-interference in the domestic affairs” of the countries involved (UNIDO 2016).

The traditional North-South pattern of international development assistance, referred to as Official Development Assistance (ODA), is increasingly being displaced by SSC. In the last decade and a half, the Peoples Republic of China has taken the lead in SSC. China’s leaders believe that the globalization of trade, finance, and communications has produced a complex and interdependent world economy in which the hegemonic capitalist countries are losing their power to prevent or control the diffusion and redistribution of economic wealth and political power (Harris 2015). As a result, they believe a new multipolar world order is emerging, which is being shaped by China and other large developing countries (such as Brazil, India, and South Africa) with the support of most of the other countries in the Global South (Santander Campos 2013: 1229; see also Zheng and Lim 2017).

The rise of China can be regarded as the most important factor affecting the evolving world order in the twenty-first century (Zheng and Lim 2017). Indeed, a new alternative world order appears to be emerging with the proliferation of regional as well as inter-regional forms of intergovernmental economic and political cooperation in the Global South. These new forms of intergovernmental cooperation include: the inter-regional BRICS coalition (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); the regional Union of South American Nations; and the ASEAN–China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), which is a regional free trade association that involves the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Peoples Republic of China. In the Middle East, there is the regional Gulf Cooperation Council, which is comprised of the energy rich Persian Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. At the inter-regional level there is also the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (known as CELAC) and the inter-regional cooperation forum that includes the CELAC nations and China (the China-CELAC Forum), as well as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). These two inter-regional forums focus on SSC and development issues of mutual concern to China and the developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. They serve as a venue for planning and financing infrastructure projects; joint commercial ventures; various types of educational, technical, and cultural exchanges; as well as other forms of economic, political, social, and cultural cooperation.

There is also the India–Africa Forum, which is the official platform for African-Indian SSC (Beri 2015). It is focused on cooperation in trade, industry, investments, peace and security, good governance, and information and communication technology. The India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA 2017) is a tripartite group of developing countries that promotes cooperation among their three large developing economies. They represent important poles for galvanizing SSC in the three largest regions of the Global South, namely, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The IBSA Dialogue Forum has also played an important role in coordinating the foreign policies of India, Brazil, and South Africa with regard to reforming the United Nations, especially the membership of the UN Security Council, in which the Global South is under-represented. While they acknowledge the benefits that their countries have achieved through globalization and freer trade, they have common concerns about the negative effects of globalization on the developing countries and the reprehensible fact that a large part of the world’s population has not benefited from globalization. In this regard, they are committed to pursuing negotiations through the UN, the WTO, and other intergovernmental venues to eliminate the protectionist and trade-distorting practices of the developed countries of the Global North. They seek to create a level playing field for trade between the developing countries of the Global South and the developed countries of the Global North (IBSA 2017).

The proliferation of these new intergovernmental institutions of SSC appears to be changing the evolving governance of globalization and bringing about the transformation of the existing international order. They are subtly chipping away at the foundations of the global hegemony held by the major developed countries of the Global North (Harris 2015). Most of these SSC intergovernmental efforts are anti-neoliberal in orientation and they are based on win-win, South-South cooperation. In their aims and actions they go well beyond the neoliberal trade liberalization efforts that have been led by the transnational corporations and the governments of the USA and the other major developed countries. They seek to build and consolidate strategic economic and political partnerships between the developing countries to advance their mutual development while also contesting the inequitable aspects of the existing world order (ECLAC 2015; Fernandez and Hogenboom 2010; Harris and Arias 2017).

These structures and practices of SSC are increasing the power of the developing countries and their role in governing the world economy. They are also creating the foundations for a new nonhegemonic and multipolar, international order (Santander Campos 2013: 122; Zheng and Lim 2017). China has taken the lead in this effort, and although the socialist ideology of China’s leaders profoundly influences their worldview and their political strategies (see Harris 2015), the Chinese government does not draw strict ideological lines in the PRC’s economic relations and the assistance China gives to other developing countries. The Chinese government’s official position is “various social systems and development models should coexist harmoniously in the world,” and as a result in its trade relations and SSC, “China adheres to the principles of not imposing any political conditions, not interfering in the internal affairs of the recipient countries and fully respecting their right to independently choose their own paths and models of development”(Aho 2011; Lu 2014).

In the larger global context, China’s increasing economic and political relations with the developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean and the increasing flow of trade, investments, loans, economic cooperation, and technical assistance between China and these countries has become a new driving force in the contemporary globalization process. As a result, according to a recent UN report, the “phenomenal rise of the South and the surge in South-South cooperation” have begun to transform the globalization process, and this transformation has now become an important subject of contemporary research and analysis, e.g., see the special report on South–South Cooperation prepared by the Secretary General for the 2014 session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 2014: 8). It is also important to note that the “rise of the South” directly challenges the Western ethnocentric biases that underlie most existing ideologies of globalism and the expectations about the future direction of globalization held by most globalists in the developed countries of the Global North.

At the same time, a new wave of nationalistic and anti-globalization politics have gained ground in the Global North, notably in the UK, the USA, and some of the member states of the European Union (Esch et al. 2017). For example, the President of the USA Donald Trump frequently criticized globalism during his presidential campaign in 2016 and stated publicly afterwards that “we will no longer surrender this country and its people to the false song of globalism” (Miller 2017). As a matter of fact, the political elites in the Global North appear to be increasingly divided over globalization, and the rising tide of nationalism and nationalistic political leaders seriously casts doubt on the continued liberalization of international trade and finance. This situation would have seemed inconceivable only a few years ago, but a new era appears to be unfolding in which the political and economic certainties that have held constant for many decades since the end of World War II are seriously being challenged. In fact, top political leaders in the USA and UK no longer appear to be interested in maintaining many of the features of the liberal world order that the leaders of these countries constructed after 1945 (Esch et al. 2017). This political shift in the West along with the increasing rise of China and the Global South will most likely diminish the momentum and quite possibly change the direction of globalization in the coming decades. It also contradicts the liberal assumptions that underlie Western-centric ideologies of globalism (Miller 2017).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State UniversityMonterey BayUSA