GaWC Research Bulletin 40

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This Research Bulletin has been published in RJ Johnston, PJ Taylor and MJ Watts (eds) (2002) Geographies of Global Change 2nd edition Oxford: Blackwell, 1-18.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.



P.J. Taylor, M.J. Watts and R.J. Johnston

The incessant talk about globalization - the word, the images associated with it, and arguments for and against "it" - both reflect and reinforce fascination in boundless connectivity. Yet scholars do not need to choose between a rhetoric of containers and a rhetoric of flows. Not least of the questions we should be asking concern the present: what is actually new? What are the limits and mechanisms of ongoing changes? And above all, can we develop a differentiated vocabulary that encourages thinking about connections and their limits?
Fred Cooper (2001)

Over a half century ago in his magnificent book The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi (1944) pointed to the costs and consequences of unfettered free trade in a world market and to what he called the "tremendous hazards of planetary interdependence" (1944: 53). Since the end of the Second World War, Polanyi's concern with the connectivity and dependence within a world system has come to saturate, some might say dominate, virtually all aspects of contemporary life. For several decades perceived in terms of 'development', in 'post-development' contemporary parlance Polanyi's (1944) planetary interdependence is expressed through "the incessant talk about globalization".

Globalization has emerged over the last decade as the lodestar of the new millennium. Dreamed up by business gurus and popularised by the media pundits, policy wonks and academics - in newspapers, magazines, current affairs books, radio and TV news and discussion programmes, and internet discussion groups - the concept has seemingly acquired a life of its own. What is indisputable is that the vocabulary of globalization is a pervasive way of thinking and writing about modernity and contemporary society. As likely to appear in corporate advertising as in serious news media, globalization has inevitably attracted massive attention from those who are in the business of analysing and interpreting social change. In an online search of the social science literature, for example, we have identified 4239 publications on globalization through the 1990s (Figure 1). Rising precipitately in the final years of the decade, by 1999 social science publications on globalization were appearing at the rate of 32 a week! Such a conceptual head of steam is unlikely to dissipate quickly; indeed globalization is set fair to become a critical social concept - what Raymond Williams (1976) called a "keyword" - in the new century. Globalization is a clear example of what Williams refers to as an indicative word - it indicates certain forms of thought.

The implications of such an enormous explosion of interest within and outwith social science are many. Most fundamental, globalization cannot be ignored. There are lively debates about the meaning of globalization ranging from its dismissal as 'overblown hype' to its designation as a 'unique global era' (see Held et al. 1999, chapter 1 for a review). Whatever your own opinion may be, any intellectual engagement with social change in the twenty first century has to address this concept seriously, and assess its capacity to explain the world we currently inhabit.

A second implication inevitably turns on definition and the parameters of the global. Any new and controversial concept will be subject to particular scrutiny in this regard but in the case of globalization part of the debate referred to above revolves around different meanings that inevitably construct the world in radically different ways. Globalization is a very fluid and flexible concept; indeed it is a very slippery customer to deal with. Nevertheless, we can begin to grasp the concept by focussing on what we might call the "primitive core" of its meanings, what Raymond Williams (1976) referred to as a "cluster". First, and most obviously, globalization indicates a specific scale of social activity: it is world-wide or planetary in scope. But how is the global qualitatively different from the much older idea of 'international'? What makes the twenty first century World Wide Web facilitating 'global communication' substantively different from the nineteenth century steamship facilitating 'international trade'? Clearly simple reference to scale needs augmenting. Second, and more subtly, globalization transcends relations between states - the 'international' or 'cross-border' processes. Globalization is constituted by 'trans-state' processes. These are activities and outcomes that occur beyond the confines of states as such: they do not merely cross borders, these processes operate as if borders were not there. Global financial markets and global warming are two very different but nevertheless classic examples of this trans-state dimension of contemporary world society.

Of particular note is the fact that these two primitive aspects of globalization are both geographical. We can agree, therefore, with Storper's (1997) claim that globalization is intrinsically geographical in nature. Using this as our starting point we identify four different ways geography relates to globalization.

First, under the heading 'geography and globalization', we consider the fact that geography as a discipline has a global tradition that far precedes the rise of globalization as a concept. This allows geographers to approach globalization through a geohistorical perspective that identifies the specificities of contemporary globalization. An important corollary of this first view of globalization through the lenses of geography as a discipline is that we avoid the charge of "presentism", namely assuming the distinctiveness of today without asking what is different about contemporary forms of globalization and what are its historical precedents.

Second, under the heading 'geography in globalization', we introduce the idea that globalization is constituted by different types of spaces compared to earlier times. Here we discuss relations between 'spaces of places' and 'spaces of flows'. An important corollary of this second view of globalization through the lenses of geographies of relations is that we avoid the notion of the global as a stage, an inert space on which events inevitably unfold.

Third, under the heading 'geography of globalization', we describe the spatial distribution of things 'global'; differing intensities of much that is considered under globalization reveals traditional power geographies not only maintained but enhanced by globalization. An important corollary of this third view of globalization through the lenses of geographical differences is that we can avoid the charge of 'totalization', the idea that globalization is an all-encompassing narrative, a seamless field of connections which over-determines social change.

Fourth, under the heading 'geography for and against globalization', we look at reactions to globalization, at place-based resistances to trans-state processes and cosmopolitan embraces of globalization. An important corollary of this fourth view of globalization through political geography lenses is that we avoid seeing globalization as heir to the cosmopolitan tradition, the Euro-Americo-centric progressive thinking that undervalues the essential variety of humanity.

We cannot know the future trajectories of globalization; they have yet to be made. But we can begin to understand contemporary geographies of global change, their past trajectories and current power relativities, so as to be in a position to understand future possibilities and contribute to the making of preferred options. One thing we can be sure of is that geographical knowledges will be at the heart of the debates about twenty first century society.


Geography literally means 'Earth-description' and therefore the subject has normally been in some sense global in its intellectual concerns. For instance, for several centuries geography was closely associated with European exploration of the world - so much so that the terms 'geography' and 'exploration' came to appear to be almost synonymous (Baker, 1931; Stoddart, 1986). Cartography as one expression of the geographic vision, has necessarily had global ambition, to chart the borders and limits of the known world. With the initial creation of geography as an academic discipline in German universities in the late nineteenth century this global concern was maintained and reinforced. For instance, in the Netherlands the original University chair of geography was specifically designated as in 'colonial geography'.

As a modern discipline geography is a product of imperialism (Godlewska and Smith, 1994). The expansionary activities of European states in the late nineteenth century 'age of classical imperialism' created 'global closure' - a politically integrated world spanning and linking continents. Global concerns stood at the heart of the development of a geography discipline in European universities in the years around 1900. For instance, A. J. Herberton (1910), divided the world up into large 'natural regions' as an aid to imperial policy. He advocated that governments set up 'Statistical-Geographical Departments' staffed by geographers to map and evaluate the current and future economic value of these regions as tools for imperial planning. This aid to 'statecraft' is as explicitly global in vision as any strategic plan to come out of the executive office of a contemporary multinational corporation. Herbertson's combination of imperial power with environmental knowledge is typical of much of the geography created in universities in the first half of the twentieth century (Taylor, 1993).

One of the most famous imperial power/environmental knowledge models devised in geography is Mackinder's (1904, 1919) 'heartland thesis'. This model identified the large central zone of Eurasia as a special 'secure place' around which geopolitical policies for global strategies have to be devised. Initially a simple land power (heartland) versus sea power argument, the global vision of Mackinder survived the rise of air power (both planes and missiles) to underpin the geostrategy of the Cold War. With the USSR in the role of heartland, this has meant that Mackinder's model provided a dominant world spatial order for nearly all of the twentieth century. On the other side of the Atlantic, Isaiah Bowman, geographer, University President and foreign policy strategist, played a similar role with respect to a model of world geopolitics appropriate to the growing hegemony of the United States in the first half of the century (Bowman, 1921). However, during the second half of the century geopolitics was largely designed outside of the discipline of geography (Dalby, 1990). Taken over by Cold War global strategists, Mackinder's heartland concept all but disappeared from mainstream geography. This was part of a process of human geography retreating from the global scale as it converted to social science norms that were predominantly concerned with social activities at the scale of the state and below (Taylor, 1996a).

Geographers neglecting the global scale did not, of course, mean that actual "planetary interdependence" was put on a back burner. In the wake of the Second World War, one can now see in hindsight how the foundation for a different global order, under US hegemony, was laid. President Truman's call for democratic fair dealing on a global scale initially led to a boom in "development" studies, not unlike globalization's current boom, consisting of country-by-country evaluation of economic growth potentials. This theoretical and practical emphasis on international comparison was buttressed by the United Nations and its related economic international institutions, the Bretton Woods regulatory organizations such as the IBRD (International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, usually referred to as the World Bank) and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Decolonization provided the new opportunities for financial and productive investment as the old imperial system began to crack, creating new sorts of 'planetary interdependence' premised on 'development'. But by the1960s media guru Marshall McLuhan (1962) was beginning to talk of a global village as innovations in the communications sector held the promise of world-wide integration. But it was in the late 1960s and 1970s that the global re-emerged as a major scale of interest in the public consciousness for the first time since the age of imperialism. It occurred in three main guises. First, there was concern for environmental issues - a concern with the fragility of planet Earth - notably in relation to trans-state pollution and environmental harms (not the least of which was the nuclear threat). Second, there was the growing might and power of multinational corporations and their 'global reach' creating a 'new international division of labour'. And third, there was concern for global inequalities including a demand for a 'new international economic order' precipitated by the devastating consequences of the oil boom of the 1973 and 1979 and by the collapse of commodity prices upon which many Third World economies depended. These issues were all initially approached through the auspices of various multilateral institutions, and therefore as matters of international relations, but in hindsight we can see now that they each represent a different aspect of globalization: global integration, global governance, and global inequity.

Social science in general and human geography in particular responded to these new concerns by developing global-scale studies alongside their more normal researches that focussed on processes at or below the scale of the state. By the 1980s, the new global scale of analysis was becoming commonplace in human geography, for instance by studies of multinational corporations (Taylor and Thrift 1982), in world-systems political geography (Taylor 1985), in reassessments of development geography (Corbridge 1986; Peet 1991), and through a new global economic geography (Dicken 1988). In an overview of this new 'global geography' (Taylor and Johnston 1986), more topics were added including cultural and social concerns. It soon became clear that the new global scale impinged upon the whole gamut of social science themes. This is what we were responding to with the first edition of this book with its 'geoeconomic', 'geopolitical', 'geosocial', 'geocultural', and 'geoenvironmental' sections (Johnston et al. 1995). Despite the inter-weaving of these themes in practice, we feel this organisation still has pedagogic advantages and is used again in this volume. But why this global coincidence of all these topics at this particular time? To answer such questions we need to consider the geography in globalization.


Contributions of geographers to the globalization debate should not be seen as simply 'adding' a scale to conventional country-level analyses. Nor should they be seen as promoting the 'global' above other scales of activity. In fact one of the most positive features to emerge from geography's latest engagement with the global has been to interrogate the meaning of scale within geographical study. We identify two key points in this new scrutinising of scale.

The first point to make is that scales are not independent of one another. You can cross a boundary and leave a country but you can never relocate outside a given geographical scale. Geographers use phrases such as 'glocalization' (Swyngedouw, 1997) and 'local-global' (Pred and Watts 1993) to reinforce the idea that geographical scales are relational in nature. Any analysis that pits local versus global is developing a very suspect research agenda. It is, of course, legitimate to ask about the variable salience of scale levels for particular activities and for different people. This is in fact the geography that is intrinsic to globalization. Globalization is about changing relationships between geographical scales: our social world is being 're-scaled' through remapping the geographies of activities and functions. Sometimes this involves processes moving to institutions 'above the state', other times to 'below the state', and through all this the state itself is changing and adapting, not necessarily becoming less important.

The second point is that geographical scales in human activities do not just 'emerge', they are constructed through human activities (Smith, 1993). This is a very important geographical contribution to globalization debates because it means that there was nothing inevitable about an increasing scale of activities nor of an increasingly global future. Globalization is no more 'natural' than was imperialism, the latter was justified by a racial determinism, the former legitimated by market determinism, the need to roll back welfare states and to "get the prices right". The domination of pro-market rhetoric - TINA (there is no alternative) - by politicians of all political hues throughout the world is both a reflection of, and a contribution to, the development of contemporary globalization. Of course, globalization is much more than rhetoric, the re-scaling is the latest round of 'spatial fix' for a crisis-ridden capitalist world-economy (Harvey, 1999). Such fixes involve moving capital from low- return to high-return places in a restructuring of production and consumption in order to resolve profit crises.

These changing relationships between geographical scales can be seen for example in the rise of new and different forms of nationalism. In Nigeria, to take one example, the scale of the nation state - itself a product of the colonial era and the declaration of independence in 1960 - has been undercut by the emergence of so-called "ethno- or sub-nationalisms". The impoverished oil producing ethnic communities in the Niger delta are making claims in regard to their territory (a local or community scale) against the backdrop of global processes (the presence of oil companies and the role of the world market). At the same time, Nigeria is being drawn into the global space of the World Bank and the IMF through austerity and adjustment programs in a way that compromises the sovereignty and integrity of the nation-state.

At its most basic, therefore, the new global scale of activities has been a collective response of capital to the economic stagnation in the world-economy that began in the 1970s. But how exactly did this re-scaling come about? Most treatments of the 'rise' of globalization begin with the concept of a 'shrinking world', the idea being that over time different parts of the world have come closer together because of technological advances in transport and communications (Allen and Hamnett, 1995). In transport, this 'space-time compression' begins in earnest in the early nineteenth century with first the railways and then steam ships before moving on to cars, trucks and jet aeroplanes in the twentieth century. However, for globalization it has been communications that have been particularly important because of the effective simultaneity produced in the linking of places (Hugill, 1999). Beginning with the telegraph in the late nineteenth century, coded messages could travel long distances with little time lag in connecting sender and receiver. Development in both cable and radio transmission culminated in reliable trans-Atlantic telephone communication in place by the late 1950s. This had one very important effect: it allowed control functions to be centralised. For instance, in the early 1960s, Ford dispensed with local executive management in its European operations and ran operations from its global headquarters in Detroit (Hugill, 1999, 229). This presaged a massive growth in the activities of multinational corporations across the world: as noted earlier, by the 1970s they were deemed to have 'global reach' with a select few economically larger than most countries (Barnett and Muller, 1974). By 2000 the top 100 transnational corporations had assets many times larger than the collective GDP of the 100 poorest national economies.

Globalization, however, is not just the technological culmination of a shrinking world. New innovations in the 1970s led to a convergence between the communication industries and the computing industries (Cooke et al., 1992). Combining communications and computing created a powerful new enabling technology. Initially, it would aid in control functions, going far beyond telephone links to make information and analysis immediately available over long distances. But aiding centralisation was not the only outcome of this technology: it enabled flexible production and distribution that could result in a decentralisation of economic functions. Furthermore, these developments were not limited to economic processes: communication included the media industries so that the new combined technologies had widespread cultural and social impacts, beginning to realise what had earlier been called the 'global village' (McLuhan, 1962). And an important part of the media transmissions were advertising campaigns promoting more and more consumption with future environmental consequencies. The World Wide Web with its e-marketing and e-commerce and with email and teleconferencing for 'global managers' in their 'smart offices' (Graham and Marvin, 1996) - often referred to as the new 'super information highway' existing in electronic 'cyberspace' - represents the current culmination of this technological impulse.

Transfers of information have become a key element of global transmissions. So much so that some researchers have suggested that it represents a fundamental change in the nature of society. The notions of an 'information age' and 'knowledge society' have become commonplace. The most influential theorist in this area is Manuel Castells (1996) who argues that we live in an 'informational age' (superseding the industrial age) which has produced a new 'network society'. His ideas are important to geographers because he identifies a new space at the heart of this new form of society. Until the 1970s, according to Castells, modern society was constituted as spaces of places, such as neighbourhoods, regions and states. Network society, on the other hand, is constituted as spaces of flows, a myriad linkages, connections and relations across space.

The space of flows consists of two prominent levels, the infra-structural and the organisational. The former is the 'wired world', the hardware equipment linked to software which makes electronic transmissions around the world possible. The latter consists of the social patterns of linkages between the people and institutions who make the network society operate. Both of these networks have distinctive geographies that are just beginning to be understood. The electronic superhighway may define a cyberspace but it is still grounded in real places where it operates, is maintained, and is continually being developed. The social networks come in many forms but the most conspicuous is the 'world city network' where corporate service firms locate at the heaviest intersections of information which they can convert into 'professional knowledge' and sell to their clients (Sassen, 1991). Services such as devising new financial instruments, advising on inter-jurisdictional law, and creating global advertising campaigns are concentrated in these world cities. These myriad global spaces of flows are the critical geography in globalization.

Just like geographical scales, you cannot choose to be in one type of space but not the other. Spaces of places have not disappeared with the coming of network society. Cities, for instance, might be considered to be nodes in a network but they are also distinctive places. And, of course, there were numerous spaces of flows before the 1970s. What we are talking about here is a changing balance of importance between the two types of flows: as Fred Cooper (2001) says 'scholars do not need to choose between a rhetoric of containers and a rhetoric of flows'. The enabling technology of communications and computing has created a situation in which flows have become relatively dominant at the expense of places. But human geography continues to be about unravelling the relations between places and flows. Contemporary globalization poses the tension between place and flow as a direct reflection of power relativities in a most unequal geography of globalization.


At first glance, it might seem strange that globalization should have a geography, a variable distribution across space. Globalization is everywhere but it is not a homogeneous process: its outcomes vary markedly across the world. And the pattern is quite simple. The rise of globalization has been marked by increased material polarisation between regions; for every global city in a network of global cities there is what Castells calls a 'back hole' of marginalization and exclusion from the global network society. This has been called uneven globalization (Holm and Sorensen, 1995).

Starting in the 'era of development', we can note that the proportion of the world's population which enjoyed per capita income growth rates of over 5% tripled between 1965 and 1980. Some newly industrialised states in East Asia have experienced historically unprecedented rates of 'industrial compression': Taiwan and South Korea were, after all, war torn, impoverished and archetypically post-colonial 'underdeveloped' exporters of whigs, and sugar and rice in the 1950's. But on balance the record is indeed uneven, and nowhere more so than with respect to the plight and privation - the structured inequality - of women. Of the 1.3 billion people in poverty, 70% are women. Between 1965 and 1988 the number of rural women living below the poverty line increased by 47%; the corresponding figure for men was less than 30% (UNDP 1996). Mass poverty has been stubbornly resistant to the changing fads and fashions of development policy. If the incidence of poverty declined as a proportion of the world's population in the post-war period [itself perhaps contestable], the total number falling below the absolute poverty line has unequivocally increased. In the period since 1980, economic growth in 15 countries has brought rapidly rising incomes to 1.5 billion people, yet one person in three still lives in poverty and basic social services are unavailable to more than 1 billion people.

Locating poverty on the larger canvas of post-war 'development', allows us to see two important historical forces at work. First, some key constituencies did not participate in the growth and productivity achievements of the 1945-1980 period (poor women and rural landless for example): that is to say growth was accompanied by exclusion. And second, the record of the poor in participating in the market successes of the post-1980 period was constricted in the absence of redistribution: market-driven growth was marked by marginalization. One hundred countries totalling 1.6 billion people have actually experienced economic decline; in almost half of them average incomes are lower now than in 1970. The gravity of these figures is only deepened by a recognition of the growing polarities within the global economy as a whole. According to the United Nations Development Program, between 1960 and 1991 the share of the richest 20% rose from 70% to 85% of global income - while that of the poorest fell from 2.3% to 1.4%. Between states, the ratio of the shares of the richest to the poorest increased from 30:1 to 61:1. The problem is polarization: the proportion of the globe experiencing low income growth rates per head has grown, and since the 1980s it has grown substantially (Pritchett, 1997). And this same pattern of increased polarisation is to be found at other scales. Within countries, the more affluent central regions have prospered relative to their outer, poorer regions. Urban regions have experienced increasing differences between rich and poor neighbourhoods; world cities in particular are said to be marked by exceptional economic polarisation amongst their residents (Sassen, 1991). And at the individual level, Bill Gates of Microsoft was worth $100 billion at the recent stock market peak in technology shares (April 1st 1999) which is greater than the total sum of the GNP of all countries except the richest 18 (Cohen and Kennedy, 2000, 111).

What are we to make of this very clear effect of globalization? First, at the most general level, we can say that capital's latest spatial fix has worked. For the century up to the 1970s, new structures were being constructed - democracy, welfare states, decolonization - to enable the world to become a more equal place. Probably for the only time in history, the lower economic strata were successfully using their collective power as workers and consumers, and as soldiers and voters, to gain a larger share of the growing global wealth. Late twentieth century globalization marks a historical turnaround in this trend. Capital has regained its lost power. Lurking behind the political rhetoric of market opportunities, economic realism, and deregulation, there is the threat, and sometimes the actuality, of firms moving to more capital-friendly places. Whereas states, by their very territorial nature, are stuck in the old space of places, capital can take full advantage of the new space of flows. Hence firms can play one country off against another in paying taxes, in investing in new plants, in pay negotiations, in levels of regulation, in getting grants and subsidies, and many other activities that directly effect their overall global profits. Capital flight can be the harbinger of de-industrialization and what US Presidential candidate Ross Perot called the "great sucking sound" of job loss. Industrialization of the Third World used to conjure up images of brand new iron and steel works (e.g. Mountjoy, 1963), today it is about consumer brand sweat shops (Dicken, 1998, 313-4).

The reassertion of the private over the public interest - what has been called the neo-liberal counter-revolution -- has become pervasive, greatly abetted by the demise of the communist 'Second World' (including economic changes in the still formally communist China). Of course, the mobility of capital is nothing new - historically it was called the 'runaway shop' - but the scale and magnitude of direct foreign investment (reaching $230 billion of 'outflow' per annum in 1995) has conferred upon capital an unprecedented level of power. This enhanced leverage is to be found at all scales. Geographically it works through established uneven developments, such as core-periphery patterns at global and state scales, to accentuate past inequalities. Uneven globalization is more polarised than traditional geographical inequalities. Political polices to counter polarisation are major victims of capital's power. Urban and regional development policies are likely to be converted to 'private-public initiatives' in rich countries, and aid policies are likely to be converted into credits to buy arms in poor countries. But the clearest example of policy turnaround has come in the form of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) and stabilization measures in the Third World.

Precipitated by the debt crises and economic recession in Latin America and Africa in the early 1980s, these programmes were devised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to correct disarray in the finances of developing countries which were not developing. Involving massive cutbacks in social programmes to make the countries more attractive to capital investment, SAPs created mass impoverishment resulting in food riots in several countries. The 1980s - the high tide of austerity and adjustment - saw plummeting incomes and standards of living in Africa and Latin America; the so-called Lost Decade saw average African incomes plummet by 1990 to below their 1960 levels when many African states became independent. Subsequently the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to promote a laissez faire global economy has posed a further threat in the 1990s to reversing Third World economic regression.

The SAPs in the Third World were part of a neo-liberal agenda that originated in the First World in the late 1970s and 1980s. Here the cutting back of the welfare state was central to the new politics appropriate for the new global times. Led from the right in the 1980s by Reagan (Reagonomics) in the USA, Kohl in Germany, and Thatcher (Thatcherism) in Britain, by the 1990s their politics based upon faith in the market had diffused across the party spectrum to encompass the likes of the 'New Democrats' under Clinton and 'New Labour' under Blair. Global neo-liberalism's greatest political success came with the demise of the USSR that led to a rapid adoption of market reforms. The resulting mafia-style capitalism - coupled with a terrifying collapse of standards of living seen in the increase of poverty to 40% and sharp increases in child mortality and life expectancy -- is also the major political indictment of neo-liberalism. Its truly human indictment is the millions of additional children who have died in the erstwhile Second and Third Worlds as a general result of impoverishment and a specific result of reducing health services in the name of economic efficiency.

This uneven economic globalization has been masked to some degree by cultural globalization. Whereas producers in sweat shops have often been hidden from sight, consumers in designer shops have been highly visible in globalization. Neo-liberalism's promotion of the individual as an economic agent in the reform of socialist or regulated market economies is simultaneously the bearer of the ideology of contemporary consumerism. It promotes a vision of a homogeneous world of consumption that goes under various well-known branded names: McWorld, Coco-colonization, Disnification, and the Levi Generation, for example. The fact that these all refer to US corporations is an artefact of mid-twentieth century "Americanization", today consumerism is as likely to be fuelled by European and Asian corporations. Although it has been shown that both initial Americanization and subsequent cultural globalization is much more subtle than commonly appreciated, producing many hybrid cultures ("the Maharaja Mac" in India!) rather than a single homogeneous culture, the image of 'one world' that consumerism presents has become as pervasive as neo-liberalism itself. Symbolically, the largest McDonalds in the world is on Red Square, Moscow.

There is a double irony in cultural globalization's one world vision. It is a vision shared both by past cosmopolitan internationalists, as expressed in the name 'United Nations', and by contemporary environmentalists in their concept of the Earth as the home of humanity. Superseding the ordered political world of the UN is one thing, but consumerism sharing its image with environmentalism is quite another matter. It is the very consumption promoted by one world advertising that is threatening the home of humanity. Here we enter the heart of the contemporary politics of globalization.


The political hegemony of neo-liberalism has led many to equate this programme of policies with globalization itself. This is understandable but mistaken. Globalization is the result of processes that are much broader than neo-liberalism. In an earlier section we referred to the key technologies as 'enabling' and we can see now that they have enabled capital to reassert its dominance of the world economy. This is hardly surprising given the way the technologies themselves have been developed, by a select number of corporations to aid all corporations to enhance their profits. But this does not exhaust the enabling potential of these technologies. They can be used to resist globalization or applied to try and construct alternative globalizations.

Globalization has coincided with a rise in ethnic conflicts across the world. Although conventionally interpreted as long-standing local hatreds (for example the purportedly deep and abiding hatreds among Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda), this does not explain why the 1990s witnessed, not only the eruptions of civil wars, but also horrific ethnic cleansings (former Yugoslavia) and even a new genocide (Rwanda). Even Freud the famous pessimist might have been shocked by the violence which has attended the late 20th century, the "age of extremities" as British historian Eric Hobsbawm (1994) has recently dubbed it. In the wake of the Cold War, amidst much talk of "peace dividends" and a new world order, the atrocities in the Balkans, the genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in Algeria and the communal violence in India must represent something like a "return of the repressed". These forms of violence are instances of what Nancy Fraser (1995), in her book Justice Interruptus, refers to as "politics of recognition", and as such they reveal that the politics of community -- a word which as Raymond Williams(1976) noted long ago is never used unfavourably -- can turn very sour indeed. There have been several celebrated 'peace processes' but these have turned out to be problematic in their different ways: falling apart (Israel/Palestine), fragile (Northern Ireland/Ireland/UK), and profoundly disappointing (South Africa). These events remind us that globalization is not the only important bundle of processes to emerge in recent years. The end of the Cold War in 1989 'liberated' ethnic feelings into the political realm both within and beyond the old Second World. At the same time a broader new politics of identity was emerging where individuals were asserting their chosen collective identities undermining traditional class and orthodox party politics. Many of these identity movements adapted to the space of flows to themselves become globalised, notably the gay movement and feminism. But ethnic identities have always been more place-based. When transmuted into national claims they become wedded to a mosaic world space of places wherein nationalists demand their own 'homeland'. Hence the irony that globalization has occurred just as the number of states in the world has dramatically increased.

For nationalists, globalization with its homogenising tendencies can be seen as a very real threat. But we must not read this as a spatial conflict of places versus flows. All spatial experiences, nationalist or not, are constituted by both places and flows. In fact, defence of places will always depend upon a myriad of flows both material and informational. A classic case of this is the resistance of Commandante Marcos against the effects of the North American Trade Organisation on indigenous farmers in southern Mexico in which he combines place and flow strategies. As well as local military resistance, he has mobilisation world opinion using email. This technology has been similarly important for the anti-capitalism demonstrations at world conferences. At the state level France's resistance to English becoming the world language has a similar two-pronged media approach. First, there are measures to conserve the French language within France through minimum quotas on non-French language items on radio and TV. Second, there is promotion of French as a language on the Internet so that the World Wide Web does not become a new English language realm.

It is in the social and employment sector of state policy where the question of places and flows are most intertwined. The conundrum for those on the political left is how to maintain economic gains made within states over many years while not eschewing the potential new benefits offered by globalization. In the social democracies of Europe this has taken the form of defending key aspects of the welfare state while simultaneously promoting market processes under the label entrepreneurship (Lipietz, 1996). The European Union has been brought into the battle through its 'Social Charter' which provides for minimum social and employment benefits so as to prevent blatant attempts by member states to attract global capital by severe erosion of social and employment rights. In the USA the conundrum is being felt most acutely by the trade unions which have long experience of the 'runaway shop' within their country (Herod, 1997). Hence more recent threats to jobs from Mexico and Asia are part of a more continuous process of 'spatial fix' by American capital. But whatever the context, globalization denial is not an option: there is the realisation that globalization is not going to disappear in the near future and therefore a strategy of simple resistance can only be a partial and temporary response. Whatever strategies are adopted it seems clear that geographical knowledge of places and flows will be indispensable (Herod, 2000).

There is an alternative positive way of looking at the trend towards globalization. This relates it to cosmopolitan ideals that have always been suspicious of the 'parochialism' of the territorial state. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars stimulated both nationalistic and cosmopolitan politics. In the latter case, a pamphlet written by Immanuel Kant in 1795 is pivotal in advocating 'perpetual peace' (Gallie, 1978). He argued that in a world where countries were becoming more and more connected, peace was in the interests of both individuals and states. In the mid-nineteenth century this argument was taken up by the 'Manchester liberals' who contrasted the 'party of peace' based upon commercial interests with the 'party of war' based upon territorial interests (Taylor, 1996b). Although clearly under-estimating the power of nationalism unleashed in the following century, nevertheless we can see that economic globalization can claim to be in this 'perpetual peace' tradition: no pair of countries selling 'Big Macs' have ever been to war against each other according to the chief executive of McDonalds.

More seriously, new cosmopolitan ideas abound in our globalising world. As we would expect from a cosmopolitan perspective, it is not that the global scale is seen as the problem but rather its particular realisation today. Put simply, contemporary globalization is critically unbalanced. The ideal balanced modern society consists of a successful economy to provide affluence, a firm government to provide security, and a vibrant civil society to provide identity. In this trilogy, government regulates the economy and is legitimated by society through democracy while the economy provides the goods for society to rise above basic needs. Clearly globalization is far from meeting these ideals world wide on all three counts. However it is most developed economically, although not providing affluence for the vast majority of humanity, there is some global governance, but the development of a global civil society is most elusive.

The implications of this imbalance are profound. Starting in the middle, global governance has developed beyond the initial liberal internationalism of the United Nations. The most important institution is the series of G7 summits. These are regular meetings of the seven leading states (USA, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Canada - with the Presidents of the European Union and Russia now normally in attendance) where the global economic agenda for the rest of the world is set. And that agenda is a neo-liberal one. Without a global democratic mandate, this governance not so much regulates the world economy but simply promotes it. This is explicitly illustrated by the setting up of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1997 with trans-state rules negotiated by the rich countries. To stay in the global space of flows poor countries have no choice but to join this organisation but in doing so they leave themselves open to economic punishment if they employ the economic trade policies the G7 countries themselves employed before they were rich (i.e. forms of trade protectionism). This global democratic deficit pervades the putative formation of a global civic society. The only plausible trans-state class is in the upper economic strata (Sklair, 1995), a global capitalist class who are inevitably cheerleaders for the neo-liberal world economy. Opposition comes from transnational (and globally networked) social movements which have been influential in several world conferences held under UN auspices. The pitched battles against the G7/IMF/IBRD/WTO in Seattle, Washington DC, Prague and Genoa have unquestionably projected the globalization debate into the popular political consciousness in important ways.

These movements have in some respects been limited partly because the movements themselves have a severe democratic deficit: representing humanity ultimately requires legitimation through some sort of people's mandate. On the other hand they have helped keep the debates alive over reforming the global regulatory institutions and have the capacity to link up with national movements, for instance, around GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in Brazil, or dam construction in India, with surprising effect.

In fact the vast expansion of non-government organizations (NGOs)-- one expression of voluntary self-government if not participatory democracy -- is indisputably part of the post 1970 globalization process. The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies estimates for a sample of only twenty-two countries, that NGOs generated $1.1 trillion in revenue, employed 19 million workers, and recruited 10 million volunteers. In contrast to Putnam's (2000) claim that social capital has collapse over the last three decades, a deepening of associational and civic life is one of the hallmarks of the post-1968 generation. In 1960 each country had, on average, citizens participating in 122 NGOs; by 1990 the number had leapt to over 500. Significantly, two-thirds of the NGOs in western Europe have been founded since 1970. There are now in excess of 2 million non-government organizations in the US, three quarters of which have been established since 1968. In eastern Europe 100,000 non-profit organizations appeared between 1989-1995; Kenya authorizes almost 250 new NGOs each year. Among international NGOs the growth and proliferation is no less explosive. In 1909 there were 176; currently there are over 29,000, virtually 90% of which have been established since the 1960's (The Economist January 29th 2000:25-26). Putnam (2000) argues that many of these are far from democratic organisations since their 'members' are mainly 'subscribers' who support the organisation's activities (indeed, in some cases the organisations tailor their campaigns and activities to those most likely to raise subscriber income), but who play little part in the NGOs' daily work. However, for someone like Melucci the emergence of such transnationally networked organizations, a sort of global civil society, marks a rupture, a shift from the new social movements of the 1970s to "an overarching system of closely interdependent transnational relations" (1996:224) and new forms of governance and "partial government". As if to drive home the point, the Rand Arroyo Center, in a recent study sponsored by the US Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, published a report entitled "The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico", documenting the grave dangers of "electronic horizontal network" of social mobilization which "confound fundamental beliefs" in virtue of their "epistemological" approach to politics!

The very idea of a 'global civil society' is certainly limited at present, and there are good theoretical reasons for doubting its efficacy. Civil societies at the state level have operated best where there is one dominant national project. This is because democracy as a decision-making instrument works most efficiently when there is only one 'demos'; where there is more than one 'people' democracy is usually excessively divisive. It is not clear how a global civil society could ever cope with the vast variety that is humanity. Assuming it is anti-territorial in nature, we can envisage a trans-state civil society organised in the space of flows through a world city network. But this immediately introduces hierarchy: are these cities to become new centres of 'command and control' as some see their role in the contemporary world economy? This could promote the latent authoritarianism to be found in many democratically-deficient, transnational movements. Even if such cosmopolitanism injected more humane and environmentally-sensitive policies on to global agendas, it would still be another 'globalization from above'.

The key problem is that we do not seem to have the political equipment for developing a 'globalization from below' (Falk, 2000). Castells (1999) talks of 'grassrooting the space of flows' and certainly the technology is enabling of such a non-territorial political project. An immensely complex undertaking, any such 'globalization from below' project would have to respect and promote cultural diversities. However, it is not clear how we could prevent such a fragmented 'global civil society' becoming a victim of a more unified economic and political order. The ideal of harnessing globalization's potential for a better world by respecting diversity (spaces of places) while promoting cosmopolitan ideals of equity and freedom (spaces of flows) certainly seems a long way away. But we know the starting point: understand globalization today, to make a better tomorrow, for all humanity.


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Figure 1: The rise of globalization as a topic in the social sciences in the 1990s

(Based upon BIDS searches for 'globalization' and 'globalisation' in titles, abstracts and as keywords) 

Edited and posted on the web on 12th February 2001; last update 6th February 2002

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in RJ Johnston, PJ Taylor and MJ Watts (eds) (2002) Geographies of Global Change 2nd edition Oxford: Blackwell, 1-18