Jake Gordon

Is Globalisation a Myth or a Fact?

The term globalisation describes the process of becoming worldwide in scope or application, and the increasing interdependency of nation-sates. At least - that gives us one loose definition for globalisation, but as Scholte (2000) realises, globalisation is a thoroughly contested subject, with arguments extend across the issue of definition as well as measurement, chronology, explanation and normative judgement. In fact, Scholte identifies five contrasting definitions for the word 'globalisation' as used by a number of the subject's commentators and critics - internationalisation, liberalisation, universalisation, western/modernisation and deterrioralisation are (2000: 13).

In choosing a definition of globalisation, one is also selecting how they wish to interpret it, and what points they wish to convey. For example, the choice of western/modernisation leads to a view that globlisation sees the economically and politically powerful west globalising the rest of the world, whilst universalisation leads to a more neutral stance, taking it's root from the dictionary definition of the word 'gloalise', meaning to universalise.

To judge whether or not globalisation is a myth or fact therefore requires the full understanding of what the term means to it's critics and advocates, and in which ways they belive it to be myth of fact. Giddens simplifies the debate into two main schools - the sceptics and the radicals. A radical himself, he writes that "According to the sceptics, all the talk about globalisation is only that - just talk" whilst "The radicals argue that not only is globalisation very real, but that its consequences can be seen everywhere" . Sceptics are seen by Giddens to hold a politicially left view, with their argument that globlaisation is "put about by free-marketeers who wish to dismantle welfare systems and cut back on state expenditure" (1999: 7-8). Key to his own argument, Giddens realises that globlisation is not just economic, but also political, technological and cultural.

It appears that some sceptics of globalisation take their definition of the word not as a verb but as the resulting noun, 'globalised'. The argument is that globalisation does not exist because we're not living in a fully globalised world. For example, economists may argue that we are not living in a total global economy and use this as proof that globalisation is a myth. All these ambiguities surrounding the context and use of the word leads to great confusion, highlighted by Rosenberg's (2000) muddled critical analysis of Giddens' works from which little conclusion can be drawn.

Through the development of new technologies, transport and communications have brought about the feeling of a smaller world as it becomes quicker and cheaper for people, data and goods to get from one point in the world to another. There is a changing concept of space and time (Cohen & Kennedy, 2000) - because distance and time are often used interchangeably, the fact that time taken for journeys has decreased means that our concepts of distance have also changed. Today it's possible to travel half way around the globe in a day, whilst before the invention of the steam ship or airplane, such a journey would have been unheard of. Similarly, email enables messages and data to be sent across the globe in milliseconds, whilst before it's advent postal services would have taken several days.

The use of the word globalisation has only been with us, we are told, since about 1960 (Waters, 1995: 2), yet the development of transport and communications is not a new phenomenom. Perhaps it is that in contemporary times there has been an accelearation in the advances made which has brought the conecept of globalisation to our attention, and hence given us reason to add it to our vocabularies. However globalisation is not whether or not the world is globalised, but whether it is globalising - so clearly the movement towards the compression of space and time is proof in itself that globalisation is indeed a fact.

Too add yet further dimensions to the globalisation debate we have at least three competing chronologies as to when globalisation has come about - but all of these see globalisation as a fact. Giddens views globaliation as contemporary, occuring only in post-war years - highlighting old; that is the growth of capitalism, and new; that is new methods of communications. The alternative extreme is an idea put forward by Andre Frank, suggeting that globalisation is a constant process occuring over several millennia. This would suggest that perhaps the recent changes that have been occuring aren't just globalisation at all, but some new process such as westernisation. A third suggestion by Immanuel Wallerston focuses on the triumph of capitalism and how globalisation is merely a result of our capitalist society and it's values.

A fully globalised culture should be taken as a single or multiple cultures for the whole world - either culminating cultures from around the world, or the world-wide domination of one culture set above others. Ideally this would be the former, however America and The West have significantly more power than the rest of the world leading to their contemporary cultural domination. Greater awareness of non-western cultures is learnt through education, interactions and the media - although rarely are any of these cultural traits adopted. Conversely, western cultures are often forced upon peoples through the media (predominately controlled by the technologically advanced West), company branding and the ability of westerners to travel across cultural boundries (whilst their non-western counterparts may not be economically or politically able). It is therefore hard for these non-western cultures to compete, and so cultural globalisation sees the emergence of America and the West.

It is suggested that only a select group countries that are becoming globalised, whilst other countries are unaffected by the process. WW1 and WW2 are said to be 'world wars' and yet only a small selection of countries were involved. The football world cup is greatly overrepresented by Europe, whilst almost all 'global' pop stars come form England, America, Australia and other English speaking countries. Particularly in economic terms, globalisation is confined to a minority of the most wealthy countries.

A globalised economy would be one in which there is a single universally acepted currency and where there are no differences in economic policies between nations, no trade restrictions and barriers, and where nations no longer have control over their own economy, as their own economy as such does not exist, but is part of the wider global economy. Clearly today we don't have this single economy, however in recent years there have been movements towards it, evidence of economic globalisation. Europe now has the Euro, and it's important to realise that this isn't just a unit of currency, but sees the amalgamation of many different economies into one, as by signing up to a joint currency a nation is also signing away total control over fiscal and monetary policies. This again is evidence that it is only a select few wealthy countries that are perhaps undergoing some processes of globalisation, however poorer countries have also been Americanised through the often black-market use of the US dollar. For example, in Vietnam and many other poor countries, US dollars are prefered as payments over predominately weaker and more vulnerable local currencies.

Sceptics often argue that economic globalisation is a myth, whilst what they actually mean is that we're not living in a global economy - they fail to realise that globalisation is a process rather than an end result. Financial markets only exist on a large scale in wealthy countries; multinational enterprises and transnational companies aren't totally global; employment isn't always globally mobile; foreign direct investment is concentrated in the wealthy countries. All are evidence that our economy isn't truly global, but none tell us that globalisation doesn't exist. In fact, they do quite the opposite - they illustrate various ways in which the economy has become more global over the years.

Through the literal meaning of globalisation (an act or process), suggesting that globalisation is a myth is ludicrous. Globalisation is the process of becoming worldwide in scope or applicaing and the increasing interdependency of nation-states. It is a commonly accepted definition of globalisation that is required to put an end to some rather pointless debate. With such a definition in place it is then possible to start truly analysing globlisation - looking at why it's happening, what it's leading to and in which ways its acting. A current fully globalised world is a myth, globalisation is not.

[Written: 2001   Words: 1430]


Cohen & Kennedy (2000) Global Sociology, MacMillan: Basingstoke
Germain, R (2000) Globalisation and its Critics, MacMillan: Basingstoke
Giddens (1999) Runaway World, Profile Books: London
Helt et al (1999) Global Transformations, Polity Press: Cambridge
Rosenberg (2000) The Follies of Globalisation Theory, Verso: London
Schulte (2000) Globalisation: a Critical Introduction, MacMillan: Basingstoke

by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved