Definition: Connecting Many Worlds
Globalization involves the intensification of flows across the globe.
These flows include people, goods, ideas, trends, services and money
across the boundaries of localities, nation-states and regions. The result
is more intense and deeper connections between places. The immediacy
of these linkages is associated with advances in technology: the telegraph, the telephone, and eventually the facsimile machine, Internet
and aeroplane. In particular, life since the inception of the Internet in
the 1990 s has proved dramatically different from life before it. Whereas
people once wrote letters, messages recorded by hand that would be
delivered at whatever pace possible (by horse, carriage, and eventually
automobile and plane), today we can communicate via â€˜instant messageâ€™, talk in a â€˜liveâ€™ chatroom or watch a â€˜webcamâ€™ of another place,
knowing instantaneously what is happening in multiple sites, perhaps
even among people in places situated on opposite sides of the earth.
These connections transcend time and space, connecting people, ideas,
information and resources across vast geographical distances.
In short, globalization is the functional integration of economic, political, social and cultural processes across space, and most notably, international boundaries (Dicken 2003: 12). Whereas internationalization is
said to be at least 500 years old and to include the spread of industrialization, globalization involving the production of goods and services
across borders began only in the second half of the twentieth century,
specifically in the 1970s when the profitability of producing goods in one
country â€“ such as the United States â€“ fell (Dicken 2003: 9â€“10). Companies
looked for cheaper places to produce goods and services, especially labour
intensive ones, where they would pay workers lower wages.
Globalization involves what geographer David Harvey (1990) calls
â€˜time-space compressionâ€™. Time-space compression is the idea that connections around the world enabled by modern technologies have had
the effect of compressing space. In other words, it takes less time to
traverse space. In the 1850s, Karl Marx called this the â€˜annihilation of
space by timeâ€™. Advances in technologies of communication and transportation have since accelerated time-space compression such that
people around the world can be in communication with one another
simultaneously in â€˜real timeâ€™ and can travel or exchange goods very
These changes have also led to the â€˜new international division of laborâ€™
(FrÃ¶ebel et al. 1980). Multinational or transnational corporations functioned as the principal engines of globalization and sought out â€˜greenfield sitesâ€™, or new production sites where labour was abundant,
obedient, young, and untainted by histories of unionization and labour
protest. Most often, they found this labour in the countries of the global
south, with much of the workforce constituted by women of colour.
As Peter Dicken (2003, 2007) notes, â€˜Every age has its â€œbuzzwordâ€ â€“
a word that captures the popular imagination, and becomes so widely
used, that its meaning becomes confused.â€™ In his oft-cited text, Global
Shift, Dicken (2003: 7) traces the use of the term â€˜globalizationâ€™, finding
that between 1980 and 1984, only 13 publications used the word in
titles; 78 did so between 1985 and 1989; but 600 did so between 1992
and 1996. While many authors wrote about globalization in the late
1980s, few agreed on a common definition.
Evolution and Debate: Much to Argue About
Despite globalization having captured the popular and scholarly imagination in the 1980s and 1990s, authors are still debating the characteristics and effects of globalization and the degree to which changes in
world cultures, economies and landscapes can be attributed to the
empirical phenomenon we call globalization. It follows that, without
agreement on its scope, scholars have also disagreed on appropriate
theories of globalization. In this section three debates about globalization are discussed.
Globalization literature really began on an economic terrain with an
interest in the speed at which capital flowed from one site to another.
Economic globalization took off in the late 1970s and early 1980s when
production became too expensive in western industrial centres. As
Harvey (1990) argues, western economies faced a classic crisis of overaccumulation and needed a â€˜spatial fixâ€™ to shore up their lagging profit
margins. (For more information on capitalist crises of overaccumulation
see Chapter 13 on neoliberalism.) The new â€˜international division of
laborâ€™ (FrÃ¶ebel et al. 1980) afforded and exploited new opportunities for
profit abroad. The shift to production abroad was accompanied by
another shift: from the mass production and expensive inventories of
Fordism to the cheaper and â€˜just-in-timeâ€™ processes of flexible production. The latter relied on cross-regional or even global production chains
wherein pieces of large products might be assembled in different places.
Today, for example, a car can be produced with steel from China and
spark plugs from Singapore, and then assembled in Toluca, Mexico.
Computers, too, often contain parts manufactured in multiple countries.
Corporations grew larger and more centralized and, with the
advances in technology mentioned above, they were able to globalize
production during the latter half of the twentieth century. They would
establish headquarters in large world cities and locate manufacturing
and even â€˜back officeâ€™ functions in other smaller, often more affordable
places to do business and move goods (Figure 14.1). Banks became
international and consolidated into fewer and fewer large, centralized
corporations. Media conglomerates similarly consolidated. Even the
corporations that build and manage prisons consolidated into a small
number of key players.
The first major debate about globalization stems from the economic
view of the topic and involves the role of nation-states in the global
economy (Dicken 2003). The empirical shifts noted above prompted a
group of authors that Peter Dicken labels â€˜hyperglobalistsâ€™ (e.g. Ohmae
1995) to speculate that the nation-state is dead, that it has lost its
power and its role in this new hyperglobal environment where business
transcends national boundaries. The scholars Dicken labels the â€˜skepticsâ€™ (see Held et al. 1999), on the other hand, were not so fast to declare
the death of the nation-state. Dicken himself, for example, says that the
state remains an important actor within the global economy, performing the role of economic and political regulator.
While some debated the role of the nation-state, a second group
debated more cultural issues, and specifically the threat of homogenization. If McDonaldâ€™s and Starbucks could operate in nearly the same
fashion everywhere, would a â€˜global cultureâ€™ based largely on American
tastes and norms take hold, penetrate and eradicate the very particulars of local cultures and languages (see Figure 14.2). This second
debate about globalization, staged in the 1990s, asked whether globalization would result in â€˜McDonaldizationâ€™ â€“ as in the homogenization of
cultures around the globe â€“ or â€˜hybridizationâ€™, meaning a blending of
local cultures and languages in hybrid cultural practices and spaces.
Benjamin Barber (1996) argues, for example, that globalization and its
attendant cultural homogenization, which he labels McWorld, is fostering a violent backlash of tribalisms. Jihadist movements, which call for
traditional social and economic norms, are the most pressing example.
In contrast, scholars like Featherstone (1990) argue that local cultures
are robust enough to incorporate new elements without disappearing
altogether. Indeed, the world will more likely see the diffusion of hybrid
Meanwhile, the provocative language of penetration and eradication
so ubiquitous in discourse about globalization prompted a third debate,
this one led by feminist scholars (e.g. Kofman 1996; Marchand and
Figure 14.1 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at the opening
ceremony for a Pepsi bottling plant. In developing economies, the opening
of a multinational corporation subsidiary is an important event.
Runyan 2000; Nagar et al. 2002). Feminists argue that globalization
scholars often write the global and local into hierarchical frames
(Freeman, 2001), with phenomena categorized as macro-level economic
processes weighing more heavily than those classified as micro-level or
cultural. That is, globalization becomes the formative backdrop to lifeâ€™s
daily minutiae. Carla Freeman (2001: 1008) argues that â€˜not only has
globalization theory been gendered masculine but the very processes
defining globalization itself â€“ the spatial reorganization of production
across national borders and a vast acceleration in the global circulation
of capital, goods, labour, and ideas â€¦ â€“ are implicitly ascribed a masculine genderâ€. Sue Roberts (2004) asks, â€˜Why does the global seem to preclude gender?â€ She observes the repeated coding of the local as feminine
and the global as masculine (see also Freeman 2001).
Finding much of the discussion about globalization to be disembodied, feminists seek to reclaim alternative and embodied sites, voices
and ways of knowing the world. Women workers, for example, often
experience globalization distinctly from men. Workers at the bottom of
the international division of labour have a different perspective on the
Figure 14.2 McDonaldâ€™s restaurant in Seoul, Korea
global economy than those at the top. Just as much â€˜contemporary political geography describes a â€œworld without peopleâ€ or at least a world of
abstract, disembodied political subjectsâ€™ (Staeheli and Kofman 2004: 5),
so too is globalization discourse depopulated in most renderings. But if
technology is a social process, as Dicken argues, so too is globalization.
Unfortunately, people appear belatedly in analyses as messy bodies
that spoil the smooth surfaces of roving global capital.
Feminist scholars argued that globalization was simultaneously an
intimate series of embodied social relations that include mobility, emotion, materiality, belonging and alienation. They asked whether knowledge production of a different kind was required to re-form dominant
discourses of globalization: a politics of living and knowing the global.
As Mountz and Hyndman (2006: 447), suggest â€˜The intimate encompasses not only those entanglements rooted in the everyday, but the
subtlety of their interconnectedness to everyday intimacies in other
places and times: the rough hands of the woman who labors, the shortness of breath of the child without medication, the softness of the bed
on which one sleepsâ€.
Globalization discourses perpetuate the myths that the global and
local are somehow separate phenomena and that the global somehow
prevails over, constitutes, penetrates the local. Yet the local is inextricable from the global (Mountz and Hyndman 2006). The local and
global are neither separate spheres nor bounded subjects. Doreen
Massey (1993) long ago debunked this idea, showing the local to be constituted by processes, politics and people that exceed its boundaries.
Rather, phenomena occurring at local and global scales co-constitute
places like the border, the home and the body that require a relational
understanding, â€˜particularly significant in a transnational age typified
by the global traveling of images, sounds, goods, and populationsâ€™
(Shohat 2001: 1269). As Carla Freeman (2001: 1008â€“1009) â€˜demonstrates quite literally â€¦ not only do global processes enact themselves
on local ground but local processes and small scale actors might be seen
as the very fabric of globalizationâ€™ (emphasis added).
Most feminist analyses of globalization would assume the everyday
engagements of women and men, including the ways in which relations
of work and play, production and consumption defy any fixed or given
scale: they are at once connected to global and local processes, politics
and people. â€˜A gendered analysis of globalization would [also] reveal how
inequality is actively produced in the relations between global restructuring and culturally specific productions of gender differenceâ€™ (Nagar et al.,
2002: 261). A feminist analysis would travel farther and develop â€˜a
broader critique of the social production of difference and the multiple
exclusions enacted by dominant groups and institutionsâ€™ (Pratt 2004: 84).
Globalization has bodily expressions (Mountz and Hyndman 2006).
Because so much discussion of globalization dwelt in the realms of economic flows and cross-border business, however, the dramatic realm of
human migration has often been overlooked (Smith and Guarnizo
1998). Transnational migration is one expression of globalization that
has economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions (Basch et al.
1994; Glick-Schiller et al. 1992). Feminists have extensively researched
global processes, including the gendered divisions of labour and identities produced by international capital to serve its interests (Marchand
and Runyan 2000), as well as the gendered effects of structural adjustment programmes (Lawson 1999).
Case Study: Luisaâ€™s Story
Luisa lives outside the city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico where so many
men had emigrated to the United States that by the 1990s her village
came to be known locally as a village of women (Figure 14.3). Like most
households in the town, Luisaâ€™s is characterized by absence. Her husband left to work in the service industry in Poughkeepsie, a small city in
upstate New York. Unlike other families, however, his has not received
routine remittances. Over the years, Luisa has watched her neighbours
flourish economically with the support of US remittances. They have
enhanced their homes with brick walls, concrete floors and even secondfloor additions. They are able to send those children who remain in the
village to school and to buy them new clothing.
Luisa and her four children, meanwhile, continue to sleep on mats on
the dirt floor of her one-room adobe structure. US remittances have
enabled many mothers to stop the daily labour of making tortillas and
selling them in local markets. Luisa, however, continues to work over
the hot comal, the roughness of her hands testimony to the toil of tortilla-making where the skin of neighboursâ€™ hands has been smoothed
over with the flow of â€˜globalâ€™ capital. Luisaâ€™s children are teased at
school because they cannot afford uniforms or supplies. They often stay
at home to work with their mother, and her oldest son leaves home to
do whatever odd jobs he can find in the village: tending animals and collecting firewood.
The daily lived experiences of transnational residents of Oaxaca
demonstrate that globalization is a phenomenon with social, cultural,
economic and political dimensions. This village boasts various businesses that enhance communications and travel between places.
Relationships, too, transpire transnationally. Village festivals to celebrate the patron saint offer a time when migrants return home, investing remittances in new outfits and construction projects and
extravagant parties. Of course these celebrations are videotaped and
sent to those in Poughkeepsie who were not able to make the journey
Although located amid this new influx of income, Luisaâ€™s family experiences economic hardship and corresponding social marginalization in
the village. Whereas many of the neighbours participate in conspicuous
consumption using substantial remittances from family members in the
US, Luisa and her children do not have the material resources to contribute to the increasingly extravagant village festivals. Luisa receives
cash remittances from her husband only two or three times a year, and
Figure 14.3 Oaxaca is one of Mexicoâ€™s poorest states. Many of its residents have migrated to the US in search of jobs.
the amounts have proven inadequate to support the family. Luisa suspects that her husbandâ€™s earnings now support a new family in New
York while she struggles to feed, clothe and maintain the health of her
children (Mountz and Wright 1996).
Luisa herself would like to participate in the global economy by traveling to Poughkeepsie. But as the woman head-of-household, she has
four children to care for and is unable to leave them behind so that she
can work in the United States like her husband. Her location and material circumstances suggest that not everyone benefits from globalization and the global economy. In the intimacy of the daily struggle with
poverty, households without remittances are unable to contribute to or
benefit from the collective structures that channel and manage new
resources in the village. Whereas time-space compression may have
brought Oaxaca and Poughkeepsie closer together (Mountz and Wright
1996), not all residents of this expansive transnational space will benefit equally.
â€¢ Globalization involves the intensification of flows (of people, goods,
ideas, capital) across local, national and regional boundaries.
â€¢ Globalization involves what geographer David Harvey (1990) calls
â€˜time-space compressionâ€™. Modern technologies (the Internet, fax,
aeroplane, etc.) have decreased the time it takes to connect people in
different parts of the globe. Distance is less of an obstacle so space
has become compressed.
â€¢ There are three debates in the globalization literature.
1 Some scholars believe globalization has destroyed the nationstate. Others believe the nation-state continues to exert influence, albeit in different ways.
2 Some scholars believe globalization is leading to cultural homogenization or McDonaldization across the globe. Others believe
that local cultures are hybridizing â€“ adopting elements that fit or
blend, and rejecting those that do not.
3 Feminists argue that studies of globalization have tended to privilege the global over the local, and as a result have overlooked
how global processes are embodied differently across social categories such as gender and race.
Dicken, P. (2003) Global Shift. New York and London: Guilford Press.
Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D. & Perration, J. (1999) Global
Transformations: Politics, Economics, and Culture. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Massey, D. (1993) â€˜Power-geometry and a progressive sense of placeâ€™,
in J. Bird, B. Curtis, T. Putnam, G. Robertson & L. Tickner (eds), Mapping
the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change. New York: Routledge.
Nagar, R., Lawson, V., McDowell, L. & Hanson, S. (2002) â€˜Locating globalization: feminist (re)reading of the subjects and spaces of globalizationâ€™, Economic Geography, 78(3): 257â€“284.
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