“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see”
Every day we perceive an innumerable amount of information about incidents from all over the world. It seems that more and more even the most distant events have an influence on our life. One word, one concept is related to all of them: globalisation. Be it the globalised financial system, globalisation of terrorism since 9/11 or cultural globalisation. Everything is tried to be explained with that term. But what actually is globalisation? Where does it come from? Is it all in all something good or something bad? And can we influence it? In this essay I want to examine the basic principles of globalisation and define the term according to these questions.
The word globalisation today is a buzzword and used in all kinds of combinations and is certainly highly topical in the public discourse as well as in the academic. It appears to be a relatively new phenomenon that arose in the last decades and it appears to be something that we as a world society do not know how to handle yet, what the many anti-globalisation movements show (Held & McGrew, 2008, p. 5-8).
Although the English term globalisation can be detected since 1961, it got popular not until the 1990s (Waters, 1995, p. 2). It is mostly referring to developments since the end of World War II and especially after the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless many academics see the beginning of globalisation much earlier (O'Rourke and Williamson, 2002, pp. 1-2). There is absolutely no consensus about the topic but, as Hopkins (2011) put it, it is possibly: “currently the most important single debate in the social science: the analysis of the origin, nature and consequences of globalisation.” Some historians see the beginning of globalisation with the end of colonialism, some define industrialisation as a starting point and others date it back to the year 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in America or somewhere in between these events (Hopkins, 2011, p. 4-9). The answer to the question, when globalisation did begin, is obviously dependent on the definition of globalisation and on the way it is measured. Therefore we can think of different perspectives on globalisation. From an economic perspective globalisation is about global markets and the mobility of goods, from a political perspective it is more about global governance or the role of nation states and from a sociological perspective globalisation means the emergence of a homogeneous global civil society (Waters, 1995, p. 10-14). For all perspectives different historic events can be found and there is a huge debate amongst historians as well as within the different academic disciplines (Hopkins, 2011; O'Rourke and Williamson, 2002).
The bigger question in my opinion is, whether globalisation means actually a historic time span or are we from our current point of view misinterpreting progresses that have been there forever as a modern phenomenon. There are as many definitions of the term globalisation as there are authors who tried to define it, but they all seem to agree that it is a development of global integration arising from the exchange of goods, cultural elements, ideas and world views (Archer, 1990, p. 1; Waters, 1995, p. 4). This can be meant prescriptive as a concept or plan to do (like in political concepts like Neoliberalism or Marxism) or descriptive as an ongoing process. Focussing on the second aspect it seems that throughout the history of mankind in the big picture the degree of this specific idea of globalisation has risen. There have been periods when the world was getting more isolated, but on large scale at each point in history the world was more globalised (in the defined meaning) than it had been 500 or 1,000 years before (Borchardt, 2001, p. 34; Wallerstein 2000, p. 2-3). Therefore I want to understand globalisation as a gradual and continuous process that is as old as mankind itself. This would mean that chances are low that we could stop that process.
Globalisation in my view is strongly connected with the development of human civilisation. Although there may be reasons, for example environmental reasons, that suggest the support of slowing down human development and globalisation but the dynamic is so powerful that we can only attend and accompany critically and at best conduct the directions of these processes (Costantini & Monni, 2008, p. 2-5; Wallerstein 2000, p. 17). Moreover, there is no need to stop them because globalisation itself is neither good nor bad; it depends on how we guide the tendency and how we deal with the side effects.
Globalisation had different implications at different times. Unequivocally the process has accelerated and for the last 20 or 30 years we have lived in a world that is way more globalised than it has been ever before and it seems that the degree of globalisation is growing exponentially (Held & McGrew, 2008, p. 33-35). Because we cannot reverse this trend we have to take a close look what this development means for the global society today and how the future may look like.
Many effects of globalisation that we experience nowadays and which may become more important in the future are closely related to the organisation of the world. New ways of communication can amplify the power of the people (see Arab Spring) as well as the power of regimes (propaganda). Globalisation and liberalisation of the world market leads to powerful international private actors. The first time in the history of mankind there are huge problems like resource scarcity, environmental pollution that simply does not stop at borders and especially the global climate change that cannot be solved on a national but only on a worldwide basis (Held & McGrew, 2008, p. 27).
This may indicate that the importance of the nation state as the dominant actor for organizing the world may decline because there is a power shift and the urgent problems can simply not be solved by this entity that had throughout history merely the task to solve the problems of its own territory. There might be exceptions, but in general globalisation will lead to a future that sees the world even more connected and more intertwined than it is today and no end is in sight for that progress.
In this essay I wanted to examine what globalisation is, where it came from and how to judge this development. In conclusion, there is not one definition of the term, but for me, globalisation means a process of worldwide integration through the exchange of goods, cultural elements, ideas and world views. I came to the conclusion that globalisation is not a modern phenomenon that started 30, 50, 100 or 500 years ago, but it is a process that accompanies human development since it started. Therefore globalisation is not good nor is it bad, but it depends on how we deal with the new possibilities it gives to us. We should not be for or against globalisation but we as a world society should engage in forming a desirable way of progress for a better future by learning from the past developments.