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Teaching Globalization

What is globalization — and how can it be taught to students in universities and colleges?

August 28, 2003

What is globalization — and how can it be taught to students in universities and colleges?

For the economist, globalization is essentially the emergence of a global market. For the historian, it is an epoch dominated by global capitalism.

For the sociologist, globalization at once underscores the celebration of diversity as well as the convergence of social preferences in matters of lifestyle and social values.

For the political scientist, globalization is the gradual erosion of state sovereignty.

While all discipline-specific studies of globalization do advance a rich and nuanced understanding, each discipline merely explains a part of the phenomenon — just like the proverbial description of an elephant by six blind men.

That is why globalization is best understood as a concept that transcends individual disciplines — and also unites them. Globalization must therefore be approached from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Far beyond the issue of globalization itself, the necessary integration of human sciences to understand it in all its dimensions is one of the many profound consequences of globalization.

For my undergraduate students, I usually describe globalization as a three-dimensional concept. Globalization is a phenomenon, it is a philosophy — and it is a process.

These are the three Ps of globalization. Rather than teach under the disciplinary structure — such as economic globalization, political globalization, cultural globalization — we can explore all these dimensions within the context of each 'P'.

Globalization is a phenomenon that manifests the extremely intricate interconnectedness of human life across the planet. While this is not new, its awareness, reach and immediate implications are striking.

For example, all of us on planet earth share the same environment. But we did not begin to realize how this shared environment linked our present and future until we became aware of global warming and its causes.

Driving SUVs in North America and cutting trees in Brazil can immediately raise the prospects of skin cancer in Australia — or affect the crops in India through climate changes.

Globalization is the complex interconnectedness of peoples present and future. This interconnectedness is becoming the dominant character of our political, cultural, economic — and natural environments.

In corporate boardrooms and in government situation rooms everywhere, holding a global vision has become the necessary pre-requisite for effective policy and strategy.

Governments and corporations can no longer make a successful intervention in the polity or the economy without anticipating and preparing for global consequences.

This viewpoint or philosophy of globalization — which essentially describes the reality of being interconnected — is also known as globalism.

Globalism holds the following beliefs: The world is rapidly integrating in all spheres. Peoples' economic, political and cultural expectations are converging.

What ultimately helps this process along is that citizens from all political persuasions can find elements in it they welcome. Those on the right favor the spread of free markets and investment flows. Those on the left support the emergence of a truly global culture — based on the values of multiculturalism and democracy.

At the same time, globalization — whether we like it or not — is an inevitable and irreversible process.

However, the integration of economies, the standardization of politics through the domination of international norms and laws over domestic regulation makes this conclusion inevitable.

This integration is, in effect, institutionalizing the philosophy of globalism. This sounds harsh — and is bound to lead to friction, until you realize that, once again, both sides of the debate have something they like.

For those on the left and in NGOs, few would want a world without vehicles such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And few on the right and in business would advocate a world without the WTO.

Thus, faith and interest in globalism drives globalization — and, in turn, globalization spreads globalism. The key to understanding globalization is to imagine it as a process that seeks to eliminate political and geographical distances between peoples.

The two key engines of globalization are the technology revolution and politico-economic liberalization.

By now, everybody recognizes the potential and the promise of the Internet. The World Wide Web has created a virtual reality that has made time and distance irrelevant.

In many ways, the chat rooms of today are the factories and cultural hubs of the future. They have virtually eliminated physical, temporal and cultural distances between peoples.

The world of nation states until now depended on the concept of sovereignty as the organizing principle. In order to realize their sovereign capabilities, states erected a huge legal edifice that disabled any initiative without state authority.

But now with globalization, states are collectively creating an alternate edifice of international norms and regulations through international bodies such as the UN and the WTO.

These institutions allow states to monitor activities without acting as barriers to inter-state flows.

The new environment of liberalization has made it easier, with the help of technologies, to quickly move people, ideas, capital and goods across borders.

Globalization in that sense is basically the heightened mobility of ideas, peoples, goods and capital across borders. This enhanced mobility is the chief process of globalization and its engines are liberalization and technology.

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