Today everything is predicated on globalization. However, one may ask, what exactly globalization is and what are its consequences, considering that almost every economic, social or political event is attributed to this phenomenon. Some look at cultural shifts when trying to define globalization while others look at economic flows. Even though there is a huge body of literature on globalization, there is little agreement regarding its exact definition.
Keohane and Nye (2001) define globalization as networks of interdependence at multi-continental distance, linked through flows and influences of capital, goods, information, ideas and people. Colin Hay (2007), adopting David Held definition, regards globalization as a process, or sets of processes, that embody a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, generating trans-continental or inter-regional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power.
Others, avoiding a clear definition, prefer to merely predict the outcomes of this phenomenon. Huntington (1993), accounting for the effects of globalization, foresaw a clash of civilizations whose sources of conflict will not be ideological or economic, but rather cultural. Barber (2001) argues that globalization is not a clash of civilizations but a dialectic struggle between Jihad and McWorld, a battle of “tradition” against the homogenizations of the world through dissemination of a certain culture.
At the risk of falling into the trap of reductionist theories, I argue that the main effect of globalization - as flow of capital and information - is the homogenization of individual thought to the point of “totalization”. All other effects can be tracked back to it. We cannot talk about state positions and actions within the international system, without including the influence of individuals on state actions. Without the free consent of individuals to support state actions, there would be difficult economic grow or military actions, especially in economically developed countries, where the effects of globalization are most seen.
Forward, I will summarize the main propositions regarding the debate of globalization within the International Relation theories and then I will try to integrate the individual agency in the process of globalization. The antagonistic view of the international system of state-centric and non-state centric theorists is the dominant perspective on which globalization debate is built in the International Relations field.
According to realists, state is the dominant and the only significant actor on the international stage and its main goal is to achieve power and security within the anarchic international system. Moreover, realists consider nation-states in an inherent state of conflict, as they try to secure their dominant position within the system. In opposition, non-state-centric theorists, neoliberals and cosmopolitans, see states as entities looking for cooperation, as the 20th century saw the growth of international institutions playing an important role in contemporary global politics and, at the same time, facilitating cooperation among states.
Thus, for realists globalization does not represent a reason for debate as policies and actions happen within the boundaries of the state. Neoliberals and cosmopolitans critique rationalists’ position for several reasons. First, they argue, the sovereignty and policy- making of the nation-state are compromised by the cross-border flows of capital and information. Second, globalization is associated with issues that are global in scope and scale (climate change or global pandemics), issues that are beyond the capacity of nation-state to deal with. Third, the development of trans-national institutions (multinational corporations, international NGOs, etc) have changed the character of world politics, diminishing the exclusive power of nation-states.
Such challenges to realist assumptions constitute not only a refutation of realism as a theory, but take us beyond the era of the nation-state (Hay, 2007). Thus, according to neoliberal thinkers, the treatment of the globalization topic continues to happen - incorrectly - within the confinements of the “nation-state” concept. More exactly the state continues to be viewed as the principal entity capable or not to address issues that have become global in scope. If we confine our inquiry within the IR theories and concepts, the question of globalization would oscillate between the realist and neoliberalist perspective, the state centric or non-state centric theories.
Yet, to better understand the role of state and its power structures in the globalization process, we should take into account an analysis of globalization at the micro level of society, at the individual level. As I mentioned above, I consider that the main effect of globalization is the change of individual consciousness which furthermore perpetuates the globalizations process.
The emergence of mass media technology, especially the emergence of Television in the 1940s, has facilitated dissemination of ideologies, norms and values, legitimizing particular life styles while rendering others obsolete. It was for the first time in history when large numbers of people, from different places could have access to the same sources of information and experience the same “culture”.
Even though up until 1990s the media broadcasting was reduced to the boundaries of the country, the emergence of the Internet neutralized such boundaries enabling transmissions of images and words in seconds and “connecting” people all over the world without the huge costs of transportation. In a very provocative book, The Age of Access, Rifkin (2000) talks about the outcomes of this process and the influence that Internet has had over the life and identity of individuals.
He argues that the way in which individuals’ lives were changed by Internet produced a new type of man, “protean mean”, which does not identify himself anymore with the material goods that he was able to accumulate but with the momentary experiences and connections that he can have. The protean men think of the world as a stage and their own lives as a series of performances. They are continually remaking themselves as they try on new life styles, being obsessed with style and fashion. This type of individual was the one who carried on the process of globalization facilitating the flow of capital from one place to another without doubting its need or purpose.
In support of my argument I will exemplify how dissemination of Western capitalist life style through the means of mass communication, affected the life of people from Bucharest. Bucharest was largely built under the communist regime, when one family was allowed to possess one car only. The entire infrastructure of this city was not meant to accommodate many cars.
For that reason public transportation is very well developed, Bucharest benefitting of metro lines, trams, busses, trolleybuses and shuttle busses that connect virtually all spots of the city. However the depiction of the successful individual having its own car and its own house outside the city compelled most people to buy cars and some, to move in newly built suburbs around Bucharest. In less than 15 years from the Revolution in 1989, Bucharest has become literary covered with cars, parked on sidewalks, on the right band of streets or in parks. A distance of 2 and a half mile could easily require one hour to be covered.
The ones who chose to move outside the city commute at least 3 hours every day, even though Bucharest suburbs are no further than 10 miles from the city. Moreover, the wages of Romanians are still much lower compared to those paid in Western European countries or the USA, and people make considerable financial efforts, resorting to cumbersome loans to live this lifestyle. Such choices people make are certainly not made in a structural vacuum and definitely not always rational, as liberal economists love to argue. However, the reality remains that a certain type of individual’ consciousness ends up supporting the process of globalization.
Without such choices the effects of globalization would be less powerful and visible. As Barber (2001) pointed out, at the heart of these fast pace of consumerism are multinational corporations which are sources of immense amount of economic power. I include among these corporations, media conglomerates which are the main facilitators of the consciousness shift.
Some might ask where is the place of the large percent of the world population who lives in poverty (some estimates over 80 %; Rifkin 2000) in the process of globalization. They do not have access to phones, television or Internet, or even exposed to the new ideological trends they cannot become part of the globalized society. Some groups remain mere watchers perpetuating the effects of colonization; other groups are the ones who create the “Jihad”, the response against the Western values and lifestyle.
Barber is very confident in predicting that the Western values will prevail, that the global culture, as created by the West will overpower parochialism and Islam will lose against the Disneyland. However, if some may doubt the cultural unidirectional orientation created by globalization, as well as its harmful effects, the environmental problems which are unquestionably global in scope are issues that require multidisciplinary analysis and swift solutions.
Even though the ecological crisis was acknowledged in the 1960s, it was not until the late 1980s that a distinctly “green” social and political theory emerged (Eckersley, 2007). IR green theorists criticized both the realists and neoliberals’ approach of this problem. For them realists, and especially neo-realists normalized rather than challenged the environmental exploitative practices supported by state.At the same time, neoliberals reduce environmental regimes a set of interest-based bargaining positions held by states, reducing environmental issues at the state capacity of adjustment. Green theorists argue that environmental regimes cannot be reduces at the state capacity or interest and have to encompass the entire worlds’ ecosystem.
If environmental regimes can alter the ways of production, the primary source of pollution, it will be difficult for them to alter the ways of consumption, especially in the globalized era as presented above. The end of the Cold War together with the economical expansion of India and China has created new consumers with aspirations of Western societies’ life styles.
As long as democracy and human rights remain prevailing ideologies, it would seem almost impossible for any “green” regime to impose regulations on the way in which people consume and implicitly, live their life. At the same time, a new shift in individual’s consciousness it seems also impossible, as for the last 20 years, the entire world was exposed to the “comfortable”, consumption oriented, lifestyle of the West. The questions remain, for how long the natural resources will suffice the needs of an increasing consumerist society, and what are the ecosystem limits of adjustment and absorption?
References: Rifkin, J. (2000). The age of Access. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putman Huntington, S.P. (2003). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks Barber, B.R. (2001). Jihad vs. McWorld. New York, NY: The Random House Publishing House Hay, C.(2007). International Relations Theory and Globalization. in Dune, T., Kurki, M., Smith, S. International Relations Theory (2007) Eckersley, R. (2007). Green Theory. in . In Dune, T., Kurki, M., Smith, S. International Relations Theory (2007)