Examining The True Definition Of What Globalization Means Cultural Studies Essay

It seems that nowadays just anybody can say something about globalization, or at least they think they can. No matter if they are scholars, social scientists, activists, politicians or “ordinary people.” A lot of people use the term globalization to push their own political agendas, like far left/right wing politics or feminism (see as an example Ruether 2005), in scientific (or better, “scientific”) journals that don’t respect the scientific rigor. Others think that globalization is bringing cultural uniformity, but it seems that this is not true, there is a change in diversity (see Schuerkens 2003). But, when we are looking out for a definition of globalization we find a great confusion, and the more we search the more the image of globalization gets blurred, and there’s no agreement on a unified definition of globalization. So while there is no agreement about what globalization is, the entire discourse of globalization is founded on a quite solid agreement that globalization is” (Bartelson, 2000:180).

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It seems that the word “globalization” was used for the first time in 1962 in an article entitled “The US Eyes Greater Europe”, in The Spectator (Cerami cited by Van Der Bly 2005:877)  . Now, 47 years later, the word “globalization” is used on the Internet much more than the older words “socialism” (first time mentioned in 1837) and “communism” (first time mentioned in 1840) together, and even more than “capitalism” (first time mentioned in 1854) (Van Der Bly 2005:878)  .
Economists already have a more or less commonly accepted definition of globalization and that is “an international economic integration that can be pursued through policies of “openness”, the liberalization of trade, investment and finance, leading to an “open economy”” (Van Der Bly 2005:875). They are developing also indicators in order to measure the openness of an economy such as trade flows, amount of foreign direct investment, portfolio capital flows and investment. Sociologists, on the other hand, didn’t succeed to build a common definition. As a matter of fact also the existing definitions have some problems, as we will see, with their scope, extension, field, etc. We can still dream about the sociological indicators of globalization  . Let’s see first some of the most important definitions and features of globalization.
For the dialectic “Globalization-as-a-Condition vs. Globalization-as-a-Process” Van Der Bly dissects Tomlinson’s definition of globalization that is (as cited by Van Der Bly 2005:880) “an empirical condition of the modern world, which I call complex connectivity. By this I mean that globalization refers to the rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependencies that characterizes modern social life.” Van Der Bly finds logical flaws in this definition because it defines globalization explicitly as a condition, but the rest seems talking about a process. So, is globalization a condition of the modern world or a process? If it isa condition in wht it is different from modernization or modernity? If it is a process the term leads to a neglect of the present, and that leads to the second dialectic.
In the dialectic “Globalization-as-Reality vs Globalization-as-Futurology”, Van Der Bly explains that sociological studies of globalization can easily fall in the trap of futurology because it is not clear to what extent the reality relates to the concept of reality that is skatched (2005:882). When globalization is defined as a process it is implied that it refers to an outcome that is in the future which, by definition, cannot be measurable and definable. For this reason the possibilities to use the concept “globalization” as a research framework are restricted, so sociologists must turn to futurology and use its research methods such as scenarios, trend analysis, chaos theory, simulation games and mathematical modelling. So, because we must go in the future it is very unlikely that there will be reached a consensus over the definition of the concept. Another problem that rises with the concept of globalization as a process, and we fall in the realm of futurology, is that usually it is not presented to the public as futurology, so it creates fear (nightmare scenarios) or false hopes (utopias). In either way, as Van Der Bly says, “it creates the iamge of a powerless individual, or evena powerless society, which has no free will to construct its, always unknown, future” (2005:883).
For the dialectic “One-Dimensional Globalization vs. Multidimensional Globalization” Van Der Bly says that even though a concept of a multidimensional globalization is more or less accepted by sociologists, it makes even more difficult to to clarify the term and give it a meaning because it reduces the possible significances. How could that happen? Well, let’s think about globalization of economical flows, then about globalization of politics, then about the globalization of arts and culture, and so on… What do these “globalizations” have in common? Not much, the least we can say. This multidimensional approach, as Van Der Bly says, surely fits the reality and its interconectedness among different fields of society and human behavior, but then it blurs the term with intrinsic contradictions and paradoxes that are absent in a more one-dimensional definition of globlization (as the economic one). So, we can conclude that multidimensionality leads to an underestimation of internal contradictions of “globalization.” (Van Der Bly 2005).
Van Der Bly’s suggestions for the future of “globalization” are the following: sociologists should consider the idea of globalization as the idea of an “open society”, and discuss which empirical parameters indicate the level of “openness” of a society  , as economists have done with the openness of the markets. Sociologists should aim to strive for a commonly accepted definition that explicitly creates space for human agency and focuses on clarity (2005:891).
Bartelson (2000) distinguishes three senses of the idea of globalization in the sociology of International Relations (macrosociology):
Globalization as Transference
Globalization as Transformation
Globalization as Transcendence
Globalization as transference means that globalization is “an intensified transference or exchange of things between preconstitued units, be they political, economic or cultural. Thus conceived, globalization signifies a process of change that originates at the level of the unit, mainly in terms of the unintended consequences of the interaction between units.” (Bartelson 2000:184). In this sense globalization is not very different from older concepts as internationalization and interdependence.
Globalization as Transformation means that “globalization is a process of transformation that occurs at the systems level, and it affects the system as much as it affects the identity of the units” (Bartelson 2000:186).
Globalization as transcendence means that globalization as a concept implies the transcendence of the distinctions that together condition unit [in the Interntional Relations sense], system and dimension identity (Bartelson 2000:189). It is a concept that dissolves the divide between inside and outside. It also despatializes and detemporalizes human practices as well as the conditions of human knowledge, and it projects them onto the global as a condition of its existance (ibid.).
Bartelson thinks that globalization has a position that the concepts of civilization and revolution had before and during the French Revolution, since “these concepts also lacked stable referents, but functioned as vehicles of social change by signifying change in its purest, most necessary and irreversible form: change as the condition of possible objects and possible identities in a possible future” (Bartelson 2000:193). We can note the futurologist approach.
For Sparks the various theories of globalization are not an accurate guide to the investigation of the world (Sparks 2007). Sparks distinguishes “weak” and “strong” theories of globalization. Weak theories “are concerned with structures of domination, with the centrality of the economic in social explanation, with the destruction of less profitable forms of cultural production by the large capitalist corporations, and with the articulation between these capitalist corporations, and the political and military power of the state” (Sparks 2005:135). These weak theories, according to Sparks, are better understood as a development of the imperialism paradigm.
On the other hand, the “strong” theories, according to Sparks, have sufficient common underlying features to constitute a paradigm. From the point of view of media and culture Sparks finds five main elements for this new pardigm called globalization (2007:136-138):
Understanding globalization requires a new methodology that is radically non-reductive, otherwise we’ll be unable “to find evidence of any direct relationship between, say, Back’s “autonomous logics” of media products (culture), their international trade (economics) and the exercise of state power (politics).”
Symbolic exchanges, and international circulation of media products, are today central to the functioning of the global world in the way that the exchanges of raw materials and manufactured commodities were central to earlier epochs.
The global epoch is characterized by the fact there is no dominating or controlling centre to the contemporary world
In the global epoch, it is no longer viable to talk of isolated “national” units, either of economic life or culture.
The global epoch is marked by the erosion of the power of the “Westphalian” state system, in economics, politics and in culture. [Sparks took this idea from Beck]
Sparks concludes that none of the five elements mentioned above hold water. He takes one element after the other and “deconstructs” them (see Sparks 2007:138-150). In short, the USA is still the single greatest economic power in the world  , culture industries are not greater than other sectors, immigration is not a new phenomenon in the USA nor in EU countries, or anywhere else (and, after all, the majority of world migrations happen inside the various states), teh process of urbanization is not new, it has at least 200 years (Marx wrote about it more or less 200 years ago), the states are more interdependent but nevertheless they are still states, Internet may be global, but a quarter of the population of the planet don’t have electricity (so, no Internet for them), etc… The final conclusion is that “[t]heories of globalization, as currently advanced by such writers as Giddens, Beck and Appadurai, are far from providing an accurate picture of the contemporary world that they are virtually useless” (Sparks 2007:152).
What can we say at the end? Well, it seems that “current concepts of sociology are not necessarily obsolete and a paradigm shift is not systematically required” (Martin et. al. 2006:513). Sociologists have discussed the concepts present in the Globalization Theory for at least 90 years.
Many authors had the good idea to think a little bit more about the concept of globalization, and they found out that the concept is pretty… empty. So, we can pose a question: “Is globalization a concept that should be used in the social sciences?” We can use plain mathematics too. If the term globalization hasn’t a particular meaning, or various “classical” theories can easily digest various meanings and theories of globalization, in my humble opinion then, globalization is nothing, zero. And what do you get when you multiply zero by any number? Right, you get zero. That’s what’s going on in the social sciences with the concept of globalization, we get a lot of theories built on sand, and eventually they will fall one day.
Also Van Der Bly says (2005:879) that “[t]he disadvantages [of the concept of globalization] arise exactly because confusion is caused by the combination of broad and yet undefined and implicit points of reference in the subject. If something means everything, eventually it becomes nothing […]. We should bear in mind the bad fate of another unclear, blurry concept from the recent past, that of “postmodernity” that lost all its credibility, and makes laugh people from other scientific fields (for example, see Sokal 2008). Sociologists, in my humble opinion, should avoid another trap of that kind.
My suggestion is to avoid the concept of globalization in any form, to use theories that “hold water” and that have shown a great endurance in the past time, and maybe to get along with analytical sociology, but that’s another paper.

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