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Globalisation: The concept


Globalisation: The concept

by Neila AKRIMI


Any discussion needs to be prefaced with the observation that the literature on globalisation is vast, multidisciplinary and wrought with controversy. Different authors use the term “Globalisation” in a variety of ways, and often not as precisely defined concept. They are accused of giving a vague, descriptive definition, or to make confusion between what “it” means, and what the consequences of “it” are expected to be. I believe that this poor conceptualisation is natural and even expected.

The Globalisation is still an ongoing process which is till busy shaping it self, so how can we give a precise definition of a consisting changing concept. So all the definitions are “towards defining Globalisation”. For the purposes of this discussion, globalisation is treated in terms of what might be called its ‘common sense’ understanding that is as a primarily economic phenomenon affecting and operating within circuits of trade, production, finance and technology.

Clearly globalisation is a phenomenon that is wider than a single discipline. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines globalisation as “the act of globalising”, and identifies Webster’s Dictionary in 1961 as its source of the use of the word. Webster in turn defines “globalise” as “to make worldwide in scope or application” – nothing specifically related to economics or indeed to any particular discipline. The OED’s first reference to the written use of the term globalisation is in The Spectator in 1962 – just four decades ago. The strong economic association with the term in recent times seems to have arisen some 20 years later in the mid-1980s, in the context of increased integration in product and financial markets.

Thus, globalisation is not new, it cannot be reduced merely to market integration, still less to the neo-liberal political and economic project of open trade and free markets, and its ultimate destination is unknown, depending as much on politics and power as economics. Here, it is taken to mean ‘a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions – assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity and impact – generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction, and the exercise of power’[i]. 

1-Core elements of “globalisation”

Globalisation, as used throughout this paper, comprises three inter-connected elements: the expansion of markets; challenges to the state and institutions; and the rise of new social and political movements. These do not represent alternative definitions or competing theories. Rather they reflect different aspects of globalisation, which are worth elaborating. 

1.1 The expansion of markets 

A first core aspect of globalisation is the transformation of global economic activity. Technological change and government deregulation have permitted the establishment of transnational networks in production, trade and finance. Some have gone so far as to call this the new “borderless world[ii]” 

1.2 The transformation of politics 

A second element of globalisation is political. At the extreme, some argue that a new `global politics' is emerging which, like the `borderless world economy', is characterized by a global political order in which states' political boundaries become much less important [iii]. In the old system, sovereign states interacted with each other according to rules which they - as states - agreed upon. In the new interconnected global political order, political power and political activity are said to extend across the boundaries of nation-states[iv]. Without accepting the `global politics' version of political change, several changes can be noted in political power and authority which have occurred not just as a result of technological advances in communications, but also as governments and other actors have altered their perceptions of their interests and their legitimate realm of authority. 

1.3 The emergence of new social and political movements 

Globalisation affects more than markets and states. It is altering the lives of people across the globe and affecting their culture and values. New communications systems mean that media, music, books, international ideas, and values can all disseminated in a global and virtually instantaneous manner. This is producing what some describe as a `global culture'. Such a description, however, ignores the way in which globalization is simultaneously producing very different kinds of reactions and cultures[v]. 


[i] Held, D., A. MacGrew, et al. (1999). Global Transformations. Politics, Economics and Culture. Cambridge, Polity Press, p. 16. 

[ii] K. Ohmae, The Borderless World (London; Collins, 1990); K. Ohmae, The End of the Nation State (New York; Free Press, 1995); W. Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (New York; Simon Schuster, 1997). 

[iii] Anthony McGrew and P.G. Lewis et al, Global Politics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992); T. Nierop, Systems and Regions in Global Politics: An Empirical Study of Dimplomacy, International Organization and Trade 1950-1991 (Chichester; John Wiley, 1994). 

[iv] David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture (Cambridge; Polity, 1999), p.49. 

[v] For example, whilst Western values and ideas (along with food chains) have spread into Russia and the Middle East, in both these regions of the world there has also been a strong reassertion of `counter' national or religious identity - with strong nationalism in Russia and a dramatic rise in political islam in the Middle East. These `reactions' and `rebellions' against Westernization are in turn assisted by the new technologies which make communication and networking across borders possible - such as the transnational networks built up around political islam. Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori, Muslim Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).