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How Has the Term “Globalisation” Changed?

In this article, we explore the changes to the term "globalisation" and how it is used in three different categories.
Businesspeople walking in line across world map.

Globalisation is a very difficult term to grasp, and Heywood refers to globalisation, not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘them’. According to him, there are a number of complex processes involved, and they often overlap, interlock, contradict and oppose each other at times (Heywood 2019: 161).

What certainly can be said of globalisation however, is that it involves understanding political economy and politics as essentially fused. Whereas, perhaps even as little time as 40 years ago, the political realm was distinct from the economic, this is no longer the case and political processes imply economic consideration and vice versa.

An orthodox understanding of globalisation must therefore be contrasted to the fixed territorial borders of former empires: as the former European empires began to dissolve around the 1960s, so did the strict decision-making hierarchies that they maintained.

Whilst before, it seemed clear who was making political decisions and political accountability was relatively uncomplicated, this was no longer the case by the 1980s and the turn towards ‘neoliberal’ economics. Today, and in comparison to the political economics of the early 20th century, processes are now:

  1. Deeper: global political processes now interact with local processes, and vice versa. For example, the European Union invests funds directly in local and regional areas as part of its development policy.
  2. Broader – decision making now affects a larger number of people, over a wider area. Whereas it was once said that the sun never set on the British Empire, in practice the British Empire was run by regional groups like the East India Company who operated in a quasi-independent fashion from central government. Today however, decisions made by the United Nations might have real, lasting effects across the whole world.
  3. More individualised – emphasis has shifted from the preservation of groups to the resilience and capacity-building of individuals. Despite the deeper and broader scope of political and economic decision-making, nevertheless it is clear that this decision-making has been targeted towards encouraging individuals to support themselves and not rely upon these bodies. Consider, for example, your country’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic; certainly, in the UK, the governments’ slogan ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ places the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of citizens, and not the state and its bodies.

The Modes of Globalisation

Rather than learning a simple definition of globalisation, it is perhaps more helpful to learn about some of the changes to which the term is used to refer. I will outline two changes for three different categories, though please bear in mind that there are many more, and this only scratches the surface!

Economic Globalisation

  • The introduction of fiat currencies followed President Nixon’s decision to decouple the US dollar from gold in 1971. Fiat currencies have no intrinsic value, nor any use value (and inherent utility, such as a coat or a chair might), but instead their value is relative to the value of all other fiat currencies, and the value placed upon them by governments.
  • Governments have tended to apply levies to goods coming into the country in order to make buying them appealing to citizens. The purpose of this is to encourage citizens to buy goods manufactured in the country. Free market economics however advocates the removal of these levies to encourage the movement of capital and finance around the world, benefiting greatly those who can afford to invest in it.

Cultural Globalisation

  • It is often said that the contemporary world is more multicultural than it was before. The critical aspect of multiculturalism is a ‘flattening out’ or a ‘homogenisation’ of cultures. Whereas once cultures and societies remained (perhaps too) independent from each other, globalisation risks removing, or even commodifying, distinct cultural values.
  • McDonaldisation refers to the process whereby global financial and commercial practices have become dominated by those originating from the mass-producing fast-food industry.

Political Globalisation

In place of the traditional empires, we have seen a growing importance of intergovernmental organisations. Whilst the interwar League of Nations was largely unsuccessful its successor, the United Nations, as well as NATO, the ECC, EU and IMF are all successful and highly active institutions that form a web of global governance.

Nevertheless, despite these institution’s relative strength, they nevertheless seem to lag behind the strength of international corporations in terms of directing public policy.

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