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What is globalization? What are its characteristics?

While authors have different approaches to understand globalization, there are a handful of features that appear across perspectives.

Features of Globalization

Interconnection

At the bottom of all perspectives on globalization is the notion of interconnectedness. The idea is that events or actions in one part of the world may have effects in a distant part of the world. As Held and his colleagues describe it, the influence of individuals, companies, institutions and states are “stretched” in terms of their geographical effect. Closely related to the notion of interconnectedness is the notion of extensity: That is, how far does this interconnectedness extend? The more geographically dispersed the influence of individuals, organizations or companies, the more extensive their globalization.

Intensity

A closely-related concept is the concept of intensity—the sheer magnitude of connections. For instance, a single multinational company could exercise some degree of influence in different parts of the world and do this through a fairly limited set of organizational mechanisms, but that would not constitute globalization on a broader level. An increase in globalization means that not only are the absolute number of individuals, organizations and companies with some sort of broad geographical influence growing, but that the connections between these entities occur along an increasing number of pathways.

Integration and Institutionalization

Another characteristic discussed by various authors is the notion of integration. Integration implies that individuals, companies, organizations and states are not merely connected, but that the operation of one is, in important ways, systematically linked to the operation of others. Organizations depend on other organizations in far distant places to do their work.

In other words, this interconnectedness is not simply a matter of random contacts or temporary effects. With increasing globalization, the effects may become more predictable, more regular.

A related concept is the notion of institutionalization. Patterns of behavior and the assumptions behind those behaviors become more regularized. Global technologies and relationships become embedded within the normal operation of individuals, organizations and agencies. People begin to assume that it is “normal” to be able to have day-to-day relationships with organizations and people on the other side of the planet.

Pace

Different authors talk about the pace of globalization, but mean slightly different things.

Speed: Some authors emphasize that the speed of the connections between individuals, organizations and companies increases in globalization. Because of developments in communication and travel technologies, entities are able to exert influence on distant parts of the globe in a much shorter time. In the case of communication (for example via the Internet, web conferencing, wireless networks, etc.), this influence is nearly instantaneous.

Velocity: Other authors argue that the pace of globalization is increasing. That is, globalization is not merely a matter of how fast individuals, organizations and companies can influence each other, but this speed has a trajectory—it is actually increasing.

Level of Impact

Another aspect of increasing globalization is the increasing level of impact individuals, organizations and companies have on each other.

In earlier eras, an organization might influence another organization on the other side of the world, but this influence may make only a minor difference in the operation of the other organization. Increasing globalization means that the level of influence or magnitude of effects among globalized individuals, organizations and companies is growing.

Is Globalization New?

While most authors agree that the current phase of globalization is unique in different ways, none of them view globalization as a completely new phenomenon. Authors locate the beginning of the various current processes of globalization at different points in time: For instance, with the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the age of colonization, the first industrial revolution or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Held and his colleagues take a different tack. Rather than limit their analyses to the origin of the current process of globalization, they develop a framework for understanding globalizing processes and events across history. Some features of globalization may be different in different periods, but the analytic categories used to study globalizing events and processes are consistent across history. So, rather than characterize globalizing processes in binary terms (either they happen or they do not), a more productive approach is to understand the different aspects of globalization as a matter of degree.




Keytexts used to create this overview:
Two Eras of Globalization and the Gap between

Seven Forces that Flatten the World

A Technological Platform for Globalization

A Framework for Understanding Globalization

The Development of Human Rights Language

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