Themes in Globalization Studies, Fall 2017 — and a look back


It shouldn’t be surprising but the field of Globalization Studies has shifted over the past decade. I began teaching my course in 2006 with the sense that global interconnectedness was growing and would continue to grow, as the internet brought people into closer contact with one another and outsourcing created new links between producers and consumers. My students back then spent much time examining resistance to the globalization of American culture, to outsourcing, and to the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO.

But what I didn’t foresee was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the beginning of the Great Recession at the end of the same year. They rewrote my syllabus. More recently, the growing impact of climate change, the Migration Crisis, and the resurgence of nationalism in the Global North have reoriented things again.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the processes of globalization aren’t linear or predictable. Yet, somehow, experts often speak of globalization as if they were.


Courses in Globalization are often divided into a few units: definitions (what is globalization?), economics, politics, culture, and environment. In the past year, I have added a new unit, looking at global citizenship as a growing psychological and identity-based aspect of globalization.

With the knowledge that a few more hurricanes or a Trumpian reversal on the Paris Accord might push me down another new avenue, here are some of the directions I see this field of inquiry headed.

Definitions of Globalization. To me, the definition offered by Manfred Steger in his 2003 Globalization: A Very Short Introduction remains the clearest and most comprehensive. Here it is:


Hungary top 10
The Hungarian Top Ten for the first week of Sept., 2017

Despite recent elections in the US and UK to the contrary, Steger’s contention that “the term globalization applies to a set of social processes that appear to transform our present social condition of weakening nationality into one of globality,” still makes sense. Even the reactionary nationalism of a Putin and an Orbán is arguably evidence of the growing power of globality: so is the Top 10 chart in Orbán’s Hungary.

Economic Globalization. The days of debating the proper role of the IMF seem to have passed; even “austerity” feels dated. (Still, I teach my students about these institutions and what they are up to.) This semester the questions circle around free trade and global investment. With Brexit, the TPP nixed, and the renegotiation of NAFTA underway, it’s worth asking if a tide has turned. As was the case in the spring when I last considered new trends, China remains the clearest voice for free trade as it moves into the vacuums created by the retreat of the USA from the world stage.

Political Globalization. This has always been the weakest unit in my course, in part because global political structures have not taken shape apace with other broad changes. The UN remains underfunded and often powerless. The veto provision of members of the Security Council allows the US to scuttle a lot of international cooperation regarding Israel, for example (and a rare abstention in the final weeks of the Obama Administration now looks like a one-off). Looking ahead, it is a good time for students to examine how Russia, China, and the US might work together to find consensus of any kind about a response to the North Korean regime’s bluster and threat. The real challenge is linking the Middle East (including Syria), the Korean peninsula, and Ukraine together for my students in a way that clarifies how these hotspots are going to be dealt with by the Security Council. Of course, it is also worth asking whether the triumphs of Putin, Trump, Modi, and other ethnic or religious nationalists portend a further tempering of political globalization.

Cultural Globalization. When I began teaching Globalization eleven years ago, I focused a great deal on debates around the Americanization (and McDonaldization) of cultures around the world. We learned about cultural hybridity theory and I had them research the geographically diverse meanings of a globalized cultural object, like blue jeans or a cup of Starbucks Coffee. I introduced my students to José Bové and asked their opinions of his exploits. Now I am not quite sure how to proceed. English is still seeping into other languages and the number of living languages on earth continues to fall. It’s difficult to know how to deal with the rise of ethnocentrism as globalism simultaneously advances. Are they emerging sides in a coming battle? Should I dismiss Le Pen’s view of France as anachronistic and therefore doomed or will some places in Europe become refuges for the xenophobic?

One more thing. What are we to do with the fact that the government now leading the charge on the front of economic globalization remains resistant to the cultural and political forces that seem to integral to global economic integration? Can the Chinese Communist Party continue to successfully block much of the Internet? Is democracy so easy to separate from capitalism and consumerism?

Environmental Globalization. The obvious issues here remain climate change and the fate of the oceans. It is largely here that I have begun to integrate the ideas of philosophers and ethicists into my course as a way of helping my students deal with the depressing realities that only promise to worsen. It is hurtful to many of my students that the ruling party in their government has continued to deny reality. Is the US Republican Party the final powerful institution on earth to deny the crisis of climate change? As I have written elsewhere, I am now dealing with the emotional impact of this denial on my students while trying to empower them to fight climate change on a local level.

One of the brands near and dear to those of us in Oregon is Patagonia, a company that truly strives to be responsible. But my students are learning that their beloved fleece jackets are a meaningful contributor to ocean pollution. Microfibers coming from our clothes are showing up in fish and other sea-life (in other words, in our food supply) in shocking amounts. This is a newly discovered problem but has served as a great way of bringing students into dialogue about fighting ocean pollution in general. (The other common pollutant in consumer goods–microbeads–should be an easier fix. We’ll see.)

New Themes in Globalization Studies

Migration: No course is complete now without an examination of the movement of people across national borders. It bears asking: if globalization advocates support the free movement of goods, information, and ideas, why not people? Or, to ask it another way, can there be free trade and not freedom of movement? The shock of the initial migrations may be past for most of us, but it remains to be seen how the nations that migrants pass through, including Italy and Greece, are faring. Germany, which scored low in support of global identity on surveys conducted before the migration crisis really hit, continues to deal with its generous reception. One excellent source on the subject of the migration crisis is Frontline’s film, “Exodus.” This amazing documentary humanizes the millions on the move and brought many of my students to tears.

Global Citizenship: it suddenly occurred to me last week, that I now think of global identity as a feature of globalization that has a real impact on lives around the globe. This semester, my students are using the application Flipgrid to discuss global citizenship with secondary students from New Jersey, Colombia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand.

On a hunch, I pulled an armful of older (pre-2015!) books on globalization from my office bookshelf, scanning indexes to see if they included global identity. Some of the books mentioned awareness of globalization or cross-cultural resistance to predatory global capitalism. But my suspicions were confirmed: global citizenship is really new to the literature of globalization.

xerox citizen
Corporations are adopting global citizenship before actual citizens do….

The website (and non-profit) Global Citizen has been around a good deal longer and multinationals have been claiming their kindly global intentions for about as long. But we seem to have crossed a tipping point, perhaps because of climate change, where many of my students feel some sort of global consciousness–and action–is necessary in order to be a fully responsible human being.

Much like the way global capital jumped on the globalization bandwagon before consumers or labor unions quite knew what it was, corporations have embraced the rhetoric–and stock photography–of global citizenship before many of my students have even heard of it. How the meaning of the term changes over the next few years remains to be seen, but the shared environmental challenges that confront all young people promise to, for the moment, be the catalyst for much of the new energy.





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