Book Review: Globalization – A Very Short Introduction


We live today in an intimately connected world, a world in which celebrities have ardent fans continents away, in which religious leaders can influence millions globally, and in which complex economic, political, cultural, ideological and environmental forces converge across continents. This is globalization.

In this book, Manfred B. Steger considers the major causes and consequences of globalization, as well as the hotly contested question of whether globalization is, ultimately, a good or a bad thing. From terrorist attacks to Zika virus, Donald Trump or Twitter, he explores our unprecedented levels of global integration.

The fifteen key takeaways I got out of this book are:

  1. Globalization is a spatial concept signifying a set of social processes that transform our present social condition of conventional nationality into one of globally.
  2. Academics exploring the dynamics of globalization are particularly keen on pursuing research questions related to the theme of social change. How does globalization proceed? What is driving it? Does it have one cause or is there a combination of factors? Is globalization a continuation of modernity or is it a radical break? Does it create new forms of inequality and hierarchy? The conceptualization of globalization as a dynamic process rather than as a static condition forces global studies scholars to pay close attention to new forms of connectivity and integration.
  3. Two definitions of globalization – globalization may be thought as 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. Globalization as a concept refers both the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.
  4. The prehistoric period (10,000 BCE – 3,500 BCE) – 12,000 years ago, small bands of hunters and gatherers reached the southern tip of South America. This event marked the end of the long process of settling all five continents that was begun by our hominid African ancestors more than one million years ago.
  5. The premodern period (3,500 BCE – 1,500 CE) – the invention of writing in Mesopotamia, Egypt and central China between 3,500 and 2,000 BCE roughly coincided with the invention of the wheel around 3,000 BCE in Southwest Asia. Marking the close of the prehistoric period, these monumental inventions amounted to one of those technological and social boosts that moved globalization to a new level. The later premodern period was the age of empire – Egyptian kingdoms, the Persian Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the American Empires of the Aztecs and the Incas, the Roman Empire, the Indian Empires, the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, the Holy Roman Empire, the African Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, and the Ottoman Empire. All of these empires fostered the multiplication and expansion of long-distance communication and the exchange of culture, technology, commodities and diseases. By the 15th century CE, enormous Chinese fleets consisting of hundreds of 400-foot-long oceangoing ships were crossing the Indian Ocean and establishing short-lived trade outposts on the east coast of Africa.
  6. The early modern period (1,500 – 1,750 CE) – the term ‘modernity‘ has become associated with the 18th-century European Enlightenment project of developing objective science, achieving a universal form of morality and law, and liberating rational modes of thought and social organization from the perceived irrationalities of myth, religion, and political tyranny.
  7. The modern period (1750 – 1980s) – the discovery of America prepared the way for mighty industry and its creation of a truly global market. The later greatly expanded trade, navigation, and communication by land. These developments, in turn, caused the further expansion of industry. The growth of industry, trade, navigation, and railroads also went hand in hand with the rise of the bourgeoisie and capital which pushed to the background the old social classes of the Middle Ages. As Marx and Engles noted: the rise of the Europea bourgeoisie and the related intensification of global interconnections would not have been possible without the 19th-century explosion of science and technology.
  8. The modern period has also witnessed an unprecedented population explosion. Having increased only modestly from about 300 million at the time of the birth of Christ to 760 million in 1750, the world’s population reached 4.5 billion in 1980. Enormous waves of immigration intensified existing cultural exchanges and transformed traditional social patterns. Popular immigration countries like the United States of America, Canada and Australia took advantage of this boost in productivity.
  9. The contemporary period (from the 1980s) – the best way of characterizing this latest globalization wave could be to call it ‘the great convergence’ – different and widely spaced people and social connections coming together more rapidly than ever before.
  10. The economic dimension of globalizationneoliberalism is rooted on the classical liberal ideals of Adam Smith (1723-90) and David Ricardo (1772-1823), both of whom viewed the market as a self-regulating mechanism tending toward equilibrium of supply and demand, this securing the most efficient allocation of resources. Many people associate economic globalization with the controversial issue of free trade. After all, the total value of free trade exploded from $57 billion in 1947 to an astonishing $18.5 trillion in 2015. In that year, China, the worlds leading manufacturer, was responsible for 12.7 percent of global merchandise exports whereas the USA, the world’s most voracious consumer, accounted for 12.9 percent of global merchandise imports. Economic perspectives on globalization can hardly be discussed apart from an analysis of political processes and institutions. After all, the intensification of global economic interconnections does not simply fall from the sky; rather, it is set in motion by a series of political decisions.
  11. The political dimension of globalization – political globalization refers to the intensification and expansion of political interrelations across the globe. These processes raise an important set of political issues pertaining to the principle of state sovereignty, the growing impact of intergovernmental organizations, and the future prospects for regional and global governance, global migration flows, and environmental policies affecting our planet. A cosmopolitan democracy of the future would contain four features: a) a global parliament connected to regions, states and localities; b) a new charter of rights and duties locked into different domains of political, social and economic power; c) the formal separation of political and economic interests; and d) an interconnected global legal system with mechanisms of enforcement from the local to the global.
  12. The cultural dimension of globalization – (see the American way of life statistics on pages 84-85). Among other cultural issues, there are three that are worth to analyze: the tension between sameness and difference in the emerging global culture; the crucial role of transnational media corporation in disseminating popular culture; and the globalization of languages. On the later, it is worth to highlight the fact that the number of languages in the world has dropped from about 14,500 in 1,500 to about 6,400 in 2016. Given the current state of decline, some linguists predict that 50-90 percent of the currently existing languages will have disappeared by the end of the 21st century.
  13. The ecological dimension of globalization – in the 21st century, it has become virtually impossible to ignore the fact that people everywhere on our planet are inextricably linked to each other through the air they breathe, the climate the depend upon, the food they eat, and the water they drink. In spite of this obvious lesson of interdependence, our planet’s ecosystems are subjected to continuous human assault in order to maintain wasteful lifestyles. Two major concerns relate to uncontrolled population growth and lavish consumption patterns in the global North… The United States comprises only 6 percent of the world’s population, yet it consumes 30-40 percent of our planet’s natural resources. Another significant problem associated with population increases and the globalization of environmental degradation is the worldwide education of biodiversity. Seven out of ten biologists today believe that the world is now in the midst of the fastest mass extinction of living species in the 4.5-billion-year history of the planet.
  14. Major manifestations and consequences of global environmental degradation – population growth; loss of biodiversity; hazardous waste industrial accidents; genetically modified organisms; global warming and climate change; food insecurity and diseases; transboundary pollution; and patterns of consumption.
  15. The future of globalization – without question, the years and decades ahead will bring new global crises and further challenges. Humanity has reached yet another critical juncture – the most important in the relatively short existence of our species. Unless we are willing to let global problems fester to the point where violence and intolerance appear to be the only realistic ways of confronting our unevenly integrated world, we must think the future course of globalization to a profoundly reformist agenda.

As the author states at the end of the book, ‘We ought to reject the siren call of national populists and instead welcome greater manifestations of social interdependence that emerge as a result of globalization. These transformative social processes must be guided by the ethical polestar of cosmopolitanism: the building of truly democratic and egalitarian global order that protects universal rights without destroying the cultural diversity that is the lifeblood of human evolution‘.

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