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Module Abstract Globalization

Introduction to Globalization Module

1.1 Teaching note

"Conceptual clarifications and definitional matters can often be dry, abstract, and difficult to grasp. And yet, without setting the basic theoretical framework, any subject of academic study will remain beyond the reach of the inquiring mind. This first unit of this globalization module seeks to keep abstractions to a minimum while at the same time endeavoring to get across in accessible language the basic ideas and topics that have been driving globalization research over the past two decades. Try to acquire an understanding of why globalization has become not only one of the buzzwords in today’s public discourse, but also why it has moved to the center of many current academic debates that cut across the natural and social sciences, business, law, and the arts. Although this process demands plenty of time and patience, it will pay you ample dividends in the later chapters of the module where you will be required to build upon the conceptual framework laid out in this unit. Be attentive to the various scholarly agreements and disagreements and try to develop your own perspective in response to the views championed by various schools of thought. At the same time, however, retain a critical distance that allows you to change your mind when you come across compelling information and contrary evidence in later units of this module.

1.2 Introduction to “globalization”

Although the origin of the term ‘globalization’ can be traced back to the early 1960s, it was not until the late 1980s and 1990s that it emerged as a pivotal signifier in academic debates and public discourse relating to increasing social and economic interdependence. ‘Globalization’ surfaced as a buzzword because the tangibility and visibility of globally interrelated life called for a single word naming this interconnectedness. An analysis of some eight thousand newspapers, magazines, and reports worldwide attests to the tremendous acceleration of the frequency with which ‘globalization’ was used. From a mere 2 in 1981, the number of items mentioning the term grew to 43,448 in 2006 (Chanda 2007). The comet-like appearance of the concept reflects not only the ‘objective’ compression of time and space, but also testifies to the ‘subjective’ thickening of a global consciousness – the global imaginary.

Giovanni Arrighi defined globalization as ‘geographic expansion of local social interactions’ and singled out three historical waves of this process:

  • The Mongol Empire;
  • European commercial and military expansion of the 16 century;
  • Imperialism of 19 century.

Immanuel Wallerstein equated globalization with the spread of ‘European Universalism’, arguing that it is Europe that incarnates the so-called “universal values” based upon “natural law”. In his reasoning, the centrality of Europe in the global processes makes European governments decide in which cases they have the right to intervene. At least four situations that legitimate interventions feature in the European discourse:

  • Facing and containing 'barbarians';
  • Preventing violation of 'universal values';
  • Defending other (non-European) peoples from atrocities;
  • Extending/projecting democratic values.

It is from here that one may beg a question: why is it so important to raise the issue of globalization in regard to Eastern Europe? The main reason is that it was globalization that played a critical role in the demolition of the Soviet Union and the system of satellite states it formed. It was globalization that opened for the countries of this region a wider set of political choices and economic opportunities. Nowadays, the basic challenge of modernization for most East European nations is that of their structural integration into the world. Eastern Europe's adaptation to and accommodation with the globally dominant norms, rules and institutions is a long process which could not be expected to produce quick results. On the one hand, in their search for their place in the world, the countries of this region have to adjust to the rapidly changing external environment fostered by globalization. On the other hand, the international community has a strong impact on internal developments in this part of Europe.

If we look at the various official and non-official institutions and state and non-state actors in Eastern Europe and examine their attitude towards globalization, we will notice how aware most of them are of the importance of adapting to global standards and rules and how keen many of them are to cooperate with international partners – be it in the economic, political and cultural areas or in the fields of science and academic exchange. The interaction of East European countries with the international community, and the global-political, economic and socio-cultural setting which these countries are embedded in, have affected the reshaping of domestic institutions and relations among domestic groups of actors.

This leads us to another important aspect of the East European reaction to globalization. Many Western scholars assume that “globalization positively effects democratization: a higher degree of democratization opens the political process to a wide array of domestic interest groups” (Suter and Holitscher 1998). Indeed, those who study globalization have remarked how economic liberalization has affected the very nature of authoritarian regimes and speeded up a worldwide drive towards democratization. Yet the projection of this trend onto Eastern Europe is not so straightforward. The correlation between globalization and democratization sometimes seems rather weak, because in countries like Russia or Belorussia there are serious obstacles to globalization that stem in part from the left-overs of Soviet political thinking and traditional skepticism towards the opening up to Western influence, as well as from the structural legacy of the Soviet system.

By the same token, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe meant the revival of nationalist and populist policies that had been forgotten during many decades of Marxist-Leninist hegemony. But many of post-socialist political elites preferred to deal with the past instead of with the future. This was especially the case with the Balkans and the Caucasus. Most successor states of the Soviet Union also failed to transform their economies efficiently during the long period of political instability and social hardship that ensued. In Central Asia the former communist nomenklatura succeeded in transforming themselves into traditionalists with interests in the oil and mining business, whereas in the three Slavic core countries the old nomenklatura in the 1990s preferred a presidential system that remained largely under the influence of tycoons and the secret services who sought to resist the influence of the world market without refusing the benefits generated by international trade or foreign investment. This stance makes them reluctant partners of Western capitalism and uncertain allies of NATO. Nevertheless, these countries are on their way to integration into the capitalist world-system, even if they still have a very long way to go."

Manfred B. Steger, Erin K. Wilson and Andrey Makarychevr: Introduction to Globalization Module. © East European Studies Online; 2010.