There has been much discussion in the media of late about the condition of globalisation.  For example, the UK Brexit vote in the EU referendum has been cited as evidence of resistance to or even rejection of globalisation (Elliott, L. 2016). Likewise, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States is considered by some commentators to challenge to globalisation.  Other analysts view a recent slow-down in the rate of expansion of global trade flows as a sign that the future liberalisation of world trade is uncertain, which leads them to debate whether or not globalisation is ‘dead’ (Stewart, H 2015).

However, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding globalisation.  It is often used as a convenient short-hand term or concept by politicians, journalists, economists, and policymakers alike in relation to particular issues and/or contexts or from particular disciplinary perspectives.   As a result, the concept of globalisation is often employed erroneously.

For example, the contention that UK Brexit vote was a reaction against globalisation is incorrect.  This is because the European Union does not represent or constitute globalisation, rather the institution is itself a response to it.  EU member states have pooled their sovereignty in order to be better able to stand up to the forces driving globalisation, like the power of financial markets and multinational corporations, and ensure that they remain significant players on the world stage.  This means that the British people (or at least the 52 per cent who voted to leave the EU) rejected regionalism not globalisation on June 23, 2016.  Indeed, globalisation will persist irrespective of whether Britain is inside or outside of the European Union.  Moreover, without the protection of a regional organisation like the EU, Brexit will arguably make it more difficult for the UK to manage the processes of globalisation.

 

So, what is globalisation?  In short, the term or concept ‘globalisation’ encapsulates numerous complex processes and developments.  More importantly, it denotes our deepening global interconnectedness and interdependency.  For example, climate change and other forms of environmental decline, which are manifestations of environmental globalisation, do not recognise national borders and will require cosmopolitan or global responses if we are to deal with them.  Globalisation is therefore not simply an economic phenomenon.  Rather it is multidimensional consisting of political, social, cultural, legal, security and environmental dimensions, to cite but a few of its dimensions.

For instance, the political dimension of globalisation is reflected in the growth of global governance with the development of the United Nation system and its associated agencies, international treaties and law, and the spread of global norms and values.  Political globalisation is also evident at the grassroots level in the spread of global networks and social movements, which many writers consider form the basis of global civil society.  Again all of these developments are a manifestation of deepening interconnectedness throughout the world.

To put this simply, globalisation is what we do every day when we get up in the morning.  For example, every time we go online and visit websites, download foreign films and music, engage with social media technologies and platforms, as well as email and send text messages to people in other countries, we are contributing to globalisation It may also be the case that the energy for our homes, many of the products and foodstuffs within them, as well as the clothes that we wear, will have come from different parts of the world (Hopper, P 2007).   We are therefore participating in globalisation without even leaving our homes.  Of course, some of us will also travel and do business abroad, some will resettle in other countries, some will be international students, economic migrants or refugees, and so on.

Ironically, even populist movements that are opposed to globalisation invariably campaign and operate in a globalised manner, ranging from their use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to participation in global networks and forums.  In a sense therefore we have no more chance of resisting globalisation than King Canute had in trying to hold back the sea.  As the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once noted: ‘It has been said that arguing against globalisation is like arguing against the laws of gravity’.

In summary, if we want to understand our world today, we need to understand globalisation. In this regard, while globalisation is being taught in schools and colleges, given the importance of this phenomenon it is therefore a concern that there are not more universities running degrees on this subject area. BA Globalisation: History, Politics, Culture; the MA Culture, Communication and Globalisation; and the  MA Globalisation: Politics, Conflict and Human Rights.

For a more detailed analysis of globalisation, see the policy note entitled – ‘Understanding globalisation’ – which can be found on the publications page of this website.