Globalization refers to the close relationship and interdependence of economic, social, political, cultural, and ecological connections of places in our world. It refers to the intensification of interconnectedness on a global scale. With increased means of communication and travel from 20th- century innovations in technology there is no doubt that our world is shrinking. Never before has it been so easy for people, things, capital, and ideas to move around. Further, globalization has reordered the experience of time and space. Because economic and social processes have shrunk, distance and time are less of a constraint on the organization of human activity. Technological and economic advances have eliminated barriers of space by time and have reorganized time to overcome barriers of space. For example, the same media events are covered all over the world, making it possible for people in, say, the United States and Japan to have access to the same information. Also, this has allowed extremely remote areas of the world to interact with cosmopolitan cities and perhaps with places on the other side of the globe. In other words, time is shortening and space is shrinking. The pace of life is increasing, and the amount of time needed to do things is becoming much shorter. Something that is happening on the other side of the globe can deeply impact people and places vast distances away. Increasingly, economic and social life is becoming standardized around the world.
Globalization in a Historical Context
Forms of globalization were present as early as the 17th century with the rise of the Dutch East India Company, which is said to be the first multinational corporation because it was the first company to share the risk and create joint ownership by offering shares. During the 19th century, liberalization resulted in a rapid growth of international trade and investment between Europe, its colonies, and the United States. This “First Era of Globalization” began to crumble at the onset of World War I and collapsed entirely during the 1920s and 1930s. Arguments and critiques arose against imperialism and the exploitation of developing nations by developed nations.
International trade has grown tremendously since the 1950s; according to estimates, trade has increased from $320 billion to $6.8 trillion. As a result, people from around the world have access to a greater selection of products.
Much of what we are witnessing in the world today concerning globalization started in the 1970s with what is termed a “crisis of overaccumulation” based on the Henry Ford system of mass production. The Ford model, which is based on the mass production of standardized parts, became so successful that Western nations began to overproduce. This resulted in mass layoffs of employees in addition to reducing the demand for products as markets became saturated. There were not enough consumers for all of the goods produced, making corporate profits and government revenues dwindle. Attempts to solve the problem by printing extra money only created inflation. In the midst of this crisis, a new system emerged that depended upon flexibility in labor markets, products, and consumption. During this time new sectors of production emerged and niche markets as well as a greater increase of commercial, technological, and organizational improvements. Labor markets were widened with outsourcing and subcontracting strategies along with the hiring of large numbers of part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers. Markets began to cater to fashion niche markets, recreational activities, and lifestyles, making the pace of economic and social life speed up (popular culture, fashion, sports and leisure, video and children’s games). Also, in an attempt to increase profits, many multinational corporations are outsourcing their work. Outsourcing is defined as the delegation of non core activities that the organization was once responsible for but has now hired an outside entity to do. The most common outsourcing jobs include call centers, e-mail services, and payroll. The trend grew during the 1980s as a major way for corporations to save money. Much of the outsourced jobs have gone to China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Advances in technology have reduced the cost of trade tremendously. Satellite communications deployed since the 1970s have increased communications and at a lower cost. Air freight rates have been reduced drastically along with the cost of sea and rail transport. The resulting economic growth also has brought about economic, political, and social disruption. Consequently, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was created to mediate disputes with regard to trading and to create a platform of trading along with GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which was formed to reduce barriers to trade after World War II. In recent times, globalization can be seen in the agreements on trade among countries, such as the one created by NAFTA.
North American Free Trade Agreement
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created on January 1, 1994, as a free trade agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The plan was to phase out the majority of tariffs between the countries to encourage trade. Several economists have analyzed the effects of NAFTA and have reported that it has been beneficial because poverty rates have lowered and real income has increased. Over the years trade has increased dramatically between the three countries. Between 1993 and 2004, total trade with U.S. partners increased by 129.3% (Canada 110.1% and Mexico 100.9%).
Social Aspects of Globalization
Interestingly, social life is equally and utterly impacted by these alterations of time and space. Throughout the course of human history, people have interacted with one another mostly face to face. Daily human life is filled with interactions during localized activities. Today, however, more often than not, a person’s physical presence is not required. Many tasks can be handled remotely, something made possible by transportation and communication systems. In that sense, social life is altered by the absence of locality, and it fosters relations between people who are too far apart for face-to-face contact. Place becomes less important as the physical setting for social activity, and modern localities are created over long distances. Although place and locale are still significant in daily life, social connections become less dependent on face-to-face interactions, making the local and global intertwined as never before. And, as people continue to live their “local” lives they inevitably are connected globally. Distant events impact local happenings and local developments can have global repercussions that stretch beyond national boundaries.
Culture and Globalization
In the anthropological sense, culture refers to a group of individuals—a nation, an ethnicity, a tribe—who share a system of beliefs that define their world and who interpret meaning based on their shared set of beliefs. Traditionally, this definition has been tied to a specific territory. We used terms like “American culture” or “Latin culture” loosely; they brought up images of a specific geographic region or particular country. These images often have certain attributes associated with that particular region. Conversely, in the present context of globalization it is unreasonable to equate a specific culture with a particular geographic area because locales are woven intricately into one another. In other words, the boundaries are blurred. For example, Western cultural objects like clothing, food, and music are now present in nearly all parts of the world. Anthropologists have defined the weakening of the ties between culture and place as “deterritorialization,” meaning cultural processes that we once thought of as taking place in a specific region have transcended these specific territorial bounds. This is not to say that cultures are free floating, but there is an uprooting and a reinserting of culture going on due to the flexibility and movement in our current world. Anthropologists have defined cultures as sharing a certain space or “community.” A community setting can signify anything from a village to a nation-state. Creating a group of people within a bounded area assumes that this community shares a strong bond within this space. In addition, this space is used to reinforce a worldview and a set of rules to live by, thus creating a certain cultural coherence. In the past, we have understood the “anthropological other” by comparing community with community. Migration is one event that has historically challenged social spaces, such as along the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the 1960s, however, transnational capitalism and migration have strongly influenced remote societies and have changed ideas of culture. For example, in remote villages like Aguililla, Mexico, almost all families had a family member abroad; the local economy depended heavily on the influx of dollars, and many farms were being sustained by family remittances. As large-scale industrial agriculture takes over the Mexican landscape, small-scale subsistence farmers are no longer able to sustain themselves using their traditional practices. The cultivation of maize has been present in Mexico as a primary means of subsistence for 6,000 years. The fact is that people in rural villages can no longer rely solely on local resources to meet their needs. In a globalized world where the local intersects with the global, markets have forced small communities to change and people to migrate. Patterns of transnational migration are prevalent between Mexico and the United States. Most Mexican migrant workers come to work menial jobs in the service sector as dishwashers, janitors, hotel workers, and gardeners. The majority stay in the United States briefly, and those who stay longer remain deeply connected to their families. Their main goal is to finance local dreams by having access to outside funds. Further, the
U.S. economy has become dependent on these workers who occupy society’s economic “bottom rung,” creating social spaces and communities that transcend geopolitical borders, and finding that their most important kin and friends live hundreds of miles away from them.
Adverse Effects of Globalization
Although trade has increased and indexes for poverty seem to have been lowered according to economists’ standards, there are dilemmas with this particular style of free trade. Some would argue that free trade agreements such as NAFTA have damaged and further marginalized large segments of the world’s population. It has been demonstrated that although globalization does help to grow economies, it does not do so evenly. The meager share of global income gained by the poorest people in the world has dropped from 2.3% to 1.4% over the past 10 years. While it is true that transportation and communication have made it easier and quicker for people to get around, it is not true for all people in all places. Some people have the social and economic resources to take advantage of these advancements; others do not. Some people have little or no access to electricity, telephone, and Internet service or the opportunity to buy an airplane ticket. Chances are these people will never have this opportunity in their lifetime. Not everybody on the planet is feeling the benefits. There are several places in Latin America and Africa that are literally not even on the map of telecommunications, world trade, and finance. Even so, they can feel the pressure of the market. Such places have few or no circuits connecting them to the outside world other than the communication and transportation that passes over or through them. In this rapid-paced and changing world they are the ones who are forgotten.
Maquiladoras are foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico, primarily located along the border between the United States and Mexico. Maquiladoras first appeared in Mexico in the 1960s; by 1990 there were 2,000 operating with 500,000 workers. These factories produce mainly electronics, clothing, plastics, furniture, appliances, and auto parts. Between 80% and 90% of the goods produced in Mexico are shipped to consumers in the United States. Most people who move from rural settings in search of better opportunities and work in maquiladoras find deplorable living conditions. And, while some company owners have worked to improve the working conditions of their employees, numerous factories misuse their workers. In some instances, reports tell of maquiladora owners subjecting employees to more than 75-hour workweeks without proper breaks. Some 80% of the employees are women because they are fast at repetitive tasks and they get paid a lower wage than men. Minimum wage is $3.40 per day (vs. $6.55 per hour in the U.S.). There have been numerous sexual harassment incidents or the firing of women if they become pregnant. Also, Mexican men resent that women are being hired over men for jobs, leaving women subject to retaliation and violence. In the city of Juarez, alone, more than 200 women who worked for the factories have been murdered. Further, Juarez and other cities lack infrastructure like electricity, sewage, and safe drinking water to sustain the influx of migrants to the cities with factories. For example, since NAFTA the employment rate in Juarez has risen 54%, yet Juarez has no waste treatment facility to treat sewage from the 1.3 million people who live there. Other related problems are that factories set up in these border towns are not held to strict guidelines for environmental protection, which leads to contamination of the air and water supplies. And workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals without any protective wear.
Anti-Globalization or Global Justice Movements
There are many worldwide who do not support the current political and economic system of neoliberal globalization. People involved in global justice movements advocate anarchism, socialism, or social democracy and are against the ruling elites who wish to expand and control world markets for their own gain. These movements call for reforms in the current capitalist model where multinational corporations control 70% of trade in the world market, and for moving toward greater social welfare reforms. Global justice seekers place greater emphasis on equal rights, environmental awareness, and cultural diversity. Alternative ways of growing economies are also present in the movement, where small-scale producers band together to create alternative economies for the goods and services produced. One example is Kallari, an organization of Indigenous Kichwa artisans and farmers in Ecuador who produce coffee, chocolate, handcrafts, and jewelry and sell locally and globally. The Kichwa face strong pressure from the world market through encroachments and a shrinking land base due to outside multinational corporations that drill for oil and mine for gold. Since the Kichwa lacked infrastructure and the support of local and national governments, they needed to organize their own economy. With the assistance of the Jatun Sacha Foundation and its director, Judy Logback, they have been able to enter the world market and to be paid a fair and living wage. In addition, the have opened their own cafe where they sell their products in Ecuador. Further, they ship goods internationally to niche markets that support environmentally conscious and fairly traded goods. The project has been active for nearly 10 years and has met with great success, with nearly 25 Kichwa communities participating.
For some, globalization is about free trade between countries and the growing of economies that include new job opportunities, while for others it is another way for the rich to prosper at the expense of the poor with little regard for social welfare, human rights, or the environment. Further, globalization has altered space and time for social intercourse and the meaning of community. It remains to be seen how we will redefine our world and our social relationships along with our political economy based upon our values and where we are “located” on the globe.
Luci Latina Fernandes
See also Economics; Evolution, Cultural; Evolution, Social; Materialism; Postmodernism
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