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Globalization: Q&A with Manfred Steger

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How has globalization changed in the last ten years? We asked Manfred Steger, author of Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, how he felt it has been affected by world events in the decade since the first edition of his Very Short Introduction was published.

The VSI is now in its third edition. What have been the most important/significant changes in globalization since the first edition in 2003?

The most important change to the third edition is the addition of a substantive chapter on the ‘ecological dimensions of globalization’, which discusses global climate change and the global impact of major environmental disasters such as the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactor in the wake of the 2011 earthquake, and the 2010 BP gulf oil spill. Also the chapter on the ‘ideological dimensions of globalization’ has been further developed and expanded. It now introduces three different types of ‘globalisms’. Finally, the opening chapter explains the basic concepts of globalization in the context of the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa. Of course, all the other chapters have been updated and revised to engage current issues.

Airman looks for trapped survivors March 16, 2011, after 2011 earthquake in Japan

Social networking has become a large part of everyday life for many people. How has this changed globalization in a cultural context?

Social networking has intensified cultural globalization by increasing cultural flows across the world. Some experts argue that the global standardization of the Facebook or Twitter templates have increased cultural tendencies of homogenization (or ‘Americanization’), whereas other scholars emphasize the creation and proliferation of new (sub-cultures) as a result of social networking. My own perspective is that social networking also contributes to cultural ‘hybridization’–the mixing up of different cultural values, styles, and preferences resulting in new cultural expressions that blur the line between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ cultural formations.

How do you see the state of globalization in 5 years’ time?

Unless there is another major global crisis that surpasses the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, I believe that globalization dynamics will further intensify. With the ICT revolution still in full swing, we can expect in five year’s time the emergence of new communication devices that are not even imaginable today. But I am not particularly enthusiastic about the intensifying digitalization of social relationships. The dark side of this dynamic is the decline of face-to-face interactions and physical contact–two basic human qualities that foster a strong sense of community among people.

How would you respond to claims that globalization is ideological?

As I point out in my book, globalization always has ideological dimensions. There is no such thing as a neutral, unbiased perspective on something as multi-faceted and contentious as globalization. At the moment the three main ideological forces employ different types of ‘globalisms’–ideologies centered on globalization–to convince their global audiences of the superiority of their respective political and social views. I call these ideologies ‘market globalism’ (neoliberalism), ‘justice globalism’ and ‘religious globalism’. The neoliberal worldview is still the strongest, but has come under attack, especially in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

In economic terms, can globalization benefit all, or will it only benefit high earners?

It depends what form of globalization we are talking about. Market-led globalization, for example, claims that, in the long run, globalization–understood as the liberalization and global integration of markets–will benefit all. But a recent major study undertaken by Branko Milanovic, the leading economist at the World Bank, shows that the bottom 5% of the world population have not benefitted at all in more than 2 decades of market-led globalization. Of course, there have also been improvements in global South countries like China and India, but the economic benefits have disproportionately gone to those at top income bracket. I think it is important to develop more ethical forms of globalization aimed at reducing the growing inequality gap within and among nations. Fortunately, more world leaders have become aware of the rising tide of social and economic inequality. Pope Francis, for example, recently issue a powerful encyclical that warns us of the dangers of growing worldwide disparities in wealth and well-being.

Do you think the subject should be covered more in schools?

I do. In universities around the world, there are currently strong efforts underway to further expand the growing transdisciplinary field of global studies, which focuses on the exploration of the many dimensions of globalization. But the basics of globalization should be taught as early as primary school and most certainly in secondary school. Unfortunately, many current lesson plans require serious updating to engage the major global issues (and problems) of our global age.

Has the financial crisis paused the progress of globalization?

As I noted in my response to questions 3 and 4, the momentum of market globalism was slowed down in response to the economic crash of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession. But those market globalist ideas of the ‘Roaring 1990s’ and 2000s are still tremendously influential–as we can see in ongoing attempts by neoliberal governments around the world to cut taxes, restrict spending, deregulate the economy, and privatize the few remaining public industries.

Are there any environmental costs of globalization?

The environmental costs to market-led globalization have been been horrific. That is why the 3rd edition of my VSI contains such a substantive chapter on this topic. I believe that the deteriorating ecological health of our planet will become the most pressing global problem by mid-century at the latest. We simply can no longer afford business-as-usual. The problem is not just global warming, but various forms of transboundary pollution (such as the staggering amount of trash and plastics that find their way into our our planet’s soil and oceans) and the rapid decline of biodiversity. And if we don’t switch from fossil fuels to alternative forms of clean energy any time soon, we will reach our ecological point of no return.

What is most exciting/innovative research going on in global studies at the moment?

Political geographers and urban studies scholars have been contributing highly innovative approaches to the study of globalization. Their emphasis on theorizing space is a much needed corrective to the conceptual frameworks of those of us who have been trained to focus primarily on the role of language, ideas, and economics in evolution of human societies. Obviously, the compression of space and time is at the heart of globalization, so it behooves us to pay closer attention to the current reconfigurations of spatial arrangements, especially in the context of our expanding ‘global cities’ and the loss of areas of wilderness.

If you weren’t a political science academic, what would you be?

I am fascinated by the history and culture of ancient Rome, so perhaps I would be a classicist or a historian of the Roman Empire. Or, even better, a bestselling author of historical novels!

Manfred B. Steger is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa and Professor of Global Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University). He is also the Research Leader of the Globalization and Culture Program in RMIT’s Global Cities Research Institute. He has served as an academic consultant on globalization for the US State Department and as an advisor to the PBS TV series, ‘Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism’. He is the author or editor of twenty-one books on globalization and the history of political ideas, including the third edition of Globalization: A Very Short Introduction.

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Image credits: By Harvey McDaniel [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons; By Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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