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22 June 2006 

Is Globalisation a New? (part 2)

Globalisation: concept and definition

Santo Dewatmoko, Sheffield

Some people criticise ‘globalisation’ as an unclear buzzword or catch-phrase that has recently burst into daily vocabulary. It has many possible meanings any one of which one might have in mind when using this word.

United States writes this term as globalization, UK (and its commonwealths) usually writes globalisation, while French writes mondialisation. In Spain and Latin America it is written globalización, in Germany it is written globalisierung, while in Indonesia it is written globalisasi. World Bank says “Amazingly for so widely used a term [globalization], there does not appear to be any precise, widely-agreed definition. Indeed the breadth of meanings attached to it seems to be increasing rather than narrowing over time, taking on cultural, political, and other connotations in addition to the economic” (World Bank, 1999).

Like “poverty,” “justice,” or “democracy,” globalisation is a word that covers many overlapping and closely linked concepts, each of which may be quite useful and can readily be defined by a simple text. In context, words like “globalization” can be used unambiguously and precisely, but without context indicators, they are necessarily ambiguous and possibly misleading (Riggs, 1998). The term of “globalisation” may be relatively new, but the concept itself is not.

Plainly, globalisation is the spread of influences and contacts across borders. In addition, globalisation “is the process of world shrinkage, of distances getting shorter, things moving closer. It pertains to the increasing ease with which somebody on one side of the world can interact, to mutual benefit, with somebody on the other side of the world” (Larsson, 1999 p.9). Globalisation is not a new phenomenon but as old as civilisation. Today, it has a particular connotation, associated with the predominance of a particular (‘Western’) form of economy, society and political system. These are controversial, because they are seen to affect different groups, and different concerns, unevenly.

To understand the appropriate usage of ‘globalisation’, it is important to look at the concept from various dimensions of the history of globalisation, such as the rise and fall of Empires, the evolution of the geography of religion, the current controversies over the economic, cultural, and political, impact of ‘Western globalisation’ etc. Indeed, globalisation has a close relationship with the term ‘globe’ and ‘global’. But firstly, it is necessary to review several definition of globalisation.

In general, most scholars suggest that globalisation has existed since 1500 A.D. It means that “the processes that are usually meant when we speak of globalization are not in fact new at all: they have existed for some 500 years” (Wallerstein, 2000). As mentioned before, this opinion refers to western imperialism in 1500s. Recently, globalisation can be said to exist prior to (and indeed after) 1500 in sofar as significant flows of goods, resources, currencies, capital, institutions, ideas, technologies, and people flowed across regions to such and extent that they impacted upon, and led to the transformation of, societies across much of the globe (Hobson, 2004).

From economic dimension of globalisation, it is said that globalisation is a phenomenon whose economic dimensions involve increases in the flow of trade, capital, and information, as well as mobility of individual across borders (Masson, 2001). Nevertheless it has been argued that globalisation only began in the 19th century, following dramatic declines in transportation costs (O’Rourke and Williamson, 2000). It indeed implicates in the condition of recent political and economic changes since Word War I, World-War II and Cold War.

On the other hand, Hobson (2004) shows that the leading edge of global economic power in the pre-1800 period belonged to various Eastern societies. According to him, there are two generic types of global economic power that may be called ‘extensive’ and ‘intensive’. Extensive power refers to the ability of a state or region to project it economic tentacles outwards into the world, whole intensive power refer to a high degree of ‘productive’ power within its own borders (Hobson, 2004).

Nevertheless, the people who perceive that globalization is a new term to explain the ancient phenomenon are categorized as “sceptic”. The “hyperglobalist” perceive that the globalization is an entire new process that has changed world totally and radically. It has crunched the local cultures, smashed markets all over the world, and collapse the interstate border. David Held (1999) holds the middle position as a transformative schools. He argued that it is true that globalisation has happened in the past, but recent globalisation cannot be compared with “those” in the past. Three factors that differentiate it are: velocity, intensity, and extensity.

Further, some people try to simplify the term of globalisation into the term of economic. In this way, globalisation can be said as the economic integration of economies–regional and national economies (Easton, 2005). He however continues that “globalisation began in the early nineteenth century, so the phenomenon is almost two centuries old. Since globalisation an historical phenomenon, focusing on just the last few decades throws away a rich source of insights” (Easton, 2005). It is based on the notion that the period of the gold standard and liberalization of the 19th century is often called “The First Era of Globalisation”. Nevertheless, globalisation is not solely an economic phenomenon. It has political, social and cultural consequences.

When globalisation is viewed from some spatial aspects of the time/space continuum, it can be divided into pre-modern world system and contemporary world-system. It has connected with the term “globe” and “planet”. People before 1500 AD believed that the Earth was plain, not spherical. It can be argued that locus of globalisation at that time usually points only to a local place such as villages, cities, towns, and districts. On the contrary, the largest locus on Earth is the planet. It is what Riggs notes that “…No doubt, our planet is the locus of the contemporary world-system, but the locus of pre-modern world systems (before 1500 AD) was, I think, always sub-planetary” (Riggs, 1998). Moreover, the continental system became linked with the Americas during the 16th century, leading to the creation of a truly planetary global locus. Thus, it has been argued that “…Prior to the 16th century, the glocus [global locus] of our planet's largest world-system was only hemispheric, but since them, it has become planetary. Put differently, the globalization of earlier world-systems was sub-planetary, but contemporary globalization is now planetary” (Riggs, 1998).

It entails that the extent of globalisation before the people realise that the world is spherical was only hemispheric in which globalisation was largely among the Afro-Eurasian continent. In this way, Native American is considered having a stand-alone world system (not including the connection among Ancient Japanese, Native American and Indigenous of Pacific Islands prior to 1500 AD).

Different view of when and where globalisation takes place, indeed, results in debates among the authors. This is why it is necessary to look at the history of globalisation.

(to be continued: Understanding globalisation through historical approach)

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