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Message-ID: <199912030440.WAA01635@eeyore.cc.uic.edu>
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 22:28:44 -0800
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Kim Scipes <sscipe1@ICARUS.CC.UIC.EDU>
Subject: Globalization—How Can We Understand It?,

Globalization—How can we understand it?

By Kim Scipes, 2 December 1999

Dear Folks—

I wrote this in response to two different Z Net Commentaries that appeared recently. Although the second one was better than the first, I was unhappy with BOTH because they conflated globalization with economic globalization—in other words, they are trying to reduce everything that’s going on in the world to an economic process, either totally or in the last instance. As you will see, I disagree with this. And not only do I disagree, but I think I’ve figured out a better way how to represent what is actually going on. (Would love to receive any feed back on this—is it understandable, does it make sense, and why do you agree/disagree with it?—would all be helpful information.)

I’ve also got a more formal academic article on globalization from below that has been sent recently for consideration to a professional sociological journal—if anyone would like to see it, please let me know. I’m making a few minor changes and will have this ready in a few days.

Richard DuBoff and Edward Herman’s questioning of Doug Henwood’s recent discussion of globalization was a much-needed corrective, and I was happy to see it. I think the DuBoff-Herman piece was far better argued and, more importantly, a much more correct account of what is going on than Henwood’s initial piece.

The most complete account of economic globalization to date is Peter Dicken’s excellent book, Global Shift, of which the third edition was published in 1998 (but written before the onset of the global economic crisis that started in Asia in mid-1997). Dicken argues persuasively, based on a strong collection of empirical data, that these economic globalization processes are taking place, and this is in congruence with conclusions I’ve made in work I’ve done (mostly in activist journals) on the global economy since 1984.

However, I was surprised to see the DuBoff-Herman/Henwood debate going on in Z Net Commentaries-I would have found it more likely in Monthly Review. The reason I say this is there is a giant flaw running through the arguments on both sides: these authors conflate economic globalization with globalization.

Globalization is more than just economic processes. Yes, it includes economic processes, but it also includes political and cultural processes as well. James Rosenau, an International Relations specialist who has done the best theoretical work to date on globalization, argues for this wider conceptualization: The information revolution and other technological dynamics are major stimulants, but so is the breakdown of trust, the shrinking of distances, the globalization of economics, the explosive proliferation of organizations, the fragmentation of groups and integration of regions, the surge of democratic practices and the spread of fundamentalism, the cessation of intense enmities and the revival of historical animosities-all of which in turn provokes further reactions that add to the complexity (James Rosenau, Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier: Exploring Governance in a Turbulent World, 1997: 7). Notice that he not only notes these stimulants, but also that they, in turn, provoke further change; i.e., they do not collapse back into a master stimulant. In other words, an explanation that is limited to the economic sphere of social orders—either totally or in the final instance-misses much of what is going on, and is, in my opinion, incorrect. I think a better way to describe globalization is that developed by the Dutch writer Jan Nederveen Pieterse, who writes of it as the trend of growing worldwide interconnectedness.

But even if we accept Nederveen Pieterse’s description, how do understand what’s going on? Rosenau is again helpful. Rather than see globalization processes expanding or contracting over time, in sine-wave fashion, Rosenau sees interactive and competing processes taking place over time between what he calls efforts of integration that transcend borders and efforts of fragmentation that want to strengthen borders. I think we can see this as interactive and competing processes between globalization and localization. However, where I think Rosenau is incorrect is in how he understands what is going on as a single-level process. In another article, I argue this is insufficient: I think a much better way to understand this is as a two-level or dual process.

One level is what I call the dominative level, where these interactive and competing processes take place between globalizing dominative and localizing dominative forces. I would place Clinton, the WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc., in the globalizing dominative grouping, with Pat Buchanan, etc., in the localizing dominative grouping.

Opposing them are forces at the emancipatory level; this time, globalizing emancipatory and localizing emancipatory groupings. I think most of Z’s readers would fall into the globalizing emancipatory grouping, wanting to increase worldwide interconnectedness but in ways emphasizing global justice, equality, and economic and ecological sustainability. I would place groups such as the AFL-CIO leadership, especially John Sweeney, in the localizing emancipatory category, focused primarily on maintaining what they have won for their members-and perhaps what they’ve contributed to the well-being of the larger society as a whole-but who are unwilling to address issues such as global justice, equality and sustainability when it questions or threatens their members’ well-being.

If this two level conceptualization is correct, which would make the primary conflict between the two different levels, we cannot assume that in each case that forces on the dominative level will oppose those of us on the emancipatory level, and vice-versa. For example, in some ways-albeit, very few—Pat Buchanan is close to those in the localizing emancipatory forces (especially protectionist union leaders). At the same time, John Sweeney is very close to the Clinton Administration. In other words, we have to check out how the different groupings in each situation, without assuming they will act as expected.

If this explanation makes sense, then we can see efforts by protestors in Seattle and those of us who support them as being

globalization from below, creating international solidarity in ways that foreground our values and opposes those values of the forces that are pushing globalizing from above. In other words, we are not opposed to increasing worldwide interconnectedness-we just want it on our terms, not theirs.