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Ganesh Maske asked: Is globalisation essentially a process of ‘universalisation’ of capitalist modernity?

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  • Saurabh Mishra replies: No, globalisation is not so simple and homogenous a phenomenon. The definition of globalisation has generally been disciplinary in nature, adapted to the aims and objectives of each discipline. Scholars define globalisation in different terms: global flows of capital and information affecting most of mankind (David Held and Anthony McGrew); abandonment of hierarchical and territorial structures in favour of less formal frameworks (Manuel Castells); easy transportation; global consciousness (Roland Robertson); powerful imaginations motivating migrations (Arjun Appadurai); global institutions (Held and McGrew); decreasing decision-making power of the nation states, etc. Globalisation is also understood as a ‘human condition’ (Robbie Robertson) that may be observed in the unfolding of history in different phases driving on various carriers. Manfred B. Steger calls globalisation a trend in history “as old as humanity itself”.

    Although the phenomenon is old, the origin of the term ‘globalisation’ is new. It became a commonly used term from the 1980s onward. The concepts and processes of connectivity, mobility, networks, interaction, communication, etc., between human beings, communities and places, are not new to human history. They precede the origins and history of capitalism. The literature of ‘world system’ and ‘world systems’ theories (Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills) identifies various inter-civilisational and interspatial large-scale networks in history, as ancient as the pre-Christian era. The socio-economic conditions of that point of time in no way can be called ‘capitalist modernity’.

    A close observation of the various definitions of globalisation and history reveals the process of interspatial interaction, mobility and communication between societies as the fundamental carrier of globalisation. The difference in the phenomenon of globalisation in the contemporary phase is about its unprecedented pace and expansion. However, there are different views and projections of globalisation. ‘Universalisation’ of capitalist modernity is just one of the dominant views, primarily from the last quarter of the 20th century. The American and European economic-political project of liberalisation and privatisation was packaged and popularised as ‘globalisation’.

    If we take globalisation as the expansion of the culture of ‘capitalist modernity’, it is a partial and skewed view of globalisation. The same carriers of ‘globalisation’ – revolution in transportation and communication – helping the expansion of ‘capitalist modernity’ have helped the ‘postmodern cultures of resistance’ to become popular and hold ground worldwide. The same tools have helped create new divisions on ethnic and religious lines, the recent example being the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Spread of religion in pre-modern times had been a great expression of globalisation. The spread of ‘communist modernity’ (antithetical to capitalist modernity) in history has also been a process and part of globalisation.

    Globalisation has created both cooperation and conflict. Therefore, calling globalisation as essentially a “process of ‘universalisation’ of capitalist modernity” is a simplistic, superficial and partial understanding of a holistic phenomenon in which numerous processes including the ‘universalisation’ of capitalist modernity become a subset, involved in the unfolding dialectics of the whole.

    Posted on April 27, 2017