An evaluation of the varied meanings and interpretations attached to the concept of globalisation

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2007

22 Pages, Grade: B




Conceptual overview

Redundant concepts of globalisation
Final thoughts

Shift in the understanding of globalisation

Other possible ways in which globalisation can be framed
Realist perspective
Marxist perspective
Constructivist perspective




Globalisation has become a hot topic in the last decade or two. It has had, and continues to have, a considerable impact on the wellbeing of society; yet conceptualisation with regards to what it entails remains poor. Jan Aart Scholte has identified five usages of the concept, namely internationalization, liberalization, universalization, westernization (or modernization), and respatialization. The first four are viewed as redundant considering that they do not make any significant contribution toward a distinctive and unique definition of globalisation. Scholte believes that the concept of respatialization, referring to the narrowing down of space and time, gives the definition of globalisation a distinctive character.

The purpose of this paper is to critically evaluate these five conceptions of globalisation. This will be followed by a brief discussion on other ways in which globalisation can be framed. The discussion will look at globalisation from the materialist perspectives of political realism and Marxism; as well as from the ideational perspective of constructivism.

Conceptual overview

The idea of global-ness can be dated far back in history, but the 1980s ushered in the talk of ‘globality’ as a condition, and ‘globalisation’ as a trend. Despite globalisation being one of the most pressing challenges of our time, Jan Aart Scholte believes that its conceptualisation has been poor. An adequate definition of globalisation has been hard to pin down, especially as they tend to be all-encompassing. Scholte warns against a hazy or misguided core concept of globalisation, stating that a clear and enlightening definition is necessary in order to give people the knowledge required to guide their destiny in the desired direction. This increase in knowledge and understanding will also benefit policy formulation in contemporary society (Scholte, 2005:1-52).

The advancement of knowledge is one of the most important aspects that the definition of globalisation should possess. It should create new understanding and greater insight, not merely restating information that is found in other terminology. Secondly, it is important to gain an understanding of the power relations that are reflected by the definition, as it is seldom that they are normatively or politically neutral. Furthermore, different values and interests are endorsed by dissimilar definitions of globalisation. Thirdly, each definition should be understood in its context, ranging from the cultural setting and historical moment, to the social status and individual personality. Every idea is unique and there is no such thing as a universally endorsable definition. Fourthly, definitions of core concepts are there to provide clarity and focus to arguments; and thus no definition is definitive. Knowledge is continually created and recreated making any definition subject to reappraisal. Finally, parsimony is imperative as definitions should be as explicit, clear and precise as possible in order to capture and communicate insight (Scholte, 2005:52-53).

According to Scholte, globalisation can be conceptualised into five broad categories that have overlapping elements. These definitions view globalisation in terms of internationalization, liberalization, universalization, westernization (or modernization), and respatialization. From the perspective of internationalization ‘global’ depicts cross-border relations between countries, whereas ‘globalisation’ refers to the expansion of international exchange and interdependence. Liberalization defines ‘globalisation’ as the process of creating an open world economy through the removal of state-enforced restrictions on movements between countries. The next conception takes a more cultural approach by equating globalisation with universalization. ‘Global’ means worldwide, according to this conception, and ‘globalisation’ is viewed as the process of spreading a range of objects and experiences to people all over the world. Globalisation defined as westernization describes the global reach of social structures of modernity, such as capitalism and industrialism, thus destroying any form of self-determination. Finally, the identification of globalisation as respatialization illustrates a reorganisation of social geography with a higher level of transplanetary connections between people (Scholte, 2005:16). An analysis of these five conceptions of globalisation, as well as other possible interpretations, will be discussed in the following sections.

Redundant concepts of globalisation

Much of what has been written about globalisation is mentioned in other concepts, and is thus redundant because new understanding has not been engendered. This applies to four of globalisation’s main definitions, namely globalisation as internationalization, liberalization, universalization, and westernization. Globalisation described along these lines add no value to the concept and also raise political objections (Scholte, 2005:54). They will be critically evaluated in this section.


When interpreted as internationalization, globalisation refers to an increase in interdependence and transactions between countries. Thus, according to this perspective, a more global world is “one where more messages, ideas, merchandise, money, investments, pollutants and people cross borders between national-state-territorial units” (Scholte, 2005:54-55). Some authors believe that globalisation is an extreme form of internationalization, whereby the global is a division of the international; whereas others argue that the words ‘global’ and ‘international’ have essentially the same meaning. With this perspective in mind, attempts have been made to quantify globalisation, by means of cross-border activities between countries. Some of these measures include figures relating to international travel, international organisation membership, FDI, and international telephone traffic (Scholte, 2005:55). Peter Dicken believes that processes of internationalization and globalization do coexist, but what set them apart are the quantitative elements of the former and the qualitative features of the latter (Dicken, 2003:305).

A major effect of internationalization is the nation-state’s gradual loss of sovereignty. Joseph Nye states that in an increasingly multilateral world, dealing with inherently multilateral issues, states are unable to act on their own anymore in the international system. Multilateral interdependence between nation-states has been on the increase since the conclusion of the Cold War (Castells, 2004:323-324).

Some states have tried to oppose the trend toward multilateralism, in an attempt to remain sovereign, by using their power to pursue unilateral interests multilaterally. It is no surprise that the United States poses the greatest threat to multilateralism, particularly after September 11. They are able to do this because they are the only military superpower, are the driving force behind technological innovation and knowledge production, as well as being the second largest economic area on the planet. (Castells, 2004:325)

Science and technology has raised awareness regarding environmental degradation, placing increasing pressure on governments to take action. Individual nation-states cannot combat issues like global warming, the depletion of life in the oceans, deforestation, and the ozone layer, on their own. (Castells, 2004:327)

There have been very few joint action programs purely because nation-states serve their own interests as well as those of its most important constituents. There is a growing sense of frustration as a result of the state’s political weakness, whereby it places its own interests ahead of the supervision of global public goods. To overcome their weaknesses states have started to align together, taking the form of international institutions and regional blocs (Castells, 2004:328).

European integration in the mid-1980s came about because of business and political interests, whereby large European firms wanted to compete with their Japanese and US counterparts, and where state elites sought to regain a portion of their political sovereignty at the national level after it had been in decline due to increasing international interdependence. The intention was not to build a European federal state but to create a political cartel whereby European nation-states could regain a portion of their sovereignty and to share the benefits among themselves. Castells argues that this is the era of the super nation-state, not one of supranationality and global governance. The same applies to international institutions; such as the UN, WTO, World Bank, ASEAN, OAU; that are responsible for the management of the economy, of the environment, of development, and of security (Castells, 2004:329).


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An evaluation of the varied meanings and interpretations attached to the concept of globalisation
Stellenbosch Universitiy
Global Political Economy
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Global, Political, Economy
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M.A. Michael Ferendinos (Author), 2007, An evaluation of the varied meanings and interpretations attached to the concept of globalisation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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