International Communication

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

The meaning of "anti-globalization"

 "The only thing worth globalizing is dissent." -Arundhati Roy

 If the word "globalization" can be hard to pin down, then "anti-globalization" starts to become even more of a mess.  Keeping the word so loosely defined only serves the interests of the globalists, who try and paint anti-globalization activists with sweeping generalizations in order to discredit them.

The corporate media, which grabs its talking points from people like Thomas Freidman, has often characterized anti-globalization activists as drooling barbarians, yokels that are so hopelessly against anything modern that they threaten to drag our civilization back down into the evolutionary slime we emerged from.  They focus on small groups of individuals that break windows, the kind of activity seen during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, rather than allowing articulate arguments about globalization any time on the airwaves. 

The backlash against those who would dare to question the benefits of globalization has been growing, even since before globalization as we know it really took off.  In Al Gore's 1993 debate with Ross Perot, Gore ridiculed Perot for claiming that NAFTA, if signed, would have a devastating effect on both the Mexican and the US economies. History has shown that Perot's warnings were well founded, but by now they have been swept into the dustbin of history. 

The attacks continue.  Michio Kaku, possibly the country's most well-known physicist, has even made a speech linking people who oppose the integration of the world's economic and political systems with Al-Queda (

Voices that present any kind of criticism of globalization are shut out of the mainstream media.  When they are allowed to present their arguments they usually demolish their competition, the cheerleaders of globalization.  See how journalist Naomi Klein punked Alan Greenspan during a debate on Democracy Now:

Adding to this problem is the fact that a lot of the writing in international communications doesn't help clarify what it means to be "anti-globalization." Silvio Waisbord, in his article "Media and the Reinvention of a Nation" divides the world into "globalphobes" and "globalphiles."  He writes, "To globalphobes, globalization signals the cultural Americanization of the world, and the disappearance of cultural diversity."  His globalphiles, on the other hand, "dismiss such concerns and reason that current economic and technological changes contribute to cultural diversity."  He goes on to add that, "a closer analysis suggest that globalization brings positive consequences," throwing his weight squarely behind the globalphiles.

This dichotomy that he sets up, between globalphobes and globalphiles, is a simplistic way of looking at globalization.  Yes, critics of globalization will argue that Americanization, with our constant churning of Hollywood movies and TV shows, is working to undermine cultural values in other parts of the world.  But that isn't their main argument against globalization.  This is a side effect of globalization, and it plays a minor role in the slew of factors that have pushed thousands around the world to storm meetings of the WTO, CAFTA, the G20, and other multinational institutions.  People don't stab themselves to death ( because they're concerned about the effects Barbie dolls are having on their communities.

Waisborg doesn't mention that globalization is more than just teenagers in Latin America dressing like Brytni Spears and watching pirated movies.  This is only the most superficial aspect of globalization.  The backbone of globalization is made up of a set of treaties, most of them drawn up in secret by unelected officials, that erode the sovereignty of countries for the benefit of multinational corporations.  

By completely ignoring this aspect, which is the real heart of globalization, Waisborg sets up a straw man of what anti-globalization represents, in order to tear it down.  If you think, as he would have his readers believe, that anti-globalization activists are merely concerned about the influx of Hollywood movies, then their fears seem exaggerated and a bit hysterical.    

Manuel Castells, in his article “The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance" gives a more accurate definition of globalization.  Rather than dividing the world into globalphobes and globalphiles, he puts the situation in a different context.  To Castells, the term “anti-globalization" is an incorrect label.  He prefers to call it “a global movement for global social justice,” a definition I think is a lot more accurate.  

Anti-globalization protesters aren't Luddites.  They're not against all forms of international trade.  They're just against a system of trade that only benefits multinational corporations at the expense of workers, ecosystems, and local communities.   

-Dan G. 

1 comment:

  1. Here is a definition of globalization:

    "Globalization is the intensification of trade and cultural interchange to such an extent that national economies and national boundaries have little, or greatly reduced, significance. It is the trend towards the whole world acting as a single economy and with a single culture."

    See The Future of Globalization.

    In the 21st century the battle is between globalizing corporatists and the people rather than between "capitalists" and the people. The modern capitalist is an investor in a pension fund.

    The globalizers have done a really good PR job. So good that "occupy" protesters believe in globalization but are protesting about the results of globalization. Little wonder that they cannot quite pin down what is wrong! See The Occupy London Movement