Introductory Lecture 1 Dumisani Moyo & Tore Slaatta

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Media and Globalisation

Introductory Lecture 1

Dumisani Moyo & Tore Slaatta


This lecture will focus on debates about what ‘globalisation’ means.

There has been a lot of contestation over the meaning of the concept and when it exactly globalisation started.

What is some of the evidence for the existence of globalisation?

How do we recognise the existence of globalisation? What are some of the indicators?

Throughout this course, we also want to establish

  • Why is globalisation taking place; what is driving the globalisation process?

  • What is the impact of globalisation on culture, the state and geopolitics?

  • Most importantly, what is the place of the media in this globalisation debate?

What is ‘Globalisation’?

The term globalisation has become a buzzword in the social sciences and a catch-phrase used by journalists and politicians throughout the world. It has come to mean all things to all people, and as such has attracted many sometimes-contradictory definitions.

Held and McGrew (2002), for example look at globalisation as a spatial phenomenon – incorporating the local and national on one hand, and the regional and global on the other.

  • shortening of distance and time

  • multiplication of links

  • deepening interdependence – All this leads to talk about living in a global village or global neighbourhood.

Jan Art Scholte (2000) for example identifies five broad definitions of globalisation which are in some ways overlapping but laying emphasis on different aspects:

  1. Globalisation as Internationalisation (loose interdependence - Hirst and Thompson)

  2. Globalisation as Liberalisation (open, borderless economy)

  3. Globalisation as Universalisation (a planetary synthesis of cultures)

  4. Globalisation as Westernisation/Modernisation (Americanisation, imperialism, McDonaldisation – Global Hollyhood and CNN)

  5. Globalisation as Deterritorialisation (supraterritorriality; reconfiguration of geography where territorial borders are increasingly irrelevant – Held/McGrew)

In defining globalisation, it is necessary to distinguish between the concept, phenomenon and ideology of globalisation (see Introduction to Situating Globality)

  • Anthony Giddens (1991), for example, defines globalisation as “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”

  • For Jan Art Scholte (2000), “Globalisation refers to processes whereby many social relations become relatively delinked from territorial geography, so that human lives are increasingly played out in the world as a single place”

  • Malcom Waters (1995) defines it as a phenomenon: it is “a social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding.”

Basing on Held and McGrew’s book, we are going to look at the two dominant ways of looking at globalisation:

A Globalised World (the globalists)

    • Globalisation is seen as an inevitable (and immutable) result of the growth of MNCs, world financial markets and the spread of popular culture

    • There is an idea of the world becoming a shared social and economic space where humanity is bounded together by common fate (what Held and McGrew call ‘overlapping communities of fate’) – e.g. global terrorism (Sept. 11); the environment (global warming).

    • Globalists see the interrelationship between global, regional, national and local scales as not hierarchical but fluid and dynamic

    • Globalisation is seen as posing a direct threat to the idea of a territorially bounded state – as economic, social and political activities increasingly transcend national borders. The state, globalists argue, is in retreat. This brings us to one of the key questions: is the state actually retreating from its traditional role of governance and giving way to global governance?

    • As we shall see from the various writers selected for the curriculum, and from the arguments of the sceptics, the state is still very much alive and kicking, and is still making the rules and defending its sovereignty through its traditional monopoly over the forces of violence. Of course the degrees in state power varies from the hegemonic US to the so-called failed states of Africa: in some parts of Africa, the tenuous state has further lost its power to NGOs and multilateral organisations such as IMF/WB who dictate policy (see, for example, Situating Globality). I will return to the question of the state later in the discussion.

A Westernised or Americanised world (the sceptics’ argument)

  • The sceptics (notably Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson in their 1996/1999 book Globalisation in Question) argue, in return, that the world is characterised by cultural imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism and the worldwide dominance of American and western culture as well as dominance of the powerful states in the international institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, etc.

  • Globalisation, as Hirst and Thompson argue, is a myth purposefully constructed to justify and legitimise the neo-liberal global project of establishing a global free market – accompanied by the gospel of privatisation, deregulation and minimal state.

  • Globalisation as an American project – to foster American hegemony through the exercise of soft (and sometimes hard) power.

  • The sceptics argue that there is a dual process of globalisation and localisation – hence the term globalisation is a misnomer (glocalisation?)

  • Further, the growing inequalities between rich and poor nations call for a more suitable definition that capture the essence of this process – other than globalisation. Integration and marginalisation resulting from disparities between communication rich and communication poor – e.g. caused by uneven distribution of ITCs

  • The sceptics also argue that contrary to the claims by the globalists, the state is still very much in business

What is some of the evidence for the existence of globalisation?

  • Globalists point to the growth of international and transnational organisations such as the UN and its various agencies, pressure groups and ‘global’ social movements such as Green Peace, Amnesty International, etc.

  • They also point to the growing links between peoples and organisations through the various new forms of communication that know no borders: digital communications technologies and the overthrow of time and space (internet, satellite, mobile telephony, etc). This, they contend, has brought about cultural globalisation.

  • The rise in transnational policy issues, which require international cooperation to be effective: pollution, drug trafficking, terrorism, human rights, etc.

  • They point to the acceleration of regional relations – e.g. trade blocks such as ASEAN, COMESA, SADC, ECOWAS, NAFTA, APEC, EU, etc

  • They point to the increasing flows of global capital: what they call ‘footloose capital’ which is not rooted in any specific territory.

  • They point to the growing number of multinational companies (MNCs): there are over 60,000 MNCs in the world, which control the bulk of foreign direct investment and the bulk of total world trade.

  • Globalists point to what they say is an emerging of a single global economy

  • They also point to the transformation in the core capitalist economies from industrial to post-industrial economies. This de-industrialisation has given way to weightless economies, or what Castelles has called information societies.

Globalists therefore conclude that these developments have led to the erosion of both the sovereignty and legitimacy of the states. The states, globalists argue, are no longer able to independently determine their domestic and foreign policy. Power has shifted from the state to the regional and global institutions.

Counter Arguments

  • Sceptics on the other hand argue that the world is not getting as rapidly integrated as claimed by their opponents (there was even more migration in the nineteenth century than ever experienced in the recent past). (SEE MAPS ON GLOBAL INTERNET AND TELEGEOGRAPHY AT THE END)

  • Instead of advancing a global economy, the creation of multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, has simply reinforced American hegemony, as the US has power over the activities of these institutions – e.g. who gets loans from the IMF/WB is the prerogative of the US – Africa is a good example where this has been exercised – where the US uses carrots and sticks to keep African governments in line

  • Instead of a global economy, they argue, there’s loose internationalisation of economic activity, characterised by exchanges between distinct national economies, where most of the processes are determined by developments at the national level.

  • Sceptics argue that the largest proportion of mankind remains excluded from the so-called global market (pointing to the widening gap between North and South – or Centre and Periphery)

The wealthiest 20% of the world’s people . . .

- own 87% of the world’s vehicles

- have access to 74% of all telephone lines

- use 58% of the world’s energy

- consume 45% of all meat and fish

Alternatively, the remaining 80% . . .

- own 13% of the world’s vehicles

- have access to 26% of all telephone lines

- use 42% of the world’s energy

- consume 55% of all meat and fish

  • Further, instead of economic globalisation there is, in today’s world, a multiplicity of regional economic blocs, with interdependence taking place within each of the blocs, and not between them (e.g. Europe, Americas, Asia-Pacific)

  • For the sceptics, national governments remain central to the governance of the world economy; they create the necessary conditions for the functioning of global trade.

  • The so-called de-industrialisation or shift to weightless economies is, in the eyes of the sceptics, a transfer of the ‘problem’ to developing countries, where deregulated labour is many times cheaper than it is in the core countries (transferring heavy pollution industries to the South)

Media and Globalisation (Tore Slaatta)

Globalisation and national culture

Is there a global culture, and if so, what is its impact on national and local cultures?

- “People live in a world characterised by global communications, but they also live locally and nationally” (Held, 2001, in Interview)

The rise of the nation state has been inextricably tied to the rise of national identity, nationalism and national culture. However, globalists see all this as receding in importance.

    • globalists argue that with the accelerating diffusion of radio, television, the internet, satellite and digital technologies, national controls have fallen away, and people are more and more exposed to foreign cultures, leading to cultural homogenisation and hybridisation (No Sense of Place).

    • Cultural flows are seen as transforming the politics of national identity (a topic we shall come back to later in the course)

    • Sceptics, on the other hand, argue that national and local cultures remain resilient. In many countries, national radio and national television remain dominant (especially in the developing world), and local programmes continue to attract more audiences than foreign ones in some cases (see, for example Collins, 2002).

    • Sceptics point to the emerging dialectic between the global, regional and local cultural formations, and how ‘global culture’ is interrogated at the local level – e.g. the domestication of the foreign/global (see, for example, Lisbeth Clausen’s article in the Compendium). (The study of effects in the media over the years has indicated that cultural products do not necessarily have 100% effects; they are mediated and reinterpreted in the consumption process)

    • Does watching of Dallas across the world have uniform effects?

    • sceptics argue that there is nothing like universal or global culture

Global Governance

Theorising globalisation has led to new thinking about global governance.

What can we say is driving the current intensified global collaboration? (Held points to the two World Wars, and the Holocaust as great impetuses to change. Recently, increased awareness of common environmental issues such as the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming)
Is the world moving towards a global governance system – run through the G8 and the UN systems?
Divergent views have emerged on how this global governance system operates.

  • Radical and neo-Marxists see the whole idea of global governance as a way of legitimising American global dominance (see Noam Chomsky’s Neoliberalism and the Global Order, for example).

  • Global governance = liberal global governance = Americanisation of world order

  • The so-called institutions of global governance (IMF, WTO, WB, etc) tend to work in favour of Western globalising capital at the expense of the majority of nations: the WB/IMF and their insistence that developing countries adopt SAPs – even when it became apparent that they don’t work; and the WTO’s insistence on trade liberalisation which favours rich nations and their corporations.

  • These critics see the solution as lying in creating alternative systems of global governance that put people ahead of profits. Because of its internal contradictions, globalisation will self-destruct, giving way to post-globalisation? (Mittleman, 2000, in Held/McGrew, p65)

Globalists, on the other hand, to see global governance as a plural system – as a multilayered, multidimensional and multi-actor system, where policymaking involves coordination between global, regional, national and local agencies.

As David Held (2001) argues, states cease to be a mere “containers of political power” and become just one layer, albeit an important layer, in the global governance system
But it is important to note that there are complex power relations at play between the various levels, as, to start with, some states are more equal than others. Take for example the recent Darfour crisis in Sudan. How do the various actors relate to the crisis: the UN, WFP, the US and UK governments, the AU, the Sudanese Government, etc coordinate in the crisis?

The questions we must ask are:

How democratic are global governance institutions?

Who runs these institutions, and in whose interest?

These are critical questions at the heart of these institutions, including the EU.

According to Oran Young, “There’s nothing like a global political system, or a global civil society. Instead, there is a multiplicity of governance systems or institutional arrangements aimed at solving collective-action problems (Young, 1994, in Keane, 2003)
Sceptics conclude that states still matter, and they remain the only legitimate site of redressing global inequalities

The Various Responses to Global Governance Debate:

Liberal Internationalists call for the reform of global governance structures and institutions to make them democratic, hence advance global citizenship
Institutional Reformers call for a tripartite democratisation of the state, civil society and business. They call for a public goods theory, where certain goods are defined as global public goods. This, they argue, is essential to creating equal access and reducing poverty and disease.
Global Reformers call for double democratisation: states and civil society (Held). Citizens must develop into cosmopolitan citizens – able to participate at the local, national, regional and global levels. (But who is capable of becoming such a citizen – most probably citizens of the ‘core’ countries of the North. They also call for the creation of a second UN chamber, which would be deliberative.
Statists/Protectionists see the strengthening of the state and its institutions as key. They use the Asian tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, etc) as an example of state-led development.
Radicals argue for a bottom-up approach, where civic movements such as environmental movements, women’s and anti-globalisation movements advocate ‘humane governance’. Emphasis is on participation and some form of ‘direct democracy’


Having said all this, which position – between the sceptics and the globalists – is more convincing in this great globalisation debate? The best solution, as Held and McGrew suggest, is to identify the strengths and weaknesses in either argument.

Strengths in the Globalists Argument

The globalists have been at their strongest on illuminating:

  • the important changes in the special organisation of power

  • the changing nature of communication

  • the intensity and speed of technological change

  • the spread of capitalist economic development and trade, and

  • the entrenchment of layers of global governance institutions

Weaknesses in the Globalist Argument

  • Exaggerating the recent migration of people and its impact on national and local cultures. (Rather, there was more migration in the nineteenth century than at present; and there is increasing evidence that imported foreign products are ‘localised’ or ‘domesticated’ or ‘indigenised’ (David Morely; Sonia Livingstone and Libes and Katz); for example, how is a particular soap opera received in different locations?

  • Overstating the transformation of political identities. Take for example national identities in the EU countries – which are still stronger than European identity.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the sceptics’ argument?

Towards cosmopolitan social democracy

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