Globalization: An Agenda

It is now widely recognized that ours is a global age. One of the first to perceive and then describe this “happening” was the sociologist Martin Albrow, in his book with the title The Global Age.Since its appearance, in 1996 numerous studies have been published. Indeed, a critical bibliography would be a valuable tool, pointing to further research. This might be the opening project in carrying out an agenda that I am about to describe.[1]

In undertaking such a task, it would be well to establish what I will call regional globalization studies. Do these regional arrangements facilitate globalization? Work against it and in what ways? Examples immediately spring to mind. A major one, of course, is Globalization and China, perhaps the greatest challenge of our epoch. No less important is Globalization and Islam.[2] Of equal importance is the European situation, in which pulls toward a European and a Global identity may be in conflict. Other regional studies—the USA, Latin America, etc.–would also be subjects for further study.

I will now divide my proposed agenda into two parts. The first will focus on research projects, including those mentioned in the first two paragraphs, that appear promising. The second will concentrate on what I consider a most important offshoot from the globalization process itself—the concept of Humanity.

One of the most interesting problems for research is that concerning a possible emerging global identity. The literature on national identity has been growing apace. Most of it naturally has been attached to nationalism. The latter has been part of what historians identify as modernity. The national identity transcends earlier ones of family, clan, and tribe. In many parts of the world, the national has not emerged successfully, and tribal loyalties still reign supreme.

With the accelerated emergence of globalization after WW II, it is only natural that we must raise the issue of global identity, not as doing away with the earlier ties, but as adding to them, a new bond. Such inquiry has already begun. For example, Julia Docolas at Leipzig University, part of a group of graduate students there, has already done a study of what is clearly a self-selected group of about 145 students from different countries. Her thesis, called “Global Identity,” is rich in both theoretical concern and empirical study.

Others now need to be undertaken. Additional comparative studies of different university settings would help greatly. So, too, similar studies of other groupings would be useful. For example, one would be of UN military forces. Has such service led to increased global awareness and identity? An anthropologist embedded in such units could further enlighten us. Even more ambitious would be research into international civil servants. We must not force them into a procrustean bed of global identity, but inquire into their orientations with an open mind.

Another major project is to think hard and long about transnational and international history, and their relation to globalization. Overcoming eurocentrism, transnational history, outstandingly as practiced by Akira Iriye, has shown the way. What now needs to be done is to analyze the relationship of the transnational and the global more carefully. Are they similar processes?And what is the relationship of transnational and international history?

Then there is the vexed issue of world, global, and new global history. All emphasize interconnectivity. World historians tend to study the way civilizations have interacted with one another. William McNeill has been primus inter pares. World and global history have often been used as synonyms. A supposed difference is that global historians focus more on the totality of interactions and interdependency in the course of the past. Then there is new global history, focused on post-WWII developments. This is the time when interconnectivity increases exponentially, owing to the use of artificial satellites and personal computers. One must also remember that this is the epoch when the term “globalization” comes into currency and thus inspires a look along these lines at the past. A leader in global and new global history is Raymond Grew, probing the field sceptically while sympathetically. Needless to say, inquiries in one direction are not necessarily at the expense of inquiries in other directions.[3]

The concept of Humanity has been brought down from the skies of 18th century philosophers such as Immanuel Kant by the processes set in place by post WW II developments. First is the widespread effect of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It made dramatically obvious that human civilization could easily be destroyed—by humanity’s own self-destructive impulses.

Next was the Nuremberg Trials and their epochal effect. Overshadowed by other aspects was the declaration that war was a crime. Before 1945-46, war crimes had been denounced. Now it was aggressive war itself which was declared a crime. It was as if a new step in human evolution had been taken.

Better known, and with a longer history, crimes against humanity were recognized and excoriated. At first linked with Christendom, it was detached from that religious tie because of it being offensive to Moslems, and then made to stand independently. In 1945-46 at the Trials it took on irrevocable life. Followed by the Yugoslav and Rwanda Trials, the movement has culminated for the moment in the International Criminal Court. Though judgments have not always been effectively carried out, and individuals have escaped the net of justice, the flame has been lit and the beacon of criminal responsibility casts its beams globally. As I have remarked elsewhere, a “Judicial Revolution” has taken place.[4]

Let us now return to the concept of Humanity. Aided by globalization and the computer revolution, it has put people in touch with one another in an immediate and unprecedented manner. In the Middle East especially, it has sparked or at least facilitated what has been called “The Arab Spring.” More people now recognize their “togetherness.” It may remain only in terms of a religious, ethnic,or national state, but to these is now added the possibility of a transcending tie, to Humanity.

When the Nuremberg Trials spoke of “crimes against humanity,” the question naturally arose: what is this humanity? One answer came from the moon landing, where the astronauts could look back at planet Earth and see it as one abode. Logos endorsed this view. Buckminster Fuller popularized the notion. It will not be achieved in a moment. It will be very much helped by what the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking has called dynamic nominalism. By this he means that once a category has been created—in his case he instances “homosexuality”–people are prepared to rush in and fill it. Such, gradually will be the case with Humanity.

What measures can be taken to aid this process? As we know there is an Earth Day. Why not a Humanity Day to make us pause and think? Such a day could also be celebrated with rituals, ceremonies, speeches, and parades, all over the world. Statues and monuments to Humanity could also be commissioned by global organizations. It is a task to which our imaginations must be brought.

In sum, I have tried to suggest an agenda for future efforts at dealing with globalization. Some of it has involved research projects. Others civic endeavors. Many hands will be needed. The challenge is before us. Now we must meet it.



[1] Martin Albrow, The Global Age (Stanford 1996). Aiif Dirlik, Global Modernity: Modernity in the Age of Global Capitalism (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Books, 2006).David Held et al, Global Transformations. Politics, Economics and Culture (Stanford, 1999). Global History, ed. A.G. Hopkins (Palgrave, 2006). Bruce Mazlish, The Idea of Humanity in a Global Era (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Bruce Mazlish, “Social Bonding, Globalization, and Humanity,”New Global Studies (electronic journal), Ms. 1148, 2011. Abstract + 1-8. Roland Robertson, Globalization, Social Theory and Global Culture (Sage, 1992). From sociology of religion to globalization. World Histories, ed. Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Chapter 2, “Terms.” These are some of the works worth consulting.

[2] Outstanding in the effort to understand this subject is the French scholar, Olivier Roy.

[3] An important book in this regard is World Histories, ed. Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Chapter 2, “Terms.” is my contribution.

[4] Bruce Mazlish, The Idea of Humanity in a Global Era (Palgrave Macmilan, 2009), Chapter 4. On crimes against humanity, see further Eric D. Weitz, A Century of Genocide. Utopias of Race and Nation (Princeton, 2003), and Sévane Garibian, “Géoncide arménien et conceptualisation du crime contre l’humanité. De l’intervention pour cause d’humanité à la intervention pour violation des lois de l’humanité”, Revue d’Histoire de la Shoah, no 177-178, 2003, pp. 274-294.

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