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Author: Gavin Kitching
Editor: J. Britt Holbrook
Date: 2015
Ethics, Science, Technology, and Engineering: A Global Resource
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Without science, neither globalism nor globalization would be conceivable; without technology, they would not be practical possibilities. The extent to which the internal ethics of science and the codes of behavior of various engineering professions influence globalism and globalization, or the degree to which independent ethical assessments should be brought to bear on all science, technology, and globalist synergies, remains open to critical discussion. What follows is an analysis that aims to provide background for such considerations.


The terms globalism, globality, and globalization came into use during the last half of the twentieth century. The question of when, and by whom, is contentious. But irrespective of origins, the terms are used in distinct ways. Globalization refers to a multidimensional economic and social process that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s and that embraces a variety of interlinked economic, communicational, environmental, and political phenomena. The idea of globality goes beyond the spread of linkages and interactions across the globe to posit a new cognitive terrain in which individuals and organizations act with the assumption that the world is a single place, whether in making economic decisions or engaging in ethical action (Robertson 1992 ). Globalism, although it has older roots as a synonym for internationalism, has come to be used as the name of a broad ideological commitment in favor of the process of globalization—that is, a view that sees the process of globalization as entirely or predominantly positive in its implications for humankind (Steger 2002 ).

Globalists are people who wish the process of globalization to continue, and indeed intensify, although they may wish to have it politically regulated or controlled in various ways. Globalists are often (though not always) also convinced that globalization, whatever its implications for human welfare, is an inevitable process that cannot, and should not, be reversed. They are often contrasted with localists, who seek to escape or overcome the problems posed by globalization through small-scale forms of economic and cultural development and political organization that minimize involvement in the global economy (Mandle 2003 ).

In short, there are theorists and writers on globalization both for and against the process they are analyzing, but those in favor of the process are generally called globalists or advocates of globalism. In the twenty-first century, enthusiasts for globalization seldom call themselves globalists (they are called such primarily by globalization’s opponents), although there is the potential for this to change.

Globalization: Its Characteristics

There are innumerable definitions of the term globalization in the academic literature, but all, in one way or another, refer to essentially the same phenomena. These are:

1. The increased depth of economic integration or interdependence in the world economy as a whole. Increased depth here usually refers to the integration of different parts of the world and different working populations in the world in the process of economic production itself (Dicken 2003 ).

2. The central role played by electronic means of communication and information transmission in facilitating this new deep integration of the world economy.

A corollary is that the ongoing process of anonymous and distant events shaping individual lives, significantly propelled by the nation-state, has now spread to the global level. The intervention of distance in altering social and individual behavior is captured by such ideas as time-space compression and enhanced global risks to security (Harvey 1989 ; Giddens 1990 ).

3. The much increased importance of global markets in both money and capital in the world economy as a whole (Thurow 1996 ).

4. The historically unprecedented scale of international population migration occurring in the world economy in response (primarily) to new work opportunities created by the development of a genuinely global economy.

5. Sharply increased economic inequalities both within and between different parts of the globe occurring primarily as a result of the very social and spatial “unevenness” of the globalization process.

In addition, there are conceptions of globalization that embrace, but go beyond, these economic aspects of the process to encompass political and cultural phenomena. These include:

6. The ineluctable spread of a single, materialistic, consumerist culture driven by the Western-dominated global mass media (including both the Internet and television), which in the early twenty-first century forms dominant images of the desirable or good life everywhere on the globe (Castells 2000 ).

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7. The more or less rapid weakening of the political power of the nation-state in the global economy, a weakening shown by the reduced ability of such states to control crucial economic variables that determine the welfare and standards of living of their populations (Martin and Schumann 1997 ).

8. Enhanced cultural and political conflicts in the world caused both by the increasing intermingling of culturally diverse populations in states receiving ever-larger numbers of global labor migrants, and by the so-called clash of cultures or civilizations in different parts of the world, a clash in part produced by the very information and communications revolution referred to in 2 above. Greatly increased cross-cultural contact also makes different populations aware both of the ever-increasing inequalities among them—see 5 above—and of the different value orientations different cultures may embody. In this conception, both global terrorism and the security threats it poses are themselves aspects of globalization (Wade 2001 ).

Globalization: Its Causes

There are important debates about how to periodize contemporary globlization. Historians taking the longue durée view tend to see globalization as an intermittent and uneven process unfolding over centuries (Osterhammel and Petersson 2005 ). The long view, while acknowledging the role of technology and economics in global integration, also gives prominence to the role of ideas and power. The role and spread of the major world religions, military conquest, and Western colonization have been critical processes in connecting, integrating, and subjugating distant regions of the world to an emerging global framework of interaction. The United States, as a global superpower and a conscious designer of global political and economic institutions, has been critical in laying the security, economic, and political framework for global integration following World War II (1939–1945). This effort has led to the heightened globalization now associated with transformations in the 1970s.

There is broad unanimity on the origins and causes of a “thicker” form of globalization since the 1970s. As an economic process, globalization dates from the mid or late 1970s, when the long postwar economic boom came to an end. The ending of the boom, and the initiation of a much slower growth trajectory for the world economy as a whole, created much more competitive conditions for all firms operating in that economy. The most common firm responses to these heightened competitive conditions were to:

1. Reduce labor costs by increased automation and “technologization” of production.

2. Subcontract or outsource design, transport, customer service, and even some managerial functions to independent consultancy or other firms, thereby reducing core labor and payroll costs.

3. Transfer labor-intensive production activities that could not be automated to lower-wage regions, either in the home country or outside the home country altogether.

In addition:

4. The development and commercial application of computer and information technology from the 1970s onward greatly facilitated processes 1 to 3 above.

5. The ending in roughly the same period (late 1970s and early 1980s) of the postwar Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates facilitated the rapid expansion of global capital and money markets, markets that are themselves deeply dependent on sophisticated information technologies (4 above) for their functioning (Dicken 2003 ).

In short, globalization as a deeply institutionalized economic process dates back no earlier than the mid-1970s, and its political, cultural, and security aspects have also all developed since that time.

Globalization: Its Originality

Although the causality and chronology of contemporary globalization is not disputed, its originality or uniqueness is. Globalization skeptics argue that the nineteenth-century global economy saw flows of investment capital and international labor migrants that were proportionately larger in relation to global economic output or the then-existing world population than are contemporary flows. The nineteenth century also saw very rapid average annual increases in world trade that were on occasion larger than contemporary increases. Globalization skeptics even doubt whether modern communications technologies (such as satellite television or the Internet) are any more revolutionary in contemporary conditions than was the nineteenth-century introduction of the electric telegraph to a world that had previously moved international mail by horse or sail and steamship (Hirst and Thompson 1999 ).

Although such skeptical arguments have merit, they understate both the multidimensionality and variety of contemporary communications technologies and the absolute size of current trade, capital, and labor flows. Both the global economy and the world population are much greater in absolute size than they were in the nineteenth century. Most importantly, such globalization skeptics appear to confuse the shallow integration of nineteenth-century economies with the deep integration of the contemporary global economy. That is, contemporary international trade is structured (through the massive movement of raw materials and of semifinished goods) so that national economies are tied together within the production process itself. The production of everything from cars and other motor vehicles, to electronics, to clothing, footwear, and fashion accessories involves dovetailing inputs from factories located in several different countries through the global trade in goods and services. In this process of deep global economic integration, trade and production become increasingly difficult to distinguish (Dicken 2003 ). This is a very different situation from that of the nineteenth century, and it makes all countries involved much more vulnerable than ever before to a breakdown, or even to any significant disruption, of the global trade/production system.

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Globalization: Its Merits and Demerits

The most discussed and disputed aspect of globalization focuses on the human welfare and economic distributional aspects of the process. There is broad unanimity that the globalization period in recent history has also been a period of rapidly increasing income and wealth inequalities both within individual national economies and societies and within the global population as a whole. Agreement ends at this point, however, and there are fierce debates about:

  1. Whether this growing inequality is a product of globalization itself or of the political form globalization has taken—most notably the generally neoliberal political and policy framework that tends to discourage significant political control or guidance of the process.
  2. Whether globalization, insofar as it is seen as a contributor to increasing inequality, works directly to worsen economic distribution by favoring capital over labor or indirectly through shifting national priorities. Population shifts, leading to greater group heterogeneity in most societies around the world, have changed the cultural meaning of nationhood, and in many places undermined broad social trust among a country’s citizens. The domestic moral and sociological foundations of welfare systems appear under threat even as some citizens welcome greater cultural diversity and capitalists celebrate a cheaper labor pool.
  3. Whether this growing inequality matters in any case, if globalization has a tendency to significantly reduce world poverty. Statistical research makes the case that within-country and between-country inequality can rise, but global inequality, based on the individual as the unit of analysis, has decreased because of rapid income advancements in populous regions, such as China and India (Firebaugh and Goesling 2004 ).
  4. Whether globalization is even achieving poverty reduction, which, however, is itself a matter of debate, specifically over such matters as how poverty is measured and how increases or reductions in its magnitude are to be assessed (Collier and Dollar 2002 ; Kitching 2001 ; Wade 2001 ).
  5. Whether economic globalization is environmentally sustainable. Here connections are made between economic globalization—especially the spread of industrialization in Asia, Central America, and elsewhere—and such phenomena as global warming.
  6. The strong regional disparities in the spread of globalization and its benefits—especially the disparity between East and Southeast Asia, on the one hand, and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, on the other.
  7. The very poor labor and environmental conditions existing even in those countries and regions of the world, such as China and East Asia, that are supposedly benefiting from the process. Here it is suggested that regional benefits may not convert into human benefits at all.
  8. Finally, whether there is any connection between the globalization process, and its admitted inequalities, and the upsurge of political terrorism in the world. It is widely admitted, however, that, if there is such a connection, it is not directly economic. For although contemporary Islamist terrorism is centered in a part of the world (the Middle East) that has fared comparatively poorly in globalization, its militants and activists do not appear to be particularly poor. Moreover, there is no terrorist threat emanating from sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world that is universally admitted to have fared worst in terms of globalization. If there is a connection between globalization and terrorism, it is much more likely to be an indirect cultural and political connection, rather than a direct economic connection.

Conclusion: Globalization, Regulation, and Ethics

Conflicting assessments of the merits and demerits of globalization are often tied to different assessments of alternatives to it. The most obvious “total” alternative to globalization is withdrawal of local or regional communities from the world trade/production system into some form of local self-sufficiency or autarky (so-called localism). But this response seems feasible, even in principle, only if populations opting for it are prepared to accept very large reductions in their material standards of living. And whatever may be the situation in the rich parts of the globe, such a policy is unlikely to be attractive to the already poor majority of the world population (Mandle 2003 ).

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In practice, therefore, debates and disputes over globalization are most often focused not on entirely undoing its economics but on the possibility and desirability of politically regulating it so as to reduce its economic volatilities, inequalities, and negative environmental impacts. The central issue at the heart of such debates (aside from whether such regulation is desirable or possible at all) is whether nation-states can continue to be the prime political regulators of the global economy or whether globalization has passed beyond the regulatory capacity of states, so that the task must be turned over to supranational economic and political bodies, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). But if the latter are to do so, many believe that their responsibilities and powers will have to be enhanced. Advocates of the supranational regulation of globalization are often (though not always) also advocates of a more or less radical restructuring of such bodies in order to make them more genuinely responsive to global public opinion and not simply to the views and preferences of the richest and most powerful states in the world (Stiglitz 2002 ).

The latter notion recalls the original post–World War II understanding of globalism as a promotion of internationalism in response to the threat of nuclear warfare. Proposals for the international control of nuclear weapons were, for instance, often promoted and stigmatized as one-worldism. To what extent were mid-twentieth-century efforts such as the creation of the United Nations and the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the foundations for subsequent economic globalization or the institutions and ideals that help guide it?

From this perspective, one may also consider a host of issues related to science, technology, and ethics. Certainly globalization as a phenomenon would not be possible without both science and technology. But does globalization imply or require the universalization of ethics and ethical standards in the same way that it implies and promotes the universalization of technical standards? Can research protocols that are appropriate for HIV/AIDS drugs in Europe and North America be transferred to Africa and Asia? Do professional ethics codes for scientists and engineers function in the same way in countries with strong and weak civil society institutions? It is such questions that suggest the importance of both globalism and globalization to the ethical promotion and assessment of science and technology.


Bhagwati, Jagdish. 2004. In Defense of Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press.

An eloquent defense of globalization from orthodox economic premises.

Castells, Manuel. 2000. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1, The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Probably the best-known single work dealing with the information-technology dimension of globalization and its possible social and cultural implications.

Collier, Paul, and David Dollar. 2002. Globalization, Growth, and Poverty: Building an Inclusive World Economy. Washington, DC: World Bank; New York: Oxford University Press.

The standardly optimisticWorld Bankview of globalization.

Dicken, Peter. 2003. Global Shift: Reshaping the Global Economic Map in the Twenty-First Century. 4th ed. New York: Guilford Press.

An extremely comprehensive and empirically thorough standard textbook on globalization. An excellent nondogmatic starting point for any beginning student of the subject.

Firebaugh, Glenn, and Brian Goesling. 2004. “Accounting for the Recent Decline in Global Income Inequality.” American Journal of Sociology 110 (2): 283–312.

Friedman, Thomas L. 1999. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

The source of theGolden Archestheory of international relations: countries that are sufficiently capitalistic and consumerist as to have at least one McDonalds franchise do not go to war with each other.

Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. London: Blackwell.

Hirst, Paul, and Grahame Thompson. 1999. Globalization in Question: The International Economy and the Possibilities of Governance. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Perhaps the best single statement of the skeptical view of globalization as any kind of genuinely new or original phenomenon.

Kitching, Gavin. 2001. Seeking Social Justice through Globalization: Escaping a Nationalist Perspective. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Orthodox economic analysis combined with some unorthodox political prescriptions and implications.

Mandle, Jay R. 2003. Globalization and the Poor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Takes a similar view to Kitching but with a much tighter and deeper focus on the issue of poverty and its alleviation.

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Martin, Hans-Peter, and Harald Schumann. 1997. The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Prosperity and Democracy. Translated by Patrick Camiller. London: Zed.

One of the first and one of the best radical critiques of globalization.

Norberg, Johan. 2003. In Defense of Global Capitalism. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Similar to Bhagwati (2004) in its analysis, but more polemical in tone.

Osterhammel, Jürgen, and Niels P. Petersson. 2005. Globalization: A Short History. Translated by Dona Geyer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Robertson, Roland. 1992. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.

Steger, Manfred B. 2002. Globalism: The New Market Ideology. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Provides a useful contrast to Bhagwati (2004) and Norberg (2003) as an illustration of the levels of ideological polarization among scholars produced by globalization.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2002. Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton.

An interestinginsidersview of the financial dimensions of globalization. Deals with technical economic issues but in a very accessible way.

Thurow, Lester C. 1996. The Future of Capitalism: How Todays Economic Forces Shape Tomorrows World. New York: Morrow.

Early text on the globalization phenomenon and still one of the most sophisticated and prescient.

Wade, Robert Hunter. 2001. “The Rising Inequality of World Income Distribution.” Finance and Development 38 (4): 37–39.

A useful statistical compendium on the inequality issue.

Gavin Kitching
Revised by James Jesudason

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3727600348