Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century: A Reader – O’MEARA et al (CSS)

O’MEARA, Patrick; MEHLINGER, Howard D.; KRAIN, Matthew. Eds. Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century: A Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. 483p. Resenha de:MEYER, John R. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.1, 2002.

One of two volumes, Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century is a collection of 36 articles written between 1991 and 1998 by notable USA scholars. This reader resulted from a national conference held in Washington, D.C., April 1998, to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Title VI of the Higher Education Act. The theme globalization is treated from interdisciplinary perspectives including political science, economics, security, history, business, technology, environmental studies, and future studies. There are 10 parts with 3 to 6 articles in each part. A summary introduction is provided for each part as well as a concluding resource bibliography, a list of contributors, and an index. The editors indicate that the book is intended for a general audience interested in world affairs and add that teachers and students at different levels in higher education will also find it useful [as an] introductory or capstone course in international studies (p. xiv). I will limit my review, out of mandate, to a select few of the 36 articles and to my occasional comments on ideas that seem more relevant to our readers.

In Part 1, Huntingdon, Barber, and Kaplan speculate about future power distributions between state and society. They suggest that sources of conflict will be based on one or more of the following: cultural divisions; retribalization; global disintegration vs. homogenization; scarcity; crime; ethnic conflict; overpopulation; and, disease. These will give rise to conflicts between nations and groups of different civilizations (p. 3), between culture against culture and tribe against tribe, or between one commercially homogenous global network and global anarchy and regionalism. Barber opts for a vision of a confederal union of semi-autonomous communities smaller than nation-states (p. 33) where politics would implement the adage ‘think globally, act locally’. He also urges new democratic practices because democracy remains both a form of coherence as binding as McWorld and a secular faith potentially as inspiriting as Jihad (p. 33). This article, along with those by Zakaria (pp. 181-195) and Kaplan (pp. 196-214) in Part 5, deals with aspects of democracy that could be useful for courses in civics and in government.

Kaplan (Part 1) reminds us of the potential for the dissolution of nation states due to demographic and environmental stresses. A well-travelled journalist, Kaplan provides examples of many existing nations in turmoil, particularly in the Middle East where colonial borders are contrary to reality, noting that hard Islamic city-states or shantytown-states are likely to emerge (p. 53). He goes on to claim that henceforth the map of the world will never be static it will be an ever-mutating representation of chaos (p. 57). Kaplan seems to think that the USA will be less a nation even as it gains territory following the peaceful dissolution of Canada (p. 59). A smaller Quebec will demonstrate North American regionalism.

These three authors present the broader, speculative picture and then in Part 2 are rebutted by three other authors who claim that the original three, in fact, distort and over-simplify reality by missing crucial details. These details ultimately confirm that many of the collection’s authors take the position that economic globalization or globalization of financial capital will determine the future shape of the global map: This globalization with economies of scale leads to oligopolization of the world market, inviting strategic trade rather than free trade (p. 74).

If one accepts the vision that nation-states will weaken and that national borders will take on a new structure, then articles in Part 3 present some implications for such a vision. I find two of the articles in Part 4 provocative and relevant though equally challenging to comprehend.

The first, Redefining Security: The New Global Schisms (pp. 131-139), is by Michel T. Klare who noted in 1996 that the major international schisms of the twenty-first century will not always be definable in geographic terms (p. 133). Klare nicely clarifies the causes (i.e., poverty, ethnic and religious strife, population growth in low or stagnant economic growth areas, and environmental degradation) of these schisms. He writes that a successful quest for peace must entail strategies for easing and erasing the rifts in society, by eliminating the causes of dissension of finding ways to peacefully bridge the gap between mutually antagonistic groups (p. 139).

The second article, Postmodern Terrorism by Walter Laquer, was written for Foreign Affairs in 1996. Terrorism has a long history but according to Laquer little political impact. Obviously, with the events of September 11, 2001, acts of terrorism on such a massive scale have now significantly changed that history and the initiative has passed to the extreme right (p. 150). Although written in the mid-90s, the relevance of this article to the current terrorism emanating particularly from the Middle East is copious: state-sponsored terrorism has not disappeared ; terrorists caused disruption and destabilization in other parts of the world ; [and] terrorism’s prospects are improving as its destructive potential increases (pp. 151-152). Laquer writes about the new weapons of terrorism, such as chemical weapons, and claims that fanatical Muslims consider the killing of the enemies of God a religious commandment and Allah’s will (p. 154). We have become vulnerable to a new type of terrorism in which the destructive power of both the individual terrorist and terrorism as a tactic are infinitely greater (p. 156). With prophetic insight Laquer’s concludes: the single successful one [terrorist act] could claim many more victims, do more material damage, and unleash far greater panic than anything the world has yet experienced (p. 157).

Economic globalization (Part 6) continues to be the most discussed, complex, and dominant form of globalization. Dani Rodrik’s article (pp. 227-239) is informative and will provide the occasion for a lengthy class discussion or cooperative learning activity, particularly in an economics’ class. He acknowledges the positive effects though the negative ones seem to be the most controversial: globalization does exert downward pressure on the wages of underskilled workers in industrialized countries, exacerbate economic insecurity, call into question accepted social arrangements, and weaken social safety nets (p. 238). A meaningful discussion could easily include topics on the Free Trade debate, marketization, the shrinking of social obligations, deregulation, and the potential effects on the social network in Canadian federal and provincial jurisdictions. Rodrik offers several positive remedies to the deficits of globalization.

In light of the events of September 11, 2001, we are now faced with some of the results of various forms of globalization. The strike against the heart of economic globalization has had an enormous ripple effect on world markets, multinational corporations, trade and security, employment, transportation, and governance. It has also reaffirmed our connectedness to many nation states as expressed in coalitions to fight terrorism, in solidarity events and efforts, in a revival of religious roots, and in expressions of patriotism.

Other complimentary articles in Part 5 on Globalization and the Evolution of Democracy, Part 9 on Think Global, Act Local: The Environment, and Part 10 on An Emerging Global Culture?, are tedious and difficult but worth reading. Most teachers will be challenged to make some of these seminal readings relevant and compatible to the comprehension abilities and discussion skills of their students.

For teachers at the senior secondary level, I would recommend this reader as a resource book for the serious student who might be required to or who wishes to wrestle with one or more articles in a specific section on a given topic. Once read and analyzed, the student might then locate a more recent article on the same topic by the same author in order to determine if there has been change in that author’s position. There is a gap of some years since either this collection was published or the authors’ original publications appeared. Creative teachers will be able to find ways to use some of these readings in meaningful learning activities in their advanced courses. (For a recent website resource see C.F. Risinger (October 2001) Teaching Economics and the Globalization Debate on the World Wide Web, Social Education 65, pp. 363-365.) Many of the readings will be useful for the professional knowledge base of senior secondary/high school teachers involved in teaching politics, sociology, economics, and allied social sciences. Seeds of wisdom and thought-provoking ideas abound but, admittedly, a few of the readings should be a challenge for only the advanced post-secondary student, the graduate student, or the professor.

John R. Meyer – Ph.D. Retired, Faculty of Education. University of Windsor. Windsor, Ontario.

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