Published in the International Studies Review, 7:337-339, 2005. Also as pdf file.
Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2005. "A Global Perspective of Globalization." Review of Globalization: People, Perspectives, and Progress, by William H. Mott, IV. International Studies Review 7:337-339.
The US Library of Congress presently (January 2005) holds 609 books that begin with the word “globalization.” More than 5,000 books are listed that mention globalization as a keyword. From this perspective, too many books may have been written about globalization. But, so it goes with interesting topics that incite new thinking. Among this multitude of books, however, are a certain number that contain genuinely influential or inspiring ideas and perspectives. Globalization: People, Perspectives, and Progress by William Mott clearly is among this elite group. Mott’s work presents a broad perspective on globalization and its many dimensions. It tries to make sense of the move toward today’s global world by offering a balanced and insightful look at the often contentious debates about the problems and opportunities created by globalization. Mott’s approach can be described as scholarship with a philosophical goal that ought to appeal to globalists and antiglobalists alike, even as it contributes to the debate between them.
Mott links globalization intrinsically to the ideas of “knowledge,” “progress,” “civilization,” and “technology.” Rather than merely expressing a socio-geographical notion, he sees globalization as a process and condition related to the human condition itself. Driven by the human capacity to create knowledge, globalization refers to the human ability to step beyond one’s immediate perspective and historical location. Moreover, despite the chaos and uncertainty it brings, Mott argues that the perspectives that have been taken toward globalization remain tied up with the idea of progress. Rather than catastrophe or utopia, globalization should be seen as a lasting challenge.
The first chapters of Globalization seek to understand the phenomenon as part of the process of knowledge-creation, and thus as part of an endemic and continuing human endeavor. Mott sees globalization as a process through which new perspectives on life emerge as a result of the interactions among people, institutions, and ideas. Thereafter, Mott discusses a variety of perspectives on globalization that have taken shape historically. Initially, globalization was seen as an engine for progress in a Enlightenment sense, essentially a process by which civilization itself was being diffused throughout the world. As the negative consequences and uneven impact of globalization became clearer, this view was transformed into more negative images framed in terms of catastrophism, on the one hand, and determinism, on the other. In short, as critical theorists and others brought forward more radical critiques of modernity itself, globalization came to be seen in an increasingly negative light as well. The most recent of these perspectives, for example, casts globalization in terms of the development of the global risk society in which ... In response to these divergent points of view, Mott proposes that we assess globalization from a situational view of people and cultures, a kind of “global historicism,” that sees human societies in a context of unity amid diversity and continuity amid constant change. In this sense, the notion of progress infuses Mott’s approach. Of course, the ideas of change and progress has always been ambivalent at best, and conceptions of progress have taken on many different forms. Based on his model of global historicism, however, Mott conceptualizes progress as knowledge-creation, intrinsic to the processes that create, accumulate, and diffuse knowledge within a system of institutions that create and recreate the social order.
Subsequent chapters in Globalization apply this model to the analysis of various dimensions of globalization. The discussions of these dimensions are detailed, but a brief review may indicate the direction of Mott’s analysis. In essence, “political globalization” refers to the expansion of domestic and international politics such that they become an encompassing global politics. As political developments across the globe continue to become linked, the resulting situation constitutes global governance without global government. On the other hand, “cultural globalization” refers to the processes of convergence that are creating a global village of values and ideas and the reactions against this cultural homogenization. Mott’s concomitant discussion of religious developments and global commercialism are very much to the point given the climate of our post-September 11 world. “Economic globalization” rounds off Mott’s analysis of global dimensions. The positioning of economic globalization as one among several forms of globalization is itself indicative of the broader social approach to globalization that Mott adopts.
The final two chapters of Globalization offer a vision of the prospects and problems created by globalization and by our mode of viewing and analyzing the global condition. In terms of the debate between globalists and antiglobalists, Mott reminds us of the cultural and political gains that accompany globalization (for example, the development of world communities in science, education, and various areas of civil society). But he also reminds us of the dangers and risks (for example, international economic dependencies). Finally, Mott argues that we must adopt a “global” perspective on globalization that extends beyond any unidimensional approach, however restricted. By adopting a comprehensive approach, Mott argues, we can better steer the process of globalization in the direction of increasing opportunities and life chances.
As a contribution to the literature, Globalization has some outstanding characteristics. In a more radical fashion than most books in this area, it engages in normative discussions about globalization and does not shy away from taking a clear position regarding its value. Instead of the crypto-normativism that characterizes the works of many other globalization scholars, Mott is not afraid to tell us where he stands. In that sense, Globalization is a philosophy of globalization. Furthermore, by drawing from a very wide range of studies on globalization, Mott is not restricted to any one disciplinary perspective. Indeed, the range of studies with which he engages is impressive. As a necessary downside perhaps, Mott’s analysis is not clearly framed within a known context of scholarship, and thus it misses some of the precision of books that reflect such disciplines as anthropology (Appadurai 1996; Lewellen 2002), sociology (Robertson 1992; Sassen 1998), economics (Bryan and Farrell 1996), or political science (Held and McGrew 2002). Unfortunately, the division of the social sciences into distinct and largely unconnected disciplines is also a global reality that may hinder the reception of a genuinely multidisciplinary book like this, even though it should not.
Globalization might have profited from a more substantive analysis of both present day and historical dimensions of globalization. The book clearly does not constitute empirical research on globalization. But that was not Mott’s intention. What we get instead is a work that is conceptually dense and sophisticated. Although the level of discussion is challenging, this very well written book can serve as a companion text in specialized courses on globalization.
- Appadurai, Arjun. (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Bryan, Lowell L., and Diana Farrell. (1996) Market Unbound: Unleashing Global Capitalism. New York : John Wiley and Sons.
- Held, David, and Anthony G. McGrew. (2002) Governing Globalization: Power, Authority and Global Governance. Cambridge: Polity.
- Lewellen, Ted C. (2002) The Anthropology of Globalization: Cultural Anthropology Enters the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
- Robertson, Ronald. (1992) Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.
- Sassen, Saskia. (1998) Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: The New Press.
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