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Globalization: Definition, Causes & Consequences

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson provides an introductory understanding of globalization. Sections within the lesson define the process, discuss why it is a source of political controversy, and touch on the history of globalization and its effects.

What is Everyone Talking About?

Globalization, a term more familiar to people every day in light of current political debates, is the process of increasing interaction and interdependence among the nations of the world regarding economic ties, technology, and culture. However, many people are unaware of how far back in history globalization's roots go or what all shaped today's rapid expansion of international interdependence. Further fueling debate and attitudes for and against globalization is fear and uncertainty regarding the effects of this process and what our world will be like in 10, 20, or even 50 years. Let's take a look at this process, its history, the causes, and current effects.

Artistic representation of globalization
Globe made of flags

History of Globalization

To interact with others, whether in one's own community or those far away, is an inherent trait of human behavior, leading to prehistoric trade and the rise of early civilizations. One of the greatest efforts toward globalized trade in history occurred during the Middle Ages as the Silk Road created an international trade highway through Central Asia, connecting peoples and empires in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Goods and information regularly exchanged hands, and early globalization spanned much of the known world at the time.

Silk Road trade map by land and sea
Silk Road trade map

The current and most far-reaching wave of globalization only formed in the more recent past, about 70 years ago. With the formation of international allies to fight in WWII and the cooperation of international agencies to resolve issues at the end of the war, nations began looking to globalize legal, economic, and political forces. They hoped to prevent the horrors of world war in the future and to create fair terms of surrender. As so many nations participated in the battles, no one nation could set the terms alone. So the United Nations arose to create the first international, global governing body capable of creating international laws, prosecuting crimes, and assisting member states in negotiations and conflict mediation.

More recently, the rapid adoption of new technologies in daily life and business operations fueled the greatest acceleration of globalization ever witnessed. Economically, multi-national corporations can easily produce goods in any country to ship to consumers in other countries. International investments and business ventures with a global array of investors is now common practice. With a few key strokes, even a private citizen can check stock prices in international and foreign markets, order goods directly from a factory in another country, or engage in a spirited debate about the politics of international relations with strangers around the world.

Trying to Keep Up

This rapid pace of interaction and interdependence is not without complications. Trade agreements, international laws, corporate and business law, and political diplomacy are all scrambling to keep up with the new possibilities for both growth and abuse. Laws are only now being written for crimes never even imaginable a few decades ago. Immigration and visa policies rapidly change in light of increased travel and transnational migrations.

The increased awareness of tragedy and abuses, though, possesses a counter balance in increased opportunities for good through international aid, healthcare, and human rights work. Even an average citizen can log in to a computer and combine a small sum of money with hundreds of other citizens' contributions to fight global poverty or supply loans to average people in other countries looking to start a business or expand a farm. The possibilities for good are only now taking shape.

Aid workers from UKAID in the Philippines
Two UKAID workers standing by a truck

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