Globalization explained: Q & A with Manfred Steger

We recently interviewed Manfred B. Steger, one of the leading experts on globalization. Mr Steger is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa and Senior Advisor on International Education and Globalization to the Dean of Social Sciences. He is the author of Globalization: a Very Short Introduction, Here are the highlights:

1. Can you provide us with your own definition of globalization?
Globalization refers to the expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon involving economics, politics, culture, ideology, environment, and technology.

2. Most of us are familiar with economic globalization, but don’t have much knowledge of political globalization – what is it exactly about?
Political globalization refers to the intensification and expansion of political interrelations across the globe. These processes raise an important set of political issues pertaining to the principle of state sovereignty, the growing impact of intergovernmental organizations, and the future prospects for regional and global governance, and environmental policies affecting our planet. Obviously, these themes respond to the evolution of political arrangements beyond the framework of the nation-state, thus breaking new conceptual and institutional ground. After all, for the last few centuries, humans have organized their political differences along territorial lines that generated a sense of ‘belonging’ to a particular nation-state.

Out of these disagreements there have emerged three fundamental questions that probe the extent of political globalization. First, is it really true that the power of the nation-state has been curtailed by massive flows of capital, people, and technology across territorial boundaries? Second, are the primary causes of these flows to be found in politics or in economics? Third, are we witnessing the emergence of new global governance structures? Before we respond to these questions in more detail, let us briefly consider the main features of the modern nation-state system.

3. Can you mention us one nation that successfully managed globalization in the last two decades and one example of failure?
Perhaps the most impressive success stories are South Korea and Brazil and prominent failures would include North Korea and Iran.

4. As Rana Foroohar wrote in Time Magazine, these past two years global trade has been lower than GDP growth for the first time since WWII. Do you fear that globalization is in reverse?
I don’t think that it’s correct to say that the US ‘turned inward’ economically. It just no longer dominates the world economy to the extent it did twenty or thirty years ago. Also, if we look at the strong right-wing nationalist (anti-immigration) tendencies in various European countries, such as Hungary, Greece, Austria, or Switzerland, it would be more apt to call these dynamics ‘globalization in reverse’.

5. In his book “The Post- American world” Fareed Zakaria argued that the US was able to globalize the world but basically failed to globalize itself. What is your take on this?
I don’t think that one particular nation-state–not even the US–is capable of ‘globalizing’ the world on its own. Globalization is a long-term process that, over many centuries, has crossed significant thresholds. The last of these thresholds occurred in the 1980s/1990s, when the US seemed to be the world’s sole ‘hyperpower’. Yet, with hindsight, we know that these were also the decades which laid the foundations for the rise of Asia. Since globalization is a many-dimensional phenomenon, it does not make sense to talk about the ‘failure’ of the US to ‘globalize itself’. In its economic and cultural dimensions, for example, the US is much more globalized than Europe. If we take the ideological dimension, however, the US lags behind Europe where voters still enjoy more ideological choices.

6. Do you think the 21st Century is the Asian Century? Or, still, the West is going to hold pre-eminence in terms of innovation, R&D and education?
In principle, I agree that the 21st century belongs to Asia. This does not mean that we should expect the decline of American military and educational power or European cultural and educational power any time soon. But Asia will gradually emerge as the equal to the US and Europe. Also watch out for the rise of Australia and Brazil.


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