Cultural diversity, Perspective, The world around us

An introduction to Globalism

Ok, I know that the title of today’s post is not very sexy.  Nevertheless, for most of us Globalization affects our lives daily and in significant ways. So, given the transnational nature of most of humanity’s greatest challenges, it is imperative that we have a greater understanding of the transnational mechanisms that affect us all.

A few years ago I read a fascinating book by the great Norwegian anthropologist, Thomas Hylland Eriksen ( ). Globalization: The Key Concepts is an excellent introduction to one of the most important processes to shape the late 19th, the whole of the 20th and into the 21st century. In today’s post I’d like to share with you Eriksen’s eight key concepts.


  1. Disembedding is a term indicating that distance has little importance. “Distance is no longer a limiting factor for the flow of influence, investments or cultural meaning,” says Eriksen (p. 152). He points out that while this may lead to a loss of local connectedness it may at the same time connect people across vast distances.
  2. Acceleration has to do with the rate at which goods, ideas, cultural expressions, etc move from one place to another. Eriksen makes the point that things become more rapidly obsolete than they did before and that time and space become compressed. He adds simultaneity would be a good way to describe the late 20th century.
  3. Standardization refers to a process whereby sizes, shapes and methods of measurement, etc, that originally are not equivalent are made to be so. This is a necessary development in order for people to understand and communicate with one another more easily. There has arisen a conversion process in many domains that translates local standards into international standards. Things and people become more interchangeable and comparable. Nodes or hubs, like airports, business hotels or large conferences, where millions of people mix and mingle contribute to this process.
  4. Interconnectedness introduces the much used idea of the Butterfly Effect. An event, be it ever so small, when multiplied across multiple, complex feedback systems can have momentous effects. Networks and nodes contribute to this process as does urbanization. Interconnectedness applies to individuals, communities and larger societies.
  5. Movement is multi-directional, not just North to South. It involves people, ideas and objects. Our modern world could be described as an ever changing, ethnic mosaic. Eriksen makes a point of mentioning the importance of large diasporas and the affect they have on the cultures in which they live and even more importantly on the societies from which they come. This is especially important with respect to rising tides of nationalism, where members of diasporas have a tendency to idealize certain aspects of their home culture in ways that lead to traditionalism.
  6. Mixing is an inevitability of movement. All societies have a need to organize themselves. When two or more cultures meet it is not uncommon for some individuals within each culture to view their own culture as having been “pure” before the encounter with the other culture. Eriksen points out that this is rarely, if ever, the case. Cultures have been encountering and influencing one another since the beginning of time. The question is how will they influence one another? In other words, how will they mix?
  7. Vulnerability describes the possible negative consequences of all the preceding concepts. He takes the position that globalization often leads to a loss of tradition. This in turn causes many to feel insecure. People have a feeling that they are no longer safe; that the world is a very risky place. Movement of goods and things is uneven and it often appears that good things, like wealth, move more readily to the developed world while negative things, such as disease (he uses the example of the uneven distribution of AIDS as an example) move more readily to the underdeveloped world.
  8. Re-embedding is a response to disembedding. Disembedding, Eriksen says, is often superficial and prompts a response whereby people try to reaffirm their uniqueness. People long for a sense of trust in a community. Especially indigenous groups have reacted to disembedding by reasserting their claims to land and political autonomy. Eriksen sees similar tendencies with religious and ethnic groups whereby people seek the security of having an identity firmly established within the group.


While each of us may be anchored in a local community, responsible for caring for and supporting those around us, we are all also part of and have the same responsibilities to a global community. We are all Glocal citizens! Shouldn’t we act like it?


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