Book Review: What Globalization is Doing to Us – May 19, 2002

THE book Globalization and development studies — challenges for the 21st century consists of a series of papers read at a workshop organized in November 1997 by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Frans Schuurman, a senior lecturer at the Institute, has edited and compiled the papers whose theme is the significance of globalization for development studies. The opinions expressed by the authors all of whom are academics in the social sciences, illustrate the heterogeneity of the impact of globalization on development studies.

Frans Schuurman posits that nineteenth century social scientists such as August Comte, Alexis de Tocqueville and Herbert Spencer tried to analyze social change in terms of a “transformation as part of a social evolutionary process”. Shuurman explains that the disciplines of sociology, economics, geography, political science and anthropology were followed in the second half of the twentieth century by the new comer — development studies. He makes the obvious point that the Third World is too heterogeneous to be covered by one development theory.

In the eighties an aura of pessimism had enveloped development studies with the realization of the ever-widening gap between the poor and the rich countries. Some thinkers lamented that the Western notion of progress would only cause environmental pollution because it means industrialization. It would “sever indigenous peoples from their cultural roots and expose them as helpless victims to a global exploitative capitalism that urged them to consume the wrong things for the wrong reasons with money that they did not have”.

Schuurman refers to writers such as Samuel Huntington, Eric Hobsbawm and Robert Kaplan as embodying a fin-de-siecle pessimism. Huntington in his celebrated 1993 article, “The clash of civilizations” (later published as a book) urged the West to give up its universal illusions and not to meddle in regional conflicts elsewhere in the world. If the West and more particularly the United States did not adhere to the principle of cultural relativism in international politics then a “clash of civilizations” will inevitably evolve. Hobsbawm (1994) finds an explanation for the fin de siecle moral crisis in the ultimate victory of individual materialism which led to the degradation of traditional networks of human solidarity. This moral vacuum results in a chaos that is completed by the onslaught of a global economy which leaves the nation states virtually defenceless.

Even more pessimistic than the above two, Kaplan in his article, “The coming anarchy”, (1994 and later published as a book) depicts West Africa in the throes of total political and social chaos. Paramilitary warlords and organized bandits fight each other for the scarce resources, while urban centres are ruled by corruption, crime, disease, over population and phenomenal pollution. This regional criminal anarchy will eventually reach global levels.

According to Kaplan the end of the cold war did not lead to the “end of history”. On the contrary it ushered in a period in which international relations will be dominated by chaos.

Most participants in the globalization debate seem to agree about the decreasing economic, political and cultural importance of nation states. The state is seen disappearing as an economic actor through privatization supported by deregulation. There is the growing importance of financial markets where US $1500 billion are shifted daily around the globe.

There is little reason to suppose that the role of the state came to an end because of globalization. Can the responsibility for human emancipation, one of the key questions in development studies, be moved from the state to civil society? Sociologists like Amitai Etzioni certainly seem to think so, at least for the developed world. People or countries are undeveloped according to Putnam and Francis Fukuyama because they do not have the right kind of social capital, that is, one which leads to democracy and economic development. Schuurman however thinks that it would be highly premature for development studies to replace the paradigmatic importance of the state by that of civil society.

Martin Albrow finds the end of the nation state too apocalyptic. In his words “we live in a global age, where there are multiple presents, differing time horizons, no common project, alternative developments, and a skepticism towards modernities of any kind”. He concludes that development studies should renew itself under the heading of “global studies”. For Arie de Ruijter the important issue in the globalization debate is whether we can describe and interpret an increasingly hybrid world of the 21st century using concepts and insights acquired at the end of the nineteenth century. He warns against the risk of a too great emphasis on diversity and an absence of “mutually attuned interests and representations”. Scholars of development studies, according to de Ruijter, have a responsibility to take standpoints and to articulate possible solutions to alleviate the extreme unequal access to scarce resources in a global world.

Reinhart Kossler emphasizes that human rights are not an intrinsic cultural trait of Western culture but are “historical products of fierce struggles” which are upheld by peoples vigilance and active efforts. ASEAN governments especially see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a cultural imperialist text. However these culturalist claims are sometimes used to legitimize state initiated human rights violations. At the same time it is also possible to discover democratic and human rights strands within non European systems of thought.

Kristoffel Lieten seeks to re-establish the importance of the debates on the developmental impact of multinational corporations. Evidence emanating from a major study on MNC’s in India in the 1980’s suggests that in four crucial fields of development initiatives, MNC’s turned out to be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. The article asserts that the “bankification” of the world system inhibits the transformative power of the market system in developing countries.

Marianne Marchand and Anne Runyan discuss various aspects of globalization and gender. They observe that international political and economic studies have largely lacked feminist and gender perspectives. The authors show that globalization is simultaneously reinforcing gender roles in certain arenas and opening up new spaces for resistance. They feel that it is important to focus on the nexus between globalization and gender based inequality.

Globalization and Development Studies is a useful book for academics and students in the social sciences particularly those involved in research on globalization. Its utility for the general reader is marred by an over-use of academic jargon, which makes the argument dense and incomprehensible at times. Globalization is a phenomenon with multiple ramifications for the developed as well as the developing world. Already globalization has spawned a formidable literature, largely originating in the West, and I suspect that the last word on it has been far from said. It is natural that it would also have an impact on development studies. Schuurman has rightly concluded that there is no standardized way to fathom the influence of globalization on development studies. Nonetheless in our increasingly complex world, development studies can contribute significantly in shedding light on these “global times”.


Globalization and development studies: challenges for the 21st century

Edited by Frans J. Schuurman

Vistaar Publications, a division of Sage Publications, M 32 Market, Greater Kailash 1, New Delhi-110 048

— From: Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan

— Published: May 19, 2002


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