IS GLOBALIZATION AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS?

 

One authoritative survey of recent debates declares that “no single universally accepted definition of globalization exists” [1].   But there is also widespread consensus on some of its essential attributes, and one possible definition would describe it as the (process of) “emergence of institutions of planetary scope”, and it is world-wide institutions that undergo transformation: economic (such as firms, markets or economies); political (modern states, alliances, international organizations); social (such as national or democratic communities), and  informational (i.a. in the world of science and learning).  On that view, globalization is a process of emergence that is multi-dimensional, historically significant, transformational, and therefore obviously basic to understanding global change.

 

While the literature on globalization is wide-ranging and profuse, much of it describes the general and local characteristics and consequences of that process.  The problem of explaining globalization, on the other hand, is far from resolved.   One line of explanation maintains that “modernity is inherently globalizing”.  It amounts to saying that “modernization causes globalization”. Seeing that we live in the modern age, the emergence of planetary arrangements would therefore seem to be basically unsurprising.   Another line of explanation privileges economic factors and proposes that the modern “globalizing” world system is the product of the “capitalist world economy” that arose in the Europe in the 16th century and has now spread worldwide and that, in effect, “capitalism causes globalization”, a position that sits more comfortably with the critics of globalization, but it, too, like modernity, posits a strong association between globalization and “westernization”. Both lines of explanation ask to be strengthened by being embedded in a larger framework.   One line of inquiry, relying on a recent paper by Devezas and Modelski  [2], proposes  such a framework,  a set of evolutionary concepts that implies a vision of globalization as a manifestation (or phasing) of a multidimensional cascade of worldwide evolutionary processes.

 

An evolutionary approach to globalization would have the following characteristics:  it would be  (1) holistic, with the human species as the unit of analysis, and the generation as the unit of evolutionary time; (2) based on the conjecture that global change  can be understood as obeying a few simple rules acting upon a set of nested and synchronized, logistic-type learning processes composed of successive iterations of a Darwinian-type algorithm (variation, selection, cooperation, amplification); (3)  multidimensional and therefore also multidisciplinary; and (4) capable of being tested against real world evidence drawn from world history, of the past millennium in particular.   Such an approach would lend itself to modeling, simulation, and forecasting.  It would also allow us to view globalization as an enterprise of the human species as a whole, composed of processes such as urbanization, economic growth, political reform and world organization, and the formation of world opinion, without purporting to depict, model, or simulate all of world history.

 

The questions that need to be examined include the following:   Is globalization, as defined, in fact an evolutionary process?  How do we understand its causation, and periodization?  Is it at all feasible to model, simulate, or forecast globalization?  If feasible, how might we proceed from here?

.

[1]   Held, D., and A. McGrew (2000), The Global Transformations Reader: An introduction to the globalization debate, Cambridge: Polity Press.

[2]  Devezas, T. and George Modelski (2003), “Power law behavior and world system evolution”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 70(9): 819-859, (www.sciencedirect.com, search by title)