MEMO TO GLOBE-L MEMBERS
ABOUT OUR PROTO-GLOSSARY FOR GLOBALIZATION
By Fred W. Riggs
The ISA/COCTA Roundtable on concepts of Globalization took place in Montreal, July 1998, during the World Congress of Sociology. The following text was prepared for participants as an explanation of the logic of the concepts of Globalization document.
First, the concepts set forth in this document are not synonyms for
globalization, but they are "sheltered" by this word. I
use "shelter" here in a somewhat special sense that is discussed
in a paper you can find at shelter terms. The
basic idea is that a word in ordinary language is often twisted and turned
in many directions and comes to refer to a variety of related,
overlapping, and different concepts. All of them may be useful for some
people but irrelevant for others. In context, a shelter can be used to
mean any of the concepts such a term shelters, but out of context, such
words are fuzzy and confusing.
We can protect ourselves and communicate more clearly if we have a term
(tag) for each special meaning of a word. Then we can use it in place of
globalization whenever ambiguity is likely to occur. The easiest
illustration is mother. We all understand this word in a general
sense, but it may cover such important but different ideas as a
"birth mother," "step mother," "foster
mother," "adopted mother," "courtesy mother," or
even "mother land" or "mother tongue." Using these
more precise terms enables us to reduce ambiguity but, in a context of
talk about adopting children, it may well be quite clear that
"mother" refers to an adopted mother. In other contexts, the
same word may clearly mean something else.
The same is true about globalization. This newly invented
word has already spread out to shelter a wide range of ideas, many of
which are quite useful and require other terms as synonyms. We need to
develop a vocabulary that can identify any of these meanings that we may
want to talk about. However, we don't need to remember or use all of these
terms -- just those that are useful to us. By storing all the ideas in a
glossary that everyone can easily consult, we can look up unfamiliar terms
when someone else uses them, and we can find one to use whenever we may
want to talk about a special aspect or topic linked to globalization but
don't know what to call it. Similarly, in any big dictionary we find many
unfamiliar words we have no use for -- but when, suddenly, the word comes
up, we are glad to have a reference book to tell us what it means.
The proto-glossary that we will produce on the basis of our exercise
will be made available to anyone in the world who may have access to the
World Wide Web and wishes to consult it -- and, of course, it can also be
easily printed out for desk-side consultation by anyone writing about
Our interest in COCTA is not, of course, just in globalization. It is
just one of many familiar but fuzzy words that need clarification. Do not
dismiss a word because it is fuzzy and has many meanings -- indeed, that
very fact shows how important it is. Dog and cat are
important words with many meanings, but we rarely use rhinoceros, a
word with only one meaning. Everyone prefers common words and often assign
idiosyncratic new meanings to them. That's why they may become confusing.
Our methodology, as illustrated in this round table, can dissolve that
confusion by tagging each useful sense of a shelter term -- the fuzziness
of common words is a challenge that should spur us to action, not dissolve
our will to communicate clearly. .
#Concept Classes. Because our texts
reveal a long list of possible meanings of globalization, we need
to classify them into a small number of general categories -- I propose
four such classes. It is easier to think about and find the specific terms
we need whenever we can narrow the range of our quest. You will see a
classified list of terms attached to a
full discussion of the concepts found in this
project. Here is a summary analysis based on four general categories:
time/space; dimensions; functions and structures; and
1. Time/space aways occurs
concurrently, so it would be great if we could think of them in a holistic
way, but our language and disciplines compel us to disjoin them --
e.g., in history or chronology, and in geography or locations.
Globalization, as several participants have emphasized, has been with us
for several thousand years, if we think of it as extending a social system
to the full borders of a world-system, but it became planetary only after
the 15th century.
The intensity of interactions within our planetary world system has
increased ever since then, but the industrial revolution and the rise and
fall of modern imperialism truly accelerated its pace. During the past
half century, following the collapse of the modern empires, new patterns
of world politics, free trade and capitalist accumulation have intensified
the dynamics of globalization: the INTERNET represents the latest and most
remarkable mutation in the contemporary evolution of globalization, virtually
spawning the information revolution.
The first set of concepts in our proto-glossary tries to handle these
time/space aspects of globalization by giving us some handles for them,
while recognizing that for different purposes and problems, the world in
time/space needs to be subdivided in many different ways. Having said that,
we may also recognize that for many people, globalization is distinctively
contemporary. Others, with a broader perspective, see it as a long-term
process. So long as we know what they mean and communicate it clearly,
we can tell in context whether globalization refers to a recent development
or an age-old process. Similarly, we can tell whether the process refers
to expansion in an insular world-system, such as the Hawaiians had before
Cook, or to a planetary system, such as has evolved since Columbus.
2. The Social Science
disciplines offer different slants or viewpoints for looking
at what, certainly, is a single, complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. Among
these perspectives, some quite explicitly take a long-term view and we may
see them as historical, counting on Historians to help us get the facts
straight. Most social scientists, however, are more myopic and prefer to
view the present world as a system: like a recent snap shot, it captures
a current moment of reality and tells a story, but we need to remember
that it's just a still in a very long moving picture.
Dividing up the contemporary scene by aspects, we can easily understand
that Sociologists, Political Scientists, Economists, Anthropologists, Psychologists,
Communications specialists, etc., all have their own particular slant on
this gestalt. Our glossary contains some texts and terms that represent
each of these windows opening into the vast edifice of our contemporary
world system. I shall not say more about them here, but it would help us
understand each other if those using any of these perspectives were to
acknowledge that fact and let their audience know it too. Economists talking
about word trade, capital flow, multi-national corporations, and monetary
systems should stress that, while these economic dimensions have far-reaching
consequences for the whole system, economic globalization is only
part of the story, though admittedly a very very important part.
Similarly, Political Scientists naturally focus on politics and power,
governments and states, and the growing importance of inter-state, trans-state
and non-governmental organizations. Again, these structures and practices
of political globalization have far-reaching consequences and causes,
closely linked to the economic aspects. Sociologists, I think, aim at a
more holistic approach that embraces both economics and politics, but they
also have a focus on social globalization, identifying relations
and problems that, somehow, have escaped the attention of Economists and
No need to extend this recital which is covered in more detail by the
paper. They giving us many windows on the world -- a world that is a whole
regardless of what window we choose to look through. Actually, we have
little choice. Area specialists who focus on an island like Palau may
hope to encompass all its facets, but we cannot view our planetary system
except through windows that permit us to view just a small part of it. Our
great enigma as social scientists is how to adapt to the world scene the
established disciplines which evolved in the Western part of our
world-system, reflecting its peculiar problems, social structures and
institutions. Globalization has radically expanded the scope of what
social science needs to consider and this, I believe, calls for some
radical re-orientation of established disciplines, not only by opening up
new windows but also by reshaping many of the existing windows through
which we try to view and understand our world.
3. Functions and Structures refer
to some general concepts that cut across all the disciplinary windows, and
apply in all times and places. No doubt additions are needed and I'm
afraid this component is not well developed. At least, I failed to find
support for more concepts in our texts. Nevertheless, two main
sub-categories seemed to be implicit in the texts.
One is called processes, and looks especially at causes and consequences.
Some ask about the causes of globalization: we already have a handy
word, globalizing, that refer to whatever generates globalization.
No matter what aspects or locations of globalization one thinks about,
one can always ask why it happened, what were the forces or factors that
contributed to its occurrence?
On the other side of this equation, whenever and wherever globalization occurs, it must have consequences. One may ask, "so what?" Strangely, we lack a counterpart for globalizing to talk about results, and yet many of our texts expressed concern about the consequences, for worse or better, of this phenomenon. I suggest we might well coin a neologism, globalation to discuss this process, but I anticipate strong resistance. We just don't like neologisms! No problem. Just use a phrase instead, like consequences of globalization. There is no need for anyone who rejects neologisms to use one. However, some reciprocity is called for. If some folks do choose to use a neologism, those who prefer a phrase composed of familiar words ought to tolerate them. After all, globalization itself is a relative newcomer to our vocabulary -- I find it only in recent dictionaries, but I cannot say when it was invented, or by whom. Does anyone know?
A more important point involves the interdependence of causes and consequences.
Gunnar Myrdal often emphasized circular causation and I strongly
believe that every cause is affected by its consequences, and every consequence
has feed-back effects on its causes. In this context, globalization probably
causes itself and is its own consequence. However, I don't want to debate
this point -- I merely mention that we can use "globalization"
to refer to a cause/consequence set of relationships. When we want to be
more specific about its causal aspects, we can talk about globalizing,
and when we wish to focus on consequences, we could mention globalating.
Another theme relating to globalization points away from its quantitative to its qualitative aspects. If we think of structures as co-existing and interacting, we may ask how many there are and how intensive are their relationships. For me, the entrancing aspect of globalization is not that it has expanded to a planetary scale, but rather than the quality of interactiveness has reached new levels of intensity. The fact that I can sit in my home and communicate with all of you by sending a message simultaneously to everyone on Globe-L is a miracle whose ramifications I still cannot fully grasp. Only a short time ago I could not do that nor could you. It means that all kinds of groups with different and conflicting interests are now free to contact and work with each other -- and against each other, too. This has radically changed our world. As a boy, I lived in China where it took months for a letter to reach our family in New York -- admittedly, we could also send cables but they were so costly we could only do it rarely and in very brief coded messages, relying on Morse Code. The shift from Morse to HTML represents a qualitative change of far-reaching import -- at least, I think we should be able to talk about this. I cannot find suitable words in our vocabulary -- the phenomenon is so new we scarcely reflect it yet in our vocabulary. For this reason, I've suggested some additional neologisms, but will not mention them here -- however, you can find them at Globalization Concepts.
4. Perspectives reflect the many ways we see and think about the world rather than what is going on outside ourselves in that world. I'm not happy with any of the terms used to characterize these perspectives, but I hope you can help. I classed them under three sub-headings: ontological, normative, and paradigmatic. Do they make sense? Let me speak briefly about each:
The Ontological perspective involves our sense of what is real or imaginary in the world. Is globalization something that really exists, or only something we have constructed in our minds? You can make arguments for both positions and they are not contradictory. I think they link up with important philosophical questions about knowledge and truth and how we know what we think we know. At the one extreme, we like to build models and use deductive reasoning to create images of what exists. Economists are better at that than other social scientists -- as are mathematicians. At the other extreme, we like descriptions and case studies, empirical facts and data -- what may be called the inductive approach. This approach can produce a vast collage of apparently unrelated things. Somehow, globalization appeals to both camps. We can create a logically coherent picture of the world as we think it is and call it global, or we can compile a long catalog of observations and talk about the composite picture as something global. When we do that, I think we produce quite different images that we may want to separate in our minds and the document offers a way to do that, offering both neologisms and phrases that could be used. A mathematician's circle is invisible but, somehow, relates to a penciled circle I might draw on a piece of paper. Each, in a sense, complements the other. Both are "circles" yet each is significantly different from the other.
The Normative perspective involves our values and what we think
of as good and bad in the world. For some observers, globalization is a
terrible disaster and for others a wonderful world of possibilities and
innovation. In my opinion, the world is just there, same regardless of
how one evaluates it, but the evaluations are terribly important too and
they seriously affect our lives and the way we talk about what we see and
how we view it. If we could recognize this fact and use terms such as those
mentioned in the document, we could help ourselves and our audience understand
the normative framework that informs our thinking about globalization.
Finally, as a recent addition, for which owe a special debt to George
Modelski, I have added the Paradigmatic perspective. The point is
that there are underlying premises, theories, postulates, or assumptions
that deeply affect the way we try to understand whatever we see. You are
probably more familiar with the profound arguments that Thomas Kuhn's work
has inspired than I am, but I thought we might pick up on his term -- and
paradigm itself is a shelter for many linked concepts -- to think
about several fundamentally different and perhaps complementary ways that
we can invoke to help us understand how we are thinking about globalization.
I was able to pick up four paradigms from the literature and your texts
-- all imply a long-term perspective. I'm not sure that very short-term
views of globalization imply any paradigms, but maybe they do.
The first two paradigms are scholarly and reflect profound analyses
of deep problems involving globalization. The former is one that Modelski
himself embraces, and we agree that it is evolutionary. It reads
into the historical record some patterns that have cause/effect and also
cyclical aspects. A second and perhaps overlapping paradigm is well stated
in Viola's contribution -- it stresses the interdependence of human action
and nature, and tends to stress the damage to many natural resources that
wanton exploitation by mankind has produced with accelerating force as
globalization proceeds, and we may well use ecological to underline
The third and fourth paradigms reflect a difference between religious and secular ways of thinking. I find both of them unconvincing but that's a personal evaluation and I think we need to recognize that these perspectives are widely held and influential in the way many people understand globalization. Remember, the existence and use of any concept does not imply that it is true or false. We could not disagree with a concept if we had no way to talk about it. We need, therefore, to identify concepts even when we totally reject them.
Some see supernatural forces at work and interpret globalization
as a sign of Divine judgment -- more typically as evidence of wrath rather
than of grace. By contrast, secularists may argue that Nature has
no rationale, it just is. In this perspective, what is happening to humans
may reflect decisions made by humans, but they are accidental happenings
and cumulative events, not evidence for a higher logic or ultimate causes.
Perhaps these oversimplified versions are, indeed, too simplistic. How
could we more usefully think and talk about the underlying premises of
our work on globalization? To help us, I have suggested four pairs of terms:
each including both a succinct neologism and a phrase using familiar words.
Take your pick, or suggest something better. I do, however, think we need
to recognize some paradigmatic premises that deeply affect the way all
of us think and talk about globalization. If so, should we not include
this segment in our glossary? What other paradigmatic concepts are needed
-- we could use help.
These are the kinds of questions I hope our exercise will generate and,
perhaps, also produce some answers. These are not the substantive questions
we all focus on -- instead, they are just the infrastructural issues. To
be clear and make sense in our discourse, we need to understand each other
and having some well defined tools of thought seems to be necessary. The
fuzzyness of the many meanings attributed to globalization and the
growing popularity of this word as a "buzzword" provides an opportunity
and a challenge. Our roundtable is predicated on that challenge.
#Agenda. To organize our discussion at the roundtable, we will
avoid opening statements. Henry Teune and I shall assume that all participants
have read and understood both the background paper on GLOBALIZATION:
KEY CONCEPTS, and this commentary on it. That will enable us to take
a leap into discourse, basing our discussion on several key questions.
Here is my proposed agenda, but there is still time to revise, add to,
or subtract from it. What is your will? Please use the short time that
remains to give me your feedback.
PROPOSED AGENDA FOR ISA/COCTA ROUNDTABLE ON 'GLOBALIZATION'
I do not expect closure in any sense of a "final product,"
but I hope we have launched a process that can continue and prove useful.
It can be expanded by taking it to other disciplines and contexts, and
applying the methodology we have used to other important terms and
concepts. Individuals can use our product as they find helpful, and they
will be invited to contribute to its further development. If they
acknowledge reliance on our tool, its uses and values for the whole
community may be enhanced. If so, then COCTA and the INTERCOCTA project
may also become more useful and that is my personal hope. I am available,
so long as I am able, to facilitate this process. Please let me have your
comments and further suggestions. All best wishes and much aloha, Fred
See: Globalization concepts || Globalization roundtable || and Globalization texts
See also:  COCTA || and Shelter Terms