University of Pennsylvania
Paper for Research Committee #35, Committee on Conceptual and
14th World Congress, International Sociological Association, Montreal, 7/26-8/1, 1998.
Global and globalization, of course, are terms. It is
obvious and easy to document that they are finding their ways into formal
communications within academic and other communities of discourse, but
what is interesting is that their usage in signaling messages in titles of
articles has been increasing exponentially in less than a decade. In the
social sciences, anything that increases exponentially is a clue that
something is afoot.
Terms, of course, are arbitrarily "true".
That means that they can be given any meaning at any time and used for any
purpose. When they are assigned meaning in definitions, any term will do
as children learning English have been told by Humpty Dumpty in Alice
in Wonderland for generations. We have given many meanings to the
family of globality terms, as has been demonstrated by Fred Riggs in
communications he has made widely available. 1 Anybody has the freedom to
use any terms in any way, to elicit emotions and memories, to confuse and
deceive, to destroy human achievements, and to facilitate human
betterment. But usage of terms is limited by norms, those of lawyers and
clients, sellers and buyers, and, of course, sociologists and other
scientists claiming legitimacy based on knowledge.
"Concepts", of course, are ideas tagged with terms, unless a different term is preferred for ideas. Globalization as a concept is not arbitrarily true or false but takes on "meaning" in contexts, one of which many be a vernacular language and another scientific. The concept of a concept also has many meanings, but is constructed from languages with logics. Whether those logics are extra-mundane as in revelation, experiential happenstance as in dreams, or critical as in literature, they cannot be arbitrary or else no language whatsoever would be needed. We could happily babel to ourselves as we so often do anyway. Scientific discourse is one such language.
A logic for the analysis of scientific knowledge is generally referred
to as philosophy of science, of which there are several, but all of which
end up saying enough of the same thing so that what is said in any of them
is sufficiently understandable and interchangeable in all of them,
excepting excursions into conference madness. Whatever might be said
about concepts, it must include analysis of predictions that can be
experienced, "observed", in approximate ways so that they can be evaluated
by scientifically literate people.
* A paper by this author of the same title
and intent, but different content, was presented to the 12th
World Congress of this Association in Madrid, 1990. See also The World got Big
The foregoing is a long way of saying that
the concept of global as scientific can be analyzed from the perspective
of the logic of scientific discourse, not only as the lexicography of a
term used by various assortments of people. Terminological analysis is
useful for scientific progress in a number of ways, including linking
research across several fields, stimulating new ideas, and discovering
evidence of relevance to theories. Conceptual analysis is a different
order of intellectual business. 2
Global as a Scientific Concept
Global refers to the highest level of aggregation in a particular context of levels. In the physical
sciences, global often refers to the planet earth, but since we know that it is part of more
encompassing systems, it is not the highest level. It is treated as the highest practical level,
despite efforts in space travel to make another level more accessible. We use the terms "the
universe" to refer to the highest, most encompassing level of physical things, beyond which there
is nothing else, save a Creator or Higher Being. We no longer seriously refer to the earth as the
universe, or even its center. Indeed, when we move up a level to what is considered global, we
generally and correctly believe, that we have also have taken a step forward in enlightenment.
This is the concept of global as logical one. More about this later.
Global is also a name for an object, a thing, or classes of them, things, that are encompassing of all others of some kind. We can feel and say that our home or office is all encompassing, although knowing that there is more to the world we would be defiantly recluse or ignorant if we did something like that, and others would dismiss us or see to our mental repair. But the thing that is most encompassing for us, at least that is what we are taught, is that the earth is a globe or at least the surface of it is. It so happens that we now know that not only is the earth the most encompassing surface of relevance to us but also that it is round and so the globe is the earth conceived as a round object, a sphere, not the biggest thing we know, but certainly the biggest for all practical purposes. But that does not say a lot, for the globe is also a container of all kinds of things, known and unknown, and a magnet for things, again known and unknown, above it All globes as spherical surfaces are by definition round and so balls of all kinds are called globes. Globes may be efficient "encompassors", but encompassors need not be round. This is the second scientific meaning of globe, the encompassing thing or class of things, if not quite the all encompassing.
Global can also be used to identify an object that represents something, stands for, or is a
model or replica of something or a class of things that are global. This sense of the concept of
global is also empirical, referring to one or more objects standing for others. 3 Thus the globe
can be a name for a physical representation of the planet earth, a common meaning, or for any
object that represents or maps it an isomorphic way to its physical dimensions of size and shape (a
slightly misshapen ball) and may include distributions of political, economic, cultural
characteristics of human inhabitants on the surface or of weather plants, and mineral resources.
Almost all of us became familiar with the thing planet earth not by seeing it, although that is
possible with the aid of satellites and cameras, but looking at a round physical representation of it,
which could be also displayed on a flat, two dimensional plane. This is a third meaning of global, a
model of something that is global or encompassing, like a model of the universe.
Global can also be a property of nearly any kind of object, including a "global man", or
"globalist", manufacturer, advertiser, and reporter, with a normative value added. For countries,
global now is a property name that has been substituted for "international" as in global trade, a
global power, or global position. That can mean two things: either the object, the entity, has
reached out, is inclusive beyond the level of anything left to include, or is reaching out by some
activity or intent. Since either is generally considered a good thing today, and yet difficult to
achieve, there is terminological confusion of meaning, or to be nice about it, simple deceit.
Anything that is becoming "good" will be resisted because it makes other thing bad. Groups form
to oppose it. That is the history of change and re-action; of development and leveling, a sad
story, except when presented as theater that eventually is forgotten or occasionally recalled with
curiosity. This is the fourth meaning of the concept of global.
Global as a Logical Concept in the Social Sciences
Many terms are available for levels of aggregation and de-aggregation of sets and their
elements, of systems and components, of higher and lower orders of organization, of more and
less powerful authorities and divinities, and other entities that are put together in various
hierarchical ways. All of these terms refer to logical-relational concepts of inclusion and exclusion
of elements of common sets of things or components of systems and their ordering according to
some criteria. They are relational in that reference must be made to two or more objects, or
concepts, and at least one kind of relationship between them.
From this core idea, complexity can be created from multiple-levels, conflicting properties, and
cross-cutting dynamics of interaction across levels. International relations can be treated as
simple set of relations among big and little and strong and weak states within an international
system. It can also be looked at theoretically as global politics with cities, political parties, social
movements and a lot of other actors both within and across national borders, including
corporations, trade unions, scientific associations, all operating in different domains, at different
levels within an encompassing framework, and with time schedules set according to their separate
organizational imperatives. Any kind of concept that produces that much fluid complexity leads
to terminological confusion, conceptual impasse, intellectual warfare, and theoretical poverty.
Global is a coin of the realm term for inhabitants of towers of Babel.
When the concept of inclusion and ordering also takes on normative dimensions, then
conceptual problems compound. A persistent example is the concept of sovereignty, which was
the asserted global concept of authority attributed to the state by a few people involved with the
Treaty of Westphalia some 350 years ago. "Sovereignty of states" became a doctrine that there is
no higher authority than the state, denying "ultimate" authority to anything within state
boundaries and, of course, to any divine powers on earth other than what was connected
exclusively to the instrumentalities of state authority. Conceptual confusion thrived when the
globality of the normative assertion of sovereignty was linked to the concept of autonomy. In
fact, there was and is no such thing as autonomy of any mundane system and, if not, the big
question became, could there be anything on earth as sovereignty? The answer is, of course, there
is, if it is not confused with autonomy, self-sufficiency, or other ideas used political discourse in
contests over positions of power.
A direct attempt to deal with levels occurred in 20th century classical economics with its
theoretical separation of macro and micro economies. There were two economic worlds, that
which took place in households, localities, and regions and that which operated at the national
level, with special instrumentalities of control of trade, banking, currencies, and other policy
mechanisms not available at lower levels within the state.
The 20th century disciplines of sociology and political science also tried to separate their theories
into macro and micro, but could not get away with it as easily as economics. They matured in an
era of the ascendance of the nation-state and took it as a point of departure and a focus of
analysis. But much more than that, they subscribed to the legitimacy of national sociologies and
political sciences. In research the macro was encapsulated into cross-national comparisons, made
attractive by the availability of national level data, despite evidence of massive within country
differences. This national orientation of social science betrayed the theoretical aspirations of 19th
century sociologists who sought to explain the nation-state as part of the more general processes
of change and development of human societies.
The macro-micro distinction is logically two levels, the macro being the global and singular and the micro being the lower of everything else. Taking the nation-state as the empirical referent of the macro or global was a cause of theoretical failures. In fact, most complex systems have several dynamically linked, conflicting levels. There are local and regional economies and several political cultures within countries, often spilling over national boundaries.
Several initiatives during the past two decades were taken by a few social scientists to make their research macro global rather than macro national. In economics, Project Link, headed by Lawrence Klein, attempted to tie together national economic data into a world econometric model. In political science, Karl Deutsch organized the Globus Project to analyze migration, trade, and other exchanges in political contexts, including world-wide political trends.
In both the state retained a dominant position. In sociology, leading groups within the
International Sociological Association, as well as other professional social science societies, took
steps beginning in the 1990's to facilitate the development of an "international" sociology. They
too retain their national base. The impact of these and many other efforts is yet to be evaluated.
Another way of putting the concept of the global is that there is nothing more outside of the
"global" which is relevant theoretically or empirically. But we recognize in fact that all "real" as
distinct from "logical" systems are open, even the earth as a planet. It receives sun rays which
vary, material substances from outer space, and it, in turn, interferes with whatever comes in or
goes out, dramatically, but trivially, when engineered by humans.
What global as a logical relational concept requires is at least two levels, just as "to the right of"
implies "to the left of" and "up" says what is "down". Macro must state the micro, if only as a
residual of everything else. Global must also imply what is local, what adds up to or constitutes
the global. When the concept of the all inclusive is put into the context of the world as a physical,
spatial system, then global must state what is local. "Local" could be an unspecified residual,
agglomerations of materials or organisms, niches in an ecological bio-sphere, or human societies
with theoretical relevance for the social sciences.
The world as a total global system has only recently been understood in the dimensions of a
physical, a living, and a human social system, the latter now being formulated with controversy.
These are general dimensions, which, of course, have been broken down into sectors and types of
all kinds for a variety of purposes. For the social sciences the primary focus is on human systems,
but the relationships among all of three dimensions are necessary for theoretical completeness. 4
The origins of the world as a global physical entity, of course, is a central question of all
sciences. What happened to the physical world to make it into a biological system is a second
order question. Part of that answer is how the biological system yielded human societies. 5
Human societies developed as systems, today nearly totally populating the world. Whether or
not most human societies have become transformed into a single global one is a matter to be
argued by 20th century historians. None of these important theoretical questions is directly
relevant to the issues surrounding the concept of globality.
The main question for the concept of a global system that is human is what level of integration is
definitionally precise enough and theoretically meaningful to conclude that there is in fact a global
human society. If the world is a set of nation-states sufficiently integrated so as to constitute an
international system that dominates explanations of the activities of human societies, then the
world is not a global human system. The debate over an international system vs a global system
ought be focused on the evidence about this question.
The dimensions of integration of systems can be de-aggregated into the strength of
relationships among their components, the inclusiveness of the components being impacted by
whatever happens elsewhere in the system, and how much and how important the system is for
the component, the extensiveness of what is impacted. 6 The first concerns the probability that
any change in any component will change anything in any other component; the second, the extent
to which there are isolates or occasionally affected components, components, more or less
"outside of the system"; the third, what and how much of each component is impacted by the
system, only the weather from a volcano or nearly everything, diet, preferences, wealth, and
political behavior. The "funny" textbook test of "systemness" is the feather falling in China and
changing prices half-way around the world. But it defines the near "perfectly" integrated system
where any change anywhere affects everything everywhere with certainty, to which might be
Of course, the global human system is weakly integrated by measures along almost any
dimension. Only a few sectors of human activity are globally integrated: perhaps innovation
driven sectors and enclaves of production, perhaps advanced scientific research, maybe popular
entertainment, and most likely, telecommunications. Although we have been bombarded with
assertions that we are now living in a global economy, economic failures in many parts of the
world seem, even after a long wait, often seem to have little impact on the economies of many
other regions and countries, but the time lag may be shortening. The last world war dramatically
impacted many people, but did little to disturb most, except indirectly in a very long run.
The concept of a global, all inclusive system requires clarification both for practical and
theoretical relevance. At least half of what are legally recognized countries still have a higher
level of integration, that is, are more determinative of what goes on within them, than either the
international or global system. Even if that is generally true, and still in many countries the local is
still more important than the national, the human global system is integrated in some ways
requiring specification of dimensions. But what is important to know is the direction of
integration of the world as a total human system. The conclusion is that over the long haul human
societies have moved toward integration on a global scale and continue to do so. That might be a
trendy trend; it is also a theoretical prediction based on macro theories of human development.
Positions on that issue divides people according to their views on human nature and human
development, mostly explainable by easy psychology than the hard work necessary for theoretical
thinking and analysis.
Any property that is a characteristic of an empirical or "real" system will, by definition, change
over time and warrants use of either a positive or negative process concept. Globalization is
positive which means it expands, grows, or spreads in one or more ways. That does not mean it is
either good or bad, just more. Unfortunately, we do not have an easy way in English to express
contraction and so we use terms like de-centralization, de-industrialization. It is unlikely that we
will have much need of the term "de-globalization" in the next few years.
Globalization as a process of becoming more, of course, can have many time functions, epochs,
if a dramatic term is wanted; linear, if ordinary; step functions, sequential "bursts" of increases
followed by plateaus; the "S" shaped curve, which often is a nice description of percentage
increases over a population as in percent literate or having radios; or other "curvi-linear"
functions of waves and ups downs but eventually forward with more. All of these have nice
logical-mathematical formulations for those interested. But since most of us live in a
psychological short-term, linear direction is just fine. The country is going in the "right or wrong"
direction and I feel "better or worse". Most of us take arbitrary time intervals without question, a
day is a day, whether in the Arctic in June or December; the 21st century starts at a designated
moment whether or not we believe in the Roman pope.
Although globalization as a process can be described with many logical time functions, all or
which will more or less have some "goodness of fit" depending on where one starts, the units of
time use to map change, and, of course, on what one is measuring, the various dimensions of it.
People care deeply about what logical language is used. In the stock market the "long and short
runs" are important distinctions in persuasion for making or losing money; the "now down and
later up" arguments may hold off political protestors; the "ebb and tide" in battle can keep soldiers
Globalization as a theoretical process, of course, must be distinguished from other descriptors
that may or may not serve as "valid" indicators of it. Ubiquity and universalization and diffusion
may say something or nothing about globalization. Just because there are bottles of Coca-Cola or
McDonald's hamburgers everywhere simple states what it states. Silk in the banners of the
Romans did not make them Chinese nor the empire global; neither flavored carbonized water nor
meat on a bun make Americans or global citizens. Indeed quite is opposite is probably happening,
depending on one's theoretical perspective on diffusion, which must include processes of cultural
adaptation and localization as well as time functions.
The globalization of a system means "the inclusive incorporation" of all potential components
into a global system, ceasing at a point where there is nothing more to incorporate. The total
global system is indeed like the "funny" feather in China "test". A total global human system is
one where any change in any individual will change of all characteristics of all other human beings,
maybe even those in the future. This is where the process of globalization will stop. But a total
integrated global human system means that no intermediate system exists, that is determines
anything autonomously from the global system. This may be difficult to grasp, controversial, or
horrific. Individuals are taken here as the base component, not associations, groups,
organizations, or states. In this sense individuals will be free and "free" to be different. That
Globalization and Human Development
All human organizations are made up of hierarchies, higher and lower levels within a system. A
global system, if it is political, will mean a single hierarchy, a world ruler, and other fantasies of
evil that large numbers of children learn about in various cultural versions of the wicked witch of
the east in the Wizard of Oz. A central theoretical question in politics is whether hierarchy is
inevitable, a necessary condition for the existence of human societies, or at least of those that will
amount to something. A subsidiary question is whether any political hierarchy, one with at least
an asserted monopoly of control, will eventually go bad in any number of ways, as Thomas
Jefferson believed, or will run down, as some think Karl Marx concluded. Whatever the case,
societies would either be renewed through transformations, whether from above or below, or
decay and disappear through the mis-allocation of resources by the political elites in war and folly.
More specifically, the political theory problem is with hierarchy and democracy. If individuals
are to decide their own destinies they must be autonomous and free to choose but if hierarchy is
to be an available means to individual betterment, then hierarchies must have obedience. The
solution to this paradox is yet to be found. The answer sought is hierarchies that are accountable
to the people, some aggregate of individuals who choose to be under some kind of hierarchy. If
that is the question for democracy theory (using theory in the normative or "design" sense, rather
than in the positive or predictive one), then the task is to figure out how authority can be made
accountable. That problem goes beyond representation of interests, a 19th century solution to the
problem of reconciling democracy with hierarchy, now being questioned in the established
democracies as indicated in measures reflecting decline in trust in government, new agenda of re-designing the state, and general indifference to government.
The issue of globalization and human development is whether it generates more autonomy for
individuals, groups, organizations, and "localities". Those who support globalization as a positive
political development, not merely an opportunity to make more money, believe that globalization
not only produces more wealth, allocates resources better for a global human society, certainly a
conclusion compatible with classical economics, but also provides more choices for individuals to
be in societies that are consistent with and nurture their own values. The latter is the research
agenda for those focusing on the impact of globalization on human development.
Theoretical orientations for addressing the problem of globalization and human development
diverge on two points. First, there is the question of how globalization comes about, a scientific
question. Second, there is the issue of the definition of human development, surely a basic
normative one. The first of these can be answered in a theoretically satisfactory way by whether
the processes of globalization are developmental or "imposed from the top"; the second, by
whether human development is based on the individual or groups.
If development is interpreted theoretically and macro-historically, then it should be manifest in
globalization as processes: a) that are independent of any particular groups in that anyone can
participate or contribute to them and b) that lead to the evolution of complexity. If there are
developmental dynamics pushing toward greater complexity, then the a global human society will
be the most complex one. If globalization is inherently a human process of people in positions of
authority learning to make decisions to avoid and solve problems, then a global human society is
willed and we get nation-states as a higher form than dynasties; regional governments, as a higher
form than a collection of states; and an international system of justice as a higher level than the
law within nations.
Of course, both of these processes of development and human decisions are at work today in
whatever is interpreted as globalization. Which will prove to be dominant in the very long run is a
theoretical question of great importance. The general processes are seen in economic
interdependence; the efforts of political leaders in incipient institutions for governing trade,
monetary flows, and migration, and most recently, for defining and enforcing norms of justice.
Integration of Diversity on a Global Scale
The level of complexity of any system would increase if it were linked to another with a higher
level of complexity. In the first instance, this linkage, like a confederative or federal political
arrangement, would give to the "total" system all of the complexity of the system that is linked
plus that of the more complex system. If the developmental thrust is toward more complexity,
then linkage would be replaced by incorporation and the lower level system would become a
component of a higher order system rather than be a dependent system. If the lower order has
any one or more items or characteristics that are different from the high order one, then the
integrated system would have a higher level of diversity. It is not enlightening to continue an
elaboration here of why this happens, unless toleration for confusion extends beyond patience.
But one point should be made: that to free up the system for more diversity at some point, variety
must be transferred downward in any hierarchal system. In practical terms, in order for there to
be more coordination, there must be fewer coordinators. The system must become self-governing
rather than governed. To obtain greater self-governing complexity, the number of components
must be increased. That can only be done by differentiation, of localities from countries, one
group from another, and eventually individuals from groups. For a system to expand its diversity,
develop, it must multiply components and have them take on more variety, each becoming more
complex. That can be done either by reproducing entities, creating more organizations or by
freeing up individuals, and at the same time linking them to the system.
All hierarchies have limits to the diversity they can integrate, a general law referred to above.
Thus, the continuous tension within all hierarchal organizations between diversifying and
consolidating, between de-centralizing and centralizing. Globalization as a dynamic process of
integrating diversity at a higher level of complexity thus weakens intermediate hierarchies and the
control of groups over its members. Individuals are free to be components of a more
encompassing system with all possible diversity and without any particular necessity for any forms
of organizational or group loyalties.
To the questions raised: globalization is targeted toward individuals by providing more
alternatives to choose from but for the world to be stable system at higher levels of integrated
diversity must proceed without either a benevolent ruler or fears of a wicked witch of the east.
So What Is Globalizing?
What is becoming global depends of the level of complexity of entities within countries. The
more complex entities, educated individuals, high technology firms, higher educational research
institutions, and new technologies, are the first into the global system. More complex, more
wealthy countries are also the first in. The least developed parts of the world are breaking away
from hierarchal state authority into fragmented groups. Globalization pushes that which is most
complex into the most complex system, the global one; it also breaks down authority of
intermediate hierarchical organizations, state and local authorities and the leadership of traditional
societies. One looks to the future; the other, to the order of the past.
So there are two worlds of human societies, to be simple about it at this point in the 20th century: one that is part of a global society and another that is set loose from hierarchal control and engages in activities that seem to be dissociated with anything global at all other than technologies that enhance group solidarity and the destruction of enemies. But both phenomena are part of the process of globalization, thousands of tribes co-existing in a complex world society.
1. Fred Riggs has put together various
meanings of globalization in contemporary usage. See his web page on
Globalization Concepts .
2. See Giovanni Sartori, Fred. Riggs, and
Henry Teune, The Tower of Babel: On the Definition and Analysis of
Concepts in the Social Sciences. Pittsburgh, PA: University of
Pittsburgh, International Studies Association, 1975. This "manifesto" of
the Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis makes the
distinction be terminological and conceptual analysis.
3. The important concept is "model" which
can either be a logic or an actual physical representation. Models are
part of the process of scientific thinking. See my, "Models in Political
Integration" in P.E. Jacob and J.V. Toscano (eds.), The Integration of
Political Communities. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1964.
4. These relationships are discussed by
Kenneth E. Boulding, Ecodynamics: A New Theory of Societal
Evolution. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1978. Also see his,
The World as a Total System. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications,
5. For a "complete" view, see Max
Pettersonn, Complexity and Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996. This publication is taken from his Spencer
lectures. Complexity is now the main focus in new evolutionary theories.
6. These distinctions are part of a definition of integration in a general theory of development. See Henry Teune and Zdravko Mlinar, The Developmental Logic of Social Systems. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1978.
See linked pages:  Plans for Globalization
Roundtable || Draft glossary for globalization
See more Files on Globalization || the Local-Global Group || and some related Web Sites 
See also the author's Why the World got Big and send your comments directly to him at Teune