I think Globalization is a buzzword in developmental work, like the words green and sustainability, but older in the arena. And it’s a polarizing term: you’re either for it, or against it. If you’re on the fence, you’ve miffed two huge camps of academics, writers, and organizations. However, the more I read into both academic and pop-culture literature on globalization, the more I realize that my position on the fence is firmly static, although my arguments for choosing the fence are probably improving. So here goes.
Globalization has done wonders for spreading information.
“Globalization…a widening, deepening and speeding up of interconnected-ness in all aspects of contemporary social life from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual.” (Held et al., 1999, Global Transformations)
A big proponent of open source knowledge that goes beyond frequent binges on TED talks, I have the utmost regard for the interconnectedness facilitated by the world wide web and all else that ensued. It has perforated physical barriers through means ranging from social media interactions to cheaper transportation to hefty foreign exchange transactions. Two recent cases of sociopolitical relevance in the field of international development come to my mind with respect to social media creating significant international pressure. The first is that of the Arab Spring, and the second is the case of a brutal gang rape that occurred in New Delhi, India, that raised a lot of attention to the general state of women and the blatant lack of security measures that endanger them. I was around to witness both events in person, making it easier to think about what globalization translates into on-ground.
Off late I’ve returned to reflect on the case of a 23 year-old gang rape victim in the city of New Delhi who succumbed to her ghastly injuries last December, and the recent sentencing of the perpetrators who are to be given the noose. In a country where capital punishment is frowned upon in cases of murder, let alone rape that led to murder, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots between this case and the international attention it has received since the incident. I think back to that week in December when things spiraled out of control in terms of public emotion, leading to protests, vigils, and demands that led to tear gas shelling and beatings of the public that had gathered in front of India Gate. I think back to the fortnight of watching sharp words being exchanged and hefty demands being laid out on television shows night after night, and articles written by dozens of women expressing emotions ranging from anger to dismay to hope. I remember the emails seeking advice and suggestions being sent out to networks of women, college students, etcetera by a Justice Commission. This was set up to cater to the protesters’ demands for stringent punishments for rapists and non-threatening measures for reporting and documenting rape cases. In just nine months, the whole case has reached a verdict, inspired analyses into the social diaspora, instigated heated protests and debates that led to laws being passed. When you go through statistics on sex crimes in India, this is HIGHLY unusual. Plenty of films in Indian cinema have been made on “iconic” sex crimes, the two most famous being those of Phoolan Devi who massacred all those who gangraped her, and Bhanwari Devi who had a 15-year struggle to get any sort of refuge after she was gangraped for having contested the issue of child marriage. And even in these two cases, justice was largely undelivered. Plenty of analyses have been delivered on why the case of the Delhi gang rape shot to fame, but neither the grisly aspects of the crime, nor the city, nor the choice of victim, nor the location of crime were unusual. My personal assessment was that it had to do with the crossing of a threshold of interest level that culminated in so many people from across the world repeatedly making the same demands. This could not have been facilitated without the blitzkrieg of heated opinions from individuals from across the world through Twitter and Facebook. Things happened quickly enough to force lawmakers to respond, and respond now.
The Arab Spring took off from a single, again not unsusual, incident of self-immolation by a regular joe in Tunisia who was tired of working hard and yet having to bear the brunt of corruption in day to day living. What resulted from the extensive social media coverage of this incident was the outpouring of opinions and frustrations that mushroomed into protests and violence and whole-Cabinet resignations across countries. I don’t know whether it was orchestrated for political and economic reasons. I doubt that, in light of the fact that this trend even descended into the peaceful and uneventful country of Oman, that has been known for the progressiveness displayed by its ruler in various pieces from this 1997 Foreign Affairs piece to this 2013 one. Some pieces voiced clear concerns with the near-invalidity of the kinds of demands that were being made by some factions of the Omani protesters, and in a country that had put its citizens first, probably to the detriment of their own good.
I guess the case of the chaos from the Arab Spring descending onto otherwise-peaceful places was likely merely a pipsqueak in both utility and purpose; the opposite of the dissension voiced internationally on the Delhi gang rape. And yet, this is not the contradiction when discussing the seemingly grandiose “interconnectedness” facilitated by globalization. I address those contradictions in Globalization & Interconnected-ness part 2: Contradictions.