Globalization is the phenomenon unequivocally pervading current times. It is a process of interconnection and acceleration that is redefining the economic, social and cultural dynamics of contemporary societies. Hence, understanding it as a phenomenon reaching well beyond the economic sphere, related to processes of identity and to cultural diversity, is crucial for the necessary redefinition of world political institutions. A redefinition that must furthermore be done with active participation by civil society.
Reflection on the phenomenon of globalization was the prime subject of the dialogue, “Globalization, Identity, Diversity,” held July 26 - 29, 2004. Directed by the prestigious researcher and professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Manuel Castells, the Dialogue was attended by distinguished experts from various international academic institutions.
The dialogue program was designed with the objective of analyzing, from an academic point of view, the reality of globalization, the construction of identity and the political and institutional treatment of the relation between globalization and identity within the framework of the diversity of cultures and institutions in the world today.
The various talks emphasized globalization as a phenomenon that structures contemporary societies and that must be viewed and understood in multiple dimensions at once.
Thus, globalization is not only an economic process, but also includes, among other things, technology, culture, human rights and communication. In this sense, there is a phenomenon of increasing interdependence among societies which by no means cancels out existing Nation-States or institutions and organizations, but which creates new challenges in managing and governing societies with new problems.
According to specialists, globalization simultaneously causes inclusion and exclusion, which do not move from North to South, but rather through inclusion networks. These networks, governed by prevailing criteria, include everything that has economic value and exclude that which, according to the same criteria, does not.
Identity and Communication
With regard to identities and cultures, the studies carried out by Professor Ronald Inglehart in the World Values Survey project led to the conclusion that globalization does not necessarily involve a process of cultural homogenization. There is no single, undifferentiated global culture. Nonetheless, there is a growing series of cosmopolitan values and phenomena of cultural uniformity among certain social groups. In any case, the data compiled by Professor Inglehart show that cultural diversity is stronger than ever and that there is even a growing divergence of values between poor and rich countries. By the same token, communication is being globalized, although this does not imply a globalization of culture. The reinforcement of identities is used, in many cases, as a mechanism to control chaotic globalization.
Thus identity is put forth as an instrument constructed on the basis of experience and generating sense for people’s lives. This sense, which can be religious, national, ethnic, territorial or gender-related, is fundamental for people’s lives and characterizes the world as much as globalization and technologies. There are thus two simultaneous processes building reality.
The speakers alerted of the danger inherent in the inability or refusal to communicate an identity, given that this could lead to fundamentalism. Contrary to generalized opinion, fundamentalism is not relegated only to the religious sphere but comprises all aspects of identity. The speakers unanimously emphasized the emergence and persistence of religious identities. In this regard, the qualifier “fundamentalist” is often applied to designate “the other,” that is, people you don’t know or want to ignore. In these cases, the qualifier is not used to conceptualize, but has a stigmatizing effect.
Thus, all construction of identity should be followed by debate on the problem of non-communication among identities. The Dialogue led to the conclusion that, in the face of non-communication—often a source of violence—, there is the need to find and build bridges, to reestablish protocols of communication with the aim of preventing groups excluded by globalization from defending their exploitation in “identity communes” of a defensive nature.
The sociologist and former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, believes that “it is bad to be exploited, but it is worse if you’re not even worth exploiting,” whereby he is referring to the change undergone by many populations in the world from their former state of exploitation to irrelevance. In this sense, the combination of a state of irrelevancy with a non-communicable identity as a defensive trench causes the breaking of ties with the "central" or "global" civilization and peaceful coexistence. Therefore, communication is essential and is confirmed as the current space for the construction of civil society.
The speakers made different proposals throughout the dialogue aiming at granting a major role to communication as a new public space allowing the construction of intercultural dynamics that facilitate moving from monologue to dialogue and from dialogue to cooperation, a cooperation that should not be based on words but on practice among different identities.
At the same time, identity is involved in the process of domination and consequently, also in the processes contrary to domination. These processes can occur, within the framework of everyday life, in numerous forms of representation: spatial, organizational, artistic, etc. Hence, dynamics of domination can be found in national identities, particularly in the domination exercised by hegemonic Nation-States, as they originate selective national identities as an expression of their domination.
The Need for Global Governance
In a simultaneously united and disunited world, in which States dissociate themselves from economy and culture, in which democracy is national or local yet power and decisions are global, the issue of global governance is put forth as an idea and a proposal. Cardoso finds the institutional reconstruction of governance necessary, given that, “at present, both States and international institutions are not very operative.” Experts agree that the reconstruction of institutions must be instigated by the States themselves and the civil society. In this sense, Cardoso considers that the European Union and its constitution are an “extraordinary example of the construction of a new international order.” According to John Clark, of the London School of Economics, “the reconstruction of States and institutions must take global civil society into account as an essential instrument of expression of collective will and projects of society.” Although civil society does not have executive power, it does have a great capacity to influence decisions, a capacity expressed through the media, given that they are the entities that must make their demands known to institutions. This process and its different phases—establishment of global civil identity, media, institutions, reconstruction of institutions, political decision-making—should also take into account alternative proposals put forth by social movements, often as interested as Non-Governmental Organizations.
The Dialogue also implies that the identity-diversity relation in a globalized world can only be managed on the basis of new political relationship between the State and society that incorporates the local, national and global spheres into a system based on new democratic forms of collaboration and representation.
Globalization and the acceleration of everything that it implies makes the reconstruction of the political order based on civil society even more necessary, more urgent, and in this regard, experts believe that the reestablishment of multilateralism is essential. The current unilateralism of the United States is an obstacle: its obsession with security not only polarizes US society, but also paralyzes national and international capacity for action. Furthermore, the reconstruction of the world order based on multilateralism is only viable if done through dialogue with society and respect for the identities of each culture, and it must be accompanied by the construction of national and international political institutions that bring democracy up to date as a political principle of representation and control.