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Globalization: buzzword, reality, or myth?

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on April 2, 2008 3 Comments

It was in the nineties in India that the word “globalization” started seeping into my daily discourse. The word gripped a nation which was reeling with continuing political uncertainties, civil strife, terrorism, and social and economic problems. It was upheld as a beacon of hope, the promise of economic and social salvation, the wondrous solution to the ills that plagued our society, the key force that was going to allow us to finally unshackle us from an oppressive colonial past. Technology suddenly intervened in the daily lives of upper and middle class Indians in unimagined and unanticipated ways: electronic mail, dial-up Internet, cell phone service, “hip” FM radio, and cable television offering a plethora of foreign programming. Coke, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut billboards plastered the metropolitan cityscapes. Overseas travel was suddenly infinitely more affordable, and High School graduates began leaving in droves for American, Canadian, British, and Australian universities. By all surface accounts, India was a new “network society”; India was going global. Now, as Radio Australia notes, “India…has become the poster child of globalisation.”

Lately, I’ve becoming increasingly wary of this buzzword; every where I turn, in India, here, the word continues its stranglehold in the popular, and academic imagination. Yet something within me is deeply dissatisfied. At the recent AERA conference in NYC, I heard frequent references to the increasingly globalized nature of our world; apparently, it is the inescapable truth of contemporary society [An aside: what do we mean by “contemporary society”? Who do we as academics think of? What is common across us all beyond being in the same moment: now?]; we are all interlinked in a networked world, spiderfeed trapped in the webs of interlocked and intertwining societies, cultures, languages, and peoples. The global village is the new modern nation-state; it is the superarching structure that has permeated into the fabric of every society. No nation is isolated, alienated from the ineluctable pressures of “global flows.” Globalization, we are told, is universal.

Though I haven’t fully formulated my position on this, I have deep analytical reservations about these perceptions, especially when applied to India. Some “220 to 280 million” Indians live in dire poverty, according to the BBC. Ethiopia outperforms India in terms of the malnutrition index, according to one study, India was placed “94th out of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index”, and a Doctors Without Borders report states that “83 percent of women [in India] are anemic”. According to one estimate, despite the popular conception of India as an English-speaking (and thus increasingly global, by some accounts) society, some 98% of Indians are not considered English speakers. While economic ramifications of a furiously networking world cannot be denied, these forces have a tremendous impact in particularly urban areas, whereas nearly 70% of India lives in agrarian societies in rural villages, with such problems that a farmer commits suicide every half hour, six thousand children perish every day to malnutrition, and a huge percentage of people remain illiterate.

When we talk about a “global” India, who or what do we speak of? It appears to me to be an elitist formulation that can not be applied across the board in a country as markedly divided on urban-rural lines. I’m not postulating that “globalization” is a myth in India; it is not fantasy; but analytically it has taken on mythic proportions, and seems to be obscuring the economically less powerful micro with the macro, a macro-structure which is city-centered and urbane. The “global” gets reworked very differently in local contexts, and it must be attended to, and carefully. Again, I do not lay claim to any notion that the forces of globalization don’t matter; they do, at economic, political, social, and cultural level. But they don’t matter in the same ways, nor must they matter everywhere.

Six thousand children die in India everyday, as noted earlier; the “globalization” afforded in the form of Micky Dee burgers or Domino’s pizzas doesn’t seem to be doing too much.

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3 Responses to “Globalization: buzzword, reality, or myth?”

  1. daveski on: 3 April 2008 at 7:54 am

    The data about English is really surprising to me! Also, the post made me think about what kinds of assumptions are built into the idea of globalization anyway. Is it just one factor larger than the kind of spatial imagining that people like Benedict Anderson talk about with regard to the nation-state, “homogeneous,” “empty,” and uniform from border to border? How ‘global’ is the U.S., for that matter? It’s a politically motivated voice that calls even places like Berkeley global, it seems to me.

    But these are just early morning caffeinated musings…

  2. Z on: 9 April 2008 at 4:57 pm

    wow, i had no idea India was ranked “94th out of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index” that is so sad 🙁

  3. Brian Trinidad on: 9 April 2008 at 9:52 pm

    American Food chains are good for nuttin!

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