Globalization: Tensions and Trade Offs

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Values can play a role in defining globalization. A definition of globalization as "Americanization" or, perhaps, the "McDonaldization," of the world presents globalization as a process driven by American consumer culture that rolls over other cultures. On the other hand, another definition of globalization would highlight its cross-cultural impact, taking into account the nature of globalization as a way cultures interact and learn from each other. follows the second approach: viewing globalization as a process of interaction and integration. A focus on the spread of American ideas or products that ignores the counterbalancing impact of the access to the international arena of ideas and products formerly kept out of it, promotes an impoverished and unbalanced understanding of the process. Thus, defines globalization as follows: Globalization is the acceleration and intensification of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations. This process has effects on human well-being (including health and personal safety), on the environment, on culture (including ideas, religion, and political systems), and on economic development and prosperity of societies across the world. This comprehensive and balanced definition takes into account the many causes and effects of the process, and, most importantly, leaves room for debate and discussion of the values that different people from all over the world bring to the table.

Three inherent tensions reveal the conflicting values at stake in the process of globalization as defined above. By examining controversies about globalization through the prism of these three tensions, teachers and students can learn how to think about the positive and negative effects of various aspects of globalization and how to find a balance that reflects their values.

1) The first tension is between individual choice vs societal choice. A conflict occurs when a person, exercising her right to choose a particular lifestyle, to buy a particular product, or to think a particular thought, is at odds with what society at a whole views is most preferable for all citizens at large. For example, some people may prefer to smoke or to drive without wearing a seatbelt. Society, however, may believe that there are costs to society as a whole—in medical costs, for example—that require laws to restrict private choice. In the arena of globalization, such a tension is evident in debates over the spread of American culture. France, for example, objects to the spread of American popular culture in the form of films and television. In fact, France has laws about non-European content on French television and radio stations. France even insisted that there be a "cultural exception" to world trade rules on services agreed to in 1994 to allow the French government to limit imports of American popular culture products. Such positions, however, ignore the fact that no one forces an individual French person to watch an American film or television show or buy a CD by an American recording artist. French consumers buy those products because they choose to do so for reasons of personal preference. One may reasonably ask, then,

"Why does French society have the right to override that individual’s freedom of choice?" It comes down to values. In the first place, some people and societies may value social choices above individual choices. Second, some people and societies may believe that in areas of culture, preservation of a local culture— because of history, tradition, and a desire to pass along heritage to succeeding generations—should trump short-term individual choice. The problem is how to find a way for the international system to account for this tension, in areas such as the world trade talks mentioned above. How can the process of globalization find a balance between...
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