Globalization Studies In An Urban World

The Center for Globalization Studies in an Urban World supports research and teaching on globalization — at Penn and beyond. It provides an annotated listing of current and accumulated data, projects-in-progress, and commentary, published and unpublished, accompanied by methodological and theoretical discussion.

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What is Globalization?

Globalization is change. But change has always been an integral feature of life. So why do we now want to call it globalization? This is a crucial question and the answer is important, because some would contend that globalization is not new, but that globalizing processes began long ago, with the Age of Discovery, the effort to convert the world to Islam, or to Christianity, or even earlier, perhaps with the spread of our species throughout the world starting 100,000 years ago. But this contention misses an essential point: the fact that we now find the term globalization useful signals that we have recognized a qualitative difference in the nature of the change we are now experiencing. Change in the modern world is qualitatively different from change in the past. Globalization is the most useful term for pulling together under one heading and one field of study all the multiple currents of social and cultural change in the modern world that appear to be qualitatively different from the past.

Is Globalization new?

Globalization is by definition what characterizes the world today insofar as it is different from yesterday. Although it has grown out of what we knew and studied before, the processes that changed our relationship with each other, between our species and others and with the planet as a whole — what is happening now is unprecedented not only in speed, and in scale, but in quality. We are still on the trajectory that began with the migration of homo sapiens out of Africa 100,000 years ago, but we are on the verge of a new socio-cultural phase of human experience — in which as many as ten billion individuals of one species will belong to one community in real time, irrespective of geographical location. The comprehensiveness of current change is so new that it was beyond the imagination of the golden age of science fiction fifty years ago.

But that does not mean that every part of the world is affected by globalization in the same way. Globalization is not homogenization. Globalization is a gradual, irregular and uneven process. In its most simple terms, it is the recontextualization of daily life in successively more and more different parts of the world since the latter part of the 20th century. Globalization affects different places and different dimensions of daily life in different ways, and to different degrees. But it continues to gather pace, and it is changing the quality of life everywhere, whether we like it or not.

Globalization involves the progressive inclusion of every part of every country into a single unitary but not necessarily unified community, irrespective of the variables that governed our ability to interact in the past, such as distance from cosmopolitan centers and geographical isolation.

Is Globalization good?

As with all change, globalization helps some and hurts others. As with all new phenomena, we can only guess in advance exactly what the future advantages and disadvantages may be.

How do we study Globalization?

PROGRAM for research cluster on global cities

Cities are the engines of globalization. They are social magnets, growing faster and faster. In the current generation urban life has become the dominant form of human life throughout the world. The problems generated by the present rate of urban growth are new, and cannot be solved on the basis of the lessons of the past. Our historical urban institutions are not adapting fast enough to the pace of growth. At Penn we have the resources in a variety of disciplines and professions to gather, analyse and interpret the new types of data that are necessary to enable us to catch up and plan for the urban future, in association with other international initiatives such as the World Ur-ban Forum. An increasing number of large cities, with populations of over five million, are al-ready identified as global cities, cities that are nodes of global as much as national networks. In 2000, there were 18 megacities (over 10 million)‚ conurbations such as Mumbai, Tokyo, New York City/Newark and Mexico City had populations in excess of 10 million inhabitants. Greater Tokyo already has 35 million. The Hong Kohn/Guangzhow area is even larger, perhaps 120 mil-lion. The social magnetism of these urban areas is generating larger and denser metropolitan communities to the point were they are joining together to become regional conurbations. In 1900 5% of world population was urban. In 2007 the count passed 50%. By 2050 up to 75% is anticipated. Urban growth is faster outside the Western world, fastest in the poorest areas, such as Africa and the poorer parts of Asia, producing the most serious problems‚ problems which as the processes of globalization also progress will cease to be African and Asian problems and will become global problems. Movement into cities increases political voice and participation, as previously isolated rural populations become players on city streets, on the Internet, and in mi-gration. As the pace of growth accelerates the distinguishing cultural features of established his-torical cities become diluted. Established institutional forms of governance and services do not work with larger numbers. In the past cities worked differently in culturally different parts of the world, and experienced different problems, now institutional innovation is failing to keep up with the rate of growth and change, and the problems confronting urban populations depend more on size and the rate of growth than on cultural expectations. In order to keep abreast of emerging problems we now need to plan and organize the comparative study of global cities. The biggest problems are (a) political: inequality; (b) economic: water, food, employment; (c) environmental: air quality, drainage; (d) leisure. If we make allowances for differences relating to location (in relation to communications and resources) and economic focus (manufacturing in relation to services), it would appear that the faster the rate of growth, the more the influence of cultural factors fades into the background and the problems of governance and supply become similar. For this reason a global approach is essential. The comparative study of global cities is imperative. It will enable us to learn from the study of one for the solution of problems in others.

1. Population growth leads to urban growth (for reasons that are interesting to consider).

As cities become larger they become global cities, cities as hubs and gateways that articulate the global political economy. a process that leads to global urbanization. New cities and new growth in old cities break through the cultural rules that were the product of slower old growth, with the result that in new urban growth the social growth supersedes the cultural differentiation of the cities of the past. New cities are generic cities. In order to understand this process, and the problems that will confront us in the coming decades, we need to study global cities comparatively, so that it will be easier to plan in more general terms for a generically urban world.

2. Problems

Increasing densities of population over larger areas are changing the quality of human life by changing its environmental context. As a result we are running into new problems, even new types of problems. For example, diseases mutate faster than we can design drugs to cure them; people demand different types of food. But perhaps most importantly the larger the population over a particular degree of density the greater the social disorder. With every increase in com-munity size in world history there has been an increase in the incidence of crime. Our current methods of dealing with crime were established following the introduction of police forces in the 19th century. Since then there has been scissors-and-paste updating, but no structural rethinking. The biggest changes have occurred recently with the emergence of what we now define as terror-ism and the war on terror, and a difficult political debate about how to handle it. But apart from terrorism, the world’s most urbanized societies have not only the fullest prisons but also the highest rates of unsolved and even unreported crime. Incarceration is not only not solving the problem, it cannot be allowed to continue to grow and it probably leads to an overall increase in crime through the alienation of inmates.

Crime, or deficiencies in social order in an urbanizing world, can be divided into two types. The first, and perhaps the largest in statistical terms, results from the emergence of social boundaries: groups or categories of people who are disadvantaged or see themselves as disadvantaged, are alienated from the mainstream and identify themselves in opposition to it (terrorism is the ulti-mate extreme of this case). The second may be defined as hyper-entrepreneurship: individuals see ways to improve their situation by circumventing conventions (Madoff is the ultimate ex-treme of this type). If we start from a position that understands society today in terms of multi-ple superimposed networks, both of these problems may be seen as a failure of networking mechanisms: the first type are excluded from the general networking; the second type see ways to circumvent it and beat its controls.

3. Methods for policy-oriented research.

How can we prepare ourselves for dealing with these problems of social order as the grow and morph into more difficult problems in the coming decades. We are faced with serious methodo-logical problems that make it difficult for us to get the sort of information we need in order to be able to deal with these emerging practical problems. The reason is that all our current re-search methods are methods that developed in response to the research questions we were asking about an earlier type of society, at an earlier stage of social growth, particularly a society that was not changing so fast and which we could still usefully study without paying much attention to the process of change. That will no longer work. The period of world history we are now in, which began perhaps fifty years ago, in which the population of the world is growing in not much more than a single century from around 4 billion to around 10B, is for exactly this reason the period of fastest change in world history, not only quantitative, but qualitative change. Up until now it has worked for us to organize our research around the way things have come to be. From now on we have to work out how to organize our research around how things are becom-ing. In order to do this we have to be methodologically innovative and experimental. In relation to the problems as introduced above, networking has to be investigated diachronically, as a proc-ess. We can no longer get useful results by extrapolating from the particular that we observe to a generalization that has only static connotations, like a community. We have to extrapolate to something that is explicitly a process. Over the past year we have begun to do this, using student assistants working in different cities in America and elsewhere. What we need to do now, and we are now ready to start doing it, is to professionalize it on a comparative level, in selected cities.

Our research questions will be:

1. what are the social factors that maintain, channel, or inhibit, accelerate or decelerate, the net-working process in a population?

2. are their other non-social factors?

3. what can be done at the level of policy to encourage these networking processes, and block inhibiting factors?


This will be an evolving research project.

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