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Globalization & Communities

Updated on July 18, 2010

Globalization & Communities: An Essay for You.....

Staffordshire University Faculty of Arts, Media & Design

MA / PGCert Performance Coaching & Mentoring

Empowering Communities

Essay 2: Community Practice in Global Context

Q2: To what extent is globalization changing our understanding of community?

Student No: 06908754, February 2008

Introduction: Globalization and the challenge for communities.

In this assignment an attempt will be made to thoroughly explore the role that globalization plays in our lives and the extent to which it is changing our understanding and concept of community. The concept of a global social policy / civil society from a community development viewpoint will also be briefly explored as a possible ‘community response’ to the challenges that globalization presents to our overall understanding of community. Finally, it will be argued that globalization has significantly changed our understanding and concept of community, to such an extent that community practitioners are going to have to fundamentally rethink how they assist in helping communities to regain the strength they will need to counteract the sometimes negative effects of the globalization process.

Understanding globalization, the driving forces behind it and the concept of ‘community.’

To many commentators, such as Reisch, globalization is one of the key dominant challenges for community practitioners in the twenty-first century. Indeed, he suggests that the advent of economic globalization has transformed the environment of community practice in both developed and developing nations, commenting that, “the growing dominance of market mechanisms and ideologies has affected policy making at the national and local levels in ways community practitioners are just beginning to comprehend.” (Reisch, 2005; 529). Many long standing assumptions of the notion of ‘community’ as being understood through the relationship between the economy, the state, and social welfare provision have also been challenged. Globalization has meant that with the emergence of a well-integrated global market, national and local policymakers are increasingly being controlled, with dramatic implications for the economic stability and viability of communities in industrialised and developing nations. (Reisch, 2005; 530).

To try to understand globalization and how it is changing our understanding of ‘community’ the ideological arguments surrounding global free-market capitalism, the motivations of multi- or transnational corporations (MNCs), and the convergence of global markets at the supra-national level needs to be explored. Only then can we begin to understand how these powerful forces have impacted nation states, fragmented communities and led to growing inequalities between the rich and the poor. An interpretation of what is also meant by the notion of ‘community’ within the context of globalization is also required.

It also needs to be understood that as a result of globalization and the powerful forces behind it ‘community’ concepts and ideas are enjoying a renewed interest, with Taylor commenting that, “against this background, concern in governments and global institutions about the persistence and possible effects of poverty and social exclusion has led to a resurgence of interest in ‘community’ and a nexus of ideas associated with it.” (Taylor, 2003; 216). For the community practitioner, these ideas incorporating principles of a global social policy / civil society may be the answer for communities, and the people within them to regain some of their strength to counteract the negative effects of globalization.

Understanding ‘globalization’.

To try and define globalization purely in terms of economic forces is a mistake, and it must be seen as a political, technological and cultural process as well (Giddens, 1999; 10), even though free-market capitalism and the MNC play a huge part in this process that is fundamentally reshaping our lives. From a community practitioner viewpoint Giddens definition of globalization may be the most relevant, which defines the concept as, “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.” (Giddens cited in Kiely and Marfleet, 1998; 3). The key features of the globalization phenomena, particularly from an economic perspective, are the rapid and short-term nature of capital flows and investments, the interlocking of national currencies, the significant power of MNCs which organise production on a global scale, and the relative weakness of political forces to constrain or control globalized market forces.

In addition, other factors that are shaping globalization have to be considered, and for our understanding of ‘community’ it may be best viewed as a social relations process with, “globalization referring to all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society.” (Albrow cited in Baylis and Smith, 2001; 15). In making the world into a single place globalization has also increased social networking with, “global networking that has welded together previously disparate and isolated communities on this planet into mutual dependence and unity of ‘one world’ ”. (Richter cited in Baylis and Smith, 2001; 15). While the forces of globalization operate in varying guises at the global, national and local level, with some countries still operating under socialist or mixed economic systems, the overall impact on the community development agenda has been particularly diverse, with some commentators, such as Reisch arguing that the impacts have been mostly unfavourable.

As Reisch comments with regards to economic factors, “The dominant assumptions that underlie economic globalization and their implications for policy have been particularly damaging to the poor nations of the world and to low-income or “disinvested” communities within the industrialized world.” (Reisch, 2005; 533). He then goes on to argue that the globalization process has had a negative overall effect on human well-being, particularly in the developing world, and on the ability of nations to respond to their socioeconomic problems through government or private sector-provision. This has resulted in a destabilizing of communities with the suggestion that, “On a worldwide scale, economic globalization has produced a growing gap between income and wealth; a decline in assets held by the majority of people; increased domestic migration and emigration, with disruptive effects on communities; a rise in negative social indicators; the destabilization of cultures; growing social conflict; environmental degradation; loss of confidence in governmental institutions and political systems; and growing alienation and despair.” (Bello, 1994; Bluestone, 1994; Chossudovsky, 1997 cited in Reisch, 2005; 537). Despite this rather scathing critique of the globalization process from an economic perspective, it is important, especially in trying to assess how it has changed our understanding of ‘community’ that we try to adopt a balanced approach concerning its extent, depth, and consequences.

The concept of ‘community’.

Since the globalization process consists of a variety of complex forces, be they economic, political, technological, cultural, and social it can sometimes be difficult to assess the impact that it is having on our conceptual understanding of ‘community.’ Indeed to try and define the term ‘community’ is just as complex as trying to define the term ‘globalization.’ However if we try to understand ‘community’ from a sociological perspective we may begin to understand how globalization has changed our understanding.

The notion of ‘community’ from a sociological perspective is best illustrated through the work of the German theorist, Ferdinand Tonnies. For Tonnies modern day urban industrialism, which has become an integral feature of our current increasingly globalized world, has resulted in a loss of ‘community.’ Contrasting the past with the present through his concept of ‘Gemeinschaft’ and ‘Gesellschaft’ allows us to observe from the outset the idealised and sometimes romantic notion of ‘community’, which has been heavily transformed by the globalization process. As Lee and Newby comment, “Gemeinschaft is usually translated as ‘community’ and for Tonnies gemeinschaft-like, or ‘community-type,’ relationships were characteristic of the pre-industrial world.” (Lee & Newby, 1983; 44). Such historical community relationships were intimate, enduring and based upon a clear understanding of each individuals’ position in society.

Subsequently, modern industrialisation, which is a key feature of the globalization process, has been associated with the rise of ‘Gesellschaft’ type environments which “refer to the large scale, impersonal, calculative and contractual relationships which, according to Tonnies, were on the increase in the industrial world at the expense of Gemeinschaft.” (Lee & Newby, 1983; 44). Taking this rural-urban continuum to the global level it can be argued that the forces behind globalization have transformed our world into a ‘Gesellschaft’ type environment, with ‘community’ from a social organizational perspective, especially at the localized level in the developed world, becoming somewhat redundant.

To the extent that globalization has changed our understanding and concept of ‘community’ it is also important to view globalization as a complex set of processes that may operate in a sometimes contradictory way. As Giddens suggests, “Most people think of globalisation as simply ‘pulling away’ power or influence from local communities and nations into the global arena…………Nations do lose some of the economic power they once had. Yet it also has an opposite effect. Globalisation not only pulls upwards, but also pushes downwards, creating new pressures for local autonomy.” (Giddens, 1999; 13). These new pressures for local autonomy have become expressed in a new form of a ‘global market democracy’ and with the emergence of a ‘global civil society’ there has been a renewed interest in alternative forms of political community.

As Linklater comments, “One response to globalization then is to argue for new forms of cosmopolitan political community in which members of different societies come together as cosmopolitan citizens to influence decisions that affect the whole world.” (Linklater cited in Baylis & Smith, 2001; 626). For our understanding of ‘community’ what has to be recognised is that the globalization process now means that localized community issues have also got to be viewed within the context of wider international developments. Indeed the concept of community, which was previously viewed as being in isolation from the international environment, has now got to be understood within a much wider context.

The wider ‘community’ response to globalization.

The growing global interconnectedness of nation states has brought new challenges for communities and increased the complexity of what ‘community’ as a concept actually now represents. It is evident that there does seem to be a greater sense of the need for political liberation and an awareness of common causes at many societal levels, set against a backdrop of greater insecurity, fear and risk. These developments, which are an outcome of globalization, can be seen through the lens of the term ‘civil society’ and what is clear is that as a community concept it does seems to represent a new form of politics that is emerging. According to writers such as Kaldor there can be five different meanings for the term, with the ‘activist’ version being of most relevance to our understanding of the wider community response to globalization.

As is suggested the activist version of civil society, “is perhaps the easiest to transpose to the global arena; it is viewed as the political or social counterpart of the process of globalization…………In the absence of a global state, an army of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) perform the functions necessary to smooth the path of economic globalization.” (Kaldor, 2003; 9). For the activist, ‘civil society’ is a philosophy of political transformation, where individuals are to be empowered and democracy somehow extended and deepened to ‘civilize’ the globalization process. It is process where various groups, movements and individuals can work together across national boundaries for causes such as environmental concerns, human rights issues and trade justice issues. But what does all of this mean for our understanding of community in our increasingly globalized world?

Extending the arguments surrounding the functions played by the voluntary/NGO sector may help us with this understanding. It is suggested that they play a particularly important role in grassroots localised community developmental approaches within the globalization process. With globalization creating such massive inequalities between rich and poor, clearly localised community development projects are seeking to engage in a type of ‘bottom-up’ development to try and address the structural reasons for individuals living within deprived communities in many parts of the world, and the growing poverty and inequality that they face. What is evident for our understanding of community within the wider framework of globalization is that there is a great deal of community development activity going on above or below the national government level. With globalization creating forces that now run across nation states, ‘community’ now needs to be understood as operating within overlapping and interconnected local, national and international frameworks.

As Craig suggests in his paper on national and international community capacity-building, we have to understand ‘community’ and ‘community development’ within the context of globalization as, “a way of strengthening civil society by prioritising the actions of communities, and their perspectives in the development of social, economic and environmental policy. It seeks the empowerment of local communities, taken to mean both geographical communities, communities of interest or identity and communities organising around specific themes or policy initiatives.” (Craig, 2007; 339).

This brings us onto the notion of ‘community participation’ and ‘empowerment’ with Mayo and Craig commenting that, “community participation and empowerment have become more vital and yet more overtly problematic than ever in the current global context. In the face of deepening poverty resulting from international recession and restructuring, international agencies and national and local states have demonstrated increasing interest in strategies to promote community participation as a means of enhancing the development process.” (Mayo and Craig, 1995; 1).

Within the context of globalization, the concept of ‘community’ needs to be understood as operating within a framework that seeks to promote economic, political, social and cultural transformation. ‘Community’ now needs to be understood as involving a wide range of diverse groups and individuals and community practitioners need to espouse the basic principles of community practice - social justice, self-determination, empowerment, democratic participation, and leadership development that fully synthesizes global and local perspectives. (Hardcastle et al, 1996; Simon, 1994 cited in Reisch, 2005; 544).

The globalization process: Towards a deeper understanding and the importance of community.

To the extent that globalization has fundamentally changed our understanding of community it is important that community practitioners try to develop a deeper understanding of the globalization process, the complex forces involved and the role of ‘community’ as a future element in the democratization of the global order shaping our lives. Currently one of the problems in trying to understand the role of community in the context of globalization is that, “there is an increasingly fractious debate among community practitioners as to how to best respond to the consequences of economic globalization. Ironically most texts still give scant mention to the effects of global economic forces on the environment in which community practice occurs.” (Reisch, 2005; 540).

However, while many texts overlook these issues the influence of global supra-national organisations and their impact on communities is clearly well understood. While community practitioners may have helped to create the pressures for a renewal of local autonomy at the community level, it is clear that the MNC and the influence of such global organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) can together act as powerful mechanisms to circumvent any attempt to ‘democratise’ the globalization process. In addition, specifically with regards to community development they have historically undermined this process, creating much confusion in the process. As Craig comments with regards to one such organisation, the World Bank, “Their programmes, better known for fiscal conservatism than for political and social risk-taking, frequently led, however, to the undermining of local community social and economic structures whilst appearing to advocate the importance of ‘community’, one example of the confusion that surrounds this and related terms such as community empowerment.” (Craig, 2007; 339).

Craig also argues that community capacity-building, in the context of partnership working, which is often advocated by NGOs, has also undermined and manipulated communities. He suggests that, “local, regional and national governments and international bodies…………thus buy themselves continuing political space enabling them to not respond appropriately to the demands of the dispossessed or to obscure the structural reasons for continuing poverty and inequality. To respond effectively to local communities’ demands would mean giving up much of the power that these bodies enjoy.” (Craig, 2007; 354).

In addition, writers such as Petras and Veltmeyer claim that with regards to globalization and the concept of community, what we are observing are elements of a paradoxical situation. For example, with regards to the role played by NGOs in the global social policy / civil society arena they comment that, “Social assistance channelled via NGOs to ameliorate poverty is conditioned on the acceptance of neoliberal macroeconomic policies and structures. Within the neoliberal politico-economic context, ‘cooperation for the alleviation of poverty’ is in reality a means to perpetuate the conditions that create poverty.” (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2001; 122). They go on to argue that there needs to be rethinking of ‘development from below’, coupled with a strategy of ‘development to the inside’ where there needs to be a significant shift of the ownership, production and trade of basic necessities to the impoverished people of the ‘internal market.’ Only then can we begin to truly democratize globalization and re-orientate it towards a more community focused approach. However, Shuman provides a counter argument and comments with reference to community-based development initiatives, which are often undertaken by NGOs that, “they enable citizens to act on their feelings of global responsibility and rectify global inequalities…………they enrich community life by drawing in foreign cultures and by promoting habits of tolerance, understanding, and empathy for foreigners. And they enhance political participation by building bridges of cooperation between citizens and local political institutions.” (Shuman, 1994; 6).

For our understanding of community in all of this what is required is nothing short of a transformation in thinking by community practitioners that, “measure the progress of human beings not simply by possession of material goods, as important as they are, but also in terms of increased ability to love, care for others and share a common life in which individuality and privacy are compatible with active participation in community.” (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2001; 127). It is possibly through this lens of a ‘new kind of socialism’ that community needs to be understood within the sphere of globalization. Only then can we construct a more inclusive form of social and economic development that contributes to healthier, more equitable and sustainable communities.

Conclusion: Rethinking the concept of ‘community.’

In conclusion it is evident that globalization has fundamentally challenged and changed our traditional understanding of community. Globalization, via the classical free market economic growth agenda has clearly failed many citizens and communities around the world. We now have to try and understand the concept of ‘community’ at the global, national and local level in order to fully appreciate the challenge presented by globalization.

What is now emerging is a loose network of concerned citizens, NGOs, and community groups / practitioners that are interested in a new approach to global development. However, for our understanding of ‘community’ it is important to recognise that currently we have a world in which communitarian and liberal principles coexist in varying forms. As Bhagwati suggests, “the important question is not whether we should have one or the other but whether capitalism and globalization are such an inexorable force that propel society into a headlong rush away from traditional communitarian values and ways. The evidence for such an alarmist conclusion is not compelling.” (Bhagwati, 2004; 27).

Even so, it is highly probable that community practitioners are going to have engage in a kind of ‘global-community reformist’ mode of thinking, and rather than continuing to engage in critiquing the effects of globalization and its impact on the concept of community, will need to suggest constructive proposals for moving us forward from the current malaise we find ourselves in. Our current course is wholly unsustainable and our future understanding of community, within the context of globalization, must be based on the development of a transnational civil society that better regulates globalized markets and gives real power back to communities and the people within them.

(Word-count: 3,272)


Baylis, J & Smith, S (2001) The Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international relations, Second Edition, Oxford, UK

Bhagwati, J (2004) In Defense of Globalization, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK

Craig, G (2007) Community capacity-building: Something old, something new…? In Critical Social Policy: A Journal of Theory & Practice in Social Welfare, Issue 92, Volume 27, August 2007

Craig, G & Mayo, M (1995) Community Empowerment: A Reader in Participation and Development, Zed Books, London, UK

Giddens, A (1999) Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping Our Lives, Profile Books Ltd, London, UK

Kaldor, M (2003) Five Meanings of Global Civil Society, Chapter 1 in Global Civil Society: An Answer to War, Policy Press, UK

Kiely, R & Marfleet, P (1998) Globalisation and the Third World, Routledge, London, UK

Lee, D & Newby, H (1983) The problem of Sociology: An introduction to the discipline, Chapter 3: Urbanism as a way of life, Hutchinson, UK

Petras, J & Veltmeyer, H (2001) Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century, Zed Books, London, UK

Reisch, M (2005) Community Practice Challenges in the Global Economy, Chapter 29 in Weil, M The Handbook of Community Practice, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, California, USA

Shuman, M (1994) Towards a Global Village: International Community Development Initiatives, Pluto Press, London, UK

Taylor, M (2003) Public Policy in the Community, Palgrave Macmillan Press Ltd, Basingstoke, UK



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