GSJ Article
28 May 2007
Issue 7

Lean Globality Studies

Wolf Schäfer

Stony Brook University
Center for Global History
Abstract: This article calls for lean globality studies based on a definition of globality as a local condition that results from at least one globalization. The exposition covers the cosmopolitan privileges of English, the global technoscientific civilization, the pluriverse of local cultures, and the key terms of globality studies: globalization, globalism, and globality. The terminological discussion includes a critical review of pertinent statements by Albrow, Shaw, and Robertson, as well as a critique of the tendency to overload the meaning of globality. Clarifying the mundane and historical nature of globality, this article notes that globalities are plural, comparable, and measurable, and that they arrange on a spectrum and must not be restricted to the present time. In closing, the modus operandi of lean globality studies is outlined theoretically.
Keywords: globalism, globality, globality studies, globalization, lingua franca English, regional globality, technoscience

The Globality of English

It would be rash to assume that globality is a singular condition. Like globalization, which fuels numerous processes, globality is wide-ranging and can be attributed to many terrestrial phenomena. One can speak about the globality of a city, nation, or region; and since there are many cities, nations, and regions, globalities are plural, comparable, and measurable. Let’s look at language as an example. English has become the most popular language in the transnational linguistic space of the Internet, where it commands 68.3 percent of the languages (Tonkin 2007: 712), more than two-thirds of Internet space. This measure of the high globality of Internet English points to the comparatively low globality of the other languages on the Web: Japanese, German, Chinese, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, and Korean range from 6.9 to 1.3 percent (4.6 percent for all “other” languages). Thus, on a scale from 1 to 100, the globality of English ranks 68 with regard to the Internet.

Studies of contemporary world languages indicate that the number of nonnative users of English is growing. Increasingly, nonnative speakers are using English in international and supranational organizations (the UN and the European Union for example), multinational corporations, institutions of higher education, [1] science, technology, and on the Web. [2] More and more scholarly work is published in English by authors who do not work or live in an English-speaking country, and who use another language at home. English has become the cosmopolitan lingua franca of the global age. As all lingua francas before, English helps to cross linguistic and political borders, and in so doing, affirms the positive relationship between linguistic and political power. All living languages have a measurable degree of globality, [3] but very few of them had, have, or will have, a cosmopolitan aspect.

The cosmopolitan aspect of the globality of English gives all English-speaking nations perhaps an unfair advantage because it privileges them and burdens non-English-speaking countries with the costs of teaching and learning a foreign language. Enabling local participation in the global markets of goods, services, and knowledge in which English is the leading language has become an almost unavoidable national objective. Countries outside the core English countries must use English in these markets and thus have no choice but to try and equip a fair number of their population with bilingualism in English. As a result, critics denounce the instances of “symbolic violence” (Mendieta et al. 2006: 15) in the global dominance of English. Yet even enjoying this cosmopolitan privilege can be a mixed blessing. The United States is a well-known example. Its largely monolingual citizens are comparatively unprepared to “understand” the non-English-speaking world, whereas the rest of the world is getting ever more prepared to “read” the United States. [4] It is too early to assess the effects of this dialectic on the globality of American might, but being unable to function in any other language than English is a mixed blessing. [5]

Nonnative speakers of English interpret the world in a secondary frame of symbolic reference; they depart from the linguistic environment that has formed and informed their primary Welterfahrung (world-experience), at least initially. For instance, a growing number of scholars in Seoul teach and write in English. [6] Knowing that their Korean contributions to the advancement of knowledge are likely to remain invisible in a world that tends to recognize only publications in English, they advance from local knowledge to global expertise through the use of English. However, history, sociology, and the other social sciences are not transcending the world’s local cultures with a universal language like mathematics. The humanities and social sciences are bound to use the natural languages of humankind and these languages are not only factual, but also emotional and political, full of tacit knowledge and cultural history. So what does it mean that more and more humanists and social scientists are conversing and writing in a lingua franca they did not learn at home? We can only speculate.

This article addresses the more specific question of the meaning of the key terms in the transcultural discourse on globalization. As someone who has embraced English the way people embraced Chinese, Latin, or Arabic a thousand years ago, I feel obliged to work not only with today’s lingua franca but also to review it critically. Is this because of some linguistic dissonance that results from not using one’s native language? I don’t think so. Interpreting the world in English is not only a solution but also a problem. Regularly scrutinizing the global terminology is a must as the numbers of scholars climb who come from different social and cultural backgrounds and want to communicate with each other across political and cultural borders. Dull and tedious as it may be, we have to spell out what our terminology is meant to mean.

The Globalities of Civilization and Culture

Civilization and culture are keywords in the English vocabulary. Their meaning has developed over time and differed substantially over various languages. In contemporary English, however, civilization and culture are nearly synonymous except regarding size. “Cultures can be very small, whereas civilizations are always large conglomerates” (Schäfer 2001: 304). The qualifying difference is spatial: civilization is extensive and culture intensive. Exploiting this difference, we can use the term civilization to capture the planetary reach of the “culture” of technoscience.

All things technical and scientific are more or less similar around the globe, while many cultural matters remain dissimilar. A cell phone is a cell phone in South Korea, South Africa, and South America, but the cultural circuits in which it will function are significantly different. Given the universal interest in the products of technoscience from TVs to arms, this divergence is as important as it is real, though a coherent approach to the constitutive realms of technoscience and culture is lacking. A terminology for the critical elements of today’s world is sorely needed. To develop that terminology we have to combine the extensiveness of civilization with the high globality of technoscience and the intensiveness of culture with the relatively low globalities of cultural phenomena. I have suggested to implement this language by distinguishing between civilization and culture along the conceptual lines of a singular civilization defined by “a deterritorialized ensemble of networked technoscientific practices with global reach” and a multitude of local cultures defined by “the shared language game of collective symbolizing” (2001: 312).

The distinction between the diverse realms of local cultures that are symbolic and the unique realm of a global civilization that is technoscientific becomes useful when one differentiates further between two kinds of interaction, namely civilizational interaction in which non-human nature is humanity’s partner and cultural interaction in which all the partners are human. This specification can guide human ecology and cultural anthropology, or help to explain why global technoscience can penetrate the symbolic insulation of local cultures without deconstructing their walls of meaning. We don’t need a new language to realize that the forces of nature can be devastating; hurricanes and tsunamis demonstrate that with brute eloquence time and again. However, our categories have to fit a world in which the laws of nature, the language of mathematics, and the proliferating machines and gadgets of technoscience have universal power and in which collective symbolizing weaves idiomatic interpretations of local universes, creating potent worldviews that foster heartfelt identities and communal responsibilities, as well as insiders and outsiders, people to silence and others to run down.

The global civilization/local cultures concept is a tool for interpretive operations and critical analyses. It depicts the contemporary whole as a global technoscientific civilization with numerous local cultures in all places and regions of the world. But it also unravels the socionatural and sociocultural complexities of this whole. Take environmental health and gender parity for example. Why has it been harder for women than the natural environment to gain universal respect? The highest measure for the globality of simultaneous female Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chancellors in the current ensemble of 192 nation-states seems to stand at a low thirteen [7] — why? Because the natural environment benefits from the universalism that is conveyed by the technoscientific explanation and manipulation of nature, whereas women suffer from the relativism that emanates from the pluriverse of local cultures. Women appear in a sociocultural frame of reference. What happens to women is still too often framed as a local predicament. Environmental degradation, however, appears in a socionatural context; it is understood as a universal civilizational problem that needs to be solved for the sake of the entire planet and all of humankind.

The global technoscientific civilization has become a reality in the last century. It has succeeded laboratory by laboratory, school by school, company by company, and country by country. No Great War or epic fight but rather the constant extension and networking of mundane twentieth century research, education, and commerce has pushed its globality higher and higher. Yet this singular civilization has not ousted the traditional concept of “world civilizations.” As dated as civilization in the plural may be, the constructs of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and William McNeill continue to linger in textbooks and minds. World civilizations have turned into local and regional cultures but the old language carries on in the polemical “clash of civilizations” à la Samuel Huntington (1996), Mohammad Khatami’s wishful “dialogue among civilizations,” [8] and the millenarian “struggle for civilization” fought by George W. Bush. [9] This rhetoric continues although it is dangerous and false. It is dangerous because it invites the arrogant and self-righteous dichotomy between “civilized” and “uncivilized” behavior, and it is false because it misses the global reality of a shared technoscientific civilization with symbolizing cultures inside.

At this point, I would like to note two negatives about globality. First, globality is not coextensive with worldwide. Second, the world is not likely to reach a state of total globality. The combination of a high-globality civilization with numerous lower-globality cultures prevents the human whole from turning fully global. Humanity may pursue its civilizational projects with more unison than it pursues its diverse cultural tenets but cannot achieve 100 on the globality scale for all of its activities combined. Cultures and languages with low globality are here to stay. Globality is not deluging the world indiscriminately; we are approaching globality and globality studies to clarify our terminology and methodology.

The Key Terms of Globality Studies

Globalization, globalism, and globality are widely used in globality studies, yet this prevalence does not make them well-defined terms; on the contrary, most people use these words indiscriminately. Creative intellectual work can of course benefit from an anything-goes terminology, especially when a field’s conceptual language has become too tight and technical and needs to be unbuttoned to allow fresh thinking and new ideas to break through. But that does not happen everyday or adequately describe our situation. We are facing a world that has been brought to life by the recent historical shift to an ecologically, economically, politically, and culturally interdependent global environment. To understand this intricately coupled world system in which nature is shaped by global technoscience and numerous cultures mold competing economies and politics, we must develop an appropriate terminology; indeed, we have to do two things: on the one hand, we have to make the discourse on globalization more technical and, on the other hand, open it up to the slate of disciplinary lingoes involved. Not an easy task, to be sure. However, we must at least try to elucidate our key terms and ascertain their semantic and methodological implications.


Since its surge in the 1990s, globalization has become a blurred concept. Its everyday usage has overwhelmed all attempts at definition with a thousand variations. Following the victory of capitalism after the implosion of the Soviet empire (1989-91), and the subsequent worldwide surge of foreign direct investments, it has also become a shortcut for economic, especially financial globalization. Overly broad and narrow at the same time, one wonders, what is globalization supposed to mean?

Words ending in -ization indicate a process. The language that we are using tells us that words like modernization, globalization, regionalization refer to processes and therefore changes over time — the domain of history. This explains why searching for the significance of an ization process can lead to a grand narrative. Changes without parallel do occur and, sooner or later, historians name them. Hence “epochal theory” (Albrow 1997: 5, 186f.) is warranted sometimes, however, it is advisable to start small. To investigate individual processes and project their likely directions, we can begin by looking for researchable agents and factors. Again, language invoking globalization gives us a first clue. It points to a spatial expansion, developments that involve more of the globe. We would thus be looking for agents and factors that increase the geographical range of things. And what we have already gathered from the globalization of English holds true in general too: globalization tends to propel everything under its influence from a lower to a higher degree of globality.

Another insight can be gleaned from the linguistic possibility that globalization can be transitive (carried from a subject to an object) or intransitive (affecting a subject). [10] Unlike colonization, which was always a transitive action in history, globalization is ambitransitive: it unfolds intransitively, yet can be transitively forced on things as well. So globalization can be an active policy on the one hand, and an empirically and analytically noticeable change on the other; it can come with and without an active agent. We say, the British Empire colonized India and not that India colonized. However, it is possible to see the happening of globalization (without a subject imposing it) and say, the world globalized rapidly in the last decade of the twentieth century; but we can also say (even though it would be erroneous) that the United States globalized the whole world after winning the Cold War.

The perception that globalization is a recent phenomenon, pushed forward by an overbearing superpower, contains some grains of truth but is historically misleading. A case in point, the globalization of the Internet has taken only a few decades to reach around the world, whereas other processes have taken centuries, millennia, or more to penetrate the planet. The globalization of Homo sapiens for instance, our spread in Africa, migration out of Africa and over the whole world has been a long-term globalization covering more than a million years. In short, all globalizations have their particular dimensions and temporal dynamics; they are profoundly plural, spatial, historical, and uneven.

Deciphering the historical signature of the increasing confluence of globalizations without the privilege of hindsight is the high-risk business of an epochal theory of the present time. Yet the prospect of getting the big picture of contemporary global history wrong should not prevent anybody from trying to understand what the various globalizations amount to. Summing it all up by going beyond the spatio-temporal extent of individual globalizations is not only legitimate but also necessary for societies that must make wide-ranging decisions under categorically uncertain conditions. Instant epochal theorizing invites haphazard conjectures, and this we cannot change. We can, however, watch out for the emptiness of circular reasoning (in which the epochal import of all globalizations in the plural is made to be globalization in the singular), the simplifications of historical impressionism, and the ideological politics of globalism.


Words ending in -ism represent an ideology, a one-dimensional worldview, often in contradistinction to an oppositional set of beliefs such as communism versus capitalism. Postmodernism, rival nationalisms, or the anti-globalism of a movement like ATTAC [11] sport one-dimensional perspectives that conversely mirror modernism, the nationalism of others, and globalism. Globalism is the ideology of globalization. It simplifies the complexity of the world in at least four ways: it softens the contradictions built into uneven societies and multidimensional cultures, extenuates the tensions between local cultures, homogenizes the plurality of globalizations, and exaggerates the “flattening” power of technoscience outside its civilizational realm. Writers that can be associated with globalism range from Adam Smith to Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat (2005).

Friedman considers himself a technological and not a historical determinist (374). He features a technologically united world and marvels, “we are now connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network, which — if politics and terrorism do not get in the way — could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation” (8). Friedman knows that this could easily remain a daydream and that the real world is not dished out on a smooth platter: “I know that the world is not flat. Don’t worry. I know” (375). Asking, “What are the biggest constituencies, forces, or problems impeding this flattening process” (375), he notes the dire consequences of endemic poverty (people that are too sick, too disempowered, and too humiliated) and the “natural resource constraint” that prohibits “a car, a house, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a toaster” (407) for everybody on the planet. Conceding that the dream of the good life may never materialize for the majority of humans, he nevertheless hopes that the “creative imagination” of the American “dream machine” will once more work its magic and unleash a new generation of untiring “strategic optimists” (469) that will try again to better the world.

Manfred Steger interprets globalism in the Encyclopedia of Globalization (Robertson & Scholte 2007) as the ideological creed that tries to extend “the Anglo-American model of liberal capitalism and its underlying norms and values to all regions of the world” (Steger 2007: 521). His entry manifests five globalist dogmas (522f.): the first supports the worldwide liberalization and integration of markets; the second articulates the inevitability and irreversibility of globalization; the third propagates impersonal forces (markets and technology) as agents of globalization; the fourth maintains that unimpeded globalization will lift all boats, or at least benefit the largest number of people; and the fifth claims that globalization will spread democracy throughout the world. I would add that globalist ideologies are more numerous and too important in a globalizing world to be dismissed wholesale. Some agendas — think of climate change, Al Gore, and ecological globalism — actually deserve to benefit from the emotional investment and single-mindedness of their supporters.


The third word that we have to come to terms with is globality. Globality trails the usage frequencies of globalism and globalization. A Google Scholar search on April 23, 2007, yielded 2,460 results for globality (incl. references to this journal), 5,920 for globalism, and 88,400 for globalization. A same day check of Wikipedia for an entry on globality came up empty. However, the online Oxford English Dictionary provided a convoluted “draft entry” dated September 2002 listing an early French usage of globalité (1936) and defining globality as “the quality of being global; universality, totality; spec. the quality of having worldwide inclusiveness, reach, or relevance; (the potential for) global integration, operation, or influence (esp. in business and financial contexts).” The OED Online quotation-text cites six examples of how the word has been used between 1942 and 1998. [12]

Words ending in -ity refer to a condition, a distinctive mode of existence and state of being. Nationality, modernity, sexuality are such conditions. They designate a state of affairs but say neither how that state came about nor how far it reaches. The OED seems to think that any given globality must be worldwide but this is not born out by experience or required from a theoretical point of view. In fact, almost all globalities start from scratch. The globality of the Industrial Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century was very low, a local condition that was determined by a few places in England. However, a low globality situation can grow, spread, extend and increase under the influence of a suitable process of globalization. This has obviously happened to the Industrial Revolution.

Casting globality as the local outcome of one or many processes of globalization provides a minimal definition of globality. It avoids circularity, identifies and appraises particular globalities, in their own right and for comparative purposes, and posits that all globalities are either uniform or composite and always measurable (quantitatively from 1 to 100 or qualitatively from low to high). To determine a highly complex globality, the globality of a world region at a given time for example, would require the analysis of many globalities, with other words, a good bit of innovative, but not extraordinary, theoretical and empirical social scientific research. Down the road, people should be able to find globality values on the Internet like gross national product numbers. Yet for that to happen, we have to negotiate a labyrinth of protean meanings and turn the current hodgepodge of globality uses into an operational term for globality studies.

Martin Albrow has touched upon globality throughout his book The Global Age (1996). Some ten years ago, he wrote: “The term we employ to refer to the total set of inscriptions of, or references to the global is globality. Globality is to the global, the Global Age and globalism as modernity is to the modern, the Modern Age and modernism — at least grammatically” (1997: 82). Using the linguistic parallels to stress the substantial differences between modern and global age, globality and modernity, globalism and modernism, was apt and ironic. For Albrow, the “Global Age” was born from a “rupture” (1) at “the end of the Modern Project” (87). He was “wary of the idea of globalization having some inherent direction” (86) and held that “globality promotes the recognition of the limits of the earth but is profoundly different from modernity” (192).

Radical historical change trumps Albrow’s grammatical parallels and marks his notion of an epochal difference. Welcoming the global age, his book reflects the optimism about globalization during the Clinton years (1993-2001). But that mood has passed. The unilateralism and militarism of the George W. Bush presidency and the anti-globalization protests from Seattle (1999) to Genoa (2001) have fueled a growing discontent with neoliberal globalization. In 1996, this dissatisfaction was still latent and obscure, though not unimaginable. [13] The ambiguous twilight into which globalization has settled now is a gift of the early twenty-first century. Seeing globalism in a positive light and not as an ideology first and foremost was in tune with the Zeitgeist of the mid-1990s; Albrow could afford to overlook the ism and focus on caring attitudes about the environment and other worthy causes. [14] Yet not all perceptions have changed in the last decade. Albrow’s distancing of globality from modernity and his non-teleological reading of globalization are as valid as ever.

Even so, two qualifications are in order. First, defining globality as the “total set of inscriptions … to the global” is far too expansive, a terminological excess that would have to be trimmed in accordance with our “negative” clarification (see paragraph 11). Second, imbuing globality with agency (“promotes the recognition of the limits of the earth”) is not warranted. Nothing is gained by personalizing globality; on the contrary, saying that globality develops “its own kinds of organizations and its own kinds of personal responses and attitudes” (119) invokes both the unfettered total-set-assumption of globality and the erroneous supposition that an objective condition can have personal agency. The minimal definition approach to globality avoids both fallacies. It operates with the understanding that globality is a resulting local condition that does nothing on its own, that is neither cause nor agent but rather an analytic snapshot of the extent of discrete global processes at a particular point in time. (Of course, any condition can be a starting ground for further processes and thus trigger the illusion of subsequent developments, but again, historical agency comes from whomever or whatever drives these consecutive processes.)

Martin Shaw’s Theory of the Global State: Globality as Unfinished Revolution (2000) declares: “globality is not the result of a global teleology” but “the outcome of the conscious and intentional actions of many individual and collective human actors” and: “in its simplest meaning, globality is the condition or state in which things are global” (2000: 17f.). However, Shaw also theorizes that “globality represents the global as something increasingly achieved, real and manifest” (18) and that an “extended definition of globality” (26) has to be adopted that acknowledges “the developing social unity of humankind” (25). Now we have to wonder, what is “the global” and what does “increasingly achieved, real and manifest” mean? But most importantly, what does Shaw know about humankind’s future and how did he research it? How can he reject teleology, yet grant globality a clear direction and healthy goal? Shaw must have a global teleology after all. His human development prediction jumps to a normative conclusion that is hard to prove or disprove. Empirical and historical globality studies can share his hope but have to be agnostic about the future, avoid all teleology, and stick to globality “in its simplest meaning.”

Research-oriented globality studies are served best if the conception of globality remains simple. Shaw’s “social unity of humankind” is not documented in the archives and difficult to research empirically; it is a globalist daydream like Friedman’s flat world. Globalism flies to Utopia in a blink, but globality studies have to remain grounded and explore what is real. Only manifest social structures, knowledge centers, networks, nations, cultures, cities, and regions can be researched and their globality determined. When globality studies go to work, they have to investigate the globalities of the past and the present. The vision of a wholesome new social structure glimpsed by Shaw in the year 2000 has to wait for future globality studies. And yet, it may never come true. Perfect globality does not guarantee social unity. The various states of being global can become so extended, interconnected and entrenched one day that all aspects of the human condition exhibit superglobality tied up with disunity. Meanwhile, globality studies are but a diagnostic tool to gauge how far given processes of globalization have spread in space and time.

Roland Robertson’s entry on globality in the Encyclopedia of Globalization underlines that “terms such as globalization and glocalization [15] refer to processes, to changes over time, but the concept of globality refers to a condition” (2007a: 524). Stressing that globality and globalism should be distinguished because “the latter has an ideological flavor, one that is lacking in the former” (ibid.), Robertson affirms another element of the emerging consensus about the basic meanings of globalization, globalism, and globality. His entry is particularly strong about the mistake to restrict globality to our time: “globality, as a concept, should not be confined in its reference to a specific period — and certainly not solely to the period in which we presently live” (ibid.). When a sociologist of Robertson’s standing insists that history matters, one rejoices, even if the history is occasionally unconvincing. [16]

Robertson tries to secure the historicity of globality with “openings to full-fledged globality in the distant past” (ibid.) that can be uncovered. He sends globality studies in the right direction, towards historical research, but with a vague road map that does not say where “full-fledged” begins and how far away “the distant past” is or can be. Without a suitable periodization of global history, the global pasts are without a beginning or an end. For drawing a better map, “full-fledged” would have to be crossed out for all human globalities in the preglobal epoch. In an entry on global history (also in the Encyclopedia of Globalization), I have distinguished between preglobal, protoglobal, and global epochs of macrohistory and argued that no condition can be considered fully global in the pre-Columbian world in which all lives were lived locally and in complete ignorance of the entire planet (2007: 520). Robertson’s phrasing can be defended forever since one can always compress or stretch its potentialities a little bit further. Yet globality studies must leave such ambiguities behind and try to determine past and present globality levels with precision.

According to Robertson, globality contains the basic components of globalization: “The two most general features of the condition of globality are the same as those of globalization: widespread connectivity (or interconnectedness) and global consciousness” (2007a: 524). This is a contradictory definition, not in itself, but with regard to Robertson’s interest in globality studies with historical depth. The “widespread” twins of global connectivity and consciousness are of fairly recent origin and therefore a prohibiting pair of requirements for unlimited historical research. Robertson himself could have seen that. He refers to the cosmopolitan ideas of the eighteenth century and the opening of the Suez Canal in the mid-nineteenth century as major steps “in the direction of ‘full’ globality” — “although such developments were not often explicitly expressed via the specific concept of globality” (2007a: 525). Actually, they were never expressed that way. As far as we know, the word globality did not come into use before the twentieth century (see paragraph 21). However, globality studies without the conceptual burden of twinned worldwide connectivity and consciousness can go as far back in history as they want, aim at any specific point of ignorance, and start with research-inducing questions such as: How far did economic, technical, and cultural connections reach in the first millennium of the Neolithic Revolution? When did Australia surface on the world map? How can one document and measure global reflexivity and consciousness?

Toward Lean Globality Studies

Let’s look no further but gather what we have learned. Globalizations can be transitive without extending personal agency to corresponding globalities. Globalist ideologies can be taken into account without burdening globality with teleology. Simple globalities must be resolved before trying to determine complex ones. Global civilization, the technoscientific management of nature, must be distinguished from local cultures, the primary loci for sense-making. And a periodization of global history must ascribe importance to the gradual unveiling of the face of the earth. We know that globalities are plural, comparable, measurable, and historical, and we can work with globalities that are not worldwide or universal. In short, we are ready for content-rich and methodologically lean globality studies based on a minimal definition of globality. So let’s summarize. Globality is a local condition with four components:

  • a globalization or more
  • a geographical range
  • a state of interconnectedness and
  • a state of consciousness.

Globality studies can take off with this definition, ask new questions, discover new problems, and generate new answers. For example, is regional globality an oxymoron like deafening silence or friendly fire, or a focal point for globality studies? Combining contradictory terms, regional globality seems to be an oxymoron because globality refers to the whole geobody, but a region is only part of it, therefore less than the whole. Hence, a region cannot be global. However, regional globality defies this assumption and suggests that a region can be global. And so it is indeed. Lean globality studies do not require globality to be fully global; they qualify regional globality as a valid and feasible research topic (with the cautionary note of paragraph 23).

Regional organizations respond to military, economic, and technoscientific globalizations that are undercutting national sovereignty; they are political tools that help developing and developed countries. According to Prasert Chittiwatanapong, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, founded in 1967) has turned into “a regional cooperation body … to deal with the globalization challenge” (1999: 75). The systematic unification of Europe, with all its achievements and in spite of all its contradictions, illustrates a similar story. In the 1950s, the founding nations of the European Union had different reasons to band together, but they also had problems in common. NATO, for example, was the military answer to a regional predicament that the country most exposed to the Soviet Union — West Germany — could not tackle itself and, more importantly, could not be allowed by its peers to tackle alone. CERN, the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, the world’s largest particle physics center, exemplifies the regionalization of Big Science. Run by twenty European member states, [17] CERN’s Large Hadron Collider straddles the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva and allows the EU to compete effectively with the United States and everybody else in the Herculean task to solve “Physics’ Biggest Questions.” [18]

Regional globality studies delve into a stream of problems and questions. Is regionalization the optimal response to globalization? How does globalization affect national identities and local cultures? Will regional identities emerge? Is regionalization possible without regionalism? Will regionalism replace nationalism? Can competing national interests serve as checks and balances on regionalist ideologies? To which degree has the global technoscientific civilization penetrated the various global regions? Of course, globality studies range over many fields and these questions are but raw samples from one field. Globality studies examine linguistic, urban, national, and a host of other globalities that we cannot even begin to cover. So let me pose a final question: what is the modus operandi of globality studies?

Globality studies operate with the heuristic assumption that the globality of a language, city, nation, or region is a local condition that can be determined. They take the four components of a specific globality and turn them into four sets of researchable problems. Then they attack these sets of problems. Working the first set, they search for, list, and examine the historical and contemporary globalizations that have shaped the globality under investigation. Thus, they create a globalizations-account for the observed language, city, nation, or region. Working the second set, they explore the exact geographical range of these globalizations for various times. This leads to precise contemporary and historical extension charts. If the input information is vague or spotty, which can always happen, especially with historical data, these charts could be less exact and still be useful. In any case, globality studies produce globalization maps, which make the assessed languages, cities, nations, or regions comparable. Working the third set, they analyze the extent to which the socionatural, sociocultural, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical structures of the observed globality are interconnected at a given time. With this, they gain a measure of the changing interconnectivity of the linguistic, urban, national, or regional systems. And working the fourth set, they evaluate the state of consciousness for past and present globalizations. Reconstructing the transition from objective globalization in-itself to reflexive globalization for-itself, they verify the preglobal lack, protoglobal emergence, or global existence of global consciousness. Thus, the state of global consciousness — the reflexivity-dimension of globality — becomes available for critical analyses and historical interpretations.

The outlined global studies approach may be daunting, but it is still a lean and practical approach thanks to the local concept of globality and the fact that the proposed methodology is not a recipe that has to be followed just so, step by step. Lean globality studies pick and choose; they contribute to globality studies by selectively clarifying a particular component of globality. The suggested theoretical framework for globality studies is comprehensive, but the actual practice of studying globalities is piecemeal.


This article is a thoroughly revised version of my paper for the Third Global Futures of World Regions Conference, “The New Asias and the Vision of East Asian Sociology,” Seoul, September 28, 2006.

[1] See “English as Language of Global Education,” New York Times, April 11, 2007, B7: “Over the last three years, the number of masters programs [for economics students] offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities.”

[2] See Humphrey Tonkin (2007: 714): “As for the Web, in 1999 approximately half of the users of the Internet were native English speakers. Five years later, native English speakers were outnumbered two to one.”

[3] For a comprehensive database of the known living languages of the world that could be mined for linguistic globality studies, see (accessed 22 May 2007).

[4] See Tonkin (2007: 717): “As the language readiness of powerful English-speaking nations like the United States weakens, so does their ability to listen to contrary opinions and deal with foreign trouble spots.”

[5] I have discussed the monolingual culture of the United States in my paper (“How Global is America?”) for the Second Global Futures of World Regions Conference, “The New America,” Berlin, September 22, 2005 (unpublished).

[6] Going beyond the native discourse in a local culture is of course still a risky venture. The New York Times reported that some South Korean universities are offering nearly 30 percent of their undergraduate courses in English, yet the president of Korea University in Seoul, who “sought to raise that share to 60 percent … was not reelected to his post in December” (April 11, 2007, B7).

[7] For two websites that track “female world leaders,” see and (both accessed 23 May 2007). The first site lists 23 female heads of state and government (including reigning queens, female representatives of monarchies, and female leaders of self-governing external territories) as currently being in office. Accounting for presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors only, the second site counts 12 female world leaders at this point and notes that July 2002, April 2006, and March 2007 had been the months with the highest total-ever of 13 so far.

[8] According to Khatami, the “political translation of dialogue among civilizations would consist in arguing that culture, morality and art must prevail on politics.” See (accessed 23 May 2007).

[9] “This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it is a struggle for civilization. We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations.” See (accessed 23 May 2007), “President’s Address to the Nation,” Sept. 11, 2006.

[10] I am grateful to Ronald Dore for drawing attention to the transitive/intransitive distinction in his remarks on modernization and colonization in the “New Asias” conference in Seoul.

[11] ATTAC, which stands for Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens (Association for the Taxation of Transactions for the Aid of Citizens), refers to itself as an “alter-globalization”movement for sustainable and socially just globalization. See (accessed 23 May 2007).

[12]1942 E. A. MOWRER & M. RAJCHMAN Global War IV. 121 Even in 1942 a final obstacle to complete globality [of war] remained—aircraft were not yet sufficiently far ranging so that the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the Axis could keep in touch across the vastness of Soviet Russia. 1959 Times 16 Mar. 3/3 Referring to the omnivorous nature of his interest in the passing scene and his desire to reflect modern life with an international range, he searches for a word sufficiently all-embracing: ‘I have been trying to evolve a sort of—globality.’ 1977 Internat. Affairs 53 435 The EEC started with rather unrealistic assumptions about the globality of its approach and the actual contents of its [global Mediterranean] policy. 1981 Forbes (Nexis) 19 Jan. 31 The globality of our negotiations is the most novel aspect of our international oil policy. 1989 R. PENROSE Emperor’s New Mind x. 423 The globality of inspirational thought is particularly remarkable in Mozart’s quotation (‘It does not come to me successively..but in its entirety’). 1998 Newsweek 18 May 26/1 We are now beginning to see a reality beyond globalization—the world of ‘globality’.” The OED Online entry on “globality” requires an individual or institutional subscription; see (accessed 23 May 2007).

[13] Protests in Madrid in October 1994 on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund began to articulate the critique of neoliberlaism with slogans like “No $s for Ozone Layer Destruction.” See the entry on “Anti-globalization” at (accessed 23 May 2007).

[14] See Albrow (1997: 83): “Where human beings assume obligations towards the world as a whole, where they espouse values which take the globe as their frame or reference point, there we can speak of globalism. It has its most obvious expression in the green movement, in the emphasis on global ecology, the finitude of natural resources and the need for sustainable development.”

[15] For glocalization, see Robertson (1995 and 2007b). Robertson introduced this term in a paper  for a conference on “Global Civilization and Local Cultures” that I had organized in 1992 in Germany at Darmstadt University. The paper was entitled “On the Concept of Glocalization: The Limitations of the Local-Global Distinction.”

[16] In his entry on globality, Robertson writes: “An event of truly enormous significance occurred in 1512, when the Polish philosopher and scientist Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth was not the center of the universe, as long had been assumed, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church, but that planets exist in a heliocentric, sun-centered universe” (2007a: 524). No doubt, the Copernican Revolution deserves to be ranked with the other capitalized revolutions in history and not just the history of science. But nothing of “truly enormous significance” happened in 1512. This date has no relevance in the Copernican context. The Commentariolus (Little Commentary) in which Copernicus first “asserts the Earth moves while the Sun stands still,” as a sixteenth-century professor at Cracow University noted, was shared with a few people in manuscript form in 1514. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri sex (Six Books on the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), Copernicus’ main work, was printed in Nuremberg in 1543, the year Copernicus died. Moreover, the “Polish philosopher and scientist” had a mixed, medieval identity. Politically, Copernicus was a subject of the king of Poland, culturally he was German (his private letters are in German), intellectually he was a Latin cosmopolitan (his professional language was Latin), and religiously he was a Roman Catholic with a doctorate in church law. Thus, he was neither a philosopher nor a scientist but a loyal Catholic cleric (canon) in Frauenburg (Frombork) with many responsibilities and interests. Copernicus developed heliocentricity in his free time as an economical alternative to the geocentric models of Aristotle and Ptolemy, yet was in no position to “demonstrate” his theory — this “demonstration” took the whole Scientific Revolution including the contributions of Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. An actual demonstration was not possible before 1838 when stellar parallax, which was a noted requirement of the heliocentric system, was measured for the first time (for star 61 Cygni) at the Königsberg Observatory by Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel.

[17] For a list of the current member states of CERN, see (accessed 23 May 2007, updated 5 March 2014).

[18] See “A Giant Takes on Physics’ Biggest Questions,” New York Times, May 15, 2007, F1 and F4f.


Albrow, Martin. 1997. The global age: state and society beyond modernity, first ed. 1996. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Chittiwatanapong, Prasert. 1999. “Challenges of and responses to globalization: the case of South-East Asia.” In Globalism, Regionalism, and Nationalism: Asia in Search of its Role in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Yoshinobu Yamamato, 70-92. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Friedman, Thomas L. 2005. The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Mendieta, Eduardo, Robert Phillipson, and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. 2006. “English in the geopolitics of knowledge.” Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 53 (November): 15-26.

Robertson, Roland. 1995. “Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity.” In Global modernities, edited by Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson, 25-44. London: SAGE Publications.

2007a. “Globality.” In Encyclopedia of globalization, edited by Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, vol. 2, 524-26. New York and London: Routledge.

2007b. “Glocalization.” In Encyclopedia of globalization, edited by Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, vol. 2, 545-48. New York and London: Routledge.

Robertson, Roland, and Jan Aart Scholte, Editors-in-chief. 2007. Encyclopedia of Globalization, Associate Editors: Fantu Cheru, Christine Chinkin, Ken Conca, Robert Holton, Wolf Schäfer, Otávio Velho, Ingrid Volkmer, and Wang Ning. New York and London: Routledge. 4 volumes.

Schäfer, Wolf. 2001. “Global civilization and local cultures: a crude look at the whole.” International Sociology 16, no. 3, September: 301-19. Available online from the Center for Global History at

2007. “Global history.” In Encyclopedia of globalization, edited by Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, vol. 2, 516-21. New York and London: Routledge.  Available online from the Center for Global History at

Shaw, Martin. 2000. Theory of the global state: globality as unfinished revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steger, Manfred. 2007. “Globalism.” In Encyclopedia of globalization, edited by Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, vol. 2, 521-24. New York and London: Routledge.

Tonkin, Humphrey. 2007. “Language.” In Encyclopedia of globalization, edited by Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, vol. 2, 711-17. New York and London: Routledge.

Copyright © GSJ & Author(s). ISSN 1557-0266