Thursday, February 23, 2012

Globalisation: In The Field

By now it should come as no surprise to anybody that my research area is within that widely-dispersed and contestable phenomenon (or, to the hardcore, 'presumed phenomenon') known as globalisation. It is indeed a fiercely contested phenomenon, because many heavyweights have attempted to define, counter-define, or redefine it; some have sought to rubbish it as just a convenient term to cover many other phenomena that just happen to interact across the globe.

But something from a recent paper by Susan Robertson resonated within me. And, as a former communications specialist, I realised how appropriate that metaphor was.

You see, globalisation is indeed a field. Like the many fields we encounter in physics, defining it is often based on empirical research concerning how it acts upon (or otherwise interacts with) other entities. In the case of a modulated radio-wave field, it induces a variable current in a conductor (or antenna), which we can convert to audible sound waves.

Similarly, globalisation is a field with many components. Some components can be measured by effects on entities (such as 'education sectors' or 'markets') and sub-entities thereof (such as 'schools' or 'businesses'). Some can be measured by less quantitative effects and other debateable phenomena such as human well-being and quality of life.

The lessons we learn from investigating the field of globalisation therefore depend very much on which instruments we use and what entities we observe interacting with that field. Since the primary observers, investigators and participants are all human, globalisation field theory is thus a human science, and can be treated as a multi-disciplinary area of expertise much as complexity theory.

But is globalisation a real phenomenon? Undoubtedly it is. It is real in the sense that it is not ideal, but actual; it is also real in the sense that discussing it as a phenomenon allows us to say it is one, since it is a human phenomenon. After all, we have no doubt that 'love' is a real phenomenon even though some people say it all boils down to oxytocin levels.

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