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Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 10.2 (2003) 87-111

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A Critical Methodology of Globalization:
Politics of the 21st Century?

Vidya S. A. Kumar*

With international protests against globalization occurring almost as frequently as the term "globalization" is uttered, the fundamental question of what globalization is seems to have been eclipsed by promulgations of its arrival. Globalization, as proponents and protesters alike proclaim, is upon us, forcing us to determine what, if anything, must be done about it. This article will argue that the debate about what to do about globalization is still very much a debate about what globalization is. My aim is to reflect, from an interdisciplinary perspective, upon the intimate relationship between how globalization is defined and what globalization theorists propose as appropriate responses to its effects, positive or negative. This article is divided into four parts. Part I distinguishes between two uses of the term "globalization," and articulates the focus of the article in light of that distinction. Part II maps some of the multifarious and, at times, contradictory definitions of globalization articulated by globalization theorists across the disciplines of sociology, law, political science, social theory and economics. 1 Part III analyzes whether a relationship exists between the activities of globalization description and prescription, 2 and Part IV then articulates the need for a critical methodology of globalization that accounts for this relationship. [End Page 87]

I. Distinguishing Between "Capital-G" and "Small-g" Globalization

The ubiquity of the term "globalization" is beyond debate and almost seems trite to mention. 3 Globalization theory—the study of globalization—is a "new academic industry," firmly ensconced in most disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences. 4 This may not be surprising if one considers that the term "globalization" has been around over forty years, first appearing in Webster's Dictionary in 1961. 5 Despite its age, or perhaps because of it, it would be a difficult, if not indomitable, task to completely capture the multiplicity of meanings connoted by the term "globalization."

One analytical way to manage the enormity of this task is to distinguish between capital-G "Globalization" and small-g "globalization." That is to say, it may be conceptually helpful to presume a distinction between what is actually happening globally—globalization—and what globalization theorists describe as occurring globally—Globalization. This strategy builds on James H. Mittelman's assertion that globalization may be both an "objective and subjective phenomenon." 6 Accordingly, this paper argues that globalization theorists attempt to define globalization, but in so doing, they create Globalization. 7 This approach recognizes that the study of Globalization is as important, if not more so, as that of globalization, in so far as it explicitly recognizes the role that globalization theorists play in the construction of social understandings or facts about globalization.

Admittedly, there are limitations to this approach. First, by making this analytic distinction, one avoids having to answer the contentious question of whether the definition of globalization propounded by a particular globalization theorist is accurate—whether it squares with reality. Although this is an important question, it is beyond this article's scope (and others seem to be [End Page 88] answering it elsewhere 8 ). My purpose is much narrower. I intend to survey an interdisciplinary sample of definitions of globalization not necessarily to juxtapose their similarities and differences with each other or with reality, but rather to uncover the relationship between the theorists' descriptions and prescriptions about globalization. Given this limited purpose, I am primarily concerned with how Globalization is being characterized by globalization theorists and what, if anything, this implies.

Second, it is important to underscore that this article does not present an authoritative definition of globalization, although it does examine the definitions of globalization propounded, and the methodologies employed, by the globalization theorists surveyed. Moreover, this article does not intend to join the debate as to whether or not globalization exists, and, if so, what the term means. For better or for worse, this article will presume that it does, 9 although this...


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