Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Explain how globalization altered people’s sense of identity. How did globalization challenge national identity and the idea of the nation-state?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Benedict Anderson in his monumental book Imagined Communities, nationalism was a phenomenon that emerged in Europe and the rest of the world around the end of the eighteenth century. Anderson argues that popular literature, particularly the novel and the newspaper, began to be printed in local vernacular languages as European printers began moving away from publishing entirely in Latin and French. The emergence of a local literature that was written in a language ordinary people could understand enabled the formation of a sense of solidarity within national boundaries. Citizens of the nation could read about one another for the first time in history and share a connection with other people many miles away with whom they had never interacted. According to Anderson, the proliferation of a shared literary language permitted national citizens to form an imagined relationship with other citizens, absent any direct contact.

One way we can expand Anderson’s definition of nationalism in order to better explain the rise of globalization and identity formation is to observe how mediums of communication have expanded in the twentieth century. If in the nineteenth century, local newspapers created a national vernacular that allowed citizens of one nation to feel attachment to one another, then the vernacular of the twentieth century has expanded to a point where people recognize commonality at a global level. This has been facilitated by the establishment of the English language as the global language of commerce and academia. It has further been supported by the rise of multimedia, the Internet, and mass culture.

A non-Western example of the advent of a unified global identity would be the Afro-Asian movement of the so-called Third World. In 1955, Indonesia held the Bandung Conference, in which representatives from all of the world’s lower-income nations met in order to discuss issues of common concern. Representatives came from Indonesia, China, Southeast Asia, India, and also from the United States and Great Britain, among other countries. At this conference, a common language of “anti-imperialism” and “Afro-Asian solidarity” was worked out, primarily in response to the violence associated with decolonization and the threat posed by Cold War–mediated nuclear proliferation. In any case, these representatives came to see themselves as part of a larger global order, and the “Third World” identity came to define a people who recognized that they shared an experience that extended beyond national boundaries. In this way, European and American imperial domination directly fed into the formation of a transnational identity in the Global South.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Globalization is a long-term historical process that began to develop along with colonialism and imperialism. In many parts of the world its effects were in place before the age of Independence. Imperialism encouraged people in the colonlized territories to develop strong loyalties to abstract forces in distant lands, and discouraged mutual trust and loyal to neighboring polities. The newly independent countries were often financially hard pressed so they quickly accepted unfavorable terms proposed by investors and lenders. Nationalism was often weak as rival factions vied for political control.

In historical perspective, globalization is an outgrowth of those combined processes of development and underdevelopment. The economic appeal of jobs for multinational corporations, which paid much higher wages, was undeniable. Furthermore, massive advertising campaigns encouraged consumption of unnecessary and often harmful products such as soda, cigarettes, and alcohol. Brand loyalty was promoted over national loyalty.

The Coca-Cola company offers an excellent example. Making soda requires taking clean water and adding sugar, which is then sold at exorbitant prices. Their musical advertising slogan, "I'd like to teach the world to sing…," promoted the idea that drinking unhealthy sugary water somehow advanced international understanding, rather than tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes. Globalization is sometimes referred to as "coca-colonization."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Globalization is the world order that has developed in the wake of the Cold War. The term was popularized especially by Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, who wrote two monographs on the topic, beginning with The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999) and then The World Is Flat (2005). Friedman has argued in particular that individual countries have forsaken economic sovereignty to participate in the global economy.

Globalization is a term that refers to the integration of communications, technology, and economic markets. The effect on identity is certainly, out of necessity, compromised. As opposed to the Cold War system, wherein countries were divided and an individual's and nation's sense of identity was defined by the country into which one was divided, globalization is defined by interconnectivity.

On the one hand, globalization allows for the free exchange of ideas, technology, and culture (especially by means of the Internet, globalization's single most representative symbol). On the other hand, this same ease of communication arguably allows projections of culture to disseminate rapidly, thus reinforcing national stereotypes.

In reality, a nation-state that formerly espoused isolationist views is now forced to engage with other nations in order to keep costs of goods affordable as a consumer and also remain competitive as a producer in a global market. Nation-states might not disappear entirely in a globalized market, but the way they do business will change. Globalization generally promotes features of Western culture, and so the effect of globalization will not be the same for all nation-states.

There are globalization enthusiasts (who tend to overemphasize the effects of globalization) as well as skeptics (who think globalization is an overstated phenomenon). Though nation-states are not in control of their own economies to the extent that they used to be (owing to the existence of organizations such as the WTO, NAFTA, and the IMF), there remains a place for nation-states in a globalized world, primarily as regulators of humanitarian issues (such as keeping in check the ever-widening wage gap), as well as, more abstractly, agents of "culture" that propagate national trends and fashions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team