Essay by supersaadiUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, February 2011

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Globalization-the diverse, complex set of processes that transcend national borders-is not a "natural" or inevitable phenomenon but a historical product and therefore contingent and malleable. Because globalization does not benefit everyone, contrary to popular neoclassical economic assertions that it forms a tide that lifts all boats, globalization often breeds resentment among those who bear its costs but enjoy relatively few of its benefits. For this reason, it may be said that globalization inevitably breeds its own opposition.

Resistance to globalization is as old as globalization itself. Thus, from the beginning, European colonial empires were met with heated opposition, often violent and generally unsuccessful. Examples include the Incan uprisings against the Spanish in the early 16th century, Zulu attacks on Dutch and British pioneers in Southern Africa, the great Sepoy Rebellion of India in 1857, and the long series of anticolonial and guerrilla struggles in Vietnam, Algeria, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, some of which persisted into the 1970s.

For many contemporary opponents of globalization, current engagements are part of a long history of opposition that reaches back centuries.

Contemporary antiglobalization movements take a variety of forms. For many, the movements are relatively peaceful in nature, including protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and working through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). For others, opposition takes on a decidedly more active, even violent form. Benjamin Barber's famous book Jihad vs. McWorld noted this diversity of forms, using jihad, the Arabic expression for holy war, as a metaphor for the vast umbrella of groups opposed to contemporary globalization and "McWorld" as a metaphor for the American-led, information-intensive penetration of various societies by crass commercialism, including fast food, entertainment and media (particularly Hollywood cinema), and fashion, all of which are the most visible faces of Western hegemony and are seen by many as cultural imperialism.

Nonviolent Antiglobalization

Because of the dominant role of the United States in the contemporary world system, globalization in the minds of many people is synonymous with Americanization. Much of the world has a love-hate relationship with the United States, often adoring its popular culture but abhorring the foreign policies of the American government, which has earned enmity in part for its long support of unsavory dictatorships in many regions, particularly during the Cold War. Globalization, in this reading, consists of the one-way export of American culture to the rest of the world, a process that threatens cultural diversity through the imposition of a monoculture across the planet. Opposition to the United States, for example, may take the form of attacks on Ronald McDonald, the clown statue that serves as a mascot for that famous fast-food chain, as a symbol of American commercialism.

American-style globalization is most powerful when it seduces the young, for whom it promises fun, status, hope, sexual appeal, and the appeal of wealth and power. In this sense, McWorld infantilizes everyone, turning adults and children alike into teenagers, wearing the same clothes, listening to the same music, and watching the same movies. The young may rapidly adopt Western customs at the expense of time-honored traditions. For the elderly, however, globalization can present a bewildering mix of new customs, leading to a generation gap. Perhaps the biggest contest between globalization and its opponents is in the minds of youth.

A different form of antipathy to globalization is found in Western Europe. Many residents of France or neighboring countries, for example, are disgusted with the crassest aspects of American culture: its obsession with money, commodities, and status and its neglect of tradition and leisure. (Vacation times in Europe tend to be considerably longer than in the United States.) For example, when the French farmer José Bové drove his truck into a McDonald's restaurant in 1999 to demonstrate his hostility to American fast food, he became a national hero. Other Europeans strenuously object to the import of American genetically modified foods. Given the state of social democracies in Europe, many Europeans abhor the intensity of American individualism, its denial of the social origins of people, and the correspondingly conservative lack of empathy for the poor and unfortunate that this ideology often produces. The United States, in this view, is overly tolerant of inequality and social injustice. Moreover, in Europe, an increasingly secular continent, there is widespread dislike of the prominent role that organized religion plays in American public life and of the profound religiosity of the American people, manifested, for example, in the rise of the "religious right" and attempts to limit the teaching of evolution in schools. Such phenomena are seen as symptomatic of a generalized anti-intellectualism in U.S. culture, which is stereotyped (accurately or not) as a culture in which ideas and the life of the mind are held in low regard. Finally, many Europeans view the United States as a cowboy culture, given the widespread ownership of firearms and rates of violent crime that greatly exceed those of almost all industrialized countries. This celebration of violence extends to the American use of the death penalty, which is absent in all other economically developed states.

Filipino protesters burn a sign during a rally in front of the main gate of the U.S. embassy in Manila, November 9, 2001, to protest the World Trade Organization's (WTO) ministerial meeting.

Source: Reuters/Corbis.

Grassroots Antiglobalization

Another variant of opposition to globalization emanates from a vast assortment of organizations of varying sizes and purposes that seek to resist neoliberal initiatives in various ways. Many such groups view globalization as something of a cabal or conspiracy fomented by transnational corporations, producing policies that are secretive and antidemocratic, that work against the interests of the poor and disadvantaged, and that are environmentally destructive. There are tens of thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide that work to soften the bluntest edges of globalization, including charities, philanthropies, community organizers, human and animal rights groups, research institutes, environmental activists, and watchdog organizations. Such groups are part of the civil society of the world's peoples (i.e., belonging neither to the state nor to the market). Their numbers exploded in the late 20th century in the wake of neoliberal assaults on various parts of the world, and many use the Internet to form alliances and to work cooperatively.

Environmental groups, for example, may be concerned with sustainable development, desertification, soil erosion, the preservation of wilderness and biodiversity, endangered species, the treatment of domesticated and wild animals, global warming, rivers and wetlands, and environmental justice. If, in their opinion, transnational corporations view the world as a set of resources to be harvested, their goal is to protect the commons shared by all. Examples include Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry, the Rainforest Alliance, Friends of the Earth, and more locally based groups such as the Philippine Association for Conservation and Development or the Mountain Trust in Nepal.

Human rights and labor movements form another dimension of grassroots globalization, including those concerned with protecting the interests and rights of women, children, refugees, the handicapped and retarded, and workers. Topics embraced by such groups range from poverty alleviation and human trafficking and slavery to the protection of endangered ethnic cultures. Some target the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its Structural Adjustment Programs, as well as the World Bank, and demand debt relief for impoverished countries. Some engage in attacks on meetings of the IMF or World Trade Organization (WTO), such as the "Battle in Seattle" in 1995, the assault on the G-8 in Genoa in 2001, and the demonstrations against the WTO in the Yucatan in 2005, which included strenuous opposition to subsidized American agricultural exports. Others are concerned with the preservation of tribal cultures and indigenous peoples, such as Australian aborigines, Native Americans, and the Ogoni of Nigeria. Global organizations in this vein include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Handicap International, Academics for Justice, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. More local examples include the Ethiopian Women's Organization, the Pachamama Alliance, and Indian groups mobilizing on behalf of the dalits, or untouchables. The World Social Forum forms an umbrella for many such groups, with the slogan "Another World Is Possible."

Violent Antiglobalization

Although most opposition to globalization is peaceful, one variant engages in armed resistance. The origins of such groups, commonly labeled terrorists, lie in the complex transformations of many societies in the face of intense globalization. As a long tradition of Weberian social science has noted, modernity generates numerous secularizing changes in identity and behavior associated with the rise of markets, individualism, and commodity-based norms. Essentially, it may be held that Western, modern forms of life reduce identity to that of a buyer or seller of commodities, obliterating many time-honored, noncapitalist forms of life grounded in tradition. Particularly for people who experience severe disorientation through rural-to-urban migration, torn from local support systems, and the annihilation of systems of meaning that provided ontological security (honor, family, ancestors, God, etc.), modernity can be viewed as a sinister, morally offensive force. In the view of such victims of globalization, all that is holy is rendered profane. David Harvey (1990) notes that the disorienting changes in time and space that have accompanied the latest round of globalization often provoke a retreat into the local:

The more global interrelations become, the more internationalised our dinner ingredients and our money flows, and the more spatial barriers disintegrate, so more rather than less of the world's population clings to place and neighbourhood or to national, region, ethnic grouping, or religious belief as specific marks of identity. Such a quest for visible and tangible marks of identity is readily understandable in the midst of fierce timespace compression. (p. 427)

Given that globalization is often viewed as a secularizing force, it is not surprising that some of the most heated violent opposition has emanated from religious groups. Indeed, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, religious fundamentalism has erupted around the world, often coupled with antiglobalization sentiments. In the United States, for example, the upsurge in the religious right, in conjunction with the Republican Party, has ignited conservative political activists. On the extreme fringes of this ideology are militias that engage in xenophobic violence against immigrants; others view the federal government in terms of paranoid fantasies, including Timothy McVeigh, who destroyed a federal office building in Oklahoma City. In Europe, such movements include British skinheads, German attacks on guest workers, and French xenophobes led by LePen. In India, Hindu fundamentalists include the Bharatiya Janata Party, which instigated the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque and attacks on Indian Muslims. In the world of Judaism, the most rapid growth has been among ultraorthodox Hasidim, who support conservative policies vis-Ã -vis the Palestinians; the Gush Emunim movement to establish Eretz Israel; and the settlers on the West Bank.

Of course, the upsurge in religious fundamentalism also includes Islam, the world's second largest religion, with 1.5 billion followers. While the Western media often portray the Muslim world in negative terms, the fact remains that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding. Nonetheless, a tiny minority, fueled by indifferent, corrupt governments in the Arab world, blame their culture's relative powerlessness in the world, and particularly against Israel, on an ostensible departure from the teachings of the Holy Koran. Radical Islamists toppled the Shah of Iran in 1979 and installed the Ayatollah Khomeini, turning Iran into a medieval theocracy. Others include the Muslim Brotherhood, which assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1982. In Afghanistan, the Taliban drove out the Soviets in 1989, reorganized the country along strictly fundamentalist lines, hosted al-Qaeda in 2001, and has fought the United States since the American invasion later that year. Among Palestinian nationalists, hitherto a relatively secular movement, as exemplified by the Palestine Liberation Organization, fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have been associated with suicide attacks against Israel. And obviously, al-Qaeda (Arabic for "the base") exemplifies the most pernicious aspects of this trend: Led by the infamous Osama bin Laden, member of a Yemeni family that grew rich in Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda has become the most visible face of Muslim opposition to globalization and the United States, as spectacularly exemplified by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. To understand such movements, it is imperative not to view them in simplistic terms as acts of insanity or cowardice but to understand the social origins that drive individuals and groups to seek such goals, the poverty, frustration, humiliation, and sense of powerlessness that globalization often generates.


Antiglobalization, like globalization, is a diverse set of groups and ideologies, some of which find common ground. At their best, such efforts help protect the defenseless and preserve endangered cultures and environments. At its worst, antiglobalization can commit sins worse than the global forces it opposes. Because globalization has increasingly come to mean Western cultural and economic neocolonialism and neoliberalism, antiglobalization will inevitably rise not simply as its opponent but as its birth child.



Barber, B , (1995). Jihad vs. McWorld: How globalism and tribalism are reshaping the world. New York: Ballantine.

Hawken, P , (2007). Blessed unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. New York: Penguin.

Stump, R , (2000). Boundaries of faith: Geographical perspectives on religious fundamentalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Warf, B. and Grimes, J Counterhegemonic discourses and the Internet. Geographical Review vol. 87 pp. 259-274. (1997).