Theorizing Globalization


Douglas Kellner


      Globalization appears to be the buzzword of the 1990s, the primary attractor of books, articles, and heated debate, just as postmodernism was the most fashionable and debated topic of the 1980s. A wide and diverse range of social theorists are arguing that today's world is organized by accelerating globalization, which is strengthening the dominance of a world capitalist economic system, supplanting the primacy of the nation-state by transnational corporations and organizations, and eroding local cultures and traditions through a global culture.[1] Marxists, world systems theorists, functionalists, Weberians, and other contemporary theorists are converging on the position that globalization is a distinguishing trend of the present moment.


Moreover, advocates of a postmodern break in history argue that developments in transnational capitalism are producing a new global historical configuration of post-Fordism, or postmodernism as an emergent cultural logic of capitalism (Harvey 1989; Soja 1989; Jameson 1991; and Gottdiener 1995). Others define the emergent global economy and culture as a "network society" grounded in new communications and information technology (Castells 1996, 1997, and 1998). For others, globalization marks the triumph of capitalism and its market economy (see apologists such as Fukuyama 1992 and Friedman 1999 who perceive this process as positive, while others portray it as negative, such as Mander and Goldsmith 1996; Eisenstein 1998; and Robins and Webster 1999). Some theorists see the emergence of a new transnational ruling elite and the universalization of consumerism (Sklair 2001), while others stress global fragmentation of “the clash of civilizations” (Huntington 1996). Driving “post” discourses into novel realms of theory and politics, Hardt and Negri (2000) present the emergence of “Empire” as producing emergent forms of sovereignty, economy, culture, and political struggle that open the new millennium to an unforeseeable and unpredictable flow of novelties, surprises, and upheavals.


      Indeed, globalization is one of the most hotly debated issues of the present era. For some, it is a cover concept for global capitalism and imperialism, and is accordingly condemned as another form of the imposition of the logic of capital and the market on ever more regions of the world and spheres of life. For others, it is the continuation of modernization and a force of progress, increased wealth, freedom, democracy, and happiness. Its defenders present globalization as beneficial, generating fresh economic opportunities, political democratization, cultural diversity, and the opening to an exciting new world. Its critics see globalization as harmful, bringing about increased domination and control by the wealthier overdeveloped nations over the poor underdeveloped countries, thus increasing the hegemony of the “haves” over the “have nots.” In addition, supplementing the negative view, globalization critics assert that globalization produces an undermining of democracy, a cultural homogenization, and increased destruction of natural species and the environment.[2] Some imagine the globalization project -- whether viewed positively or negatively -- as inevitable and beyond human control and intervention, whereas others view globalization as generating new conflicts and new spaces for struggle, distinguishing between globalization from above and globalization from below (and Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000).


      I wish to sketch aspects of a critical theory of globalization that will discuss the fundamental transformations in the world economy, politics, and culture in a dialectical framework that distinguishes between progressive and emancipatory features and oppressive and negative attributes. This requires articulations of the contradictions and ambiguities of globalization and the ways that globalization is both imposed from above and yet can be contested and reconfigured from below. I argue that the key to understanding globalization critically is theorizing it at once as a product of technological revolution and the global restructuring of capitalism in which economic, technological, political, and cultural features are intertwined. From this perspective, one should avoid both technological and economic determinism and all one-sided optics of globalization in favor of a view that theorizes globalization as a highly complex, contradictory, and thus ambiguous set of institutions and social relations, as well as involving flows of goods, services, ideas, technologies, cultural forms, and people (see Appadurai 1996).


      Finally, I will raise the question of whether debates centered around the "post" (i.e. postmodernism, postindustrialism, postFordism, and so on) do or do not elucidate the phenomenon of globalization. I argue in the affirmative, claiming that discourses of the post dramatize what is new, original, and different in our current situation, but that such discourse can be and is easily misused. For the discourse of postmodernity, for example, to have any force, it must be grounded in analysis of scientific and technological revolution and the global restructuring of capital or it is just an empty buzzword (see Best and Kellner 1997 and 2001). Thus, I would suggest that to properly theorize postmodernity, one must articulate globalization and the roles of technoscience and new technologies in its construction. In turn, understanding how scientific and technological revolution and the global restructuring of capitalism are creating unique historical configurations of globalization helps one perceive the urgency and force of the discourse of the “post.”


Globalization, Technological Revolution, and the Restructuring of Capitalism


      For critical social theory, globalization involves both capitalist markets and sets of social relations and flows of commodities, capital, technology, ideas, forms of culture, and people across national boundaries via a global networked society (see Castells 1996, 1997, and 1998 and Held, et al 1999). The transmutations of technology and capital work together to create a new globalized and interconnected world. A technological revolution involving the creation of a computerized network of communication, transportation, and exchange is the presupposition of a globalized economy, along with the extension of a world capitalist market system that is absorbing ever more areas of the world and spheres of production, exchange, and consumption into its orbit. The technological revolution presupposes global computerized networks and the free movement of goods, information, and peoples across national boundaries. Hence, the Internet and global computer networks make possible globalization by producing a technological infrastructure for the global economy. Computerized networks, satellite-communication systems, and the software and hardware that link together and facilitate the global economy depend on breakthroughs in microphysics. Technoscience has generated transistors, increasingly powerful and sophisticated computer chips, integrated circuits, high-tech communication systems, and a technological revolution that provides an infrastructure for the global economy and society (see Gilder 1989 and 2000; Kaku 1997; and Best and Kellner 2001).


      From this perspective, globalization cannot be understood without comprehending the scientific and technological revolutions and global restructuring of capital that are the motor and matrix of globalization. Many theorists of globalization, however, either fail to observe the fundamental importance of scientific and technological revolution and the new technologies that help spawn globalization, or interpret the process in a technological determinist framework that occludes the economic dimensions of the imperatives and institutions of capitalism. Such one-sided optics fail to grasp the coevolution of science, technology, and capitalism, and the complex and highly ambiguous system of globalization that combines capitalism and democracy, technological mutations, and a turbulent mixture of costs and benefits, gains and losses.


      In order to theorize the global network economy, one therefore needs to avoid the extremes of technological and economic determinism.  Technological determinists frequently use the discourse of postindustrial, or postmodern, society to describe current developments. This discourse often produces an ideal-type distinction between a previous mode of industrial production characterized by heavy industry, mass production and consumption, bureaucratic organization, and social conformity, contrasted to the new postindustrial society characterized by "flexible production," or "postFordism," in which new technologies serve as the demiurge to a new postmodernity (Harvey 1987).


For postmodern theorists such as Baudrillard (1993), technologies of information and social reproduction (e.g. simulation) have permeated every aspect of society and created a new social environment. In the movement toward postmodernity, Baudrillard claims that humanity has left behind reality and modern conceptions, as well as the world of modernity. This postmodern adventure is marked by an implosion of technology and the human, which is generating a new posthuman species and postmodern world (see Baudrillard 1993 and the analyses in Kellner 1989b and 1994). For other less extravagant theorists of the technological revolution, the human species is evolving into a novel postindustrial technosociety, culture, and condition where technology, knowledge, and information are the axial or organizing principles (Bell 1976).


      There are positive and negative models of technological determinism. A positive discourse envisages new technologies as producing a new economy interpreted affirmatively as fabricating a fresh wealth of nations. On this affirmative view, globalization provides opportunities for small business and individual entrepreneurs, empowering excluded persons and social groups. Technophiles claim that new technologies also make possible increased democratization, communication, education, culture, entertainment, and other social benefits, thus generating a utopia of social progress.


Few legitimating theories of the information and technological revolution, however, contextualize the structuring, implementation, marketing, and use of new technologies in the context of the vicissitudes of contemporary capitalism. The ideologues of the information society act as if technology were an autonomous force and either neglect to theorize the coevolution of capital and technology, or use the advancements of technology to legitimate market capitalism (i.e. Gilder 1989 and 1999; Gates 1995 and 1999; Friedman 1999). Theorists, like Kevin Kelly, for instance, the executive editor of Wired, think that humanity has entered a post-capitalist society that constitutes an original and innovative stage of history and economy where previous categories do not apply (1994 and 1998; see the critique in Best and Kellner 1999). Or, like Bill Gates (1995 and 1999), defenders of the “new economy” imagine computer and information technologies producing a "friction-free capitalism," perceived as a highly creative form of capitalism that goes beyond its previous contradictions, forms, and limitations.


      A negative version of technological determinism, by contrast, portrays the new world system as constituted by a monolithic or homogenizing technological system of domination. The German philosopher and Nazi supporter Martin Heidegger talked of the "complete Europeanisation of the earth and man" (1971: 15), claiming that Western science and technology were creating a new organization or framework, which he called Gestell (or "enframing"), and that was encompassing ever more realms of experience. French theorist Jacques Ellul (1967) depicted a totalitarian expansion of technology, or what he called la technique, imposing its logic on ever more domains of life and human practices. More recently, a large number of technophobic critics argue that new technologies and global cyberspace are a realm of alienation and reification where humans are alienated from our bodies, other people, nature, tradition, and lived communities (Borgmann 1994 and 1999; Slouka 1995; Stoll 1995; Shenk 1998; and Virilio 1998).


      In addition to technologically determinist and reductive postindustrial accounts of globalization, there are economic determinist discourses that view it primarily as the continuation of capitalism rather than its restructuring through technological revolution. A large number of theorists conceive globalization simply as a process of the imposition of the logic of capital and neo-liberalism on various parts of the world rather than seeing the restructuring process and the enormous changes and transformations that scientific and technological revolution are producing in the networked economy and society. Capital logic theorists, for instance, portray globalization primarily as the imposition of the logic of capital on the world economy, polity, and culture, often engaging in economic determinism, rather than seeing the complex new configurations of economy, technology, polity, and culture, and attendant forces of domination and resistance. In the same vein, some critical theorists depict globalization as the triumph of a globalized hegemony of market capitalism, where capital creates a homogeneous world culture of commercialization, commodification, administration, surveillance, and domination (Robins and Webster 1999).


      From these economistic perspectives, globalization is merely a continuation of previous social tendencies; i.e. the logic of capital and domination by corporate and commercial interests of the world economy and culture. Defenders of capitalism, by contrast, present globalization as the triumph of free markets, democracy, and individual freedom (Fukuyama 1998 and Friedman 1999). Hence, there are both positive and negative versions of economic and technological determinism. Most theories of globalization, therefore, are reductive, undialectical, and one-sided, either failing to see the interaction between technological features of globalization and the global restructuring of capitalism, or the complex relations between capitalism and democracy. Dominant discourses of globalization are thus one-sidedly for or against globalization, failing to articulate the contradictions and the conflicting costs and benefits, upsides and downsides, of the process. Hence, many current theories of globalization do not capture the novelty and ambiguity of the present moment that involves both innovative forms of technology and economy -- and emergent conflicts and problems generated by the contradictions of globalization.


      In particular, an economic determinism and reductionism that merely depicts globalization as the continuation of market capitalism fails to comprehend the new forms and modes of capitalism itself which are based on novel developments in science, technology, culture, and everyday life. Likewise, technological determinism fails to note how the new technologies and new economy are part of a global restructuring of capitalism and are not autonomous forces that themselves are engendering a new society and economy which breaks with the previous mode of social organization. The postindustrial society is sometimes referred to as the "knowledge society," or "information society," in which knowledge and information are given roles more predominant than earlier days (see the survey and critique in Webster 1995). It is now obvious that the knowledge and information sectors are increasingly important domains of our contemporary moment and that therefore the theories of Daniel Bell and other postindustrial theorists are not as ideological and far off the mark as many of his critics on the left once argued. But in order to avoid the technological determinism and idealism of many forms of this theory, one should theorize the information or knowledge "revolution" as part and parcel of a new form of technocapitalism marked by a synthesis of capital and technology.


      Some poststructuralist theories that stress the complexity of globalization exaggerate the disjunctions and autonomous flows of capital, technology, culture, people, and goods, thus a critical theory of globalization grounds globalization in a theory of capitalist restructuring and technological revolution. To paraphrase Max Horkheimer, whoever wants to talk about capitalism, must talk about globalization, and it is impossible to theorize globalization without talking about the restructuring of capitalism. The term "technocapitalism" is useful to describe the synthesis of capital and technology in the present organization of society (Kellner 1989a). Unlike theories of postmodernity (i.e. Baudrillard), or the knowledge and information society, which often argue that technology is the new organizing principle of society, the concept of technocapitalism points to both the increasingly important role of technology and the enduring primacy of capitalist relations of production. In an era of unrestrained capitalism, it would be difficult to deny that contemporary societies are still organized around production and capital accumulation, and that capitalist imperatives continue to dominate production, distribution, and consumption, as well as other cultural, social and political domains.[3] Workers remain exploited by capitalists and capital persists as the hegemonic force -- more so than ever after the collapse of communism.


      Moreover, with the turn toward neo-liberalism as a hegemonic ideology and practice, the market and its logic comes to triumph over public goods and the state is subservient to economic imperatives and logic. Yet the term technocapitalism points to a new configuration of capitalist society in which technical and scientific knowledge, computerization and automation of labor, and information technology and multimedia play a role in the process of production analogous to the function of human labor power, mechanization of the labor process, and machines in an earlier era of capitalism. This process is generating novel modes of societal organization, forms of culture and everyday life, conflicts, and modes of struggle.


The emergence of new and original forms of technology, politics, culture, and economy marks a situation parallel to that confronted by the Frankfurt school in the 1930s. These German theorists who left Nazi Germany were forced to theorize the new configurations brought about by the transition from market to state monopoly capitalism (Kellner 1989a and Bronner and Kellner 1989). In their now classical texts, the Frankfurt school analyzed the emergent forms of social and economic organization, technology, and culture; the rise of giant corporations and cartels and the capitalist state in "organized capitalism," in both its fascist or "democratic" state capitalist forms; and the culture industries and mass culture which served as new modes of social control, new forms of ideology and domination, and novel configurations of culture and everyday life.


      Today, critical theorists confront the challenge of theorizing the new forms of technocapitalism and novelties of the present era constructed by syntheses of technology and capital in the emergence of a new stage of global capitalism. The notion of technocapitalism attempts to avoid technological or economic determinism by guiding theorists to perceive the interaction of capital and technology in the present moment. Capital is generating innovative forms of technology just as its restructuring is producing novel configurations of a networked global economy, culture, and polity. In terms of political economy, the emergent postindustrial form of technocapitalism is characterized by a decline of the state and increased power of the market, accompanied by the growing power of globalized transnational corporations and governmental bodies and declining power of the nation-state and its institutions -- which remain, however, extremely important players in the global economy, as the responses to the terror attacks of September 11 document.


      Globalization also is constituted by a complex interconnection between capitalism and democracy, which involves positive and negative features, that both empowers and disempowers individuals and groups, undermining and yet creating potential for fresh types of democracy. Yet most theories of globalization are either primarily negative, presenting it as a disaster for the human species, or as positive, bringing a wealth of products, ideas, and economic opportunities to a global arena. Hence, I would advocate development of a critical theory of globalization that would dialectically appraise its positive and negative features. A critical theory is sharply critical of globalization’s oppressive effects, skeptical of legitimating ideological discourse, but also recognizes the centrality of the phenomenon in the present age. And it affirms and promotes globalization’s progressive features (such as the Internet, which, as I document below, makes possible a reconstruction of education and more democratic polity, as well as increasing the power of capital), while noting contradictions and ambiguities.


The Contradictions of Globalization


      The terrorist acts on the United States on September 11 and subsequent Terror War dramatically disclose the downsides of globalization, the ways that global flows of technology, goods, information, ideologies, and people can have destructive as well as productive effects. The disclosure of powerful anti-Western terrorist networks shows that globalization divides the world as it unifies, that it produces enemies as it incorporates participants. The events disclose explosive contradictions and conflicts at the heart of globalization and that the technologies of information, communication, and transportation that facilitate globalization can also be used to undermine and attack it, and generate instruments of destruction as well as production[k1] .[4]


      The experience of September 11 points to the objective ambiguity of globalization, that positive and negative sides are interconnected, that the institutions of the open society unlock the possibilities of destruction and violence, as well as democracy, free trade, and cultural and social exchange. Once again, the interconnection and interdependency of the networked world was dramatically demonstrated as terrorists from the Middle East brought local grievances from their region to attack key symbols of American power and the very infrastructure of New York. Some saw terrorism as an expression of “the dark side of globalization,” while I would conceive it as part of the objective ambiguity of globalization that simultaneously creates friends and enemies, wealth and poverty, and growing divisions between the “haves” and “have nots.” Yet, the downturning of the global economy, intensification of local and global political conflicts, repression of human rights and civil liberties, and general increase in fear and anxiety have certainly undermined the naïve optimism of globaphiles who perceived globalization as a purely positive instrument of progress and well-being.


      The use of powerful technologies as weapons of destruction also discloses current asymmetries of power and emergent forms of terrorism and war, as the new millennium exploded into dangerous conflicts and interventions. As technologies of mass destruction become more available and dispersed, perilous instabilities have emerged that have elicited policing measures to stem the flow of movements of people and goods across borders and internally. In particular, the USA Patriot Act has led to repressive measures that are replacing the spaces of the open and free information society with new forms of surveillance, policing, and repression (see Kellner, forthcoming).


      Ultimately, however, the abhorrent terror acts by the bin Laden network and the violent military response to the Al Qaeda terrorist acts by the Bush administration may be an anomalous paroxysm whereby a highly regressive premodern Islamic fundamentalism has clashed with an old-fashioned patriarchal and unilateralist Wild West militarism. It could be that such forms of terrorism, militarism, and state repression will be superseded by more rational forms of politics that globalize and criminalize terrorism, and that do not sacrifice the benefits of the open society and economy in the name of security. Yet the events of September 11 may open a new era of Terror War that will lead to the kind of apocalyptic futurist world depicted by cyberpunk fiction (see Kellner forthcoming).


      In any case, the events of September 11 have promoted a fury of reflection, theoretical debates, and political conflicts and upheaval that put the complex dynamics of globalization at the center of contemporary theory and politics. To those skeptical of the centrality of globalization to contemporary experience, it is now clear that we are living in a global world that is highly interconnected and vulnerable to passions and crises that can cross borders and can effect anyone or any region at any time. The events of September 11 also provide a test case to evaluate various theories of globalization and the contemporary era. In addition, they highlight some of the contradictions of globalization and the need to develop a highly complex and dialectical model to capture its conflicts, ambiguities, and contradictory effects.


      Consequently, I want to argue that in order to properly theorize globalization one needs to conceptualize several sets of contradictions generated by globalization's combination of technological revolution and restructuring of capital, which in turn generate tensions between capitalism and democracy, and “haves” and “have nots.” Within the world economy, globalization involves the proliferation of the logic of capital, but also the spread of democracy in information, finance, investing, and the diffusion of technology (see Friedman 1999 and Hardt and Negri 2000). Globalization is thus a contradictory amalgam of capitalism and democracy, in which the logic of capital and the market system enter ever more arenas of global life, even as democracy spreads and more political regions and spaces of everyday life are being contested by democratic demands and forces. But the overall process is contradictory. Sometimes globalizing forces promote democracy and sometimes inhibit it, thus either equating capitalism and democracy, or simply opposing them, are problematical. These tensions are especially evident, as I will argue, in the domain of the Internet and the expansion of new realms of technologically-mediated communication, information, and politics.


      The processes of globalization are highly turbulent and have generated new conflicts throughout the world. Benjamin Barber (1998) describes the strife between McWorld and Jihad, contrasting the homogenizing, commercialized, Americanized tendencies of the global economy and culture with traditional cultures which are often resistant to globalization. Thomas Friedman (1999) makes a more benign distinction between what he calls the "Lexus" and the "Olive Tree." The former is a symbol of modernization, of affluence and luxury, and of Westernized consumption, contrasted with the Olive Tree that is a symbol of roots, tradition, place, and stable community. Barber (1997), however, is too negative toward McWorld and Jihad, failing to adequately describe the democratic and progressive forces within both. Although Barber recognizes a dialectic of McWorld and Jihad, he opposes both to democracy, failing to perceive how both generate their own democratic forces and tendencies, as well as opposing and undermining democratization. Within the Western democracies, for instance, there is not just top-down homogenization and corporate domination, but also globalization-from-below and oppositional social movements that desire alternatives to capitalist globalization. Thus, it is not only traditionalist, non-Western forces of Jihad that oppose McWorld. Likewise, Jihad has its democratizing forces as well as the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists who are now the most demonized elements of the contemporary era, as I discuss below. Jihad, like McWorld, has its contradictions and its potential for democratization, as well as elements of domination and destruction (see Kellner, forthcoming).


      Friedman, by contrast, is too uncritical of globalization , caught up in his own Lexus high-consumption life-style, failing to perceive the depth of the oppressive features of globalization and breadth and extent of resistance and opposition to it. In particular, he fails to articulate contradictions between capitalism and democracy, and the ways that globalization and its economic logic undermines democracy as well as circulates it. Likewise, he does not grasp the virulence of the premodern and Jihadist tendencies that he blithely identifies with the Olive tree, and the reasons why globalization and the West are so strongly resisted in many parts of the world.


      Hence, it is important to present globalization as a strange amalgam of both homogenizing forces of sameness and uniformity, and heterogeneity, difference, and hybridity, as well as a contradictory mixture of democratizing and anti-democratizing tendencies. On one hand, globalization unfolds a process of standardization in which a globalized mass culture circulates the globe creating sameness and homogeneity everywhere. But globalized culture makes possible unique appropriations and developments all over the world, thus proliferating hybridity, difference, and heterogeneity.[5] Every local context involves its own appropriation and reworking of global products and signifiers, thus proliferating difference, otherness, diversity, and variety (Luke and Luke 2000). Grasping that globalization embodies these contradictory tendencies at once, that it can be both a force of homogenization and heterogeneity, is crucial to articulating the contradictions of globalization and avoiding one-sided and reductive conceptions.


      My intention is to present globalization as conflictual, contradictory and open to resistance and democratic intervention and transformation and not just as a monolithic juggernaut of progress or domination as in many discourses. This goal is advanced by distinguishing between "globalization from below" and the "globalization from above" of corporate capitalism and the capitalist state, a distinction that should help us to get a better sense of how globalization does or does not promote democratization. "Globalization from below" refers to the ways in which marginalized individuals and social movements resist globalization and/or use its institutions and instruments to further democratization and social justice. While on one level, globalization significantly increases the supremacy of big corporations and big government, it can also give power to groups and individuals that were previously left out of the democratic dialogue and terrain of political struggle. Such potentially positive effects of globalization include increased access to education for individuals excluded from entry to culture and knowledge and the possibility of oppositional individuals and groups to participate in global culture and politics through gaining access to global communication and media networks and to circulate local struggles and oppositional ideas through these media. The role of new technologies in social movements, political struggle, and everyday life forces social movements to reconsider their political strategies and goals and democratic theory to appraise how new technologies do and do not promote democratization (Kellner 1997 and 1999b).


      In their magisterial book Empire, Hardt and Negri (2000) present contradictions within globalization in terms of an imperializing logic of “Empire” and an assortment of struggles by the multitude, creating a contradictory and tension-full situation. As in my conception, Hardt and Negri present globalization as a complex process that involves a multidimensional mixture of expansions of the global economy and capitalist market system, new technologies and media, expanded judicial and legal modes of governance, and emergent modes of power, sovereignty, and resistance.[6] Combining poststructuralism with “autonomous Marxism,” Hardt and Negri stress political openings and possibilities of struggle within Empire in an optimistic and buoyant text that envisages progressive democratization and self-valorization in the turbulent process of the restructuring of capital.


Many theorists, by contrast, have argued that one of the trends of globalization is depoliticization of publics, the decline of the nation-state, and end of traditional politics (Boggs 2000). While I would agree that globalization is promoted by tremendously powerful economic forces and that it often undermines democratic movements and decision-making, I would also argue that there are openings and possibilities for both a globalization from below that inflects globalization for positive and progressive ends, and that globalization can thus help promote as well as undermine democracy.[7] Globalization involves both a disorganization and reorganization of capitalism, a tremendous restructuring process, which creates openings for progressive social change and intervention. In a more fluid and open economic and political system, oppositional forces can gain concessions, win victories, and effect progressive changes. During the 1970s, new social movements, new non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and new forms of struggle and solidarity emerged that have been expanding to the present day (Hardt and Negri 2000; Burbach 2001; and Foran, forthcoming).


      The present conjuncture, I would suggest, is marked by a conflict between growing centralization and organization of power and wealth in the hands of the few contrasted with opposing processes exhibiting a fragmentation of power that is more plural, multiple, and open to contestation than was previously the case. As the following analysis will suggest, both tendencies are observable and it is up to individuals and groups to find openings for political intervention and social transformation. Thus, rather than just denouncing globalization, or engaging in celebration and legitimation, a critical theory of globalization reproaches those aspects that are oppressive, while seizing upon opportunities to fight domination and exploitation and to promote democratization, justice, and a progressive reconstruction of the polity, society, and culture.


      Against capitalist globalization from above, there have been a significant eruption of forces and subcultures of resistance that have attempted to preserve specific forms of culture and society against globalization and homogenization, and to create alternative forces of society and culture, thus exhibiting resistance and globalization from below. Most dramatically, peasant and guerrilla movements in Latin America, labor unions, students, and environmentalists throughout the world, and a variety of other groups and movements have resisted capitalist globalization and attacks on previous rights and benefits.[8] Several dozen people's organizations from around the world have protested World Trade Organization policies and a backlash against globalization is visible everywhere. Politicians who once championed trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA are now often quiet about these arrangements and at the 1996 annual Davos World Economic Forum its founder and managing director published a warning entitled: "Start Taking the Backlash Against Globalization Seriously." Reports surfaced that major representatives of the capitalist system expressed fear that capitalism was getting too mean and predatory, that it needs a kinder and gentler state to ensure order and harmony, and that the welfare state may make a come-back (see the article in New York Times, February 7, 1996: A15).[9] One should take such reports with the proverbial grain of salt, but they express fissures and openings in the system for critical discourse and intervention.


      Indeed, by 1999, the theme of the annual Davos conference was making globalization work for poor countries and minimizing the differences between have and have nots. The growing divisions between rich and poor were worrying some globalizers, as were the wave of crises in Asian, Latin American, and other developing countries. In James Flanigan's report in the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 19, 1999), the "main theme" is to "spread the wealth. In a world frightened by glaring imbalances and the weakness of economies from Indonesia to Russia, the talk is no longer of a new world economy getting stronger but of ways to 'keep the engine going.'" In particular, the globalizers were attempting to keep economies growing in the more developed countries and capital flowing to developing nations. U.S. Vice-President Al Gore called on all countries to spur economic growth, and he proposed a new U.S.-led initiative to eliminate the debt burdens of developing countries. South African President Nelson Mandela asked: "Is globalization only for the powerful? Does it offer nothing to the men, women and children who are ravaged by the violence of poverty?"


The Global Movement Against Capitalist Globalization


      As the new millennium opened, there was no clear answer to Mandela’s question and with the global economic recession and the Terror War erupting in 2001, the situation of many developing countries has worsened. Yet as part of the backlash against globalization over the past years, a wide range of theorists have argued that the proliferation of difference and the shift to more local discourses and practices define the contemporary scene. In this view, theory and politics should shift from the level of globalization and its accompanying often totalizing and macro dimensions in order to focus on the local, the specific, the particular, the heterogeneous, and the micro level of everyday experience. An array of theories associated with poststructuralism, postmodernism, feminism, and multiculturalism focus on difference, otherness, marginality, the personal, the particular, and the concrete over more general theory and politics that aim at more global or universal conditions.[10] Likewise, a broad spectrum of subcultures of resistance have focused their attention on the local level, organizing struggles around identity issues such as gender, race, sexual preference, or youth subculture.


      It can be argued that such dichotomies as those between the global and the local express contradictions and tensions between crucial constitutive forces of the present moment, and that it is therefore a mistake to reject focus on one side in favor of exclusive concern with the other (Cvetkovich and Kellner 1997). Hence, an important challenge for a critical theory of globalization is to think through the relationships between the global and the local by observing how global forces influence and even structure an increasing number of local situations. This requires analysis as well of how local forces mediate the global, inflecting global forces to diverse ends and conditions, and producing unique configurations of the local and the global as the matrix for thought and action in the contemporary world (see Luke and Luke 2000).


      Globalization is thus necessarily complex and challenging to both critical theories and radical democratic politics. But many people these days operate with binary concepts of the global and the local, and promote one or the other side of the equation as the solution to the world's problems. For globalists, globalization is the solution and underdevelopment, backwardness, and provincialism are the problem. For localists, globalization is the problem and localization is the solution. But, less simplistically, it is the mix that matters and whether global or local solutions are most fitting depends on the conditions in the distinctive context that one is addressing and the specific solutions and policies being proposed.


      For instance, the Internet can be used to promote capitalist globalization or struggles against it. One of the more instructive examples of the use of the Internet to foster movements against the excesses of corporate capitalism occurred in the protests in Seattle and throughout the world against the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in December 1999. Behind these actions was a global protest movement using the Internet to organize resistance to the WTO and capitalist globalization, while championing democratization. Many web sites contained anti-WTO material and numerous mailing lists used the Internet to distribute critical material and to organize the protest. The result was the mobilization of caravans from throughout the United States to take protestors to Seattle, many of whom had never met and were recruited through the Internet. There were also significant numbers of international participants in Seattle which exhibited labor, environmentalist, feminist, anti-capitalist, animal rights, anarchist, and other groups organized to protest aspects of globalization and form new alliances and solidarities for future struggles. In addition, protests occurred throughout the world, and a proliferation of anti-WTO material against the extremely secret group spread throughout the Internet.[11]


      Furthermore, the Internet provided critical coverage of the event, documentation of the various groups' protests, and debate over the WTO and globalization. Whereas the mainstream media presented the protests as "anti-trade," featured the incidents of anarchist violence against property, while minimizing police violence against demonstrators, the Internet provided pictures, eyewitness accounts, and reports of police brutality and the generally peaceful and non-violent nature of the protests. While the mainstream media framed the protests negatively and privileged suspect spokespeople like Patrick Buchanan as critics of globalization, the Internet provided multiple representations of the demonstrations, advanced reflective discussion of the WTO and globalization, and presented a diversity of critical perspectives.


      The Seattle protests had some immediate consequences. The day after the demonstrators made good on their promise to shut down the WTO negotiations, Bill Clinton gave a speech endorsing the concept of labor rights enforceable by trade sanctions, thus effectively making impossible any agreement and consensus during the Seattle meetings. In addition, at the World Economic Forum in Davos a month later there was much discussion of how concessions were necessary on labor and the environment if consensus over globalization and free trade were to be possible. Importantly, the issue of overcoming divisions between the information rich and poor, and improving the lot of the disenfranchised and oppressed, bringing these groups the benefits of globalization, were also seriously discussed at the meeting and in the media.


      More importantly, many activists were energized by the new alliances, solidarities, and militancy, and continued to cultivate an anti-globalization movement. The Seattle demonstrations were followed by April 2000 struggles in Washington, D.C., to protest the World Bank and IMF, and later in the year against capitalist globalization in Prague and Melbourne; in April 2001, an extremely large and militant protest erupted against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City and in summer 2001 a large demonstration took place in Genoa.


      In May 2002, a surprisingly large demonstration took place in Washington against capitalist globalization and for peace and justice, and it was apparent that a new worldwide movement was in the making that was uniting diverse opponents of capitalist globalization throughout the world. The anticorporate globalization movement favored globalization-from-below, which would protect the environment, labor rights, national cultures, democratization, and other goods from the ravages of an uncontrolled capitalist globalization (see Falk 1999; Brecher, Costello, and Smith 2000; and Steger 2002).


      Initially, the incipient anti-globalization movement was precisely that -­ anti-globalization. The movement itself, however, was increasingly global, was linking together a diversity of movements into global solidarity networks, and was using the Internet and instruments of globalization to advance its struggles. Moreover, many opponents of capitalist globalization recognized the need for a global movement to have a positive vision and be for such things as social justice, equality, labor, civil liberties and human rights, and a sustainable environmentalism. Accordingly, the anti-capitalist globalization movement began advocating common values and visions.


      In particular, the movement against capitalist globalization used the Internet to organize mass demonstrations and to disseminate information to the world concerning the policies of the institutions of capitalist globalization. The events made clear that protestors were not against globalization per se, but were against neo-liberal and capitalist globalization, opposing specific policies and institutions that produce intensified exploitation of labor, environmental devastation, growing divisions among the social classes, and the undermining of democracy. The emerging anti-globalization-from-above movements are contextualizing these problems in the framework of a restructuring of capitalism on a worldwide basis for maximum profit with zero accountability and have made clear the need for democratization, regulation, rules, and globalization in the interests of people and not profit.


      The new movements against capitalist globalization have thus placed the issues of global justice and environmental destruction squarely in the center of important political concerns of our time. Hence, whereas the mainstream media had failed to vigorously debate or even report on globalization until the eruption of a vigorous anti-globalization movement, and rarely, if ever, critically discussed the activities of the WTO, World Bank and IMF, there is now a widely circulating critical discourse and controversy over these institutions. Stung by criticisms, representatives of the World Bank, in particular, are pledging reform and pressures are mounting concerning proper and improper roles for the major global institutions, highlighting their limitations and deficiencies, and the need for reforms like debt relief from overburdened developing countries to solve some of their fiscal and social problems.


      To capital's globalization-from-above, cyberactivists have thus been attempting to carry out globalization-from-below, developing networks of solidarity and propagating oppositional ideas and movements throughout the planet. To the capitalist international of transnational corporate-led globalization, a Fifth International, to use Waterman's phrase (1992), of computer-mediated activism is emerging, that is qualitatively different from the party-based socialist and communist Internationals. Such networking links labor, feminist, ecological, peace, and other anticapitalist groups, providing the basis for a new politics of alliance and solidarity to overcome the limitations of postmodern identity politics (see Dyer-Witheford 1999 and Burbach 2001).


      Of course, rightwing and reactionary forces can and have used the Internet to promote their political agendas as well. In a short time, one can easily access an exotic witch's brew of Web-sites maintained by the Ku Klux Klan, myriad neo-Nazi assemblages, including the Aryan Nation and various militia groups. Internet discussion lists also disperse these views and rightwing extremists are aggressively active on many computer forums, as well as radio programs and stations, public access television programs, fax campaigns, video and even rock music productions. These organizations are hardly harmless, having carried out terrorism of various sorts extending from church burnings to the bombings of public buildings. Adopting quasi-Leninist discourse and tactics for ultraright causes, these groups have been successful in recruiting working-class members devastated by the developments of global capitalism, which has resulted in widespread unemployment for traditional forms of industrial, agricultural, and unskilled labor. Moreover, extremist Web-sites have influenced alienated middle-class youth as well (a 1999 HBO documentary on Hate on the Internet provides a disturbing number of examples of how extremist Web-sites influenced disaffected youth to commit hate crimes).


      A recent twist in the saga of technopolitics, in fact, seems to be that allegedly “terrorist” groups are now increasingly using the Internet and Web-sites to promote their causes. An article in the Los Angeles Times (February 8, 2001: A1 and A14) reports that groups like Hamas use their Web-site to post reports of acts of terror against Israel, rather than calling newspapers or broadcasting outlets. A wide range of groups labeled as “terrorist” reportedly use e-mail, list-serves, and Web-sites to further their struggles, causes including Hezbollah and Hamas, the Maoist group Shining Path in Peru, and a variety of other groups throughout Asia and elsewhere. The Tamil Tigers, for instance, a liberation movement in Sri Lanka, offers position papers, daily news, and free e-mail service. According to the Times, experts are still unclear “whether the ability to communicate online worldwide is prompting an increase or a decrease in terrorist acts.” 


      There have been widespread discussions of how the bin Laden Al Qaeda network used the Internet to plan the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., how the group communicated with each other, got funds and purchased airline tickets via the Internet, and used flight simulations to practice their hijacking. In the contemporary era, the Internet can thus be used for a diversity of political projects and goals ranging from education, to business, to political organization and debate, to terrorism.


      Moreover, different political groups are engaging in cyberwar as adjuncts of their political battles. Israeli hackers have repeatedly attacked the Web-sites of Hezbollah, while pro-Palestine hackers have reportedly placed militant demands and slogans on the Web-sites of Israel’s army, foreign ministry, and parliament. Likewise, Pakistani and Indian computer hackers have waged similar cyberbattles against opposing forces Web-sites in the bloody struggle over Kashmir, while rebel forces in the Philippines taunt government troops with cell-phone calls and messages and attack government Web-sites.


      The examples in this section suggest how technopolitics makes possible a refiguring of politics, a refocusing of politics on everyday life and using the tools and techniques of new computer and communication technology to expand the field and domain of politics. In this conjuncture, the ideas of Guy Debord and the Situationist International are especially relevant with their stress on the construction of situations, the use of technology, media of communication, and cultural forms to promote a revolution of everyday life, and to increase the realm of freedom, community, and empowerment.[12] To some extent, the new technologies are revolutionary, they do constitute a revolution of everyday life, but it is often a revolution that promotes and disseminates the capitalist consumer society and involves new modes of fetishism, enslavement, and domination, yet to be clearly perceived and theorized.


      The Internet is thus a contested terrain, used by Left, Right, and Center to promote their own agendas and interests. The political battles of the future may well be fought in the streets, factories, parliaments, and other sites of past struggle, but politics is already mediated by broadcast, computer, and information technologies and will increasingly be so in the future. Those interested in the politics and culture of the future should therefore be clear on the important role of the new public spheres and intervene accordingly, while critical pedagogues have the responsibility of teaching students the skills that will enable them to participate in the politics and struggles of the present and future.


Concluding Comments


      And so, to paraphrase Foucault, wherever there is globalization-from-above, globalization as the imposition of capitalist logic, there can be resistance and struggle. The possibilities of globalization-from-below result from transnational alliances between groups fighting for better wages and working conditions, social and political justice, environmental protection, and more democracy and freedom worldwide. In addition, a renewed emphasis on local and grassroots movements have put dominant economic forces on the defensive in their own backyard and often the broadcasting media or the Internet have called attention to oppressive and destructive corporate policies on the local level, putting national and even transnational pressure upon major corporations for reform. Moreover, proliferating media and the Internet make possible a greater circulation of struggles and the possibilities of new alliances and solidarities that can connect resistant forces who oppose capitalist and corporate-state elite forms of globalization-from-above (Dyer-Witheford 1999).


      In a certain sense, the phenomena of globalization replicates the history of the U.S. and most so-called capitalist democracies in which tension between capitalism and democracy has been the defining feature of the conflicts of the past two hundred years. In analyzing the development of education in the United States Bowles and Gintis (1986) and Aronowitz and Giroux (1986) have analyzed the conflicts between corporate logic and democracy in schooling; Robert McChesney (1996 and 1999), myself (Kellner 1990, 1992, 2001, and forthcoming), and others have articulated the contradictions between capitalism and democracy in the media and public sphere; while Joel Cohen and Joel Rogers (1983) and many others are arguing that contradictions between capitalism and democracy are defining features of the U.S. polity and history.


      On a global terrain, Hardt and Negri (2000) have stressed the openings and possibilities for democratic transformative struggle within globalization, or what they call Empire. I am arguing that similar arguments can be made in which globalization is not conceived merely as the triumph of capitalism and democracy working together as it was in the classical theories of Milton Friedman or more recently in Francis Fukuyama. Nor should globalization be depicted solely as the triumph of capital as in many despairing anti-globalization theories. Rather, one should see that globalization unleashes conflicts between capitalism and democracy and in its restructuring processes creates new openings for struggle, resistance, and democratic transformation.


      I would also suggest that the model of Marx and Engels as deployed in the "Communist Manifesto" could also be usefully employed to analyze the contradictions of globalization (Marx and Engels 1978: 469ff). From the historical materialist optic, capitalism was interpreted as the greatest, most progressive force in history for Marx and Engels, destroying a backward feudalism, authoritarian patriarchy, backwardness and provincialism in favor a market society, global cosmopolitanism, and constant revolutionizing of the forces of production. Yet in the Marxian theory, so too was capitalism presented as a major disaster for the human race, condemning a large part to alienated labor, regions of the world to colonialist exploitation, and generating conflicts between classes and nations, the consequences of which the contemporary era continues to suffer.


      Marx deployed a similar dialectical and historical model in his later analyses of imperialism arguing, for instance, in his writings on British imperialism in India, that British colonialism was a great productive and progressive force in India at the same time it was highly destructive (Marx and Engels 1978: 653ff). A similar dialectical and critical model can be used today that articulates the progressive elements of globalization in conjunction with its more oppressive features, deploying the categories of negation and critique, while sublating (Aufhebung) the positive features. Moreover, a dialectical and transdisciplinary model is necessary to capture the complexity and multidimensionality of globalization today that brings together in theorizing globalization, the economy, technology, polity, society and culture, articulating the interplay of these elements and avoiding any form of determinism or reductivism.


      Theorizing globalization dialectically and critically requires that we both analyze continuities and discontinuities with the past, specifying what is a continuation of past histories and what is new and original in the present moment. To elucidate the later, I believe that the discourse of the postmodern is useful in dramatizing the changes and novelties of the mode of globalization. The concept of the postmodern can signal that which is fresh and original, calling attention to topics and phenomena that require novel theorization, and intense critical thought and inquiry. Hence, although Manuel Castells has the most detailed analysis of new technologies and the rise of what he calls a networked society, by refusing to link his analyses with the problematic of the postmodern, he cuts himself off from theoretical resources that enable theorists to articulate the novelties of the present that are unique and different from the previous mode of social organization.[13]


      Consequently, although there is admittedly a lot of mystification in the discourse of the postmodern, it signals emphatically the shifts and ruptures in our era, the novelties and originalities, and dramatizes the mutations in culture, subjectivities, and theory which Castells and other theorists of globalization or the information society gloss over. The discourse of the postmodern in relation to analysis of contemporary culture and society is just jargon, however, unless it is rooted in analysis of the global restructuring of capitalism and analysis of the scientific-technological revolution that is part and parcel of it.[14]


      As I have argued in this study, the term "globalization" is often used as a code word that stands for a tremendous diversity of issues and problems and that serves as a front for a variety of theoretical and political positions. While it can function as a legitimating ideology to cover over and sanitize ugly realities, a critical globalization theory can inflect the discourse to point precisely to these deplorable phenomena and can elucidate a series of contemporary problems and conflicts. In view of the different concepts and functions of globalization discourse, it is important to note that the concept of globalization is a theoretical construct that varies according to the assumptions and commitments of the theory in question. Seeing the term globalization as a construct helps rob it of its force of nature, as a sign of an inexorable triumph of market forces and the hegemony of capital, or, as the extreme right fears, of a rapidly encroaching world government. While the term can both describe and legitimate capitalist transnationalism and supranational government institutions, a critical theory of globalization does not buy into ideological valorizations and affirms difference, resistance, and democratic self-determination against forms of global domination and subordination.


      Globalization should thus be seen as a contested terrain with opposing forces attempting to use its institutions, technologies, media, and forms for their own purposes. There are certainly negative aspects to globalization which strengthen elite economic and political forces over and against the underlying population, but, as I suggested above, there are also positive possibilities. Other beneficial openings include the opportunity for greater democratization, increased education and health care, and new opportunities within the global economy that open entry to members of races, regions, and classes previously excluded from mainstream economics, politics, and culture within the modern corporate order.


      Further, there is utopian potential in the new technologies as well as the possibility for increased domination and the hegemony of capital. While the first generation of computers were large mainframe systems controlled by big government and big business, later generations of "personal computers" and networks created a more decentralized situation in which ever more individuals own their own computers and use them for their own projects and goals. A new generation of wireless communication could enable areas of the world that do not even have electricity to participate in the communication and information revolution of the emergent global era. This would require, of course, something like a Marshall Plan for the developing world which would necessitate help with disseminating technologies that would address problems of world hunger, disease, illiteracy, and poverty.


      In relation to education, the spread and distribution of information and communication technology signifies the possibility of openings of opportunities for research and interaction not previously open to students who did not have the privilege of access to major research libraries or institutions. The Internet opens more information and knowledge to more people than any previous institution in history, although it has its problems and limitations. Moreover, the Internet enables individuals to participate in discussions, to circulate their ideas and work, that were previously closed off to many excluded groups and individuals.


      A progressive reconstruction of education that is done in the interests of democratization would demand access to new technologies for all, helping to overcome the so-called digital divide and divisions of the “haves” and “have nots” (see Kellner 2000). Expanding democratic and multicultural reconstruction of education forces educators and citizens to confront the challenge of the digital divide, in which there are divisions between information and technology “haves” and “have nots,” just as there are class, gender, and race divisions in every sphere of the existing constellations of society and culture. Although the latest surveys of the digital divide indicate that the key indicators are class and education and not race and gender, nonetheless making computers a significant force of democratization of education and society will require significant investment and programs to assure that everyone receives the training, literacies, and tools necessary to properly function in a high-tech global economy and culture.[15]


      Hence, a critical theory of globalization presents globalization as a force of capitalism and democracy, as a set of forces imposed from above in conjunction with resistance from below. In this optic, globalization generates new conflicts, new struggles, and new crises, which in part can be seen as resistance to capitalist logic. In the light of the neo-liberal projects to dismantle the Welfare State, colonize the public sphere, and control globalization, it is up to citizens and activists to create new public spheres, politics, and pedagogies, and to use the new technologies to discuss what kinds of society people today want and to oppose the society against which people resist and struggle. This involves, minimally, demands for more education, health care, welfare, and benefits from the state, and to struggle to create a more democratic and egalitarian society. But one cannot expect that generous corporations and a beneficent state are going to make available to citizens the bounties and benefits of the globalized new information economy. Rather, it is up to individuals and groups to promote democratization and progressive social change.


      Thus, in opposition to the globalization-from-above of corporate capitalism, I would advocate a globalization-from-below, which supports individuals and groups using the new technologies to create a more multicultural, egalitarian, democratic, and ecological globalization. Of course, the new technologies might exacerbate existing inequalities in the current class, gender, race, and regional configurations of power and give the major corporate forces powerful new tools to advance their interests. In this situation, it is up to people of good will to devise strategies to use the new technologies to promote democratization and social justice. For as the new technologies become ever more central to every domain of everyday life, developing an oppositional technopolitics in the new public spheres will become more and more important (see Kellner 1995a, 1995b, 1997, and 2000). Changes in the economy, politics, and social life demand a constant rethinking of politics and social change in the light of globalization and the technological revolution, requiring new thinking as a response to ever-changing historical conditions.




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[1]. Attempts to chart the globalization of capital, decline of the nation-state, and rise of a new global culture include the essays in Featherstone 1990; Giddens 1990; Robertson 1991; King 1991; Bird, et al, 1993; Gilroy 1993; Arrighi 1994; Lash and Urry 1994; Grewel and Kaplan 1994; Wark 1994; Featherstone and Lash 1995; Axford 1995; Held 1995; Waters 1995; Hirst and Thompson 1996; Wilson and Dissayanake 1996; Albrow 1996; Cvetkovich and Kellner 1997; Kellner 1998; Friedman 1999; Held, et al 1999; Hardt and Negri 2000; Steger 2002; and Stiglitz 2002.

[2] What now appears at the first stage of academic and popular discourses of globalization in the 1990s tended to be dichotomized into celebratory globophilia and dismissive globophobia. There was also a tendency in some theorists to exaggerate the novelties of globalization and others to dismiss these claims by arguing that globalization has been going on for centuries and there is not that much that is new and different. For an excellent delineation and critique of academic discourses on globalization, see Steger 2002.

[3] In his extreme postmodern stage, Baudrillard (1993) argued that “simulation” had replaced production as the organizing principle of contemporary societies, marking “the end of political economy.” See the critique in Kellner 1989b. In general, I am trying to mediate the economic determinism in some neo-Marxian and other theories of globalization and the technological determinism found in Baudrillard and others.


[4] I am not able in the framework of this paper to theorize the alarming expansion of war and militarism in the post-September 11 environment. For my theorizing of war and militarism, see Kellner 2002 and forthcoming.

[5]. For example, as Ritzer argues (1993 and 1996), McDonald's imposes not only a similar cuisine all over the world, but circulates processes of what he calls "McDonaldization" that involve a production/consumption model of efficiency, technological rationality, calculability, predictability, and control. Yet as Watson et al 1997 argue, McDonald's has various cultural meanings in diverse local contexts, as well as different products, organization, and effects. Yet the latter goes too far toward stressing heterogeneity, downplaying the cultural power of McDonald's as a force of a homogenizing globalization and Western corporate logic and system; see Kellner 1999a and 2003.

[6] While I find Empire an extremely impressive and massively productive text, I am not sure, however, what is gained by using the word “Empire” rather than the concepts of global capital and political economy. While Hardt and Negri combine categories of Marxism and critical social theory with poststructuralist discourse derived from Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, they frequently favor the latter, often mystifying and obscuring the object of analysis. I am also not as confident as Hardt and Negri that the “multitude” replaces traditional concepts of the working class and other modern political subjects, movements, and actors, and find the emphasis on nomads, “New Barbarians,” and the poor as replacement categories problematical. Nor am I clear on exactly what forms their poststructuralist politics would take. The same problem is evident, I believe, in an earlier decade’s provocative and postmarxist text by Laclau and Mouffe (1985), who valorized new social movements, radical democracy, and a postsocialist politics without providing many concrete examples or proposals for struggle in the present conjuncture.


[7]. I am thus trying to mediate in this paper between those who claim that globalization simply undermines democracy and those who claim that globalization promotes democratization like Friedman (1999). I should also note that in distinguishing between globalization from above and globalization from below, I do not want to say that one is good and the other is bad in relation to democracy. As Friedman shows (1999), capitalist corporations and global forces might very well promote democratization in many arenas of the world, and globalization-from-below might promote special interests or reactionary goals, so I am criticizing theorizing globalization in binary terms as primarily “good” or “bad.” While critics of globalization simply see it as the reproduction of capitalism, its champions, like Friedman, do not perceive how globalization undercuts democracy. Likewise, Friedman does not engage the role of new social movements, dissident groups, or the “have nots” in promoting democratization. Nor do concerns for social justice, equality, and participatory democracy play a role in his book.

[8]. On resistance to globalization by labor, see Moody 1997; on resistance by environmentalists and other social movements, see the studies in Mander and Goldsmith 1996, while I provide examples below from several domains.

[9]. Friedman (1999: 267f) notes that George Soros was the star of Davos in 1995, when the triumph of global capital was being celebrated, but that the next year Russian Communist Party leader Gennadi A. Zyuganov was a major media focus when unrestrained globalization was being questioned -- though Friedman does not point out that this was a result of a growing recognition that divisions between “haves” and “have nots” were becoming too scandalous and that predatory capitalism was becoming too brutal and ferocious....

[10]. Such positions are associated with the postmodern theories of Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, and have been taken up by a wide range of feminists, multiculturalists, and others. On these theorists and postmodern politics, see Best and Kellner 1991, 1997, and 2001, and the valorization and critique of postmodern politics in Hardt and Negri 2000 and Burbach 2001.

[11]. As a December 1 story titled "Networked Protests" put it:


      disparate groups from the Direct Action Network to the AFL-CIO to various environmental and human rights groups have organized rallies and protests online, allowing for a global reach that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.


           As early as March, activists were hitting the news groups and list-serves -- strings of e-mail messages people use as a kind of long-term chat -- to organize protests and rallies.


      In addition, while the organizers demanded that the protesters agree not to engage in violent action, there was one web site that urged WTO protesters to help tie up the WTO's Web servers, and another group produced an anti-WTO web site that replicated the look of the official site (see RTMark's Web-site,; the same group had produced a replica of George W. Bush's site with satirical and critical material, winning the wrath of the Bush campaign). For compelling accounts of the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle and an acute analysis of the issues involved, see Paul Hawkens, "What Really Happened at the Battle of Seattle," ( and Naomi Klein, "Were the DC and Seattle Protests Unfocused, or Are Critics Missing the Point?" (

[12].  On the importance of the ideas of Debord and the Situationist International to make sense of the present conjuncture see Best and Kellner 1997, Chapter 3, and on the new forms of the interactive consumer society, see Best and Kellner 2001.

[13]. Castells claims that Harvey (1989) and Lash (1990) say about as much about the postmodern as needs to be said (1996: 26f). With due respect to their excellent work, I believe that no two theorists or books exhaust the problematic of the postmodern which involves mutations in theory, culture, society, politics, science, philosophy, and almost every other domain of experience, and is thus inexhaustible (Best and Kellner 1997 and 2001). Yet one should be careful in using postmodern discourse to avoid the mystifying elements, a point made in the books just noted as well as Hardt and Negri 2000.

[14]. See Best and Kellner 1997 and 2001.

[15]. The "digital divide" has emerged as the buzzword for perceived divisions between information technology have and have nots in the current economy and society. A U.S. Department of Commerce report released in July 1999 claimed that digital divide in relation to race is dramatically escalating and the Clinton administration and media picked up on this theme (See the report "Americans in the Information Age: Falling Through the Net" at A critique of the data involved in the report emerged, claiming that it was outdated; more recent studies by Stanford University, Cheskin Research, ACNielson, and the Forester Institute claim that education and class are more significant factors than race in constructing the divide (see for a collection of reports and statistics on the divide). In any case, it is clear that there is a gaping division between information technology haves and have nots, that this is a major challenge to developing an egalitarian and democratic society, and that something needs to be done about the problem. My contribution involves the argument that empowering the have nots requires the dissemination of new literacies and thus empowering groups and individuals previously excluded from economic opportunities and socio-political participation.