New and enduring structural hierarchies of the uneven effects of globalization

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“Globalization” is understood to mean major increases in worldwide trade and exchange in an increasingly open, integrated, and borderless international economy. There has been remarkable growth in such trade and exchanges, not only in the traditional sense of international trade in goods and services, but also in exchanges of currencies, in the movement of capital, in technology transfer, in people moving through international travel and migration, and in international flows of information and ideas.

Whether one sees globalization as a negative or as a positive development, it must be understood that it has clearly changed the world system and that it poses both opportunities and challenges. Globalization can refer to large-scale transnational processes occurring today at accelerated rates, due to information and communication technologies, and with extremely uneven effects, due to new and continuing inequalities. The uneven effects of globalization assume diverse forms and manifest in intersecting and politically consequential structural hierarchies.Politicizing globalization necessarily involves both specifying how particular categories of people are differentially affected by globalization and analyzing how these patterns of differentiation are exacerbated, alleviated, or complicated by global processes. The uneven effects of globalization which are manifested in structural hierarchies such as gender, ethnicity/race, class, and nation, have long and variously entwined histories.
Their legacies of masculinism, racism, classism, and colonialism deeply shape the practices, uneven effects, and naturalization of neoliberal globalization. In other words, hierarchies that are internalized and institutionalized are already available for deployment in support of neoliberal objectives at the same time as this availability works to obscure the significance, perpetuation, and intensification of inequalities today.
Patriarchy’s enduring legacy is a binary construction of gender that casts women and femininity as essentially different from and inferior to men and masculinity. Corollary stereotypes of devalued femininity and valued masculinity map onto the gendered dichotomy of public and private that locates women and feminized work/activities in the family/household as unpaid, unskilled, reproductive , and “natural” – in contrast to over valorized masculine activities in the public sphere, cast as paid, skilled, productive, and “political.”
This obscures the value and significance of “women’s work” and effectively denies most women access to valorized positions in any sphere. Compared to rich country locations, non-elite women in developing countries are especially gender-disadvantaged with regard to accessing education, skills-training, credit, and control over resources. Compared to men, neoliberal restructuring of the state everywhere is more damaging for women because women are more dependent on the state for relatively secure employment and for public services in support of individual and family well-being.
Concerning the hierarchies of race/ethnicity, the legacy of racism is inextricable from histories of slavery, indentured labor, imperialism, and gender ordering. “Northern” countries reaped the economic advantages of exploiting un-free workers and colonies. They justified this exploitation and subordination in part by constructing ontologies of racial difference and ideologies of social Darwinism that continue to naturalize hierarchies of race, nation, and class and to deny denigrated groups equal access to global resources.
By attributing feminized characteristics such as lack of reason, agency, skills, and self-control, to the colonized, and invoking the natural or God-given order of male over female, these accounts effectively naturalized multiple, intersecting hierarchies. Struggles against ethnic/race hatred continue within some countries but are less visible at the global level. Moreover, the demonization of ethnic and racialized groups appears to be increasing, for example in anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant movements.
Hierarchies among nations reflect international divisions of labor, flowing from colonialism and the north’s continued domination of wealth, advanced technologies, decision-making power, and “rule setting” in the old and new world order. Neocolonialism perpetuates patterns of inequality, with some upward movement of newly industrialized countries and a decline for least developed countries. Key indicators are control of wealth, distribution of average income, and welfare of populations; evidence in regard to these indicators confirms a widening gap between the richest and poorest countries since 1970.
Distribution is especially uneven with respect to communications infrastructure, research and development capacity, foreign direct investment, and access to credit. Regarding redistributive mechanisms, neoliberal policies reject “inward-looking” strategies which are protection of local industries and public provisioning, that target domestic needs, rich countries have reduced already meager flows of official development assistance (ODA); and the climate of neoliberalism has effectively silenced earlier campaigns to address North – South inequities.
The development of capitalism has institutionalized internal and international divisions of labor and class that for the most part are deepened by neoliberal globalization. Specifically, the vast majorities of the poor are women, especially ethnic/racially stigmatized women, and people in developing countries. The global elite of the super-rich is ethnically/racially diverse, comes from both rich and poor countries, and is primarily male. Income inequality has increased within and between countries, with variations due to welfare state commitments, positioning in the world economy, and selective foreign support of developing countries.
Restructuring in general has meant an expansion of opportunities for high-end workers with valued technological and professional skills typically “white” and male, a decline in real income and job security for mid-range skilled workers typically men, and an increase in insecure, low-paying work for un- and semi-skilled workers typically women, minorities, and migrants. Class significantly determines access to education and acquisition of valued skills for all groups and reproduces domination of valued jobs and power by those with gender and race advantage. Trade union movements have lost power, seem ill-prepared to address structural changes in the workforce, and are not broadly enough based, domestically or internationally.
Developing countries differ significantly but all are shaped by their insertion in the global organization of production, the availability of valued natural resources, and their level of infrastructural development. Declining terms of trade have hurt non-energy primary commodity producers, while a shift of manufacturing to selected developing countries has expanded job opportunities, with women preferred for labor-intensive work. Contraction of state spending has eroded access to public educational opportunities and widespread deterioration across the world in public health, public housing and public transport has tended to impact more heavily on the ‘lower’ rather than the ‘higher’ classes.
Neoliberalism as the global regime, embodied in the formidable “rule setting” powers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), has favored further concentration of class advantages. Initially in developing countries through structural adjustment policies, and increasingly in developed countries, neoliberal reforms have constrained redistributive efforts and imposed tight fiscal policies without, however, clamping down on what in effect amounts to tax evasion by the wealthy through offshore finance facilities.
In summary, the uneven effects of globalization are well documented and socially embodied in hierarchies of gender, ethnicity/race, class, and nation. The historical legacies of masculinism, racism, classism, and colonialism continue to be materialized in stark inequalities, structured especially by differential access to valued resources, skills, and working conditions.
Reductions in public spending driven by neoliberal policies disproportionately hurt women and the poor, especially those of stigmatized races/ethnicities and/or living in developing countries. Global regimes continue to favor the interests of rich countries and elites who are advantaged by gender, race, and nationality.
Movements for social justice and equality are increasingly marginalized or silenced by neoliberal policies and ideologies that undercut commitments to public/collective welfare and deny the viability of alternative strategies. In effect, globalization under neoliberal principles exacerbates the gap between over- and under-valorized individuals and nations, even as the rhetoric of neoliberalism obscures that polarization.