The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest in a series of multiple social crises that have impacted the global flow of people, objects, institutions and ideas in the first decades of the 21st century. Many view pandemic lockdowns and social distancing as forms of “de-globalization” measured by the reduction in objective movement of goods and people. However, some astute academic observers see it as more of a “globalization” driven by increasing forms of digital interconnectivity.
These conflicting perspectives on globalization and global social change were shared by Professor Manfred Steger from the Department of Sociology of the University of Hawaii at the College of Social Sciences in Mānoa. His November 15 speech, “Globalization after COVID-19,” was the featured lecture for Mānoa International Education Week.
Crises create “The Great Unsettling”
Steger said other major crises of the early 21st century include anti-trade protests from 1999 to 2001, post-9/11 global terrorism, the 2008 global financial crisis followed by the eurozone crisis, the rise of the nationalism-populism in the 2010s (Brexit, Trumpism, etc.), the current global supply chain disruptions and inflation caused by COVID-19, and, more recently, the Russian-Ukrainian war. In these tumultuous times, people are experiencing instability, insecurity, anxiety and polarization. Consequently, Steger called our current era of rapid social change a “great disruption.”
The main qualities of globalization are interconnectedness, mobility and imagination. Steger pointed out that, despite the Great Disruption, some forms of globalization, especially digitalization, have continued at a rapid pace. In fact, according to Steger, even before the coronavirus pandemic, flows of digital information and data increased far more than the movement of people, institutions, and tradable commodities.
COVID-19 has become the “Great Accelerator” of this global wave of digitization. For example, pandemic lockdowns have reduced forms of connectivity in physical space, but improved mobility in cyberspace.
As we begin to transition to a world no longer dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Steger noted, we need a “globalization reset” – a rebalancing act aimed at reducing our time online and to reconnect physically.
“I’m not suggesting that we should break our smartphones,” Steger clarified with a smile, “but spending an average of seven hours a day in the United States on electronic devices of all kinds is just too much. We have to reaccustom ourselves to the human warmth of our tangible social worlds rather than capitulate to the endless prompts of social media, especially now that the pandemic is slowly easing.
To see the entire conference, see this link.