HELSINKLI - Washington on October 2-3. While many observers interpret this as
evidence that the anti-globalization movement is on the wane, that may
not necessarily be the case.
Consider the parable about a man who looks for his keys under the
streetlights instead of where he lost them. Asked why, he said, "Because
it's easier to see where the light is better." The resistance to
globalization may be found by shedding light not only on demonstrations
in Washington, but by also looking beyond those public displays. What
Prime Minister Tony Blair derided as the "traveling circus" of
anti-globalization is not fading out; it's simply adapting to the
post-9/11 phase of globalization.
But is it really anti-globalization? Just as with the debate over the
word "terrorism," in defining anti-globalization, the power of language
matters. Language conjures up meanings and images, and accordingly, the
vocabulary varies according to the positions of the strong and the weak.
Recall that during the apartheid era, South Africa's white redoubt and
President Ronald Reagan alike called the imprisoned Nelson Mandela a
terrorist, but he later received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Similarly, the idiom anti-globalization, deployed by star columnists and
celebrity economists in the West, pigeonholes diverse actions. The
difficulty is that it slots a wide variety of stances on globalization
in two boxes: for and against. This over-simplification obscures myriad
complaints about globalization and the debates over ways to engage, not
Moreover, the use of the prefix anti- defines the resistance solely as a
negation and, thus, the term eliminates the idea of the creation of
positive alternatives. Many critics resist not because they are against
aspects of globalization such as increased access to innovative
technologies, more information, and new knowledge. Rather, without
entertaining fantasies about a make-believe world, they are trying to
imagine possibilities for a just world, an alter-globalization.
Now, the main sites of the conflict over globalization are no longer
fortified meetings of international economic summits. So, too, the
strategy of protest no longer centers on counter-summits at the Battles
of Seattle. More often, the issue is framed as the conflict over the
efforts to secure economic globalization by military means. This debate
is largely about "global empire."
The global justice movement, heterogeneous networks without a hierarchy
of leaders, is merging with the peace movement. They see President
George W. Bush, aided by his squad of advisors, as the
commander-in-chief of militarized globalization. While the campaign
against corporate power and the powerful international economic
institutions continues, a prime target of protest is US military
interventions that would safeguard globalization.
Another site of contesting globalization can be found in practices of
everyday life, certainly a more subtle and latent form of resistance. My
students at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto prepared a paper on "The
Resistance to Genetically Modified Foods in Japan." Strikingly, the
students' incisive research shows that, despite the absence of
conspicuous confrontations over globalization in Japan, there is
substantial and highly varied resistance to it.
In a country that has not experienced large-scale protests against
globalization, the government supported the biotechnology industry's
efforts to redesign plants using genes from other organisms, including
different species. Opposition came not from head-on street
demonstrations, but from consumers, especially the Consumers Union of
Japan, and dairy farmers. Not stridently voiced, their apprehension
reflects uncertainty over safety, the ethical question of tampering with
nature, and media coverage and advertisements regarding genetically
modified foods. Certain Japanese food companies felt obliged to address
public concerns through either official pronouncements or altered
policies. For example, Taishi Food Industry stated that "we never use
GM [genetically modified] crops as raw materials." Similarly, Kikkoman,
Japan's largest soy sauce company, changed the soybeans in its
"marudaizu" series and labeled its nongenetically modified products.
A second team of student researchers prepared a paper on "WTO and
Farming Product (Rice)," which details another quiet form of resistance.
Not surprisingly, Japanese rice growers oppose opening to the global
market because they do not want to face stiff international competition.
Also, they perceive open markets as a threat to their identity,
connections to nature, and cultural and spiritual heritage, of which
rice is a principal part. Competition from overseas and mechanized
technology endangers family farming, as well as the life-ways and values
attendant to it.
For many Japanese consumers, the taste of foreign rice is unappealing.
They fear that the pesticides applied in countries with little
regulation present health risks. At bottom, the issues regarding
governmental policy and the WTO's promotion of free trade are seen as
matters of cultural dignity, food security, and environmental
protection. Without making big noise, their resistance meshed several
forms, some of them different from the Western varieties.
Yet another site of resistance to globalization is within people's
mindsets. In Washington, in April 2002, a colleague, 12 graduate
students, and I interviewed 243 participants at a rally sponsored by the
organization Mobilization for Global Justice. We administered our
questionnaire consisting of 25 items about participation in protests,
attitudes toward globalization, and the strategies of the global justice
movement. When asked the most important reason for protesting
globalization, only 6 percent of the interviewees said "to abolish the
international financial institutions." The largest single response was
to oppose US foreign policy. The majority of those interviewed regarded
the US government as an active, interventionist agent of globalization.
Queried about violence, nearly two-thirds of the interviewees ruled it
out, while only four percent strongly agreed that violence is a
legitimate strategy. A large plurality of those surveyed disapproved of
violence under any circumstances, invoking the names of Mahatma Gandhi
or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a religion to justify their position.
In our survey of changing attitudes, we found that those who resist
globalization do not reject it or adopt an across-the-board
anti-globalization stance. Although core international economic
institutions are seen as problematic, the resistance embraces the gains
The agenda has shifted to what can be done to harness globalization so
that its benefits are inclusive and its processes are more transparent,
participatory, and democratic. The emphasis is on formulating concrete,
affirmative proposals. To develop them, there are infrastructures, such
as the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization. Also,
since 2001, the World Social Forum has brought together representatives
of social movements from several countries. Meeting in Porto Alegre,
Brazil, and then in Mumbai, India, participants think about ways to
enact alternatives to neoliberal globalization and have established
Increasingly, the protest over the dark side of globalization may be
found both within and outside governments and intergovernmental
organizations. Chaired by the foreign ministers of a northern and a
southern country, Finland and Tanzania, the Helsinki Process on
Globalisation and Democracy is assembling leading globalization actors
and activists to develop and implement ideas for equitable human
The key to removing the blinkers is to turn on the high and low beams.
The task is to illuminate not only the street theater that dramatizes
the harsh side of globalization, but also the other stages where new
forms of resistance and novel opportunities may be found.
James H. Mittelman is a professor in the School of International Service at American University, Washington, DC. This article extends arguments in his book "Whither Globalization? The Vortex of Knowledge and Ideology," published last month by Routledge.
© 2004 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization