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Unintended Social Effects of Globalization


During the early 1990s, globalization started to dominate the academic and social discourse. It is hardly possible to read a newspaper article or watch television without coming across references to how globalization shapes the lives of societies. Globalization is blamed for all social problems ranging from famine in Africa to floods in Asia. At the same time, globalization is central to economic development, poverty reduction, and fostered concern for human rights. These papers aim to untangle the numerous ways in which globalization shapes social policy both in negative and positive ways. Indeed, globalization can become a solution to national as well as international trends in insecurity and inequality.

Politically, globalization is the erosion of national sovereignty because the control over the national economy is lost through activities of transnational corporations able to shape policy formation. At the same time, countries are put under increasing pressure from non-government organizations to maintain and improve social policies on human rights and labor standards. Economically, globalization empowers international companies whose turnover is greater than the GDP of many states to impact the economic policies. Developing countries are encouraged to remove protectionist tariffs and restrictions on foreign direct investment. However, the unintended result of globalization is evident on the cultural level. National and local cultures are submerged in undifferentiated global culture. As the result, traditional indigenous cultures are replaced with an international culture of consumerism.

The scope of the problem is not limited to the specific country, region, or group of people. The social effects of globalization irreversibly change the life of people throughout the globe. While globalization brings more employment opportunities and contributes to better protection of human rights, unique cultures and traditions disappear.

Literature Review

Leaving aside the view of globalization by American businessmen, the global community is divided on the opinion of positive and negative consequences of the global political, economic, social, and cultural merge. The effects of globalization on culture are diverse and, unfortunately, mostly negative. Indigenous communities are forced to change their traditional living. While the advertisements of Coca-Cola can be heard in the most remote rural areas, people have no access to drinking water (Muyale-Manenji 2005: 1). Globalization rests on the principle that all people are humans and, therefore, have similar interests. However, culture is not static; it is highly dynamic. While culture is the endless process of change, it continues to give a sense of identity, security, and dignity. “Globalization theory assumes that all players, men, and women, rich and poor, will be affected equally” (Muyale-Manenji 2005: 1). However, globalization provides opportunities only to giant transnational corporations while social aspects are totally ignored.

James Fredericks, in particular, notes that “undergoing globalization is often associated with becoming modern, where modern is understood as having to do with cultural performances and technologies that arose in Western Union after 1500” (2007: 54). Fredericks argues that globalization results in the dying of the concept of the nation-state. The global community is increasingly detached from the territory. Thus, globalization is a threat to national sovereignty because it limits independence and frees civil society from territorial embeddedness. Fredericks concludes that globalization promotes the formation of new social cohesion and motivates the return of traditional identities. It means that ethnic forms of resistance to ‘Coca-colonization’ rise (Fredericks 2007: 56).

The social gains resulting from globalization are investigated by Gary Quinlivan. He writes that many studies have demonstrated the gains from freer trade in terms of individual rights (child labor, human development, and economic freedom), income distribution (a gap between poor and rich), health (life expectancy and infant mortality), environment (deforestation and emissions), and gender equality (Quinlivan 2003: 44). Nevertheless, Quinlivan claims that increased globalization results in greater exploitation of children in less developed countries. Moreover, the increased trade may lead to an increase in national GDP, but the gap between rich and poor is widening. International companies exploit the environment to produce goods at the lowest possible costs. In simple words, globalization is the exploitation of children, the environment, and the poor.

Economic globalization is promoted to reduce labor costs for multinational corporations rather than help undeveloped countries with economic development (Adalberto Aguirre 2004: 3). Moreover, direct foreign investment creates economic dependency. Adalberto tries to give the answer to the question of whether globalization is concerned with wages and working conditions. He argues that the global economy creates greater opportunities for poor nations but benefits are not distributed equitably between rich and poor nations. Globalization fails to promote social justice because democratic relations in the workplace and fair labor relations are not maintained by international companies outsourcing their operations to poor countries.

The actual increase in trade and direct foreign investment is beneficial to develop countries (Lee and Vivarelli 2006: 170). However, globalization is not always effective in solving domestic problems. Openness to globalization is accompanied by market-oriented policy reforms within developing countries (liberalization of the labor market, for example), while there is an evident lack of social orientation. As the result, globalization contributes to within-country income inequality. There is a direct correlation between globalization and poverty. In particular, Lee and Vivarelli (2006) note that globalization intensifies poverty instead of helping poor countries overcome it.

Moreover, globalization hurts the interest of developed countries as well, Britain for example. Thatcher was among the first politicians to recognize that companies needed to be more efficient to be competitive globally. Globalization brought a number of social and economic reforms which resulted in instability and insecurity (Smith 1999: 1). Moreover, the immediate results were reflected in the decreased quality of family life. Globalization fostered the deregulation of the labor market but families had to move in the search of better employment and the bonds within family members were disrupted. By 1991, Britain had the highest divorce rate of any country in Europe (Smith 1999: 1). Smith argues that globalization was the key reason for the unexpected creation of a large class of workless people. Even today, about one in five households has no active income earner. Globalization was counter-productive for Britain and has significantly changed the social situation in the country.

Theoretical Framework

Globalization is analyzed with the help of the structure-functionalism paradigm. According to this paradigm, the global community is a system of independent parts (cultures) that function for the benefit of the whole. The idea of globalization within structure-functionalism is to examine different parts of the human social system and make them work for the improvement of all. Globalization does not lead to the improvement of life of all parts of society due to unequal distribution of benefits. In particular, rich countries benefit more than poor countries while international companies are indifferent to social and human rights problems in developing countries.

The tenets of the functionalist approach to understanding the effects of globalization on human social systems include:

  1. The global community is a system of interrelated but culturally diverse parts
  2. All social systems have the functions of goal attainment, adaptation, integration, and latency.
  3. There are five institutions of human societies including economics, family, education, politics, and religion.
  4. Social actions take place within a system of cultural norms

Taking into account the above information, society is the primary system influenced by globalization. Literature review supports the hypothesis that globalization affects all institutions and functions of human societies. Nevertheless, the betterment of the whole system is not achieved because there are several unintended effects of globalization and these effects are negative for poor and developing countries.

According to symbolic interactionism, society is in a continuous state of re-creation through negotiation. In other words, globalization brings new rules of living (mostly American) to different parts of the world. As the result, the cultural differences are either ignored or erased. Globalization makes all societies similar to each other in terms of social, political, cultural, and economic rules. Symbolic interactionism takes into account the sense of morality and ethics. The morality and ethics of indigenous cultures are modified as the result of globalization. Social actions are influenced by personal beliefs and perceptions. However, globalization is not a voluntary change in society. On the contrary, the effects of globalization on different societies are unintended due to the forced changes.

Analysis of globalization and its effects on social life is conducted with the help of the person-blame approach as well as the system-blame approach. Social problems accompanying globalization can be blamed on individuals (leaders of international organizations and politicians, for example) as well as the global community in general. A social problem is a behavior that violates the norms of society. However, the analysis of globalization should go beyond the behavior paradigm because the assessment of global society, in general, is required. However, globalization is not led by specific individuals and the negative results should not be blamed on these leaders. In a wider context, globalization is the spread of American economic and social models to other parts of the world. Therefore, the system-blame approach is more desirable to the analysis of globalization’s effects on societies.


Globalization is fostered with the improved systems of transportation, innovative information technologies, and leadership of the United States in international commerce. Americanization (globalization) impacts lifestyle, language, religion, and every other component of traditional culture. The English language has become a universal language taught in virtually every part of the globe. Americans try to convince the world that Christianity is the only true religion because other religions promote violence while Christianity is based on love. Globalization brings foreign investment to poor countries, however, this investment works for the benefit of international corporations, not the local population. From one side, globalization does improve many aspects of life in poor countries. On the other side, the negative effects of globalization on societies are devastating.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that all people are equal and cannot be discriminated against based on cultural, ethnic, or other differences. However, when international corporations outsource their operations to developing countries, they do not improve the lives of people. On the contrary, they maintain extremely low wages and poor working conditions. Outsourcing to poor countries is done with the economic objective of cost-saving. The interests and rights of local populations are not taken into account. Moreover, the local population has no choice other than to accept the conditions imposed by international because of poverty and unemployment.

Supporters of globalization claim that globalization has enormous social benefits for poor countries. They note that globalization brings more employment and education opportunities, information on the protection of human rights, and equality of men and women. However, the research reveals that globalization contributes to the increasing gap between the poor and rich. Societies, in general, are not entitled to the potential benefits of globalization. The life of local people is not improved. Moreover, their culture and traditional lifestyle are destroyed. While inequality existed long before globalization, today globalization contributes to the unfair distribution of wealth among parties. In other words, rich countries are becoming richer while poverty in poor countries is intensified even more.

A lot of articles have been written on the benefits of globalization with very few on its side effects. Developing countries are motivated to open their borders for international corporations but developed countries are not willing to accept immigrants from poor states. Globalization keeps the poor in poor countries without granting them an opportunity to improve their lives. Economic benefits are not distributed equally as well. Foreign companies do not invest in education and social programs. They come to poor countries only for the sake of a cheap workforce. The poor have no share in the distribution of global wealth. The international community expresses concern about poverty, lack of food and access to safe water, inadequate health care, and corrupt governments, but globalization does not aim at solving these problems.

It is worth adding that globalization impacts the environment more than global warming and melting of the ice. The natural resources are scarce and insufficient to meet the increasing demands of North America and the Western Union. Logically, developed countries would depend upon the poor countries with the availability of natural resources. However, globalization twists the dependence. As the result, poor countries are turned into sources of natural resources and remain dependent upon the developed countries in terms of financial assistance. Moreover, rich countries prefer to outsource hazardous and dangerous operations to poor countries as if people living in poor countries should not care about their health. Operations of international organizations in the developing and undeveloped regions of the world result in deforestation and depletion of resources.

Returning to the issue of human rights, globalization is expected to bring international laws that protected human rights to the most remote places of the globe. Special attention should be devoted to the rights of women. In the majority of Asian and African countries, women are not granted any rights. A woman is considered to be the property of a man and has no right to speak, to disagree, and to decide on her life. Traditional cultures require full obedience to men and severe punishment for disobedience (even death). From one side, globalization aims at making the life of women easier through educating them on equality and drawing the attention of the global community to this problem. On the other side, globalization fails to bring constructive change in male-dominating communities. As the result, violence against women and oppression are still very common, and the international community can do nothing to improve the lives of women.

The unique feature of globalization is the close correlation of economic, political, and social factors. Thus, the presence of international corporations creates more employment opportunities for men and women. However, companies do not prevent child labor and prefer to adjust wages to the local economies. Thus, they do not contribute to better income. From a political perspective, globalization motivates poor countries to modify all policies to meet international standards. Poor countries open their borders and grant the right to decide on national matters to international leaders. As the result, the whole idea of sovereignty is lost due to the intended effect of globalization.

Globalization leads to numerous social problems but solves none. In particular, globalization destroys cultural differences and imposes American values on indigenous communities. Globalization aims to solve global poverty but one of the unexpected social effects is the further impoverishment of poor countries. While globalization attracts the attention of the international community to problems of the poor, very little is done to help them. The exploitation of a cheap workforce makes the gap between the poor and the rich even wider. International corporations do create additional employment opportunities, but the wages are adjusted to the local economic development. As the result, the poor are not assisted with their struggle to overcome poverty.

In conclusion, globalization turns poor countries into sources of cheap human and natural resources. Globalization is led by Westerners seeking economic gains in the first place. The second objective rests on the desire to have control over global politics. The consideration of human rights and the improvement of living conditions are not included in this list of objectives. Globalization is not good for all because it generates benefits for the rich and worsens the life of the poor even more. Cultures are destroyed, oppression of women remains, natural resources are abused, and human resources are exploited. Globalization benefits the rich countries and makes them richer while the poor are left alone to deal with the negative effects of globalization on their societies.


Aguirre, Adalberto. 2004. “The Challenges of Globalization for Workers Transnational and Transborder Issues.” Journal of Social Justice 31.3: 1-15.

Fredericks, James. 2007. “Dialogue and Solidarity in a Time of Globalization.” Journal of Buddhist-Christian Studies 27: 51-63.

Lee, Eddy and Marco Vivarelli. 2006. “The Social Impact of Globalization in the Developing Countries.” International Labour Review 145.3: 167-181.

Muyale-Manenji, Fridah. 2005. The Effects of Globalization on Culture in Africa in the eyes of African Women. Web.

Quinlivan, Gary. 2003. “Ethical Development and the Social Impact of Globalization.” International Journal on World Peace 20.2: 39.

Smith, David. 1999. A Few Modest Prophecies: The WTO, Globalization and the Future of Public Education. Web.

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