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Inequality in an Era of Convergence: Using Global Histories to Challenge Globalization Discourse

Sheetal Chhabria


Figure 1

     This image from the 5th Edition of The City Reader is a self-avowed image of globalization.1 It has everything wrong with it that narratives of globalization have wrong with them. It is a bird's eye view that doesn't get close to its subject, providing an impressionistic account of a phenomenon in some distant location without contextualizing it in that location's specific social dynamics. The image conveys stasis and structure. Neither contemporary nor historical processes are invoked to suggest dynamism, nor do the inhabitants purportedly represented in it exhibit any agency to actively create their landscape. The image also seems to be intended for consumption by North Atlantic audiences, framing Mumbai's urban landscape as an example of a peculiar urban form, a site worthy of photographic reproduction precisely because of its peculiarity. The image deploys the total alterity of the slums of Mumbai to invoke an ill-defined "age of globalization." Most interestingly, we can't be sure why these urban conditions of "gross social inequality" are "persisting." Either globalization is producing the urban slum problem or working to eradicate it –we cannot be sure which.

     In this article, I explore the way in which historical scholarship under the new rubric "global history" has sought to overcome such dominant and conventional obfuscations created by globalization discourse. In an important article that may have marked the beginning of the "global turn" in historical studies, Bruce Mazlish emphasized the importance of studying global connections across places, which most historians needing such encouragement have since embraced. "The practitioners of global history…" Mazlish said, "…include adherents of both a strong and a weak interpretation [of globalization]…"2 namely different interpretations about the scale of novelty we are witnessing in the era of globalization. Ever since Mazlish's stress on the importance of connections across regions, historians have increasingly emphasized the importance of studying connections across places rather than analytically isolating regions in space and time.3

     Global histories that analyze connections across space in deep time, much further back than conventional stories of globalization which begin in the 1950s at the earliest, can challenge globalization discourse's presumption of novelty, "…in which a sense of living in the midst of unprecedented change has dominated social and personal sensibilities."4 In doing so, such histories can be used not just to explain interactions in space and across time, but also demonstrate how such connections have produced divergences and inequality, not convergence and the eradication of inequality. Historians who use global frameworks of analysis warn that globalization discourse's claims of convergence at best mask and at worst help reproduce the very inequities that globalization's advocates purport to be overcoming. Indeed, this production of inequality in the era of convergence is the exact conundrum invoked by the image of Mumbai's slums in the image above.

     Critical global histories build on deep regional knowledge of specific places produced by experts in area studies, postcolonial criticism, cultural studies, anthropology, geography and other disciplinary formations to ask important questions which decenter globalization in space and time and challenge narratives of convergence. They cast globalization not only as a multi-polar phenomenon, but argue the process of globalization actually continues the process known as uneven development5 by prior scholars who were keen to challenge modernity's script wherein an important component part was a Eurocentric periodization.6

     Some questions that these critical global historians ask are: how do places come to look like they occupy different temporalities? How do processes that create spatial connectivity produce new discourses of regional distinction? How do ideas about space derive from and produce narratives about histories and agency? How can we ask questions that don't reify North Atlantic ideal types and then apply them "elsewhere" but instead account for the emergence of complex social structures like capitalism or secularism as products of encounters across space? How can we understand world historical events for their world historical significance and not see them in isolated geographic containers (mostly European containers) that then travel around the globe? How can we formulate new theoretical models of change over time and interconnectivity that don't elide the production of unevenness and inequality?

     In the rest of this paper I will discuss the ways in which conventional accounts of globalization revive and continue older Eurocentric or North Atlantic-centric ways of framing world historical processes. This essay will then highlight some important criticisms of the presumed novelty of the phenomenon of globalization to challenge globalization discourse's production of the sensibility about unprecedented change. Finally, this essay will underscore the importance of being attentive to the new kinds of inequity produced in the past few decades in precisely the era of purported convergence and thus globalization.

Eurocentrism Disguised as Globalization

     Globalization discourse speaks of places becoming more like each other because of the erosion of borders, even using the metaphor of a flat world where hierarchy of mobility is entirely eradicated.7 Nonetheless, and ironically, in doing so it maintains the idea of distinct places and even distinct times.8 According to an author of a text providing a short history of globalization, this phenomenon is the "universalization of particularism and the particularization of universalism."9 In the caption for the image above on Mumbai's slums, the use of the word "sector" serves to mark particularism into the universal phenomenon of globalization. The word sector makes it sound like there are and were once-isolated spatial units in Bombay which are only now coming into contact with the world, sectors which have thus far lacked "innovation" and "productivity" and are therefore, according to the caption above, "stuck in slum conditions as bad as those described by Friedrich Engels in the early days of the Industrial Revolution." According to the caption, Bombay is where slums "persist," as atavistic remnants of the past that are out of time in the present, a past that England, Europe, and the North Atlantic world have already dispensed with and overcome in becoming modern urban spaces.10

     Producing this idea that Bombay is like London's past requires an assumption that different parts of the world occupy different temporalities. The caption also infers that the North Atlantic world has dispensed with this problem. The most dubious implication of the caption is that time moves at a different pace in different locations, a conception of time that is untenable when we begin with global frameworks of analysis, which, at minimum, restore synchronicity to what are cast as asynchronous events. How this idea about a-synchronicity "persists" would be worth documenting in and of itself but it is outside of the scope of this paper. I can point to a tendency amongst historians (and every other scholar who depends on a narrative of the past to make claims about the present) to narrate a distinct European transition to capitalism and modernity, "a European miracle." This historical narrative posits merchants' activities in an urban environment far from the gaze of feudal overlords as early as the medieval period, a Smithian narrative regularly deployed as often as it is critiqued.11 The result is that Europe's cities and European merchants who operate in them are seen as uniquely poised towards the transition to modernity from centuries prior, a transition from which South Asian cities (and all cities of the non-North Atlantic World) are either left out or still catching up.

     This presumed and naturalized separation between urban merchants and agrarian overlords in the European model compels us to see slums and shantytowns in Asian, African, and Latin American cities as proof that these cities failed to separate from their countrysides, further justifying the often repeated conception that slum dwellers are not only rural migrants but in fact essentially rural-folk who haven't "dispensed" with their purported rural (read traditional) ways of life. By picking out specific features of social life in the past like double entry book-keeping in the 12th century,12 a protestant work ethic in the 16–17th century,13 or even a more suitable geography or climate,14 the European miracle –which would occur centuries later– is cast as inevitable, pre-determined, and a natural unfolding of pre-modern European history. The intense and violent encounter between the West and the Rest under colonialism throughout later centuries doesn't help globalize the narrative of the European miracle since colonialism arguably thwarted the colonized society's transition to modernity. The goal of "globalization" can even be cast as a correction to prior colonial exclusions with independent postcolonial nation states at the helm of a new egalitarian world order in which postcolonial leaders liberalize markets as an extension of the demand for freedom first voiced during decolonization.15

     Such narrative frameworks which cast Mumbai's slums as England's past, or Asian urbanites as essentially ruralites, are created by theories of social life which conform to what is widely critiqued as European diffusionism,

a theory about the way cultural processes tend to move over the surface of the world as a whole. They tend to flow out of the European sector toward the non-European sector. This is the natural, normal, logical, and ethical flow of culture, of innovation, of human causality. Europe, eternally, is Inside. Non-Europe is Outside. Europe is the source of most diffusions; non-Europe is the recipient….The most important tenet of diffusionism is the theory of 'the autonomous rise of Europe.'16[Italics mine]

     That Europe rose alone and due to processes internal to itself is projected back in time; the rise of Europe is conceived of as an event that happened in an isolated geographical container rather than being connected to its centuries-old encounter with other parts of the world. Such a model of European diffusionism is revived in accounts of globalization which see the rest of the world becoming "westernized" where social, cultural, and institutional formations which formed first in the United States or Europe are then found in other parts of the world.

     Let's move beyond historical narratives to focus on other kinds of framings that deploy the conceits of Eurocentric diffusionism. In development circles, it is a commonly held view that the degree of urbanization corresponds to the stage of development of a society. In a section entitled "Ascending the Ladder of Economic Development" from the book, The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, the Economist and Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and leading figure of the United Nations Millennium Project writes,

...we sense a progression of development that moves from subsistence agriculture toward light manufacturing and urbanization, and on to high-tech services. In Malawi, 84 percent of the population live in rural areas; in Bangladesh, 76 percent; in India, 72 percent; and in China, 61 percent. In the United States, at the upper end of the development spectrum, it is just 20 percent. Services account for under 25 percent of employment in Malawi, whereas in the United States, they account for 75.

In Sachs' worldview, it makes perfect sense that the United States is a wealthier country than Malawi given the difference in degree of urbanization in each society. He goes on to say,

If economic development is a ladder with higher rungs representing steps up the path to economic well being, there are roughly one billion people around the world, one sixth of humanity, who live as the Malawians do: too ill, hungry, or destitute even to get a foot on the first rung of the development ladder.17

     The world is a simple place from Jeffrey Sachs' point of view; the ladder serves as a clear metaphor where rungs are stages towards development and a larger city corresponds to a higher rung designating upward social mobility. For Sachs, that some countries don't have a sufficiently urbanized population shows that the process of development is still incomplete. Sachs is following an old idea borne out of a long-standing conceit, most well-articulated by the anthropologist Robert Redfield, that urban people are more advanced than rural folk18 and thus correspond to a higher stage of development.19 In spite of the rapidly increasing population in cities of the still-developing world, the persistence of unhygienic and overcrowded spaces demands an amendment to these simple models of development since they conform to stereotypes of village life created in the 1950s by some of the earliest urban sociologists who thought human societies could be mapped onto a rural to urban continuum.20 Such assumptions, even in our supposed new era of globalization, haven't disappeared and continue to frame the work of anthropologists who for long, didn't take up the study of complex non-western social forms since they didn't confirm expectations created by anthropological theory about non-western societies. As Arjun Appadurai explains:

...the anthropology of complex non-Western societies has, till recently, been a second class citizen in anthropological discourse. This...involves a kind of reverse Orientalism, whereby complexity, literacy, historical depth, and structural messiness operate as disqualifications in the struggle of places for a voice in metropolitan theory.21

The study of spaces of urban inequality and poverty, rather than being read as structurally complex spaces, are read as the persistence of simple, rural elements, only intensified in scale. Their presence in Indian urban life serves to "prove" that Indian cities have followed distinct and incomplete pathways apart from transitions that characterized Europe such that they are stuck in Europe's past.

     One response from scholars working on those places "lagging behind" has been to say that there are "alternate modernities" in places of the world outside of the North Atlantic as a way to restore dignity to people of the Global South, to uncover the sources of value and agency for people on their own terms rather than according to templates made in the Global North.22 But this still leaves intact the original notion that a unique kind of modernity visited the North Atlantic world in isolation (without any influence from any place outside of that) and that various world regions are self-enclosed entities unto themselves, perhaps until the colonial encounter when "other" places are reluctantly, violently, and forcefully brought into a world system by Europeans who exercise all the agency in the world to make this happen.

     For many good reasons and some bad, the very important work of Area Studies specialists has inadvertently at times supported versions of infinite pluralism, or multiple modernities. Here it is important to first note how important Area Studies was and ought to remain in the future of academic life, lest we end up with nothing but impressionistic accounts of other places as the picture shows above. In the 1960s, the establishment of Area Studies centers across universities was an acknowledgement that "our" knowledge about other places was incomplete since we didn't know "their" language, their cultures, and their ways of life.23 It was built on an assumption that different world civilizations develop in their own ways, according to their own internal logic prior to contact with each other. It was meant to and still produces valuable expertise and deep knowledge about regions. Yet, even with many area specialists housed across universities, what Dipesh Chakrabarty has said about South Asian Studies is true of most scholars of East Asia, Africa, and Latin America, namely that area specialists are required to be conversant with North Atlantic processes and theories but the inverse is not true—North Atlantic specialists are not required to be conversant with our histories and theories.24 This asymmetry of intellectual labor may become more exaggerated even when "global" curricular initiatives embrace new disciplinary or interdisciplinary formations like Global Studies, which often reward superficial knowledge about the globe rather than area-specific knowledge.

     For now, let us return to the problem of widespread complicity in narratives of European diffusionism by both area specialists and disciplinary scholars. Specialists of all kinds make mistakes when asked to generalize from their expertise to wider trends. Scholars of Europe or the United States – people who I also think of as area specialists even when they are trained solely in disciplines like History or English – often argue for their region's uniqueness or exceptionality even without knowing about other places in the world. We see this in the canon wars for example where "classical" texts are revived to provide timeless or universal knowledge especially in response to multiculturalism,25 and also in the often-repeated notion that "liberal ideals" were invented in Europe. In similar ways, Asianists and Africanists have been keen to argue for cultural uniqueness, incommensurability or alterity precisely because of our deep knowledge about a world region. Critical approaches like postcolonial theory have occasionally bordered on nativism and the celebration of cultural relativism, arguing that Marxism or any other "theoretical" model which comes out of Western Europe is not applicable to histories of capitalist maldevelopment in other parts of the world.26 To avoid the use of "western theoretical models" scholars search for "indigenous knowledge," unwittingly reifying expressions of alterity as the only true contribution of "native cultures." (I say more about alterity and the figure of the native below.) Scholars of the present, whom we might call temporal specialists, also make similar comparative mistakes arguing that a phenomenon is totally new without actually comparing the past to the present. All of these have served to help construct globalization-talk's universalization of particularism in which novelty, alterity, and convergence strangely coalesce to create new stories about global processes which mask old problems with modernization narratives which had used European diffusionism.

     Now let us turn to critiques of such narratives of globalization. Some of the best scholars with which to think about the emerging globalization-talk are those that are critical of its claims about novelty. Such scholars instead see globalization-talk as reflective of new political and economic relations across the globe that create new forms of inequality while obscuring it through talk of convergence. Critical histories argue that the discourse of globalization in particular ought to be contextualized as a product of the specific features of the restructuring of the 1970s and 1980s, it should also be seen as dependent on structural transformations that have much deeper histories than those who use globalization-talk unreflectively are willing to imagine.

     Paying attention to deeper pasts allows us to teach globalization critically in ways that make students attuned to debates in historiography and appreciative of one of the most important insights of historical thinking, namely: that narratives of the past are interpretations and even arguments, and that historical thinking often entails finding the relationships between the past and present, discourse and practice, and power and knowledge. Let us turn now to what globalization is and how some important histories have used global frameworks of analysis to challenge conventional understandings of globalization.

Using Global History to Critique Globalization

     The most common understandings of globalization conceptualize it as a process that increases global integration in contradistinction to the process of nationalism that had previously divided the world into independent and sovereign territorial entities. Globalization is thought to be especially significant since the 1980s when people, things, practices, and ideas cross borders more frequently because of enhancements in communications technology and loosening of border controls. Even when people don't move, single commodities are made transnationally; raw materials are extracted in various parts of the world, assembled piecemeal in various other regions, sold in yet other regions, and the entire process capitalized through financial instruments themselves invented in distinct economic geographies. When people do move, mobility creates hyphenated identities (often two national identities) and people develop allegiances to polities outside of their place of residence or formal citizenship. New trans-local solidarities are sometimes understood as historically built on prior social formations like pan-Africanism, third worldism, the communist international, the global sisterhood and other conglomerates. But more often, hopeful advocates of such solidarities, especially those who pay attention to forms of social media, applaud this "new global civil society" and universities seek to develop "global citizenship" to enhance participation in extra-territorial communities.27

     Several critiques of such understandings of globalization follow. First, it is a very presentist view of globalization, and second, it places a relatively recent territorial formation, the nation state, at its center even as it purports to overcome nationalism. The presentist view sees transnational production from the past 20 to 30 years, for example, as a strikingly new phenomenon forgetting that transnational corporations have historical roots going back to centuries prior. Products have been made trans-locally since at least colonial times. A trans-local left movement in the 1930s–60s formed across the new "third world" to contest colonial production processes that had exploited colonial labor for raw materials to supply metropolitan manufacturing.28 Subsequently, the utopian visions of third world movements were undermined by a transnational reorganization of the bourgeoisie in the 1980s when business leaders explicitly regained control of their respective national economic agendas to control labor by undermining local unions and rallying behind the transnational corporation as the only vehicle for efficient production and growth.29

     The second problem with the conventional understanding of globalization is that by placing the nation state at the center of the analysis such narratives aid in forgetting that the nation is a very recent territorial formation. When one considers human history from a longer perspective we find that empires were the more widespread trans-local political frameworks, borders between empires were much more porous, sovereignty was layered across regions, and identities were much more fluid. This is why if one begins telling a story of globalization in the 1950s, one begins with a world that is nationally divided and gets a story in which social mixing and hybrid or hyphenated identities seem like assaults on long standing national affiliations. Following the literature, we now know that it is the national affiliation that is quite new and short-lived and is ironically enhanced in many communities as globalization continues. It makes perfect sense that McDonalds offers a "McSpicy Paneer" or "Chicken Maharaja Mac" in India when such items are absent in the United States because McDonalds depends on and enhances national affiliation to make the case for its products. "Global" phenomenon depend on local signs of legitimacy to gain a foothold in new environs, inadvertently exaggerating and enhancing the local forms of identity that may eventually oppose the projected hegemony of global flows.

     The third problem with the conventional narrative is that it misrepresents the origins of capitalism and world trade. An excellent historical monograph that took a global framework of analysis in the 1980s was Eric Wolf's Europe and the People Without History. This book narrated one-world-making by inverting centers and peripheries on a planetary scale and showing that peripheral peoples, those thought to be victims of history rather than its agents, played central roles in the rise of modern capitalism which eventually came to be seen as centered in the North Atlantic world. Combined with scholars like Janet Abu Lughod30 and Andre Gunder Frank,31 this critical monograph emerged in the 1980s at a moment when scholars were critiquing the world-systems theory by Immanuel Wallerstein.

     World systems theory mistakenly projected a Eurocentric view of economic development back in time to as early as the 16thcentury. It argued that Europe became the core of the world economy with the rest of the world in the semi-periphery or periphery because of the prevalence of unskilled labor. In contrast to Wallerstein, scholars like Gunder Frank, Abu Lughod, and numerous others taking an Indian Ocean view32 argued that history didn't begin with Europe. Commercial life in Asia had been subject to the dynamics and pressures of inter-local trade and production and oceans were central to Asian dynamism before the North Atlantic world acquired centrality. Other scholars of Asia similarly argued against Wallerstein, showing that commercial capitalism did not originate in Europe in the 16th century and then incorporate India,33 but rather had diverse local contexts of origin across Eurasia where commercial infrastructures like the silk route or seaways connected with each other. These scholars challenged the opposition between commercial-sea-faring Europeans and land-locked traditional Asians. Ken Pomeranz has recently revitalized a similar argument in The Great Divergence, arguing that parts of China and England were astonishingly similar until the 19thcentury. "Europe's rise" was a late occurrence that was contingent on particular historical conditions, not a product of Europe's eternal cultural or economic superiority.

     Scholars began to see that mapping the world in ways that placed Europe at the center of the world and even named "Europe" as a distinct "continent" was itself an act of knowledge making imbued with power rather than a transparent or unmediated representation of world geography.34 Seeing a similarly connected world in which representations of North Atlantic centrism had overshadowed Asian dynamics, David Ludden argued that rather than see capitalism as arising in an isolated European container that then travels around the world, we ought to see its emergence as already part of a trans-regional encounter.

The likelihood of long, slow, parallel transformations, across great cultural distances, suggests a global approach to the rise of capitalism and imperialism rather than the dominant approach today, which fixates on Europe's great transformation and European initiative around the world...On these lines, we might reconcile the rise of capitalism and imperialism together, considering both in a global context and looking for cross-cultural interactions and alliances that brought both into being. Instead of understanding both as strictly European inventions, we might discover a global, cross-cultural process of invention, which involved many peoples – with Europeans as major innovators – tied by sea into one vast cultural and social system that spread its influence from the coast inland.35

As a result, the political geography of the world map in the years 1400–1800 is better understood as having several sites of centrality where several outcomes were possible, only one of which was English, French, or Dutch colonialism.

     The fourth problem with globalization-talk is that it suggests planetary scales of action for phenomenon that are by no means planetary. Such talk therefore grossly simplifies the very important struggles for power, resources, and representation that exist across and within localities and regions and doesn't pay attention to who is left out or why. In "What is the Concept of Globalization Good for? An African Historian's Perspective," Fred Cooper argues that when we look only for connections across places we don't ask important questions about the limits of interconnection. Cooper advocates for specific and more humble taxonomies, proposing that if we find a phenomenon across just two places then we should just call it trans-local and not global since we just mean two places. The word "transnational" too ought not to be used to classify a connection between two small communities in two different nations since this suggests a relation between the entireties of the two nations and presumes the national identity for those communities when they may self-identify in other ways. Importantly, looking for such interconnections doesn't address why others are not participating in that connection. Thus, when discussing relations and connections across spaces, we ought to be attentive to the dynamics of power in those connections so as not to render the connection natural. So if we mean colonial, imperial, neocolonial or neoliberal, we should be specific and say those terms. The more specific we can be with our words, the better. Cooper also warns that scholars who have correctly identified problems with national frameworks of analysis ought not to dispense with such frameworks for the sake of the conception of space being deployed under the rubric of "globalization":

It is salutary to get away from whatever tendencies there may have been to analyze social, economic, political, and cultural processes as if they took place in national or continental containers; but to adopt a language that implies that there is no container at all, except the planetary one, risks defining problems in misleading ways. The world has long been – and still is – a space where economic and political relations are very uneven; it is filled with lumps, places where power coalesces surrounded by those where it does not, where social relations become dense amidst others that are diffuse. Structures and networks penetrate certain places and do certain things with great intensity, but their effects tail off elsewhere.36

Thus, we must be specific about the spaces of connection and not dispense with a conception of space altogether; we should ask why some places are connected and others are not. This strategy will help us understand that globalization is a new word that emerged in the 1980s that served to cast relationships between places as inevitable or natural even when they are actively constructed by those in power.

     Finally, globalization discourse claims novelty for things that are quite old – like mobility and trade – and casts the genuinely new stuff as old and primordial – like the national borders that aspire to limit mobility. Depending on how you measure it, it can be shown that world trade today is no more "global" than it was in the early 1900s. Globalization has not created greater integration into world markets for everyone. Africa's share of world trade has fallen from over 3% in the 1950 to 2% in the 1990s, and to 1.2% if you exclude South Africa. In light of these facts, should we think of Africa as an exception, a place that is uniquely becoming less globalized, or do we need to tell other kinds of stories?37 About global commodity markets, Cooper warns,

Some scholars argue that the 'really big leap to more globally integrated commodity and factor markets' was in the second half of the 19thcentury, that 'world capital markets were almost certainly as well integrated in the 1890s as they were in the 1990s.' …The great period of expansion of international trade and investment – and their importance to shaping economic interdependence – was the decades before 1913, followed by a dramatic loss of economic integration after that date. For all the growth in international trade in recent decades, as a percentage of world GDP it has only barely regained levels found before the First World War.38

     If trade and mobility are not increasing everywhere, what about the claim that borders and nations are longstanding and thus older than mobility? Does mobility and border crossing serve as a better signifier of a novel phenomenon in our era of globalization? Unfortunately, even with mobility and border crossing, the story told by globalization discourse concedes authority to the power of national territorialism. David Ludden describes it well when he says, "Modernity consigned human mobility to the dusty dark corners of archives that document the hegemonic space of national territorialism. As a result, we imagine that mobility is border crossing, as though borders came first, and mobility, second. The truth is more the other way around."39 Similarly, Adam Mckeown writes about the emergence of the nation-state and its borders:

By the early 1960s a mosaic of nation states with similar institutions and similar claims to autonomy covered most of the world. It was a spectacular diffusion and homogenization of political forms. These forms are now taken for granted as precisely the opposite of globalization, the basic units of a fragmented, pre-globalized world. Yet they are themselves the products and vehicles of global interaction.40

We ought to learn from this that in contrast to the conventional narrative of globalization, border making was a result of intensifying human mobility and not the other way around. Human mobility peaked between the 1880s and 1930 and declined rapidly in the 1930s. Even as mobility rose steadily again after the 1950s, it reached the earlier proportions maybe in the 1980s. In most of the world, humans are less mobile today than at the height of formal empire.41 Border controls, passports, and regimes of spatial legitimation came into being with Asian exclusion laws across the Pacific.42 As a result of border making, more and more people around the globe identify with national identities than ever did in the past. Thus, when thinking about border crossings, we should remember that it is the borders that are new, not the crossings.

Conclusion: Increasing Inequality in the Era of Globalizaton

     The most important phenomenon eluding globalization experts is the fact that in our "era of globalization, we are also living highly segregated lives within our localities. Returning to the initial image in this essay, in spite of the suggestion in the caption that slums "persist," are stuck in the past, and are remnants of the pre-global era now awaiting transformation, the fact is that spatial segregation of the kind exemplified by the urban slum has been ossified by the discourse of globalization and the new market logics which sustain it.

     Numerous reports over the past few years have documented increasing inequality across the world and within local environments. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the 85 wealthiest people in the world own more of the world's wealth than the bottom 50% of the world's population, and these numbers have gotten worse since that report came out. Oxfam reports warn that such a concentration of wealth poses a threat for democracy, rendering peaceful challenges to the new world economy unviable.43 The United Nations has also regularly offered such dire prognoses, most recently in 2013 speaking of "humanity divided" and warning that in spite of higher per-capita GDPs for most developing countries, "Economic progress in these countries has not alleviated disparities, but rather exacerbated them."44 Local reports from inside the United States also document increasing spatial segregation, even in places outside dense urban centers.45 Across the quickly urbanizing world, since humanity will soon or now does find itself in increasingly in cities rather than the countryside, the urban-rural divide is more important than ever as a marker of social status.46 On our now urban earth, power is concentrated more than ever in fewer and fewer command centers where an increasing minority of actors make decisions for the majority of the world.47

     Clearly and when one considers the data as a whole, this is most certainly not an increasingly globally integrated world. According to ethnographers of our increasingly segregated present, spatial segregation is now more important than temporal segregation:

To the extent that the global status system is detemporalized, or retemporalized in non-progressive ways, the nature of the relation between the global rich and the global poor is transformed. For in a world of non-serialized political economic statuses, the key questions are no longer temporal ones of societal becoming (development, modernization), but spatialized ones of policing the edges of a status group. Hence the new prominence of walls, borders, and high technologies of social exclusion in an era that likes to imagine itself as characterized by ever-expanding connection and communication.48

According to such accounts, the status of the poor is just that, a static-status in which there is no way out. In development-speak, this is the "poverty trap" in which more and more of the world resides.

     What does this increasingly inequality in the era of globalization mean for those of us who teach globalization and for our students who often enter our classrooms assuming we live in a new global world? When we teach globalization, embrace globalization-talk, or reorganize our curricula along the lines of "global studies," we must ask ourselves whose story we are telling and whose experiences we are leaving out. This question could even be posed to students of globalization. By reading critical accounts of globalization, such as the many that have been cited in this essay, alongside popular narratives, students can develop the tools with which to critique the way history is used not only to justify the present, but the way in which history is entirely rewritten to serve the present. Students can examine who is being left out of popular narratives. They can then de-center myopic accounts of globalization which re-enlist Eurocentric arguments about process and change. They can overcome the impasses between conceptualizing North Atlantic ways of life in opposition to Asian ways of life or other such generalizing binaries.

     Returning to the initial image with which this essay began, students ought to be asked to confront the data on inequality and come up with their own theories to explain the unprecedented and rising inequality which more accurately characterizes our world today.

Sheetal Chhabria is an Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College, where she works on South Asian History, Urbanism, Inequality and Postcolonial Studies. She is currently preparing a book manuscript about laboring and poor housing in colonial Bombay entitled, Making the Modern Slum: Housing in Colonial Bombay. She can be reached at


1 LeGates, Richard, and Frederic Stout, City Reader. 5th ed., (Routledge Urban Reader Series, Routledge, 2011).

2 Mazlish, Bruce, "Comparing Global History to World History." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 28, no. 3 (Winter 1998), 390.

3 Manning, Patrick, Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past, (New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

4 McKeown, Adam, "Periodizing Globalization." History Workshop Journal 63, no. 1 (March 20, 2007), 219.

5 Smith, Neil, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space, (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

6 McKeown, Adam, "Periodizing Globalization." History Workshop Journal 63, no. 1 (March 20, 2007), 218–30.

7 Thomas Friedman, "It's a Flat World, After All." New York Times Magazine, Apr 3, 2005, 32.

8 Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World, 1st edition (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

9 Jurgen Osterhammel & Petersson, Niels P., Globalization: A Short History, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009) 7.

10 Prior to World War I Charles Booth and Jacob Riis were exemplary of wider trends typified by the "slum outrages" that created political publics in cities of the North Atlantic. Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London (London, New York: Macmillan and co., 1902); Jacob A. Riis, The Battle with the Slum (New York: The Macmillan company, 1902). Others included: Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England; New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1985); Friedrich Engels and Florence Kelley, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (New York: J.W. Lovell company, 1887); and Charles Dickens, George Harry Ford, and Sylvère Monod, Bleak House: An Authoritative and Annotated Text, Illustrations, a Note on the Text, Genesis and Composition, Backgrounds, Criticism (New York: Norton, 1977). Attempts were made to clear or suburbanize slums in London and New York in the interwar period and afterwards. Since the postwar period, slums have been invoked almost exclusively with regard to cities of the "developing" world, many of which trace their slum problem to the problem of colonization.

11 Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities; Their Origins and the Revival of Trade (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956). For the critique, see Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999).

12 Favier, Jean, Gold & Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages, (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1998).

13 Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (Courier Corporation, 1905).

14 Landes, David S., The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).

15 Harvey, David, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (Oxford_; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

16 Blaut, James Morris, The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History, (Guilford Press, 1993), 1–2.

17 Jeffrey Sachs, End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time, (Penguin Press, 2005), 18.

18 Robert Redfield, "The Folk Society," American Journal of Sociology Vol. 52, No. 4 (Jan., 1947), 293–308; Robert Redfield and Milton Singer, "The Cultural Role of Cities," Economic Development and Cultural Change Vol. 3, No. 1 (Oct. 1954), 53–73.

19 Rostow, W. W. "The Stages of Economic Growth." The Economic History Review 12, no. 1 (August 1, 1959): 1–16.

20 See the essay entitled, "Of Garbage, Modernity, and the Citizen's Gaze," in Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

21 Arjun Appadurai, "Theory in Anthropology: Center and Periphery," Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol. 28, No. 2 (April 1986), 357.

22 Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar, ed. Alternative Modernities, (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001).

23 Ludden, David, "Area Studies in the Age of Globalization." Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad VI (Winter 2000).

24 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton Studies in Culture/power/history, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000).

25 Nussbaum, Martha Craven, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, The Public Square Book Series; Variation: Public Square (Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press, 2010); Said, Edward W. Humanism and Democratic Criticism, Columbia Themes in Philosophy; Variation: Columbia Themes in Philosophy, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

26 Chibber, Vivek, Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India, (Princeton University Press, 2003).

27 Juergensmeyer, Mark, ed. Thinking Globally: A Global Studies Reader, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

28 Geertz, Clifford. "What Was the Third World Revolution," Dissent 52, no. 1 (Winter 2005), 35–45.

29 Kohli, Atul. Poverty amid Plenty in the New India. 1st edition, (Cambridge_; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

30 Abu-Lughod, Janet L., Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 12501350, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

31 Frank, Andre Gunder, Reorient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1998).

32 Chaudhuri, K. N., Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750, (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire_; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

33 Immanuel Wallerstein, "Incorporation of Indian Subcontinent into Capitalist World-Economy," Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 21, No. 4 (Jan. 25, 1986): 28–39. Wallerstein has since modified his views and acknowledged a pre-European exchange network of which India was a part in some of his other writings.

34 Lewis, Martin, and Karen Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

35 Ludden, David E., Early Capitalism and Local History in South India, 2nd ed. Oxford India Paperbacks, (Delhi_; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 216.

36 Cooper, Frederick, "What Is the Concept of Globalization Good For? An African Historian's Perspective," African Affairs, no. 100 (2001), 190.

37 Cooper 2001, 206.

38 Cooper 2001, 194.

39 Ludden, David E. "Presidential Address: Maps in the Mind and the Mobility of Asia," Journal of Asian Studies, 62, no. 4 (November 2003), 1057–78.

40 McKeown, Adam, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 6.

41 McKeown, Adam. "Global Migration, 1846–1940," Journal of World History 15, no. 2 (2004), 155–89.

42 McKeown, 2008.

43 Oxfam



46 Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums, (London; New York: Verso, 2007).

47 Sassen, Saskia, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo, (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2001).

48 See James Ferguson's essay, "Decomposing Modernity," in Loomba, Ania. Postcolonial Studies and beyond, (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005).


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