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What is globalization?

J. Hopkins

Globalization is difficult to define.  Globalization scholars regularly debate what is actually meant by the term.  However, most agree on two things:

  1. globalization is happening

  2. globalization is a process of increasing interconnectedness.

Some Definitions

 Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

 Globalization is “the act of globalizing“; from the noun “global“ meaning “pertaining to or involving the whole world“, “worldwide“; “universal“ [1].

 International Forum on Globalization (IFG)

 “Globalization is the present worldwide drive toward a globalized economic system dominated by supranational corporate trade and banking institutions that are not accountable to democratic processes or national governments“ [2].

 World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General, Pascal Lamy

 “Globalization can be defined as a historical stage of accelerated expansion of market capitalism, like the one experienced in the 19th century with the industrial revolution. It is a fundamental transformation in societies because of the recent technological revolution which has led to a recombining of the economic and social forces on a new territorial dimension“ [3].

 The World Bank

 “Globalization - the growing integration of economies and societies around the world...“ [4].

 United Nations Poverty and Development Division

 “While the definition of globalization varies with the context of analysis, it generally refers to an increasing interaction across national boundaries that affects many aspects of life: economic, social, cultural and political. In the context of this study, in order to keep the analysis within reasonable bounds, the focus is only on the economic aspects, with particular emphasis on the role of ICT [information and communications technologies]. As such, globalization narrowly refers to the growing economic interdependence of countries worldwide. This includes increases in the international division of labour caused by swelling international flows of FBI [foreign-based investment], accompanied by an increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services, international capital flows, international migration and the more rapid and widespread diffusion of technology. This should not be construed to imply that social, cultural and other forms of globalization are unimportant, only that they are less germane to discussions of economic security and development“ [5].

 World Health Organization

 “Globalization, or the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of people and countries, is generally understood to include two interrelated elements:  the opening of borders to increasingly fast flows of goods, services, finance, people and ideas across international borders; and the changes in institutional and policy regimes at the international and national levels that facilitate or promote such flows.  It is recognized that globalization has both positive and negative impacts on development“ [6].

  • The OED’s definition is broad and emphasizes the process or “act“ of globalization as impacting on the world.

  • Like the OED definition, the IFG emphasizes the worldwide encompassing nature of globalization.  However, the IFG defines the process as one that is predominantly economic.  The process is also playing out in an area which is beyond the level of the nation-state.

  • The definitions from the WTO and World Bank, not surprisingly, emphasize the economic aspects of globalization.  However, both also bring in the social, or human aspect of the process, although this is not defined further.

  • The United Nations definition elucidates aspects of globalization that go beyond the economic.

  • The definition provided by the WHO is the one most relevant to health professionals.  It is more holistic than many of the other definitions.  It acknowledges the importance of economic, social, technological, and political processes of globalization.


WHO/P. Virot
For the purposes of this module, the definition of globalization used is most similar to that of the WHO.  It is an inclusive, holistic definition.  Globalization is a process of increasing interconnectedness.  The process includes economic, political, technological, social, and cultural connections between individuals and groups of people around the world.  The consequences of globalization are not predetermined.  Thus, an awareness of the potential good and bad arising from the globalizing process is essential to shaping the preferred outcome.




1. Oxford English Dictionary - 2nd edition [electronic edition]. Oxford, : Oxford University Press; c2000 [cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

2. International Forum on Globalization [homepage on the Internet]. San Francisco: The IFG; [cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

3. Lamy, Pascal. Humanising globalization. Geneva, Switzerland: The WTO; [updated 2006 Jan 30; cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

4. World Bank [homepage on the Internet]. Washington, DC: The World Bank Group; c2001 [cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

5. United Nations Poverty and Development Division. Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific, 1999. New York: The United Nations; c1999 [updated 1999 Dec 20; cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

6. World Health Organization [homepage on the Internet]. Geneva, Switzerland: The World Health Organization; c2006 [cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

All references for this section