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Bauman’s Concept of Globalization in Understanding the Rise in Human Displacement

The 1990s saw the term globalization become more apparent in the west mostly in the disciplines of politics, sociology, mass media, and economics. Various definitions have been developed in an attempt to fully capture all the elements inherent in the process. Generally, it is seen as the process through which relationships among human beings have increasingly become global mainly covering the entire demography as well as the geography of the world. More recently, the feeling has been that globalization has taken a more important role in influencing the lives of the people.

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The term has been repeatedly used to depict the social process which is strongly shaped by advances in technology, the increasingly faster transportation systems, and the information outburst resulting from the internet. These ‘shapers’ have brought a revolution by enabling contact among a great number of social actors in cultural, political, economic, and even communication forums previously happening in isolation. The isolation resulted from geographical differences as well as the various forms of barriers both cultural and social (Beck p4).

Zygmunt Bauman is the most important authority as far as literature on globalization is concerned. Born in 1925 in Poland, his family escaped the invasion of Nazi-German troops at the start of World War II. He has resided in the UK since 1991 where he is a professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds. He is very popular for his comprehensive and informative analysis of the relationships between modernity, postmodern consumerism, and the Holocaust. This paper discusses the concept of globalization as viewed by Bauman. It also assesses the help offered by the concept in understanding the increasing numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, and economic migrants in the world today (p4).

One of the most profound ideas about globalization brought out by Bauman was that “globalization cuts both ways”. He argued that globalization valorizes most local aspects culturally and also defines the local as being tribal. Globalization enhances the patterns of domination already in existence. It is more of a reallocation of the world’s vagaries of life in the form of poverty as well as a stigma by the elite than seeking their solution. Today, the community of social science accepts the myth that globalization lacks deliberate or political meaning. Some see it from the surface and assume that observing the pattern of results from globalization is adequate. Others see a challenge requiring political, intellectual as well as deliberate policy reactions (p6).

Indeed globalization is not merely hinged on the most touted symbols in commerce such as the development of global enterprises. It is firmly engraved in the common experiences of certain events such as wars and revolutions regardless of the fact that they happen to specific communities. History shows that the formation of the existing united power blocs especially in the west resulted not from commercial interest but rather from the Cold war in the 1940s. The results have been the drastic reduction in the state’s sovereignty in favor of a larger more powerful union. Globalization is actually inclined towards placing the world under a single free-market capitalist economic framework (Bauman, p8).

According to Bauman, mobility remains a very powerful aspect of globalization. He states that the ongoing war for space will only be won by those with the ability to freely move from place to place. The losers will lose due to their immobility and confinement within territories (p22).


Various forms of displacements occur worldwide. Refugees are those displaced by wars and civil strife back home. They may be displaced to live external to their home country. They may also be displaced but stay within their home countries. The baseline is that they are displaced by war. Asylum seekers are those who flee their home countries for fear of victimization by undemocratic regimes or those who flee in pursuit of ways to escape justice. Economic migrants on the other hand are those who migrate from their home countries due to economic reasons such as to find work or do business (Wolf, p13).

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A fundamental overriding argument in the use of the globalization concept as presented by Bauman is the understanding that globalization creates global networks which are used to further the interests of the elite leaving behind the commons. This creates an increasingly widening separation between the elite and the less endowed in the world.

Bauman argues that a company is owned by the investors and not the workers, suppliers, or even the locals in the place of situation. He emphasizes that most wars occurring in the last century resulted due to the act of entrepreneurs investing in local taxes. These companies took no responsibility for workers who they termed as ‘invalids’ and ‘human waste’ (pp6-19)

The process of globalization involves trade, the state, finance, technology, and ideas. It is known to significantly impact people. A myriad of benefits emerges from the process of globalization. Economic development is listed as the most visible benefit of the process. The economic value of globalization is simply immeasurable. Traders from one corner of the world can conduct trade with counterparts hundreds of miles away. Still, the benefits of improved trade and economic value can trickle down to the most remote parts of the world due to the existence of extensive communication networks.

The other side of the coin presents a different story concerning the process of globalization. Many negatives, social, economic, or political are said to either emanate from the globalization process or are aggravated by the process.

Economic globalization in the current world is defined by the speedy changes in technology. Technology especially in communication has collapsed time as well as space. It has prompted the establishment of global players who have facilitated major restructuring processes for both states and people. It has steadily increased the levels of trade among nations. Government deregulation is a critical element of globalization that has resulted in a high rate of capital mobility. The past two decades have experienced the lessening of government intervention in the market globally. Most of his actions are not voluntary but rather through pressure from global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Structural adjustments involving deregulation, privatization, and liberalization have been enforced mainly through sanctions. Huge spending reductions, credit restrains in the public sector well as export trade liberalization, and capital flows have become the norm. On the face of it, they appear to be rational steps but close examination brings out some underlying and potentially explosive weaknesses especially among the poorer countries (Hochschild, p15).

The freedom to invest in any economy propagates a very unequal global economic system. The developed nations are better endowed with capital and less endowed with labor. This means that they are able to move into the less developed nations and invest there depriving the locals the right to reap profits from their localities. They employ workers from the local communities and pay them dismal wages. All the profits are repatriated back home. In this case the rich get richer while the poor get even poorer. Sadly, it is this same poor people who are least able to adapt to the competitive environment brought about by the process of globalization. This prompts economic migration of the workers from their poor countries to the rich countries. The movement is defined by the economic disparities playing out between the two divides. Technology facilitates the migration by offering fast transportation methods. The governments facilitate the migration of the workers by allowing cross border movements of people. The combination of these factors directly leads to a higher number of economic migrants. This is in line with Bauman’s assertion that globalization best serves the interests of the elite (p19).

Bauman is categorical in declaring that globalization as viewed today is negative. It has lead to the reduction of barriers, encouraged free movement of capital, information, crime and terrorism yet the judicial and political institutions remain firmly based on national sovereignty (pp14-26).

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In addition the skewed demand of valuables brings up a different perspective towards globalization. The west has a high demand of valuables such as minerals and oil. Their need to develop further and improve their economic might in the face of increased dissent from the east presents a case for the need for more access to the above resources. In the scramble for the resources, conflicts emerge. Most conflicts in the world today are based on resources and the sharing methodologies. From African tribal conflicts to the stand-offs in the east (Marfleet, pp14-22).

The rate of modernization today is high meaning that the scramble for resources is higher. The result is increased conflicts in trying to gain control or gain access to the resources. In this process, displacements are inevitable. Various international players incite and secretly fund different factions of local communities. They do this from their far away countries using the existing transport and communication networks (Castles, p22).

A more recent and very disturbing twist in the globalization process is the entry of the act of terrorism. Terrorism is a global phenomenon which has introduced strife based on ideology. Reactive measures have largely been of great impact to the local communities. The September 11 bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon was a great milestone in globalization process. It crippled all the existing beliefs about globalization. It was a clear demonstration of the ability of poor regions to take advantage of globalization process to hit the central nerve of the developed west. The reaction was dubbed ‘war on terror’. Afghanistan was the first victim due to the declaration that Osama bin Laden instigated the attacks and Taliban refused to hand him over to the US authorities. As this went on, the war on Iraq started as Saddam Hussein was seen as threat to world peace due to supposed possession of nuclear weapons. First, the threat was deemed viable due to the level of globalization as the possession of the weapons meant a security threat to the west as the possibility of attack from afar due to technological advancement was a reality.

The decision by the Bush administration to go after terrorists and those who harbor terrorist ambitions including those with nuclear weapons has meant a drastic increase in people taking up the refugee status. The wars in Iraq produced over five million refugees half of them reside in the country while the other half fled the country and live in neighboring countries as the west was not willing to accommodate them. Afghanistan also has its fair share of people adopting the refugee status due to the bombings occurring there (Wolf, Par 2).

Bauman points out that the objectives of modern day global wars is not the expansion of geographical territories as has been propagated by many, it is to remove hindrances in the achievement of true global freedom of economics and emphasizing that trade barriers are not welcome (p42).

In deed the management of ethnic tensions in Eastern Europe has become more complex with globalization. There is increased focus on divided groups with close relatives residing in neighboring countries as a way of reviewing ethnic based politics as national borders become increasingly relevant in the conflicts both intra and inter-state.

Violence seems to have escalated with the onset of the modern day rhetoric about the global village. Estimates made in the year 2000 showed that there were more about 40 conflicts in 36 countries by the end of 1999. Most people to the north of the globe are used to living within areas which are constantly or occasionally hitting headlines as battle zones. Examples include the Palestine-Israeli conflict, the Rwandan bloody conflict and the more recent Darfur conflict in Southern Sudan. Africa has however been the leader in the number of armed conflicts. Countries like Congo, Liberia, Sudan, Chad, Algeria, Somalia, Angola and Ivory Coast. The Eritrean-Ethiopia war of the 1998 and 1999 caused many deaths and casualties as well as a massive increase in refugees. The Somali conflict is a decade old war that has left hundreds of thousands homeless and clogged the neighboring states such as Kenya with refugees. Asian countries like Indonesia have had armed conflicts between Christians and Muslims; India hosts three conflicts in Kashmir, the Northeastern region and (Andhra, Pradesh, Vries, Visscher, and Gerritsen Par 8).

Reports always indicate that most victims in the conflicts are civilians and not the combatants. Despite the use of guided missiles the largest proportion of casualties remains innocent people caught up in the war zones.

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The rise in the violent conflict can largely be attributed to the predatory corporate globalization. Many global corporate especially those dealing with minerals know that they can only succeed in violence. They do this in two ways. The first is through incitement and sowing violence seeds and the second is through direct military action. It has been proved that “the invisible hand of the global market requires the military fist to suppress any opposition”. The main reason for the predatory corporate to create armed conflict is the social inequalities that result fro their actions. They undermine sovereign states, pollute ecosystems, disperse people as refugees and migrants and fragment communities. What appears as pure ethnic related tension is normally caused by predatory globalization (Eleazar pp14-21).

The culture of violence has become more pervasive. Globalization has encouraged the proliferation of the culture of violence. Most homes are the first hosts of violent cultures which then extend to the wider society.

The modern society driven by globalization largely promotes violence through the media. Song lyrics promote hatred, films and other visual arts promote violent solutions to conflicts, sports, toys and books depict violence as positive (Vries, Visscher, and Gerritsen, Par 4).

On the same note, asylum seekers are increasing by the day. The upcoming of political blocks and powerful international institutions has resulted from globalization. The political blocks may take a similar stand on a conflict and decide to pursue the perpetrators in search of justice for the victims. The perpetrators have to constantly seek help from nations with least friendly links with those who seek to pursue justice. Due to globalization, many warlords are able to successfully seek asylum in undemocratic countries to evade trials. The International Criminal Court is a global court which takes up matters relating to crimes against humanity and follows agreed legal procedures in pursuant of justice. Many countries are signatories to the statute creating it. Whenever there is an armed conflict, the court intervenes and charges the senior perpetrators. Clearly, the perpetrators cannot wait to be tried; they simply seek cover in nations which are not signatories to the Rome statute.

On the other hand, undemocratic governments are constantly faced with voices of dissent. Some prominent opposition may rise to threaten the status quo. Those in power fully understand the implications of any success in opposition can be dire. They thus employ violent tactics such as murder and false persecutions to silence the opposition. Faced with such challenges, many opposition leaders have been forced to seek asylum in friendly states and only return home when things cool off. The process of globalization is seeing an increase in the numbers of those seeking asylum in far away nations due to the proliferation of archaic leadership systems (Shaw, p14).

The numbers of economic refugees is also worrying. Food security is major factor in play for the increase in the number of refugees. Environmental reasons can lead to food insecurity but macro-economic factors are also very important. In Niger, the 2005 food crisis occurred in the midst of plenty. Accessibility to food was limited by the high prices and not scarcity as the country adopted the capitalism (Shaw, p16).

Economic refugees are known to largely constitute the current migration from poor to rich nations. Loss or unavailability of jobs, poverty and displacement from the agricultural sector are increasingly displacing people from their home countries. They more frequently end up being marginalized in the host countries increasing conflict levels.

Indeed, globalization is increasingly making the conception of economic refugees profitable. The factors pushing people from their poor home land to greener lands offers an extra stream of remittances back home. Estimates show that over $300 billion dollars was remitted by immigrants. This figure is three times more than the total amount of foreign aid globally. The gravity of the displacement on economic reasons can be seen by the report showing that North American Free Trade Association has displaced about 40% of Mexican small farmers. Low wages and inflation offer economic pressures for migrations (Haytor, p13).

The fact that guest workers and refugees promote profits for enterprises due to the low pays puts a question on the constantly rising conflicts with identifiable roots in the developed or economically powerful nations. There seems to be deliberate efforts to cause the hostilities and promote migrations. The added controls meant to limit illegal migrations only serve to make the victims even more exploitable (Haytor, p12).

A new category of migrants called environment Refugees is slowly emerging. They are people displaced as a result of climate change and environmental degradation. Draughts, flooding, water shortages, failed infrastructure and emergence of diseases due to temperature changes have risen. The blame for the environmental degradation and climatic changes is put squarely on the process of globalization. In this context, the richer nations engage in large scale production processes that pollute the environment. The pollution leads to global warming which has very adverse effects. Sadly, the poorer parts of the world are least capable of dealing with these effects. This further encourages migrations.


Indeed Bauman greatly assists in the understanding of complex payout of numerous factors that constantly determine global trends. The trends adopted largely define the direction and causes of movement of people in pursuit of better livelihoods. The basic premise in the analysis is that nothing is accidental. The act of God is negligible. Most forms of migration are related to the process of globalization. Despite the inhumane and sufferings undergone by the victims of some migration forms, there always exist some powerful deliberate motives underlying which cause the displacements. Globalization is only serving to increase the motives and further worsen an already dire situation.

Works Cited

Anderson (2000) Doing the dirty work. Hampshire. Palgrave Macmillan.

Bauman, Z., 2004. Liquid Love. New York, Columbia University Press.

Bauman, Z., 1998. Globalization: The Human Consequences. New York,  Columbia University Press.

Bauman, Z., 1996. ‘From pilgrim to tourist’ in S Hall and P du Gay (Eds.) Questions of cultural identity. New York, Columbia University Press.

Beck, U., (2000). What is Globalization? Polity Press, Cambridge.

Castles, S., 2003. Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation in Sociology. UK. Oxford University.

Eleazar S. Fernandez, 2008. Peace in the Era of Predatory Globalization and Global Terror: The Church as Human Community of Peace builders. Global Ministries. Web. 

Haytor, T., (2000). Open Borders: the case against immigration controls. UK. Pluto Press.

Hochschild, A., (2003). The Commercialization of intimate life. ‘Love and Gold’. UK. Pluto Press.

Marfleet, P., 2006. Refugees in a Global Era. Hampshire. Palgrave Macmillan.

Shaw, M., 1999. The political meaning of global change. Web.

Vries, W., Visscher, A., and Gerritsen D., 2005. Bauman’s (post)modernism and globalization. Web. 

Wolf, S., n. d. Shifting Tides: Migration in the Era of Globalization, Global Conflict, and Environmental Collapse. Web. 

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