Integration and Disintegration in Globalization


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

     In Globalization the Key Concepts, author Thomas Eriksen demonstrates the commonality between deterritorialization- “processes whereby distance becomes irrelevant” and globalization-“all the contemporary processes that make distance irrelevant” (2007, 16). There are countless examples of processes changing over time leading to both integration and disintegration. For instance, the amount of time it took for information to travel around the world was dramatically reduced by modern communication technologies and the advent of the internet. Modern improvements in transportation technology allowed for goods that once were produced locally to be imported from practically anywhere in the world and exported all the same. Thus, the relevance or necessity of localized interactions disintegrated over time and space. This territorial irrelevance or lack of necessity is described as stemming from the process of disembedding (Eriksen, 2007). Ericksen notes Gidden’s (1990) definition of disembedding as the “lifting out of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space” (Eriksen, 2007, 17). The acceleration and standardization that came about through the modernization of technology allowed production to change context. Whereas the assembly line pioneered by Henry Ford catered to mass production, globalization catered to rapid expansion through flexibility and increased profits. For example, an assembly line of 2000 workers could be replaced by 400 workers in 5 separate countries where labor and tax burdens would be minimized. Further, although some disembedding technologies allowed individuals to access similar objects of information without having to occupy the same space and time, other types such as the internet led to a lack of interest or need to physically interact altogether. Likewise, individuals who were pro-globalization and interacted on a global scale resorted to gated communities or experienced a disintegration of physical contact with their locality (Eriksen, 2007). However, everyone is not pro-globalization. Many see globalization as threatening to self-determination. In ancient history, Sargon forced the integration of Sumerian city-states and was considered illegitimate and caused much rebellion as the Sumerian cities wanted their right to independence to be honored (Kaufman 1997). Historically, the only way to change the international system was to extinguish the cultural identities of major groups through genocide or assimilation (Kaufman 1997). Developing countries are forced to trade out of necessity, and for the most parts, developed countries control trade and therefore benefit disproportionately. Those who control trade and aggressively pursue expansionist agendas are seen as a threat to indigenous survival. As some recognize this, the desire for self-determination leads to more fragmentation or disintegration. In essence, globalization leads to economic integration, but nationalist preferences and particularities act as a quasi-buffer to this integration.

A Closer Look

     Stuart Kaufman offers an excellent analysis of the current problem of conceptualizing the international system. He points out how the hegemonic stability theory, studies of nationalism, and neorealism mutually fail to capture the essence of consolidation and fragmentation existent within the international system (Kaufman 1997). He argues that “self-help” behavior and economic interdependence promote system consolidation, whereas, weak administrative capability or “social technology” and principles of unit identity promote system fragmentation. He further argues that these four factors can either favor consolidation or fragmentation and has a synergistic effect on stability or instability (1997). Here, it is important to reiterate modernity, or, describe the contemporary international landscape. Kaufman addresses this by pointing to national self-determination as the “overwhelming dominant principle of unit legitimacy” (1997). As self-determination is enshrined in international law and therefore establishes an international norm, the legitimacy of a would-be-hegemon’s attempt to impose its will on others is not only questioned, but collectively resisted by an exceedingly great amount of aspiring states. In short, economic interdependence leads to consolidation, but requires cooperation. That cooperation is not guaranteed by states who perceive their cooperation as threatening to self-determination, therefore, fragmentation becomes the by-product of a failed social technology.

Anti or Pro-Globalization?

     It is nearly impossible to make an intelligent determination on whether globalization is a positive or negative force in the universe without considering international law. Then, there is the problem of domesticating international law. Consolidation of the international system is achievable in so far as world plenipotentiaries perceive it as mutually beneficial. Mutual beneficiaries are difficult to produce given the competing interests existent within the international system. When everyone does not share the same goals, it becomes imperative to seek alliance with those who do. Even then, allies are discovered later through time and trial as having self-seeking motives and therefore, best friends can become worst enemies. In a world made up of rulers and those who are ruled, threats to power are both internal and external. For instance, at the individual level of analysis and from a business perspective, the head of a multinational corporation would engage in competitive analysis and identify global competitors and look for ways to reduce or eliminate the threat of competition. Likewise, she or he would look internally to identify those within the ranks who pose a legitimate threat to their position of authority and look for ways to reduce or eliminate the same. So it is with heads of States. What do the world plenipotentiaries have in common? If, it is the control of a population whose support is contingent on feeling secure, globalization presents a threat. According to the Human Security Research Project, “Secure states do not automatically mean secure peoples. Indeed, during the past century, far more people have been killed by their own governments than by armies from abroad” (2010). Globalization shines a light on human rights violations and thereby threatens the legitimacy of sovereignty contained by a state and its political leaders. Corporations who increase profit through fraudulent activity hate auditors, husbands who retain power and control of household wealth through spousal abuse hate visitors and neighbors, and state leaders who perpetuate direct and indirect violence amongst its citizenry hate international bodies (especially those where a majority of voting members have traditionally opposed them) who present dictums of human rights. Some of the main proliferators of human rights have some of the worst records of human rights violations. So it is not altogether illogical that some are against globalization or skeptical of the prominent human rights regimes. How globalized would a Hitler crusade have been if allowed to continue? Could the international system ever evolve to reflect a system where no nation state exists or is not considered as a legitimate sovereign?


Eriksen, Thomas. Globalization: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2007. (accessed March 5, 2014).

Human Security Research Project. Human Security Research Project. 2010. (accessed March 8, 2014).

Kaufman, Stuart J. “The fragmentation and consolidation of international systems. (cover story).” International Organization 51, no. 2 (Spring97 1997): 173-208. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed March 5, 2014).


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