Global effect

Violent protests at Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa summits illustrate our need for better understanding of globalization

Date published: 2006-04-27 10:25:12 AM

"Who would have thought ten years ago that a small Canadian business or a Mexican peasant would require knowledge of NAFTA trading rules or WTO subsidy definitions to earn a living?" asks William Coleman, reflecting on the global economy.

Virtually everyone on the planet today is affected one way or another by the "complex connectivity" that is globalization.

"People are talking about it all over the world," observes the McMaster University political science professor. "And politicians are drawing up new laws and trade agreements; but that doesn't mean there isn't confusion. While some people at a protest chant for less free trade in order to curb globalization, others are there to support global initiatives such as the Kyoto Accord."

Over the next five years, Coleman and his international team of SSHRC-funded researchers will study the long-term impacts of globalization on national autonomy and culture and on third world development.

Pointing out that globalization has in a few short years become identified with mass protest, Coleman argues that we have a lot to learn about the impact of the global processes that are shaping our lives. He maintains that few of the world's decision-makers know whether or not the policies of the World Trade Organization, the G-8, and the G-20 will end up destabilizing national governments. Nor do they understand how globalization works on the personal level, whether it marginalizes people in developing countries, for instance, or undermines cultural identity and autonomy.

"For us, the core issue is the relationship between globalization and autonomy," says Coleman. "We're talking about the ability of communities to decide for themselves how they're going to live."

Coleman's project involves 13 Canadian universities and 16 international organizations. In addition to heading this Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI), Coleman is also Canada Research Chair on Global Governance and Public Policy at McMaster University.

William Coleman's $2.5 million, five-year MCRI grant was approved early in 2002. It was his fifth SSHRC grant.