May 27 2009

The Global Context

by at 11:54 pm under Uncategorized

In mapping out the global network under the lens of development, my first instinct is to visualize it in terms of the diffusion-limited aggregation process that Buchanan cites. The financial institutions are clustered in the center, and they reach out to the interconnected clusters of states and nations in the form of branched arms—fractals.

The wealthiest nations are clustered together as the longest arms, whereas the most undeveloped countries have weaker links to the wealthier states and institutions. The many NGOs that exist connect to the undeveloped nation nodes at the very end; and although the NGOs may connect to developed nations, they do not connect to the centered cluster of institution nodes. Since the institution nodes—as represented by the World Bank, IMF, and WTO—advise states and control the distribution of loans meant to facilitate development, they can be viewed as structural holes that control the pathways of development through policy restrictions. Power laws are at play here.

Although diffusion-limited aggregation tends to bring up images of a snowflake-structure formation process that represents a centralized network, the architecture I tried to describe above is a decentralized network, where the institutions and states with the most financial resources control the flow of funds and information. Nations, both developed and undeveloped, have ties to all other nodes, but since NGOs tend to be grassroots-based alternatives to the central institutions, the two operate autonomously of each other except in rare cases through weak links. In this case, the proximity of a node impacts its effect on other potential links.

Yet, this architecture privileges the nodes with the most resources, and falls prey to a trickle-down explanation of globalization. I realize now that it is not a sufficient map, as it fails to acknowledge the complexities associated with the social, cultural and political realm that ultimately impact the global network.

This week’s readings all stress the complexities at work within contemporary globalization. In particular, they point to the need to consider the organization of local activity, and the global reach of the externalities that arise from the local level. John Agnew challenges traditional views of globalization by broaching the geopolitical role of the US; Michael Storper analyzes how consumer society restructured the world economy; and with Allen Scott, Storper brings to light the causal effect of localized urbanization on economic growth. Considering these processes, then, only complicates the structure of the global network.

Given all these interconnections, it would take an immense amount of effort to draft a substantial map of the global network. At the same time, this highlights the importance of the interconnectivity between all the nodes, rather than the nodes themselves. To create a greater impact within politics and economic markets, individual nodes may seek to forge more links with other points within the architecture of the global network—only then may a node such as a developing country may become an active player within the globalization. My question, however, is whether it would ever be possible to tweak a network infrastructure to successfully overcome its power law characteristic.

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