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How Global is the Globalization Programme?

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Reading Rob Nixon’s “Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor” for Prof. Makhulu’s class on African Cities, Development and Climate Change I came across the following citation from the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy:

I think of globalization like a light which shines brighter and brighter on a few people and the rest are in darkness, wiped out. They simply can’t be seen. Once you get used to not seeing some- thing, then, slowly, it’s no longer possible to see it.

Globalization consists od complex and multifaceted movements. One surely positive aspect of it is the possibility to come together with students and teachers from around the world on an island in Venice, to be able to communicate, exchange and interact, celebrating our differences and being surprised by our similarities. However, Globalization is also a process that is disparate. For some people, the possibilities to become a world citizen and profit from globalization are bigger than for others. Some ideas, cultural expressions, or technologies may spread around the world, while others might be devalued through globalization. This disparateness in globalization is visible in many areas: Migration, Knowledge production, Language…

Reflecting on Globalization is what unites the different courses in the Globalization Program at VIU and part of this is to realize and reflect critically about Globalization. But of course, the program in itself is a manifestation of global interconnectedness, bringing together students and professors from different countries. Starting by sharing my own short reflection, I would like to invite us to reflect power-critically about Globalization at the VIU.

I remember, how I was at first disappointed the first time I looked at the VIU consortium, not to find any Latin American university, and at that time still not an institution from the African continent among them. Could the program legitimately call itself an international “Globalization program”, if the southern hemisphere was not represented at all institution-wise? Of course, it is too easy to make the nationality of institutions a gradient for the diversity of a program. The depth of diversity in the student and faculty body should not be measured by the nationality of their institution. In fact, even though many of us revealed to have transnational backgrounds, either as second generations migrants or international students, the depth of diversity is only visible if we look beyond nationalities and places of origin and recognize us as diverse individuals. The number of nationalities represented in the student body is often invoked by institutions to stress their diversity. However, if all those students happen to be educated in elitist, English-language high schools or for instance all have parents who have studied, then a single nationality student body in a more inclusive institution could be much more diverse.

On the other hand, especially at the opening ceremony, I did experience some Western-centredness at VIU, for instance as Hans-Gert Pöttering began to praise the EU as a unique and unprecedented peace project and urged Non-European students to learn from this example and take it back to their countries. This statement was not only condescending in the way that it discounted projects of transnational cooperation elsewhere and in earlier periods of time but also because it left out the whole destructive past and present of European imperialism and (neo)-colonialism in the world.

Reflecting on the inequalities of Globalization at the VIU made me also reflect about myself. As a RED scholar, together with my two student colleagues Anna Peterson, Oxana Mroczek, and Prof. Luca Pes we chose the topics for the Tea2Bs. It was here, that I realized how very limited my pool of ideas for topics was and how what I wanted to talk about was informed by my positionality. This, during the Corona pandemic, for instance, meant that I would speak about the experience of having to study online during the pandemic. Other intersectional affectations and experiences of the pandemic I could only read about or assume, but this is of course is a huge difference.

The academy and universities are places that have restrictive access. Some of these restrictions may be hard boundaries, such as minimum grades. Others may be invisible and linked to cultural capital, the parent's social status, or ethnicity. Those who are the first ones of their family to study and students who come from marginalized backgrounds in this context are again often marginalized and have a much harder time to get heard.

I believe, that these are not questions about blaming someone to speak to much or to silence others. Rather, it is the call to me and also to others to constantly ask themselves about their own positionality, the limits of what this positionality brings with it, and in which ways we may be involved in displacing alternative knowledge, perspectives, and experiences… In fact, if we don’t, we would make ourselves guilty of only seeing only the one-sided, bright side of Globalization from the perspectives of those, who could be called “the winners of globalization”. Globalization as a process that includes also displacement, silencing, and global disparateness of power, requires us to look and those places of oppression.

After this semester, I would say that through my courses at VIU I have experienced both. The uncritical globalization of specific ideas and knowledge about development and global challenges, but also the critical reflection about the power structures and histories, in which Globalization is taking place. The latter is absolutely necessary if what we would like to achieve is an equal and open space of a sharing of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives.

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