Embodiment of Globalisation in the Modern World

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Varying and abundant, today’s problems are often complex in nature. Many of these problems are more difficult to address than others due to the intensifying heterogeneous nature of societies which results in various stances on goal-formulation, problem-definition, and equity issues (Rittel & Webber, 1973). The lack of uniformity surrounding goal-formulation, problem-definition, and equity issues pose additional complexity to societal issues, and as a result, the “modern-classical model” of problem planning as referenced and outlined by Rittel & Webber (1973) is an unrealistic approach to such intractable problems. Thus, problems that fit such description are deemed “wicked”.

While Rittel & Webber (1973) have outlined ten prominent features of wicked problems, the adapted conditions by Alford & Head (2017) are adequate for identifying the likely wickedness of a problem at hand. As defined by Alford & Head (2017), a wicked problem is likely present if a situation involves high structural complexity, low knowability, existing knowledge fragmentation, biased knowledge-framing, differing interest among stakeholders, and an unequal distribution of power between stakeholders.

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Globalisation embodies such wicked conditions and constitutes as a wicked problem. As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, globalisation is “the increase of trade around the world, especially by large companies producing and trading goods in many different countries” (Globalization, n.d.). However, this notion of trade is not limited to business. Globalisation can also encompass “trade” in aspects of language, culture, people (e.g. migration), environmental management, technology, etc. (Dreher, Gaston, Martens, 2008). Thus, the vast scope of globalisation contributes to the complexity of its existence. For example, as a result of globalisation, employee union involvement, government spending, government taxation, income inequality, and environmental state are a few of the social systems borne from such aspects of “trade” that entangle themselves within the larger network of globalisation as a system (Dreher et al., 2008; Rittel & Webber, 1973).

Expanding upon the aforementioned wicked conditions in the context of globalisation, the term holds a plethora of ambiguity in its meaning and interpretation, depending on the perspective of the term user, thus contributing to pre-existing high structural complexity (Scholte, 2008). For example, for some term users globalisation may signify greater dependence amongst countries (Scholte, 2008). However, for other term users it may mean fewer restrictions to the global economy (Scholte, 2008). Such differing interpretations of the term contribute different technicalities to different arguments to the issues at hand (Scholte, 2008). Additionally, given the fairly recent emergence of modern globalisation which has resulted from our current day information society, a low level of knowability can be attributed to modern globalisation (Walby, 2003). This is due to the fact that historical incidences of such globalisation are not available for reference of long-term effects and potentially arising results of the phenomenon in today’s context (Walby, 2003). Existing knowledge fragmentation also surrounds the notion of globalisation where different stakeholders, such as countries, governments, competing firms, shareholders, environmental activist groups, and human-rights activist groups, hold various levels of knowledge surrounding the concept and context of globalisation, thus contributing to biased knowledge-framing (Alford & Head, 2017). Depending on the type and amount of knowledge obtained by such stakeholders, knowledge is framed by each group accordingly, thus potentially contributing to the misrepresentation of information and the misinterpretation of its meaning (Alford & Head, 2017). Additionally, the interests of each stakeholder group, such as financial gain, increased market share, greater influence, environmental protection, and human-rights protection, differ greatly and can even contradict one another. These stakeholder groups also possess different levels of power, where, for example, firms can be more powerful than activist groups, thus further complicating the nature of globalisation. Additionally, it is important to note that globalisation as a concept is not limited to a particular study discipline, geographic region, or user (Scholte, 2008). Instead, the notion of globalisation itself has been “globalised” and is interpreted in various ways, in various locations, and by various users, only adding to the complexity of the concept (Scholte, 2008).

Thus, with such conditions in mind and with reference to Figure 1 of Alford & Head (2017), globalisation can be considered a “very wicked problem”, for it scores high within both matrix elements of “Increasing complexity of problems” and “Increasing difficult re stakeholders/institutions”. Concerning the concept of globalisation, neither the true problem at hand, nor the solution is clear (Alford & Head, 2017). In addition, there is involvement of different stakeholders with different conflicting interests (Alford & Head, 2017). Importantly however, whether or not there is majority support in favour of globalisation, the phenomenon will continue to propagate throughout various instances across the world as societies and cultures are increasingly connected with means of current and emerging technologies.

Acting as a single example of an infinite existence of wicked problems, globalisation is in illustration as to how complex, interconnected, and intractable problems are currently manifested. Like other wicked problems, globalisation represents an issue that does not possess a clear solution (Levin, Cashore, Bernstein, & Auld, 2012). Such problems manifest from expanding heterogeneous societies that represent different stances on goal-formulation, problem-definition, and equity issues (Rittel & Webber, 1973). Thus, wicked problems themselves, represent the increasingly dynamic nature of society at large. While some wicked problems may mirror similarities to other wicked problems (e.g. similarities with globalisation and westernisation), in order to better address all wicked problems, customised approaches to each wicked problem with unique action for progress must be implemented to ensure advancements to such challenges (Alford & Head, 2017).

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