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UNIT 24: Globalization and Economics



When we speak of globalization, we are referring to that relatively new and rapidly growing awareness of global economic, cultural, and political integration. The term "globalization" first appeared in English around the middle of the twentieth century, although it is important to note that this new term describes processes that began long ago. It might be most productive to think of globalization as the ultimate expression of the human urge to maintain contact with other humans.

In the last five centuries, the communities of the world became increasingly interconnected. The results of these connections included the spread of technology, science, religion, and philosophy as well as the destruction of cultures, peoples, and environments. In recent centuries, increased awareness of distant societies also caused people to become acutely aware of their own cultural distinctions. Some theorists argue, however, that the vastly enhanced communications and intricate economic ties of the late twentieth century are leading inevitably toward a homogenous worldwide culture.

This unit explores the economic forces of twentieth-century globalization, which have combined in the last fifty years to create a relentless force affecting all of humanity. Globalization now affects all aspects of life. Its consequences can be negative or positive, as well as completely unexpected. One of its most constant elements, however, is its ability to transcend space and place.

Thus, in a globalized economic world, instant electronic communications render distance irrelevant, and national boundaries lose their significance as barriers. Visa credit cards and world service radio broadcasts have little to do with territorial distances. The internal economic affairs of one nation, such as the United States, have international implications. While it would be foolhardy to predict how globalization will change life on earth even in the relatively short term, we can be sure that more change beyond any nation's control will sweep the globe with increasing rapidity, and no society or institution will be immune.


Time Period: 1900-present

The past century has been a period of rapid social, political, and economic change all over the world. In the first half of the twentieth century, European, Japanese, and American empires expanded to their greatest magnitudes; the Qing Empire in China fell (1911); the Russian Revolution (1917) established the first communist nation; the Ottoman Empire was dissolved (1918); and two World Wars devastated populations and environments on a global scale. In the second half of the century, the European empires crumbled as colonized peoples of the world fought for independence, the Cold War connected far distant peoples through ideology as well as conflict, and the Soviet Union collapsed (1989). Through all of these changes, global interconnections have continued to accelerate via travel, war, the media, and market pressures.

AP Themes:

  • Examines interactions in economics and politics by exploring the ways that trade and market demands have led to both social change and environmental destruction around the world.
  • Explores technology, demography, and environment by focusing on the ways that globalization-itself accelerated by modern technologies-has affected the health of the world's natural environments as well as demographics around the world.
  • Discusses changing functions of states by looking at the ways the forces of globalization have led to the demise of some nation-states, especially the Soviet Union.


  • Question 1: How did technological changes in the twentieth century aid the process of globalization?
  • Question 2: What are some of the economic, political and environmental effects globalization can have on individuals and local communities?
  • Question 3: In what ways have political, social, and economic inequities been both reduced and reinforced by the forces of globalization?
  • Question 4: What is the relationship between the economic and cultural effects of globalization?


How is this topic related to Increasing Integration?

The process of globalization has accelerated the process of human integration through the movement of people, technological innovation, the spread of ideas, and economic connections. In many cases, this integration occurs without reference to national borders or boundaries.

How is this topic related to Proliferating Difference?

Globalization has also reinforced inequities in some places, and it has led to the creation of new inequities in others. For example, the forces of globalization can reinforce existing perceptions of gender differences; it can also create new inequalities in the global balance of power because of differential access to markets and resources.

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