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Rethinking globalization with a human rights and conflict approach

By Ellie Hudd
On April 17, 2014

The UConn Human Rights Institute hosted the 2014 Economic and Social Rights Lecture, entitled "Dilemmas of the Alter-Globalization Movement," on Thursday.
The speaker, Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein, is a senior research scholar at Yale University. Wallerstein offered a refreshingly simple lecture; rather than relying on buzzwords, charts and infographics, Wallerstein wove together his expertise in economics and political science to explain the world's history of uprisings and revolutionary movements on the national and social levels. His lecture served to historically and economically contextualize globalization and its oppositions, particularly the movement that has come to be known as "alterglobalization."
"Alterglobalization is how we've renamed antisystemic (movements)," Wallerstein said. "Because we're not anti-globalization. We're just looking for a different kind of globalization."
Wallerstein's lecture reflected the interdisciplinary approach to human rights favored by the Institute as well as a number of scholars in the field. The scholar engaged his listeners by tracing the history of economic, political and social revolution, and the structure of the global political economy from the 1800s all the way to the present.
Wallerstein paid particular attention to the global order brought about by the end of the second world war, which he called "the beginning of the U.S. as a hegomonic power" that "could get its way on 95 percent of issues, 95 percent of the time." He used this framework to illustrate how economic, political and cultural power interact on a global level.
"It's very innervating to be the country with the strongest military in the world," he said of the U.S. in 1945. "But (that) has its costs."
Wallerstein also offered intriguing theoretical perspectives on how the economic and political behavior of the U.S. has been shaped by its responses to these various uprisings and shifts in the world order. He noted, for example, that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not the Western victory it is often touted as. Though Wallerstein noted that a country's consistent use of a strong military eventually becomes unpopular with its constituents - he cited the Vietnam War as one such case.
"The U.S. has been looking for an appropriate enemy (since the fall of the Soviet Union)," Wallerstein said. "But they have not been able to find one."
Wallerstein looked to a recent scientific discovery as a metaphor for how the global population will affect changes to the current system.
"Every flap of a butterfly's wings affects the world climate," he said. "Every moment, there are butterflies flapping their wings."
Wallerstein also noted the growing resistance to the status quo and the fact that "non-change was normal."
"What is a revolution?" Wallerstein asked. "(It's) something that goes around and comes back to the start. That's the meaning of the word."
In a sense, the lecture itself was a small revolution, though hopefully not one confined to the literal meaning of the word. David Richards, co-director of the HRI's Research Program on Economic and Social Rights, expressed a similar sentiment.
"We hope some seeds of thought, or doubt, or indecision about economic and social rights are left with you today," Richards said.


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