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Thursday, 03 December 2020

Towards a different globalisation

The widespread rediscovery of family life may be one of the positive developments to come out of the coronavirus pandemic

Walid M Abdelnasser , Friday 8 May 2020
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One of the most important issues that has been brought up by the spread and broad ramifications of the COVID-19  pandemic has been speculation regarding the nature of the post-coronavirus world order. This issue has been addressed from different angles and standpoints by many thinkers all over the world, including in the Arab world. This article is an attempt to make a meaningful, even if modest, contribution to this rich and diverse debate.

I intend to address one relatively new aspect of the attempt to perceive the post-coronavirus world order, namely the form that globalisation may take in the aftermath of the crisis. At the outset, I would like to clarify that globalisation is thousands of years old in the history of human societies, and it is not, as believed by some, an outcome of the last three decades since the end of the Cold War. It does not even only go back to the end of World War II, as some believe. 

Instead, globalisation has existed in many eras in the past. It was sometimes characterised by an unipolar world with a single hegemon or at least with one main world power. In other eras, it existed in a bipolar world, and in others still in a multi-polar world order.

There is no doubt that the worldwide crisis caused by the new coronavirus has already changed many aspects of human life and has affected many of the attitudes and patterns of behaviour of countries and international organisations, as well as of many non-governmental actors. There are wide expectations that as the current crisis continues more aspects of human life, attitudes and patterns of behaviour will change. 

In the light of the changes that have taken place as well as others that are anticipated, one could, even if only tentatively and in a preliminary manner, try to identify some of the trends that could affect the current shape of globalisation, as well as its main orientations and drives, with a view to producing a new or at least different type of it in the post-coronavirus period. I will confine myself here to handling two aspects of such changes, one at the technological and the other at the social level.

The current crisis has shown the power and impact of the technologies that have been produced by what has come to be known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ie the products of the current phase of globalisation. More interestingly, though, is the fact that the current crisis has revealed to ordinary people, let alone to governments and the corporate world, the extent to which they have become dependent on the latest products produced by this scientific and technological revolution, including, but not limited to, artificial intelligence and big data. 

This need has been manifested over the past few months not only in the daily lives of individuals and families, but also in the business world and other areas of human activity. The sudden need to shift, whether in the public or private sector, to working from home has posed serious challenges and created urgent needs that technology has had quickly to respond to. This has meant, even if unintentionally, that the situation caused by the coronavirus, as tragic and dramatic as it has been, has been conducive to the speeding up of scientific research and the widespread commercialisation of the products of recent scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Such trends can be expected to stay with us, and even to grow in the near future, and they will undoubtedly be one of the main features of post-coronavirus globalisation. They are expected to impact the developed and developing worlds alike and even to expand to new territories, particularly some developing and least developed countries that had previously been lagging behind.

Another aspect that would seem to belong more to the social consequences of the current crisis is what several observers have called the return to the family. This has meant that in the light of the confinement policies and other forms of restrictions imposed by governments all over the world in an attempt to limit and contain the spread of the deadly virus, people have had to stay at home for long periods with their families in a clear reversal of a tendency that had been increasing in scope and had even been perceived as a normal symptom of economic growth prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

This development has led many people all over the world to rediscover both the positive and negative aspects of spending more time with their families. The majority of studies done thus far have pointed more in the direction of positive impacts associated with the current crisis. This has been the case even when taking into account the fact that the present confinements, being compulsory and restrictive in many countries, could have had negative impacts on family life.

The fact that people have been accustomed over past decades to a pattern in which men and women are engaged in work during the day while children and youngsters are either at learning institutions or doing other outside activities has been one outcome of the prevailing type of globalisation. It will be difficult to expect people to accept that logic again, now that they have discovered how much they missed interacting with their families and getting to know what family life is really like in the past. 

*The writer is a commentator.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  7 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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