Linda Hogan – « Globalisation, Urbanisation, and the Common Good »

Linda Hogan

« Globalisation, Urbanisation, and the Common Good  »

That we live in the first genuinely global age is something of which one is deeply aware.  This awareness is evidenced by the fact that the language of globalisation helps express the nature of our everyday lives.  Its usage is no longer limited to the technical worlds of academia or policy-making, rather it has resonance in the wider social context.  Referring both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole, globalisation describes a peculiar interplay of global and local whereby, as Giddens points out, local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.[1]  Developments in global capitalism and culture, combined with the phenomenal success of technology, especially in the realm of communications, together create an experience of social and political life that is not only novel, but which is invigorating for its beneficiaries.  Yet while the term is commonplace, the definition of globalisation and the extent to which it is a new phenomenon has been the subject of extensive debate.  

1. Globalisation and its Impacts

Debates about the nature and impact of contemporary forms of globalisation are complex and highly charged.  They involve disputes about the distinctiveness of the late twentieth-century wave of globalisation relative to earlier waves; about the extent to which economic globalisation provides opportunities for development and inclusion, or whether it propels impoverishment and exclusion; and about whether globalisation can be directed towards the global common good (however that is defined), or whether its forces inevitably undermine forms of solidarity that underpin a commitment to global goods and good.   Through the 1990s and 2000s debates about the nature of globalisation and its impact tended to be premised on an account of globalisation that was primarily economic.  Through this period, hyper-globalists pointed to the benefits that would accrue from the expansion of trade and investment flows, the integration of financial markets, the voluminous global trade in currencies and the nomadic practices of trans-national corporations.[2]  Critics, on the other hand, were concerned not only about the ambivalent economic impacts of globalisation on different populations world-wide, but also about the political and cultural impact of this unprecedented integration.[3]   The subsequent populist backlash against globalisation, expressed in the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA and by the decision of the UK to exit the European Union was anticipated by few, but has come to define politics in many parts of the globe in the last few years.  Of course, globalisation has not only impacted the economic sphere, since in addition to economic flows, one can see the remarkable growth of transnational social movements, of global civil society, and of new global institutions as evidence of an increasingly interconnected world.  

Whatever one’s position on these debates, it is nonetheless clear that globalisation has changed the nature of contemporary economic and political life to such an extent that previously national concerns have been transformed into international ones.  Additionally, this unprecedented international integration has created ostensibly new phenomena, namely challenges that can only be tackled in an international context and goods that can only be sought and secured through global political action.  Thus, daily we encounter challenges that no government can successfully deal with alone, challenges of environmental degradation, nuclear and chemical proliferation, migration, terrorism.  Beneath these challenges are often questions about equality and justice, also issues that are embedded in this globalised and globalising context, even if the manifestation of these challenges is often decidedly local.   Moreover, in the midst of all of this there persists a fragile system of global institutions, attempting to grapple with these issues, through international governance bodies, treaties and accords.  

2. The Ethical Challenges of Globalisation

The ethical challenges that are posed by this account of our political millieu are manifold.  Critics have drawn attention to the negative effects of unregulated or unfairly regulated markets, of the consolidation economic activity in the developing world and of currency speculation, in many parts of the globe.  The ever-increasing economic disparity between North and South as well as the shameful impoverishment of many countries are also seen by many as the inevitable, but unacceptable by-products of globalisation. In response, politicians, civil society activists and academics around the world have argued for an ethical globalisation, that is a form of economic and political integration which is subject to ethical considerations, and that respects all human rights, that is economic, social and cultural rights as well as political and civil rights.  The phrase ‘ethical globalisation’ has been controversial, since many anti-globalisation activists argue that it is a tautology.  Nonetheless its advocates argue that it represents the best chance for individuals and communities around the world to secure livelihoods characterised by decency and dignity, rather than destitution.[4]   It points to the need to pursue forms of globalisation that serve rather than undermine human development, and this means that the impetus of economic globalisation needs to be moderated and governed by ethical principles, a task that is growing more urgent each day.  

Globalisation has created many new global challenges, not least of which are the challenges associated with urbanisation.  Although it has a range of causative factors, the contemporary drive towards urbanisation is undoubtedly propelled primarily by globalisation.  Moreover, the exponential growth of cities and the trajectory of urbanisation not only creates new social, political and economic challenges, but it also magnifies the difficulties associated with creating just, inclusive and equitable political and economic structures.   Indeed, the fact of urbanisation raises, in an acute way, the question of how to live well, in the midst of this intensity of social relationships, and amongst neighbours whose values, commitments and practices I do not share.  In this context the ambivalent nature of globalisation is again in view, for in addition to driving integration, globalisation has also set in train a number of contradictory processes, including a trajectory of fragmentation, seen in the forces of nationalism, identity politics and religious fundamentalism.[5]  Yet the question of how cities can contribute to managing this pluralism, while also promoting social cohesion, is a crucial one for contemporary society.  Moreover, for those concerned with the position of religion there is a further question of the role that religious communities can play in advancing such cohesion, and whether religion will be part of the problem or part of the solution.  

3. Urbanisation and Pluralism

The challenge of living well in the midst of cultural and ethical pluralism is one with which humanity has grappled in a myriad of contexts and in every age.  However, the mobility associated with globalisation has created contexts in which we see more intense levels of ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism than heretofore, and this is also amplified through the complementary drive towards urbanisation.  It is present in an intense and exaggerated form in the great global cities of the world such as New York, Los Angeles, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Mumbai, Beijing.  Many of these cities already are, and others will become, hyper-diverse.  They will be multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-cultural and multi-religious. In addition, as Ignatieff notes, “in post-imperial globalisation, the once dominant and once subordinate races live together in hyper-diverse global cities, former colonialists and the colonized cheek by jowl …”.[6]  But others cities, for example Beijing, Mumbai and Mexico City, will become larger, more densely populated, but will draw populations in from the surrounding regions and nations.  Therefore, although they will be diverse in different ways (in terms of background, skills or language), they will likely be made up of peoples who mostly (but not exclusively) share cultural, racial and religious backgrounds.  As a result, the issue in these cities will not be the hyper-diversity of post-imperial immigration, but rather the challenge of the presence of minorities amongst larger and more densely homogenous populations.[7]   

Thus, managing a pluralism that embraces different ways of life will be different in contexts of hyper-diversity as opposed to contexts of cultural and religious majoritarianism.  Much of the ethical reflection in this context has been focussed on the extent to which shared moral values can be generated in the midst of this pluralism, and about the extent to which such shared values can establish the parameters of the common good, in local and global contexts, in this era of globalisation.  These are the parameters of the question that are considered in the Humanity on the Move report.  However, of equal consequence is the question of how and whether the universal principles of equal dignity and respect prevail in the local, mostly urban contexts where diverse communities live side by side, and where the negotiation between multiple ethnic and religious traditions, and the liberal values of equal dignity and rights is part of the experience of everyday life. 

4. Constructing a Common Ground

In this regard, Michael Ignatieff’s Ordinary Virtues Moral Order in a Divided World argues that what enables communities to live successfully side by side, if not together, is not the universalist languages of human rights or equality (these he argues are the languages of liberal elites and of states) but rather it is what he calls the everyday virtues of tolerance, forgiveness, trust and resilience.  These, he suggests are the glue that makes the multicultural experiment work.  They are the moral operating system in global cities and obscure shantytowns alike. In addition to these ordinary virtues, which he argues are present in diverse communities and traditions across the globe, a thin moral consensus, mandating limited trust, non-violence and co-operation is necessary to keep a global city functioning.[8]  

Thus, a common ground cannot be created by suppressing or supplanting the competing traditional familial, ethnic or religious allegiances or values into which people are born.  Primary loyalties cannot be suppressed, rather they need to be harnessed, and balanced with the secondary affiliations in order to make a multicultural city, and indeed a multicultural world, functioning.[9]  Nor do these issues arise only in contexts of hyper-diversity.  The question of managing pluralism is equally important, indeed one might say even more crucial, in contexts of cultural and religious homogeneity in which are present small-scale minority groups.  Whether in contexts of hyper-diversity or of cultural homogeneity, the common good is frequently and often improperly invoked to justify restrictions on pluralism and minority rights. However, the common good cannot be conceptualised in terms of a trade-off between the rights of minorities and those of majorities but rather, the common good ought to be concerned with “construing the relationship of the individual to society so that the limits and possibilities of both individual and communal well-being are preserved, and in which the appropriate responsibilities and obligations that exist among individuals are clarified and articulated.”[10]  The common good concerns the harmonisation of different values in the attainment of a just and cohesive society, and this harmonisation is as important in contexts where one tradition dominates, as it is in contexts of hyper-diversity.

So how then can we go about building a life in common? What kind of approach to the interplay of different cultural and religious values will be most productive, whether the pluralism is wide and deep, or minimal and marginal? Building such a life in common must be grounded in an appreciation of the integrity of the distinct moral and religious traditions and in a desire to build discursive bridges across these traditions, in the expectation that a durable consensus on shared values can be established. The most persuasive responses to the challenges of living well together will only be found through multiple, inclusive, tradition-thick, cross-cultural, multi-religious engagements and dialogue. What shape this deliberation and dialogue should take and what it will take to create the spaces in which such dialogue can take place? Even our local conversations about human dignity and flourishing are now shaped by the irreducible plurality of human experience, including religious experience, and this will only become more pronounced in the future.  Thus, our political cultures, even, especially at the municipal and national levels must also have the capacity to facilitate such intercultural and interreligious exchange.  Crucial in this regard is the capacity of religious traditions to be part of this deliberative process, a process in which there is mutual respect for the convictions, including the moral and religious convictions, of the other, and in which there is a mutual appreciation of the ethical values embedded in these discrete and varied traditions. Indeed, since religious pluralism has become entangled with the politics of fear, it is more vital than ever that religious traditions are to the fore in the process of building a municipal politics focused on the global common good.


[1] Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, (Oxford: Polity Press, 1990), 64

[2] See Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999) and The World is Flat, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) 

[3] Dani Rodik, Has Globalization Gone Too Far? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) represented an early critique of the hyper-globalist trajectory, as did the work of former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz with his influential Globalisation and its Discontents, (New York, W. W. Norton & Co, 2002).  See also Dani Rodik’s The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011) 

[4] Mary Robinson, ‘An Ethical Human-rights Approach to Globalization,’ Peace Review 16: 1 March 2004, 13-17.

[5] Zigmud Bauman coins the neologism ‘glocalisation to capture this ambiguity. See ‘On Glocalization: or Globalization for Some, Localization for Some Others’ Thesis Eleven, 54(1), 1998, 37–49.

[6] Michael Ignatieff, Ordinary Virtues Moral Order in a Divided World, (Cambridge MA.: Harvard University Press, 2017) 14

[7] See Saskia Sassen’s The Global City, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) for a comprehensive discussion of these points. 

[8] Ignatieff op. cit. 45

[9] Ibid., 202

[10] David Hollenbach, The Common Good and Christian Ethics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 192


Linda Hogan is professor of ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin.  Her primary research interests lie in the fields of inter-cultural and inter-religious ethics, social and political ethics, human rights and gender. Recent publications include Keeping Faith with Human Rights, Georgetown University Press, 2016 and Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics: Conversations in the World Church, Orbis Press, 2014, edited jointly with Agbonkhianmghe Orobator.

Address: Irish School of Ecumenics, ISE / Loyola Building, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Related Posts