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Think Globally

When You Are Getting Pounded Locally


One of my favorite ideals was tarnished a little bit recently.


The ideal is just as noble as it ever was.


I unfortunately had unrealistically saccharine notions of how that ideal could be attained.


The ideal is Global Citizenship.


Global citizenship is the psychological identification people have of themselves as citizens of a world community, as opposed to being merely the citizens of a nation or the members of an ethnic group. Most people have multiple identities. They are members of a family, a region, an ethnic group, and a nation-state. But with global citizenry, they add membership in a world community to this more narrow-minded list.


Global Citizenship is a good thing.


The world functions better when people cooperate. The larger the network of cooperation, the more people can accomplish. Global Cooperation is simply the most effective form of cooperation that exists. The Internet is an obvious example of global cooperation. The world economy is an example of global cooperation. To be sure, the world economy benefits some parties more than others. However, the steady increase in standard of living that has been observed in nearly every nation on every continent is due in part to the presence of a global economy. There are elements of global cooperation that go into ecological reform, the spread of human rights, the expansion of the rights of women and sexual minorities, and the international diffusion of musical styles.


Global citizenship promotes global cooperation by increasing openness to innovations that come from other countries and by the internalization of norms of shared mutual interest among all the people of the planet. It reduces conflict by making people think of themselves as being on the same side.


What causes global citizenship? This is a matter of speculation. One approach is to argue that this is a function of greater international contact and cosmopolitanism. Norbert Elias was the grand theorist of how ever greater networks of communication would lead to a global culture that synthesized elements from a wide variety of diverse sources and produced citizens who would be open to a broad range of intellectual, philosophical and moral perspectives. The presence of global means of communication and transnational organizations facilitates such international interaction.


Ulrich Beck suggests a plausible alternative mechanism. Global threats motivate global citizenship. Massive threats require massive responses. Massive teams are necessary to produce those responses.


I agree with both Elias and Beck.


But new work by Brandon Gorman and Charles Seguin suggests that something more pragmatic and cynical may be occurring. In an article in the 2018 American Journal of Sociology, Gorman and Seguin argue that in poor countries, people think of themselves as being global citizens when they are being persecuted within their home nation. Desperately needing protection from the locals, they invoke global citizenship in the hope that some outsider will intervene on their behalf. The call for global citizenship is often a call for international justice and human rights. Identifying as a global citizen can be a simple cry for help.


Gorman and Seguin support their argument by looking at data from two large international surveys of public opinion. They combine data from the International Social Survey and the World Values Survey to get data on identification as a global or local citizen for over 100,000 individuals in some 56 countries.


What do they find?


The people who identify as global citizens tend to be persecuted or marginalized minorities. Among the groups most likely to identify with world society are Muslims in India, Russians in the Ukraine, Dalit (Untouchables) in India, Kurds in Turkey, Catalans in Spain, Chinese in Thailand and Turks in Germany.      


Gorman and Seguin constructed rigorous measures of marginalization and neglect of ethnic groups as well as the presence of political violence within nations.


What did they find?


1. People who live in countries with political violence are more likely to identify as global citizens.


2. People who were members of marginalized or neglected groups are more likely to identify as global citizens.


3. Urban elites are NOT more likely to identify as global citizens. What is the significance of this last negative finding? Urban elites are more likely to have both internet access and contact with foreigners. Traditional approaches to cosmopolitanism argue that internet access and contact with foreigners would increase identification as global citizens. But the group that has the most access to the internet and meets the most foreigners is not more likely to identify as global citizens..


4. Interestingly, there is no intrinsic contradiction between patriotism and identifying as a global citizen. People who were citizens of the country in which they lived were more likely to identify as world citizens; people who strongly identified with the country in which they lived also identified as world citizens.


Overall, it seems that thinking of oneself as a global citizen is part of a world view oriented towards seeking help from people outside one’s country. If you want to send in the Americans, send in the United Nations, or send in the force of global opinion, you think of yourself as a global citizen. If you are doing just fine in your own nation with the status quo, you tend to think of yourself as a local.


I would have thought that violence and conflict reduce the likelihood of thinking globally, since violence fractionalizes societies into competing groups. That’s not the way it works. Violence and conflict increase the importance of getting international support. Needing international support promotes having global views.


Who knew?

For More Information


The full citation for Gorman and Seguin is Gorman, Brandon and Charles Seguin. 2018. “World Citizens on the Periphery: Threat and Identification with Global Society.” American Journal of Sociology 124: 705-761.   


For a general introduction to global citizenship, see John Boli’s “Contemporary Developments in World Culture” in the 2005 International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Hans Schattle’s Practices of Global Citizenship. (Routledge, 2007), or Nigel Dower’s Introduction to Global Citizenship. (Edinburgh, 2003). For a Buddhist take on the issue, see Jason Goulah’s “Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka Movement for Global Citizenship.” in the 2019 Asia Pacific Journal of Education.

Norbert Elias was quite prolific. His Society of Individuals (Blackwell, 1991) contains some of his writing on the origins of cosmopolitanism. See Marius Ossewaarde’s article in the 2007 Current Sociology “Cosmopolitanism and the Society of Strangers” for a more contemporary treatment of this theme.

John Meyer, John Boli, George Thomas and Francisco Ramirez discuss the role of international communication and transnational organizations in fostering global citizenship in their 1997 article in the American Journal of Sociology “World Society and the Nation State”.

On the role of risk in producing cosmopolitan responses, see Ulrich Beck and David Levy’s article in the 2013 Theory, Culture and Society “Cosmopolitanized Nations: Reimagining Collectivity in World Risk Society”.

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