Although the earliest appearance of the term ‘globalization’ in the English language can be traced back to the 1930s, it was not until more than half a century later that the concept took the world by storm. ‘Globalization’ emerged as the buzzword of the 1990s, because it captured the increasingly interconnected nature of social life on our planet mediated by the ICT revolution and the global integration of markets. Twenty-five years later, globalization has remained a hot topic. Indeed, one can track millions of references to the term in both virtual and printed space.
Unfortunately, however, early bestsellers on the subject, for example, Kenichi Ohmae’s The End of the Nation State or Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree-left their readers with the simplistic impression of globalization as an unstoppable juggernaut, spreading the logic of capitalism and Western values by eradicating local traditions and national cultures. This influential notion of globalization as a ruthless techno-economic steamroller flattening local, national, and regional scales also appeared as the spectre of ‘Americanization’ haunting the rest of the world. Such widespread fears or hopes, depending on how one felt about such homogenizing forces, deepened further in the 2000s during the so-called Global War on Terror spearheaded by the global military superpower-the United States. Moreover, the current public debates about the power status of America in the age of Trump and the corresponding rise of the ‘BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have done little to soften this popular dichotomy casting the West against the ‘rest’. As a result, many people still have trouble recognizing globalization for what it is: a complex and uneven dynamic linking the local (and the national and regional) to the global as well as the West to the East, and the North to the South.
As an illustration of such a more nuanced understanding of globalization as a thickening ‘global-local nexus’-or what some Global Studies scholars refer to as glocalization-let us consider the world’s most popular sports event: the men’s Football World Cup. First organized in 1930 by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the event was soon seen as the ultimate national contest pitting country against country in the relentless pursuit of patriotic glory. The World Cup has since been held every four years (except for 1942 and 1946) in host countries located on all continents except Oceania. In fact, this transnational rotation of host countries coupled with the event’s name ‘World Cup’ (instead of ‘Nations Cup’)-gives us a first indication of why the global should not be rigidly separated from the national. But let us delve more deeply into the matter and consider even more telling facts. Indeed, the 2014 World Cup will shed light on the complex ‘glocal’ dynamics that define the phenomenon we have come to call ‘globalization’.
The global-local nexus and the Brazilian World Cup
The twentieth FIFA World Cup for men’s national football was held from 12 June to 13 July 2014 in Brazil. The 32 best national teams from a total of 207 original contestants competed for the coveted Golden Globe Trophy. These included five nations from Africa, four from Asia, thirteen from Europe, four from North and Central America, and six from South America. Sixty-four games were played in twelve Brazilian cities, drawing a live crowd of over five million spectators. More than a million tourists from around the world visited Brazil in June 2014, which reflects an increase of nearly 300 percent from June 2013. More than 70 percent of international tourists arrived by air, 27 percent by road, and the rest came by boat. More than 11 million game ticket applications were received by FIFA but only 3 million could be allocated in advance to the general public.
The global-local dynamics are rather obvious here: national teams playing in Brazilian stadiums in front of a mixture of local, national, and global spectators as well as a virtual global audience watching the games on TVs and digital streaming devices. Indeed, the Brazilian World Cup was shown in every single country and territory on Earth. The in-home coverage of the competition reached an audience of over 3.2 billion people-45 percent of the global population- who watched at least a few minutes of the event. A whopping 695 million people followed at least twenty consecutive minutes of the championship match between victorious Germany and runner-up Argentina.
Money matters related to the World Cup are equally ‘glocal’ in nature. Brazilian authorities spent about $13 billion to finance the mega-event, including $2 billion for security purposes. Still, the World Cup was a good deal for the host nation. The Brazilian Ministry of Tourism reported that tourism and investment would bring in $13.5 billion within a year and an extra $90 billion in revenue over ten years. The World Cup-related infrastructure projects alone generated 1 million jobs, of which 710,000 became permanent. Over the four-year cycle 2010–14, the games generated $4.8 billion in revenue for FIFA. $2.4 billion was made in TV rights, $1.6 billion in sponsorship revenue, with the most significant contracts going to such powerful TNCs as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, Emirates, McDonald's, Castrol, Sony, Hyundai Motor Group, Johnson & Johnson, and Budweiser. When the glocal mega-event ended on 13 July 2014, FIFA happily pocketed a handsome net profit of $338 million, which pushed the transnational organization’s total financial reserves to over $1.5 billion.
The official World Cup match-ball, too, was an impressive example of the glocal dynamics constituting globalization. Supplied by Adidas, a successful TNC headquartered in Germany, the football received the name ‘Brazuca’ from the majority of over a million Brazilian fans voting in a naming contest via social media. Brazuca means ‘our fellow’ in Portuguese and is used by Brazilians to describe their national pride in their national way of life. In spite of their apparent local and national identity, however, the Brazucas were manufactured by low-wage workers at the Forward Spots factory in the Pakistani town of Sialkot (replica balls were made in China). Designed to have a more accurate and repeatable flight path, the prototype Brazucas were thoroughly tested in locations covering all sorts of climates and altitudes in ten countries on three continents. These trials took nearly three years and involved 600 international players to make sure that the Brazuca worked for all positions of the game.
Finally, the football contains chemical compounds produced in several countries and plastics generated from petroleum imported from the Middle East and Norway. South Korean-built supersized container ships carried the transnationally assembled Brazucas to football fans around the world.
What do Lionel Messi and J. Lo have in common?
But perhaps the most striking illustration of how globalization erupts simultaneously within and across all geographical scales involves two of the most celebrated superstars of the Brazilian World Cup: the Argentinian superstar Lionel Andrés Messi, the tournament’s most valuable player, and American singer-entertainer Jennifer Lopez. ‘J. Lo’ performed the official anthem of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at its opening ceremony together with the Cuban-American rapper Armando Christian Pérez (‘Pitbull’) and celebrated Brazilian singer-songwriter Claudia Leitte (‘Claudhina’).
Born in 1987 into a working-class family of Spanish and Italian heritage in Rosario, Argentina, little ‘Leo’, as Lionel was called, developed a passion for football at a very early age. However, his future as a professional player was threatened when, at the age of 10, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency-a malady that required $1,000 per month in hormone treatments.
Unable to pay for the injections in a country collapsing under the strain of the economic crisis of 1999-2001-the Messi family turned for help to relatives in Catalonia, Spain. They managed to arrange Lionel’s transfer to the legendary football club FC Barcelona-also known as ‘Barça’-in spite of his unusually young age of 13. In 2001, the entire Messi family relocated to Barcelona and moved into an apartment near the club’s legendary stadium, Camp Nou. Although Lionel has remained in Barcelona for his entire football career so far, he has maintained close ties to his hometown of Rosario and even refuses to sell the old family house. Indeed, the global football icon has often referred to himself as an Argentine ‘local boy’. At the same time, he has not only contributed to the soccer glory of his adopted Spanish city but has also accepted the global task of serving as a tireless goodwill UNICEF ambassador, engaged in charitable efforts aimed at helping vulnerable children around the world. Still, Messi’s positive image was tarnished when a Barcelona court found him and his father guilty of tax fraud and sentenced them to suspended jail sentences and huge monetary fines.
Messi’s career at Barça is the stuff of football legends. Considered by some as the best football player of all time, the Argentine striker has broken all club records, leading his team to seven Spanish ‘La Liga’ national league championships, four European championship titles, and three Copa del Rey titles so far. Messi is to date the only football player in history to win the FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Award for Best Male Football Player in the World five times, four of which he won consecutively 2009-12. He has also won three European Golden Shoe awards. Already the all-time scoring leader in both La Liga (over 300 goals) and a single European Champions League match (five goals), the 28-year-old football wizard scored his 500th career goal on 3 February 2016 in a match that pitted Barça against FC Valencia. In that month, Messi’s awesome global popularity was reflected in the staggering number of 81,364,376 ‘Likes’ that graced his Facebook page.
Despite his stellar city club achievements, Lionel Messi’s greatest moments to date have come on the global stage in Brazil, where he led his national team to an impressive second-place finish. This made Argentina the most successful South American country of the 2014 World Cup, surpassing the dejected host and football superpower Brazil, which placed a disappointing fourth. Proudly wearing the iconic blue and white-striped number 10 jersey of his nation, Messi dazzled local and global fans alike with his ball-playing skills, speed, elegance, and goal-scoring instincts. Although his team lost the championship match against Germany in heart-breaking fashion in extra time, Messi won the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament. Indeed, the Argentine striker and many of his fellow footballers performing in Brazilian World Cup stadiums embodied the glocal dynamics of globalization as they played for national teams that entertained local and global audiences while simultaneously retaining the football identity that linked them to their contracted clubs in global cities around the world.
A careful deconstruction of FIFA World Cup entertainer Jennifer Lopez reveals similar glocal dynamics that show why we should not approach globalization as a disconnected phenomenon floating above local and national contexts. Jennifer Lynn Lopez was born in 1969 in New York City to Puerto Rican immigrants. Growing up in the world’s most multicultural city, J. Lo began performing as a singer and dancer at the age of 5. As a young woman, she danced in a musical chorus that toured Europe and later acted as a singer, dancer, and choreographer in the Japanese TV show Synchronicity. Her breakthrough to stardom came in 1997 in the title role of the biographical musical drama Selena. The film featured the life and career of the late Tejano music star who exerted a remarkable transcultural appeal across North and Latin America. Thanks to J. Lo’s talent, the movie was a big box office success, grossing $35 million in the USA alone. With a few exceptions, like the 2003 commercial failure of the romantic movie Gigli, J. Lo has been enjoying a stellar career as a singer-actor that includes appearances as a judge in the TV mega-show American Idol. In 2012, she released ‘On the Floor’, one of the best-selling singles of all time. The music channel VH1 ranked Lopez in the top tier on its list of the ‘Greatest Pop Culture Icons’, and she was honoured by the World Music Awards with the Legend Award for her contribution to the arts. Hailed for her ability to traverse difficult racial boundaries, J. Lo developed a musical style that mixes a number of genres such as Latin pop, dance, R&B, hip-hop, rock, funk, house, and salsa. In many ways, both her personal background and her style of music can be characterized as a form of ‘hybridization’-the process of mixing different cultural elements and styles. Such cultural hybridization processes have been greatly accelerated by globalization.
On 12 June 2014, J. Lo took centre stage at FIFA’s World Cup Opening Ceremony at the Arena de São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil. In her flashy green, Lebanese-designed playsuit, the sparsely dressed superstar was joined by fellow artists Pitbull and Claudhina in the performance of ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’, a song that reached a top 20 spot on the Billboard charts of twenty-seven countries on four continents. This glocal FIFA World Cup anthem was co-written by the performing trio plus six other artists hailing from three continents: the Colombian Daniel Murcia, the Dane Thomas Troelsen, the Australian Sia Furler, the American Lukasz ‘Dr Luke’ Gottwald, the Canadian Henry ‘Cirkuit’ Walter, and Moroccan-Swede Nadir Khayat ‘RedOne’. A clear example of today’s hybrid, global-local creations of material culture, the commercial success of ‘We Are One’ owed much to the cross-cultural creativity of these songwriters. Moreover, the song served as a global appeal to humanity to come together ‘as one’ and tackle the serious global problems of the 21st century. Indeed, such global awareness is especially evident in Pitbull’s three successful albums that are appropriately titled: Global Warming (2012), Climate Change (2016), and, yes, Globalization (2014). So what in addition to their multilingual facility and their remarkable transnational appeal-do the US Latino pop star performing a globalized World Cup anthem and an Argentine football legend playing for a Spanish city club have in common? They are both the products and catalysts of globalization processes that make more sense when considered as a global-local nexus we call ‘glocalization’.
In fact, even the embarrassing corruption scandal that rocked FIFA in the years following the immensely popular Brazilian World Cup reflects the global-local dynamics of globalization as they apply to transnational crime. In 2015, the federal US agencies, the FBI and the IRS, arrested several FIFA officials on suspicion of bribery, wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. The investigations related to these arrests and eventual indictments also unearthed collusions between South American, Caribbean, and North American sports marketing executives with strong ties to FIFA. A total of eighteen individuals from fifteen countries were indicted, including nine FIFA officials. When it became clear that such global criminal activities had even tainted the selection processes for several FIFA World Cup sites as well as the 2011 FIFA presidential election, the Attorney General of Switzerland decided to investigate Sepp Blatter, the long-term Swiss FIFA President, for criminal mismanagement. In December 2015, FIFA’s Ethics Committee-representing all continental football bodies-banned Blatter and Michel Platini, the Head of UEFA, from all football-related activities for eight years (reduced in 2016 to six years). Although the FIFA corruption scandal sorely tested the confidence of billions of global fans in the virtuousness of their beloved sport, it also serves as a perfect example of the glocal character of globalization as evident in the transnational dynamics of localized criminal actions, and the ensuing global cooperation among national government agencies that tracked down the local culprits.
Our deconstruction of the Brazilian World Cup and the corruption scandal following in its wake has prepared us to tackle the rather demanding task of assembling a working definition of a contested concept that has proven notoriously hard to pin down.