Globalization from Below

In Anthropological Theory for the Twenty-First Century: A Critical Approach we read Faye Harrison, “Global Apartheid at Home and Abroad” and discussed globalization from below:

This material was for The History of Anthro Thought after starting the section “On Theorizing Globalization.” Next was On Environment.

Globalization from Below

Rethinking Globalization

Faye Harrison’s perspective on globalization emphasizes the interconnectedness of global events and local realities. Rather than portraying distant places as having completely different realities, Harrison advocates for “connecting the dots.” What happens in far-off places–often still referred to as the “Third World” (284)–has direct implications for the “First World” or urban centers of developed nations. This approach aligns with the concept of “globalization from below,” which emphasizes how local actors navigate and sometimes resist global forces.

While Harrison’s examples primarily come from the 1990s and 2000s, the interconnectedness she describes has only intensified. For instance, policies enacted in Central American countries continue to have direct implications for migration patterns to the United States. Harrison mentions Haiti–a case that has evolved significantly since her writing. Recent years have seen Haitian refugees traversing through Brazil to reach the US border, demonstrating the complex, multi-country journeys that characterize modern migration patterns.

Structural Adjustment, Neoliberalism, & Their Discontents

Harrison’s analysis focuses on the concepts of structural adjustment and neoliberalism. These policies, often imposed on developing countries, aim to:

  • Expand the role of the market
  • Reduce the role of the state
  • “Valorize laissez-faire capitalism” (285)

Neoliberalism, a complex economic and political philosophy, promotes deregulation and trust in market efficiency. However, Harrison argues this often results in distorted outcomes. As she points out, there’s more money for military and prisons than for schools (285). The state’s role in providing social welfare diminishes, while funding for armed forces and incarceration remains robust.

It’s important to note that while Harrison presents a critical view of neoliberalism, proponents argue it can lead to economic growth and increased efficiency. However, the “globalization from below” perspective challenges these top-down economic policies by examining their impacts on local communities.

Widening Inequalities

These policies, according to Harrison and others, lead to increasing inequalities:

  • Between the Global North and South
  • “Widening within each country” (285)

Inequalities based on race and class are growing both between regions and within individual countries, from the United States to Brazil and India. This trend has continued and, in many cases, intensified since Harrison’s writing.

Gendered Impacts of Globalization

Harrison argues that “Women bear the brunt of global apartheid” (285). This is partly due to the societal concept of “women’s work”–the idea that certain tasks are naturally feminine and therefore do not require additional compensation. As Harrison states, “globalization in its neoliberal form is fundamentally a gendered phenomenon marked by a patriarchal logic” (286-287). This critique highlights how globalization from below must also address gender inequalities.

Resistance & Contestation

Despite these oppressive structures, Harrison emphasizes that people are not entirely overwhelmed. She writes: “Ethnographic analysis of ordinary women corroborates the practice theory notion that within structures of domination, no matter how severe, there exist constraints on as well as spaces and opportunities for resistance and contestation” (288).

This perspective draws on earlier work by Aihwa Ong, such as her book Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia. Ong’s ethnographic study examined how women in sweatshops used traditional spirit possession as a form of resistance against capitalist impositions. This work exemplifies how globalization from below can manifest in unexpected ways, blending local cultural practices with resistance to global economic forces.

Non-Hegemonic Globalizations

Gustavo Lins Ribeiro’s work on “Non-Hegemonic Globalizations” offers a compelling framework for understanding globalization from below. Ribeiro focuses on “Globalization from Below” or “Grassroots Globalization.” In the abstract of his article, he states: “My arguments on economic globalization from below are based on the activities of ‘trader-tourists’, street vendors and markets of global gadgets or ‘pirated’ goods. I rely mostly on Brazilian and Paraguayan examples, but there are evidences of the existence of a veritable non-hegemonic world system”

This perspective suggests the existence of alternative transnational processes and agents operating beneath the surface of official global economic structures. Ribeiro’s work primarily examines:

  • Trader-tourists
  • Street vendors
  • Markets of global gadgets or ‘pirated’ goods

These activities, often overlooked in mainstream discussions of globalization, represent a form of grassroots economic activity that transcends national boundaries. Ribeiro’s analysis points to the existence of a “non-hegemonic world system” that operates parallel to, and sometimes in opposition to, the dominant global economic order.

Ribeiro’s concept of non-hegemonic globalization provides a valuable counterpoint to Harrison’s focus on structural inequalities. While Harrison emphasizes the top-down impacts of global policies, Ribeiro highlights the agency and creativity of individuals and communities in navigating and sometimes subverting these forces.

Evolving Anti-Globalization Movements

The assigned reading touched on anti-globalization street demonstrations, which were significant in the 1990s and 2000s. These protests targeted actions by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. While the form of these movements has changed over time, anti-globalization sentiments continue to influence political movements worldwide. Modern manifestations of globalization from below include grassroots economic initiatives, fair trade movements, and digital activism that connects local struggles globally.


The study of globalization from below requires a multifaceted approach that considers both macro-level economic policies and micro-level responses and adaptations. From Harrison’s analysis of structural inequalities to Ribeiro’s exploration of grassroots economic activities, we see that globalization is not a monolithic force but a complex interplay of various actors and processes.

As we continue to grapple with the complexities of globalization, it becomes increasingly important to recognize the interconnections between seemingly distant events and local realities. By “connecting the dots,” as Harrison suggests, and examining globalization from below, we can better understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by our increasingly interconnected world.

This approach encourages us to look beyond official economic indicators and policy declarations to see how people on the ground are experiencing and shaping global processes. It reminds us that globalization is not just something that happens to people, but something in which people actively participate, resist, and reimagine.

Recap: Globalization from Below

In Anthropological Theory for the Twenty-First Century: A Critical Approach we read Faye Harrison, “Global Apartheid at Home and Abroad” and discussed globalization from below:

This material was for The History of Anthro Thought after starting the section “On Theorizing Globalization.” Next was On Environment.

Related Material

To gain a fuller picture of globalization, including grassroots perspectives, explore these related topics:

Living Anthropologically means documenting history, interconnection, and power during a time of global transformation. We need to care for others as we attempt to build a world together. This blog is a personal project of Jason Antrosio, author of Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy. For updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow on Twitter.

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