Last Thursday I went to a fascinating talk by Graeme Barker on the shift from hunter gatherer to farming societies on Borneo.
I went along to understand more about the technology dynamics of the Papuan Highlands, but I picked up something very unexpected.
Graeme Barker discussed the orthodox models of the spread of agriculture around the world, and compared it to the new understanding that has been emerging recently. The former model supposes that there were a few migration waves, and a few innovation events. Opposed to that is the new model, based on recent archaeological and ethnographic evidence. This suggests that there was relatively intensive interaction among neighbouring groups that facilitated technology transfer over long distances. Mango from India grown on Borneo, and bananas from New Guinea carried to West Africa - are the suggested evidence for that.
So, based on this, here is my speculation.
What if our (or at least, my) model of the global society is completely wrong. If there really was so much and such constant interaction among neighbouring groups for tens of thousands of years, then maybe a good model would be a network of societal relationships that have existed since the rise of our line of humans. (If you wanted to be truly outrageous, maybe you could extend this argument further back, to some previous homo species.) Then what we'd have is a description of this network, and the rifts along this network, say due to geographic reasons (rise and decline of the sea level, for instance). This network would give a completely different story about globalisation, or what we mean by it now. In this reading, the term ‘globalisation’ would be a reference to the dynamics of a particular network property.
I work on a network model of the global economy, and keep getting into fights with economic historians who claim that the level of globalisation was much higher, say, two hundred years ago, than now. They use macroeconomic measures, which I think misses the point of network complexity. (The latter concept is not really in the toolbox of macroeconomics, so the debate is really futile. It tends to be fun, though...)
But maybe the picture of the global network being there all the way back to the spread of the homos would change the entire discourse. You would have a global network, maybe, with more or less complex structures being built up in different geographical locations. Then the current globalisation would be, perhaps, a build up of a complex structure that covers the entire geographical spread, with any new local complex ‘outgrowths’ necessarily being integrated into the global one. In other words, ‘globalisation’ would not merely refer to the existence of a global network - as that has been around for a while - but the emergence of an overall structure which would encompass all new network build ups in a way that they could not be regarded as separate systems.
What do you think?
(Maybe modelling the global economy’s network structure for the past three decades is an un-ambitious project after all, how about 1700 times longer?)
At the Barker lecture, there was some meat on the expected topic as well. The description of two tribes, living next to each other, with entirely different approaches to their immediate general environment, the technology set they use, and the attitudes towards non-traditional consumption, was extremely interesting. One completely refusing to open up, being very mindful not to harm their forest, sticking to old technologies, and refusing new products, such as rice. The other one, the exact opposite: treating the forest as their ‘property’, quickly adopting new technologies, and taking up new consumption patterns. Beautifully highlights how impossible the quest is to have an economic development plan ‘good’ for all. The ‘incremental, local, community based’ just got an other supporting argument?