by Lisa Lowe

About Lisa Lowe

Lisa Lowe is Professor of English and American Studies at Tufts University. She is the author of books on race, immigration, and globalization, including the forthcoming The Intimacies of Four Continents.


“Globalization” is a contemporary term used in academic and nonacademic contexts to describe a late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century condition of economic, social, and political interdependence across cultures, societies, nations, and regions that has been precipitated by an unprecedented expansion of capitalism on a global scale. One problem with this usage is that it obscures a much longer history of global contacts and connections. In the ancient world, there were empires, conquests, slavery, and diasporas; in medieval and early modern times, Asian, Arab, and European civilizations mingled through trade, travel, and settlement. Only with European colonial expansion, beginning in the sixteenth century and reaching its height in the nineteenth, did global contacts involve western European and North American dominance; the rise of Western industrialized modernity, made possible by labor and resources in the “new world” of the Americas, was, in this sense, a relatively recent global interconnection. Yet today, the term “globalization” is used to name a specific set of transformations that occurred in the late twentieth century: changes in world political structure after World War II that included the ascendancy of the United States and the decolonization of the formerly colonized world; a shift from the concept of the modern nation-state as bounded and independent toward a range of economic, social, and political links that articulate interdependencies across nations; and an acceleration in the scale, mode, and volume of exchange and interdependency in nearly all spheres of human activity.