Journal article

Global studies and the New Zealand Centre: meaning and potential

Universities International cooperation International relations New Zealand
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This article discusses the concept of 'global studies', its place in universities worldwide and introduces New Zealand Centre for Global Studies. It contrasts the academic disciplines of international relations with the more recent field of global studies and includes a survey of gloabl think-tanks.

Things change with the passage of time. In the late decades of the 20th century, international relations were naturally founded on 20th-century thought – the nation state as dominant actor; sovereign equality as central principle; international organisation as neutral arena; political-military strategy as guarantor of peace and security; self-determination, economic and social development and human rights as emerging norms. The United Nations Charter was the lodestar, despite the paralysis of the Cold War. The challenge was to make the charter work politically.

In the early 21st century the world is different. The nation state is surrounded by other actors on the world stage, equally potent: corporations with global reach, civil society with a global conscience, mega-cities with global ties. Sovereign equality of the nation state remains defiant, yet is increasingly under siege. International peace has mutated into global security. Self-determination is evolving into ‘multi-layered jurisdiction’. Rights are twinned with responsibility, and individual criminal liability has entered the hallowed precinct of international law. Economic growth wrestles with the imperative of sustainability within a ‘safe operating space for humanity’. Interregional migration further complicates the phenomenon of global change. In 1993 the UN secretary general observed that ‘the first truly global era’ had begun. Economic globalisation, the threat of a ‘nuclear winter’ affecting the planet after major conflict, ozone depletion and climate change, and ‘limits to growth’ had formed a new mosaic on the human canvas.

The current decade is witness to two global revolutions, driven by the same dynamic but whose nature and future outcome are fundamentally different. One is the notion of a world uniting. The other is of a world dividing into fragmented units that belie such unity. Yet in both cases the same global dynamic remains, paradoxically, the underlying driver. It is therefore no surprise that ‘global studies’ has emerged in recent decades as an academic and policy field of enquiry. In this country in 2012, a group of colleagues from academia, government and media established the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies. The centre is a charitable educational trust, and operates as a research institute and think-tank. Its short experience to date persuades us, and I think others, that the field of global studies is a valid one, and that the centre has something useful to offer.

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