International Reserach Group for Transregional & Emerging Area Studies
The International Reserach Group for Transregional & Emerging Area Studies is a non-partisan and multidisciplinary Think-Tank Organization.
18:30 - 20 May 2009

GLOBALITY AND HYBRIDITY: Challenges for Human Development and Security in a Globally Interconnected and Interactive World



The International Institute for Integrative Studies

1. Introduction

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in November 2008 was a transformative event not only in the history of American presidency but also in the evolution of modern consciousness about self and identity. This is so because not only is Barack Obama the first black President that the American people have elected but also the first political leader in the world who is ready to accept and proudly pronounce his hybrid heritage as an individual. In the first press conference he gave as President-elect, Barack Obama described himself as “mutts like me” in an obvious reference to his hybrid racial heritage, having a black Kenyan as his father and a white American as his mother.1 But Barack Obama goes a step further in that he recognizes his hybrid cultural heritage as well, for he willingly acknowledges how his personal experience living in three different continents has shaped the kind of person that he is and the sense of identity that he embraces (Obama, 2004).

To be sure, not many individuals share his kind of personal story and go through life with his kind of personal experience. But it is not difficult to see why many individuals, Americans as well as people in other countries, look up to President Obama as the model of a global individual that is needed in the kind of world we live in. For the world we live in is a world characterized by “globality” and “hybridity”, brought about by two forces of social change—globalization and hybridization—that have accompanied the interaction between Western and non-Western civilizations since the late fifteenth century, when Western powers embarked on their exploration and conquest of the world in earnest.

While globalization and hybridization had been going on for several centuries, the scope of these forces of social change has seen dramatic expansion in the latest phase of globalization and hybridization that began in the second half of the twentieth century. Driven by increased flows of people, things and information made possible by advances in transportation, communication and information technologies, the latest phase of globalization and hybridization has transformed the world into an interconnected and interactive space for all individuals, organizations and societies of the world.

The world of “globality” and “hybridity”, where all individuals, organizations and societies are interconnected and interact with one another, is a challenging environment for human development, regardless of where in the world that development takes place. While human development still takes place in the physical space such as a village, a town, a city, a region or a country, superimposed on the physical space of human development is the abstract space of human development—cyberspace, if you will—that is filled with all kinds of information that transcend physical boundaries and cultural differences. The world of “globality” and “hybridity” is thus a brave new world in which every individual is required to develop a new conception of who and what he/she is. The purpose of this paper is to discuss what that new conception ought to be, in the light of the new and evolving realities of the world around us. We shall also discuss the challenges supporting social systems such as families, communities and nations face in providing human security, namely, a safe, secure and stable environment for human development, in the world of “globality” and “hybridity”.

2. Globality

The term “globality” is most often used to characterize the new realities of global capitalism today, in which everyone is “competing with everyone from everywhere for everything” (Sirkin,, 2008). The latest phase of globalization has indeed turned the world economy into a stage for competition among “globally integrated enterprises”2, which include not only well-known transnational enterprises such as IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Toyota and Nestle from advanced economies but also ones from emerging economies such as China’s Lenovo and India’s Arcelor Mittal. These globally integrated enterprises engage in “outsourcing”, to take advantage of cheap labor available abroad, as well as “homesourcing”, to exploit migrant workers from abroad ready to work at much deflated wages than workers at home. The new realities of global capitalism also include direct participation of governments in financial markets, as typified by the activities of sovereign wealth funds such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, China Investment Corporation and Dubai International Capital.

The world of “globality” has emerged thanks to revolutionary advances made in hardware as well as software technologies since 1990—such as fiber optic cables, lap top computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and web browsers. These new technologies have transformed the world into an interconnected space for economic activities such as investment, production, trade and consumption, rendering the distinction between “domestic” and “foreign” fuzzy, if not totally irrelevant. As one astute observer puts it, the world of “globality” is “a flat world”, dominated by a new horizontal model of the world in which the predominant mode of operation is “connect and collaborate” rather than “command and control” (Friedman, 2007).

What sustains the world of “globality” is the constant flow of people, matter and information over the entire globe. In fact, the World Wide Web, which came into being in 1991 with the creation of the first Web site by Tim Berners-Lee, has since become an apt metaphor for the interconnectedness of the world around us. Some countries, such as Brazil, China and India, have now become important players in the world economy, taking advantage of the possibilities the world of “globality” has opened up. On the other hand, the global economic crisis we are experiencing now in the wake of the “Global Economic Meltdown” of 2008 is not an aberration but an inevitable consequence of unbridled and unregulated “globality” of global capitalism.

3. Hybridity

While most people are already familiar with the use of the word “hybrid” as it is employed in reference to a type of cars, the term “hybridity” is also used to refer to the new realities of the world evolving around us, not only in the economic arena but also in the cultural arena (Davis, 2003; Coombs and Brah, 2000; Tomlinson, 1999). We pointed out above that the world of “globality” is a world in which the distinction between “domestic” and “foreign” has become fuzzy, if not totally irrelevant. As a matter of fact, all the traditional distinctions we used to make between national and international, between core and periphery, and between developed and developing have become fuzzy, for the very distinction between “local” and “global” has become fuzzy, if not completely disappeared. Even the distinction between capitalist and socialist economies has become fuzzy, as all economies of the world have become more or less “hybrid” economies, with both private enterprises and governments involved as active participants in the global economy. Thus China, “a socialist economy under one party rule” according to the conventional definition, is now referred to as a “hybrid economy”: “Private capitalists may be symbols of a changing China. But the party has also clung tenaciously to the most profitable pillar industries and the financial system, and it is not always easy to distinguish the biggest private companies from their state-run counterparts in China’s hybrid economy.”3

The phenomena which can be characterized by the term “hybridity” are observed in the cultural arena as well, perhaps more so than in the economic arena. This is hardly surprising because the expanded flow of people, matter and information in an interconnected and interactive world makes it easy to import—or imitate—cultures from abroad and create new forms of culture by mixing domestic and foreign cultures. Cultural hybridization can be observed in such areas as the proliferation of borrowed words, the literature dealing with trans-cultural experiences, the emergence of so-called world music, and an increasing number of scholarly works dealing with the phenomenon of hybridization in the history of civilizations. One scholar employs the term “global mélange” to refer to the world of “hybridity” in the cultural arena, which may be an appropriate term considering that cultural hybridization has not yet produced a new and truly universal culture (Pieterse, 2004).  However, the process of creating a new culture through fusion of different cultures is definitely taking place around us as evidenced by the proliferation of “fusion cuisine” and “fusion music”. It is to be noted that the world of “hybridity” evolving around us has also been made possible by revolutionary advances in information technologies mentioned above that have transformed the world into an interconnected and interactive space for all individuals, organizations and societies.

4. Human Development: New Opportunities and Challenges

The interconnected and interactive world of “globality” and “hybridity” offers new opportunities as well as new challenges for human development—and human security as well, as will be discussed in Section 6 below. New opportunities for learning have opened up with access to the Internet, for those who can afford it. While Google’s stated goal “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Stross, 2008) may be a bit too ambitious and optimistic in view of the enormous economic disparity that exists between rich and poor within as well as across nations in the world, those who can afford it certainly have new tools available to them to gather information and acquire knowledge on the Internet and to make connections with individuals and organizations all over the world, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs). This means that learning and human development for individuals in the interconnected and interactive world of “globality” and “hybridity” take place not only through traditional venues such as homes, schools, libraries and community centers but also through new venues such as correspondence courses, dictionaries, occupational schools and universities available on the Internet. In fact, it is already possible to earn a degree—even an advanced degree such as a MA or a Ph.D.—taking advantage of a new venue of learning available on the Internet.

While new opportunities that new technologies have opened up can be potentially beneficial and rewarding for everybody, the world of “globality” and “hybridity” also presents new challenges for human development. Human development, as is well recognized, is not a single-dimensional process; it involves at least three related but separate processes—biological, social and psychological.4 Since cognitive development, which is an aspect of psychological development, is a slow and elongated process that comes with physical development, the child is not expected to take advantage of new technologies until he/she is physically and mentally ready for them. And to make judgment on acceptable versus unacceptable values requires social maturation, which cannot be accelerated with new technologies. What all this means is that the flood of diverse values and vast amounts of information that surrounds and bombards the child may lead to discords among the three aspects of human development, resulting in identity confusion and value conflicts (Iyer, 2000; Maalouf, 2001).

The challenge of maintaining balance and coherence among the three processes of human development can be a daunting one indeed for the young people growing up in a developing country with the tradition of conservative values, for they are likely to face a dilemma between the pressure to observe their traditional values and the need to acquire new skills that would make them productive in a globally competitive economy. One example of such a dilemma facing the young people is reported in a New York Times article: “At a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, … the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, …”5

In addition to potential discords among biological, social and psychological processes of human development, there is still another kind of potential discord that develops between the concrete, or real, space of human development and the abstract, or virtual, space of human development.6 Human development for each child does not take place in a vacuum but normally in an expanding circle of social environments, starting from a family to an extended family, to a neighborhood, to a community, to a region, to a country, and eventually to the world. These social environments together define the concrete, or real, space of human development in which every individual grows up and in which he/she acquires the sense of belonging and identity. There is, however, another space—the abstract, or virtual, space of human development—defined by new information technologies, namely, the cyberspace that contains all kinds of values and information. (See Figure 1) To sort out what values to accept and what information to absorb would be an enormous challenge for every child, regardless where he/she is growing up, as he/she is required to possess the capacity to make judgment as to which values are acceptable and which information is useful, the capacity that requires certain degree of maturation in all three aspects of human development. In the world of “globality” and “hybridity”, every child is expected, in a way, to be a “small adult”, just like he/she used to be in the Middle Ages, as Philippe Aries shows in his comprehensive study of the history of childhood (Aries, 1962).

5. Cultivating and Embracing A New Conception of Self and Identity

The world of “globality” and “hybridity” thus offers new opportunities as well as new challenges for human development. Of the new challenges, what is arguably the most important will be the challenge to develop a stable sense of “identity” which, as Erik Erikson’s definition of it as “a subjective sense of an invigorating sameness and continuity” suggests, is essential if the child is to navigate himself/herself in the difficult period of development from childhood through adolescence into adulthood.7

As human development takes place in the space of interaction among biological, social and psychological processes, identity formation is also influenced by three kinds of factors—biological, social and psychological. The biological factors in identity formation include such things as birth date, birth order, family lineage, gender, and race; the social factors include such things as ethnicity, lifestyle, class, language, profession, wealth, and nationality; and the psychological factors include such things as personality types, gender orientation, and tastes and preferences. As something that is formed in the space of interaction among all these diverse factors, identity is not uniquely and clearly defined even for a single individual. Thus, Kwame Appiah talks about identities as being multiple, overlapping and context-sensitive: “Identities are multiple and overlapping and context-sensitive, and some are relatively trivial or transient.”8 Indeed, we may talk about the “three M’s” of identity as it is “multiple”, “muddled” and “malleable”.

That identity is, by its very nature, multiple, muddled and malleable means that identity for any individual, regardless of a specific geographical or cultural environment in which his/her development takes place, is basically “hybrid”.9 And it goes without saying that the degree to which one’s identity is “hybrid” is enhanced in the world of “globality” and “hybridity”, with universal exposure to the virtual space of human development, which contains all kinds of ideas, symbols and values.

What is needed in the world of “globality” and “hybridity” is, then, a new conception of self, namely, “hybrid self” that rejects a singular identity and adopts a flexible, fluid, context-dependent identity, based on the realization that identity is basically “hybrid”, i.e., multiple, muddled and malleable. The reason we need to cultivate—and embrace—a new conception of “hybrid self” is because it endows us with “adaptability”, which is the key requirement for all individuals and societies in the turbulent world of “globality” and “hybridity”. It is the kind of conception that President Obama was hinting at when he described himself as “mutts like me”.

In order to cultivate such a new and flexible conception of self, it is useful to classify factors behind identity formation into “inherited” and “acquired” factors. While biological factors such as birth date and race are “inherited”, most social and psychological factors are “acquired” and can therefore be treated as matters of choice for the individual.10 This is certainly the case with one’s profession or one’s membership in a social group. There are, however, certain factors that are difficult to classify as either “inherited” or “acquired”. Religion is one such example in that it can be both “inherited” and “acquired”, to the extent that conversion to another faith becomes an option and is allowed by one’s family or a social group which has imposed a particular faith on him/her. Here, as in other cases, it is important to reject a singular identity and adopt a flexible, fluid, context-dependent identity if social conflict is to be avoided, for, as Amartya Sen argues, “It is not so much that a person has to deny one identity to give priority to another, but rather that a person with plural identities has to decide, in case of a conflict, on the relative importance of the different identities for the particular decision in question.” 11

6. Ensuring Human Security for Human Development

As can be easily surmised from our discussion above, to provide a safe, secure and stable environment for human development is not an easy task in the world of “globality” and “hybridity” for any family, any community or, for that matter, for any nation. This is where the question of human security intersects with the question of human development. The importance of human security was originally proposed to draw our attention to the importance of protecting individuals from any form of political violence such as civil war, genocide, and the displacement of populations.12 This is now known as the “narrow” concept of human security, as opposed to the “broad” concept of human security articulated by United Nations’ Development Program’s Human Development Report, which includes hunger, disease and natural disasters (UNDP, 1994).

What we propose to do here is to embrace the “broad” concept of human security and reformulate it as a systems concept with three dimensions. The three dimensions of human security in our reformulation correspond to the three processes of human development—biological, social and psychological—discussed above.

The biological dimension of human security has to do with securing the needs of the individual as a biological being. To be specific, it means securing the supply of basic necessities of life, including food and shelter, for the individual and protecting the individual from the threat of natural disasters and diseases. The social dimension of human security has to do with the needs of the individual as a social being. It means securing the safety of the individual from any form of violence, including war, genocide and displacement, and guaranteeing the protection of the individual from any form of discrimination stemming from his/her race, sexual orientation or faith. The psychological dimension of human security has to do with the needs of the individual as a psychological being. It means securing the sense of comfort and contentment for the individual. Having a place the individual can call “home” that would give him/her the sense of belonging would be an important part of the psychological dimension of human security.

The question of human security thus comes down to the question of whether or not we can provide a safe, secure and stable environment for human development, which involves the three processes of biological, social and psychological development. All forms of social systems—families, communities, agencies, organizations, regions, countries, and the world as represented by the United Nations—are involved in this important task of providing a safe, secure and stable environment for human development. Indeed, in the world of “globality” and “hybridity”, having a safe, secure and stable environment for human development is crucial if the individual is to develop and embrace a new conception of self called “hybrid self” discussed in the previous section.

7. Conclusion

Human development, involving as it does biological, social and psychological processes, does not take place in a vacuum but in a concrete social setting—a family, a neighborhood, a community, a region, a country, and the world. In the interconnected and interactive world of “globality” and “hybridity”, every corner of this real space of human development is invaded and covered by the flood of information that circulates in the virtual space of human development. This means that a social support system for human development and security—be it a family, a local community, a school, a workplace, an agency or an institution—needs to be reformed and restructured in a way that would preserve and promote balance and coherence not only among the biological, social and psychological processes of human development but also between the real and virtual spaces of human development.

From the individual’s point of view, it would be essential to cultivate and embrace the new conception of “hybrid self”, if the individual is to function as a productive and responsible member of the interconnected and interactive world of “globality” and “hybridity”. Indeed, if the world is become a friendly environment for all individuals from all walks of life, coming from all kinds of cultural backgrounds, the individual would have to go a step further and cultivate and embrace the conception of “global self”, based on an awareness about the composite nature of humans in the global network of all beings and all things in the universe. For, in the interconnected and interactive world of “globality” and “hybridity”, identity of anything, including that of a human being, is a composite entity, as the Dalai Lama reminds us: “Anything that exists and has an identity does so only within the total network of everything that has a possible or potential relation to it. No phenomenon exists with an independent or intrinsic identity.”13 And acquiring and embracing the conception of “global self” is indeed crucial if the individual is to acquire the true sense of security, for only then can he/she feel secure, knowing that he/she belongs to the universe as the “home” for all beings and all things.


1. “Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.” The words of President-elect

Obama at his first press conference held on November 7, 2008, as reported by New York Times, November 8, 2008.

2.  The term “globally integrated enterprises” was introduced by Sam Palmisano, the chief

executive of IBM, in 2006, to describe new forms of business enterprises that would

replace multinational corporations.

3.  “China’s Leaders are Resilient in Face of Change”, New York Times, August 6, 2008.

4.  See Chapter 1 of Koizumi (1993) for a more detailed discussion of the three processes

     of human development.

5.  “In Algeria, a Tug of War for Young Minds, New York Times, June 23, 2008.

6.  See, for example, Koizumi & Koizumi (1990) for a discussion of the cybernetic aspect

of human development.

7.  Erikson (1968), p.19.

8.  Appiah (2005), p. 100.

9.  See also Lewis (1998) for a discussion of multiple identities in reference to the people

     in the Middle East.

10. See Taylor (1984) for a detailed discussion of the evolution of self and identity, with an

increasing importance of “acquired” identities in modern times.

11. Sen (2006), p. 29.

12. See miniAtlas of Human Security by Human Security Research Group.

13. Dala Lama (2005), p.64.


Appiah, Kwame A., The Ethics of Identity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Aries, Philippe, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, New York: Vantage, 1962.

Coombs, Annie, and Brah, Avtar (eds.), Hybridity and Its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture, London: Routledge, 2000.

Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, New York: Broadway Books, 2005.

Davis, John B., The Theory of the Individual in Economics: Identity and Value, London: Routledge, 2003.

Erikson, Erik H., Identity: Youth and Crisis, New York: Norton, 1968.

Friedman, Thomas L., The World Is Flat: A Brief History of The Twenty-First Century, New York: Picador, 2007.

Iyer, Pico, The Global Soul: Jetlag, Shopping Malls, and Search for Home, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Koizumi, Tetsunori, and Hisako Koizumi, “Cybernetic Society and the Remaking of the Human Cycle”, Advances in Education and Human Development, Tetsunori Koizumi and George E. Lasker (eds.), Windsor: International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, 1990.

Koizumi, Tetsunori, Interdependence and Change in the Global System, Lanham: University Press of America, 1993.

Lewis, Bernard, The Multiple Identites of the Middle East, New York: Schocken Books, 1998.

Maalouf, Amin, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.

Obama, Barack, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004.

Pieterse, Jan N., Globalization and Culture: Global Melange, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2004.

Putnam, Robert D., “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century”, Scandinavian Political Studies, June 2007.

Sen, Amartya, Idenity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, New York: Norton, 2006.

Sirkin, Harold L., Hemerling, James W., and Bhattachaya, Arindam K., Globality: Competing with Everyone from Everywhere for Everything, New York: Business Plus, 2008.

Stross, Randall, Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know, New York: Free Press, 2008.

Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self and the Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Tomlinson, John, Globalization and Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1994.

                       Virtual Space

                                                               Real Space

Figure 1.  The Space of Human Development

*Presented at Seminaire International sur “Securite Humaine, Developpement et Democratisation en Afrique et en Asie”, held at Universite Mohammed V-Souissi,

Rabat, Morocco, May 22, 2009.

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