Since the classical period, world history has involved a tension between the differing natures of individual civilizations and the forces of interaction that cause civilizations to share common culture, science, and technology. By the late 20th century these two counter-trends were apparent in the interactions of nations worldwide: globalization and fragmentation. Globalization is an integration of social, technological, scientific, environmental, economic, and cultural activities of nations that has resulted from increasing international contacts. On the other hand, fragmentation is the tendency for people to base their loyalty on ethnicity, language, religion, or cultural identity. Although globalization and fragmentation appear to be opposite concepts, they both transcend political boundaries between individual countries. At the beginning of the 21st century it is possible to predict that new homogenizing forces will further reduce variations between individual cultures or that a new splintering among civilizations is taking place, with each region advocating its own self-interest.


The cross-cutting forces of the past century or so have increasingly homogenized cultures. Most civilizations find it very difficult to isolate themselves from the rest of the world since they are tied together in so many ways. Some factors that promote globalization include:

  • Modern transportation and communication - People are able to go from one area of the world to another much more easily than at any previous time in history. Likewise, communication is faster and more reliable than ever before. Satellites transmit images and voices instantaneously across great distances, and the internet allows people to communicate regularly and extensively often with one person not knowing exactly where the other's message is actually is coming from.
  • Increasing international trade - Trade among different geographical areas is just about as old as civilization itself, but many barriers to international trade were removed during the second half of the 20th century.
  • Spread of "popular culture" - The popularity of Western fads and fashions, from clothes to television to sports, leads to cultural contact between ordinary people in everyday life. Although this phenomenon may be seen as the "westernization" of world culture, in recent years culture from other lands has influenced the west as well.
  • Sharing of international science - Today scholars in both science and social science come together at international conferences and confer by e-mail or telephone to discuss ideas and share information. Nationality is secondary to their mutual interests.
  • International business - Like scientists, businessmen from around the globe meet together, especially since large corporations headquartered in one country often have branches is other areas of the world. As a result, business leaders learn from other organizational forms and labor policies.


All through history, regions and civilizations have combined distinctive traditions, experiences, and beliefs that unify them at the same time that they set them apart from others. The late 20th and early 21st centuries are no exception. To date, no pattern of modernization has obliterated key boundaries between the major civilizations. Some factors that encourage fragmentation include:

  • The decline of European power- A major factor that led to the mid-20th century de-colonization in Africa and Asia was the desire for cultural and political independence from European nations that had dominated them during the preceding decades.
  • The breakup of multicultural empires - During the 20th century, many multicultural empires broke apart, leaving their subject people to quarrel among themselves. When British India broke into two countries - India and Pakistan - old hostilities between Hindus and Muslims came to the surface. Likewise, when the Ottoman Empire broke up after World War I, Slavic and Muslim peoples fragmented so deeply that intercultural wars broke out in the Balkans many decades later.
  • The end of the cold war - The end of the cold war gave many nations dependent on American or Soviet aid the opportunity to reassert themselves in new ways. For example, the Soviet breakup gave independence to many subject states that have fragmented into different countries. In the Middle East, leaders of the 1979 revolution in Iran committed themselves to ousting U.S. influence and reinvigorating Islamic traditions.

Do supranational regional organizations such as NATO, NAFTA, OPEC, and the European Union encourage globalization or fragmentation? The case may be argued either way. The fact that nations within each organization must cooperate with others may be seen as a stepping-stone to internationalism since trade and communications barriers have decreased within the regions. From this point of view, regional organizations represent a movement away from national organizations toward international ones. On the other hand, it may be argued that they are just larger units that represent conflicting regions, each with their own loyalties and points of view that separate them from the others.