Breastfeeding is known to have significant health benefits for babies. Why do you think some people feel so uncomfortable about women nursing their infants, especially in public forums?

5 Getting Along in a Global, Changing World

Metal globe statue in New York City park

The great thing about social movements is everybody gets to be a part of them.

—Jim Wallis

Learning Objectives

By the time students complete this module they will be able to do the following:

  1. Become familiar with the concept of globalization and why it is important in today’s world.
  2. Identify major global issues that sociologists and the public will confront in the future.
  3. Examine why global problems occur from a functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interaction theoretical perspective.
  4. Identify demographic changes and challenges throughout the world.
  5. Examine the impact of urbanization on today’s societies.
  6. Learn the difference between the concepts of first, second, and third world societies.
  7. Learn about what social movements are and how they contribute to social change.
  8. Examine major theories of social change.
  9. Explore the issues of war and peace in society.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow—today. Scientists have long predicted that the world would look different in the future. This is particularly the case with the prediction of overpopulation, growing diversity, social change, environmental and technological concerns, and the looming possibility of increased warfare. Many of the changes that they predicted are here now. In the increasingly diverse world in which we live, people are more likely to be successful when they rise above stereotypes and discriminatory behaviors. We can use the knowledge we have gained about human behavior to meet global challenges and create a new future for us all. Major global problems will be explored in this module, along with the sources, types, consequences, and theories of social change.


 Diversity: The New Social Norm

Look around you. You will likely find yourself surrounded by people who do not look like you, and who come from different cultural backgrounds, other faiths, races, or nations. The United States is a multicultural society. This is unlike a monocultural society in which everyone looks and acts alike and believes pretty much the same thing. Diversity brings with it both opportunities and challenges; it brings opportunities for people to find commonalities and share unique beliefs and practices that make people kinder, richer, and wiser. It poses challenges because when people do not see things the same way, distrust, suspicion, competition, and conflict may occur.

The increased diversity of a society occurs thanks to improved transportation and communication systems. People can hop onto a plane or boat and travel to far–off places that were once almost impossible. They can share information with one another almost instantaneously through phone and email. Television, film, and the Internet provide opportunities to view different parts of the world and different lifestyles, and result in people considering how living somewhere else may impact their lives. Individuals are less likely to live in silos, or isolated groups of family and community. Increased economic opportunities make it possible to travel or move, where long ago people had few options except to stay put.

Within the United States, official census data indicates that California is the most diverse state (Martin, 2010; Ralph and Goldy Lewis, 2001). In California, Latinos now make up almost 38% of the population and are projected to constitute over 50% by 2020. The state’s Asian population, at almost 13%, has the fastest rate of growth. Whites and Blacks have both declined in number since the last census was taken there.

Worldwide, the United States is often considered the most diverse nation, which is in keeping with the Statue of Liberty’s invitation to “give us your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” However, diversity depends largely on how it is measured. Diversity could include race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, or a variety of other factors, so it is possible to arrive at different nations being most diverse as a result (Fearon, 2003). Canada has more immigrants than original Canadians; India has more than 7,800 cultures and 10,000 languages represented. India is regarded to have the most ethnic diversity, Mongolia the largest diversity in language, and the United States the largest religious diversity (Eck, 2001).


Photo of older Polynesian man in protest against the International Monetary Fund, or IMF

An Indonesian group protesting the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, an organization of 187 countries that works to facilitate global growth and reduce poverty. Some argue that the IMF’s policies and lending programs exploit poorer countries.

The term globalization refers to structural and interpersonal connections between people around the world so that there are webs and linkages developed that unite them. International trade and investment has a symbiotic relationship with political, economic, cultural, and national forces. It is an inevitable outcome of the world being smaller due to the diversification of countries, increase of multinational corporations, greater ease of travel, and electronic communication. Advocates feel globalization is a good thing because less–developed countries can advance their economic standard of living. Globalization occurs thanks to the spread of technology because people can communicate with each other online in real time. They can share the same images, news, and music. They can exchange viewpoints. They can chat and get to know one another, even if they live in very different parts of the world. The global technological revolution has made it possible to do banking, trade, and other forms of product and monetary exchange, linking us even more than ever before.

Problems of Globalization: Exploitation of Resources

Critics of globalization argue that globalization exploits common people in areas that are viewed as potentially viable economically to people in power. Their resources may be overtaken by large corporations or people with vested political interests that do not reflect the needs or desires of the masses. It is hard for indigenous and impoverished peoples to really understand what has happened to their resources or lifestyle until after the fact; leaders in charge of the media and information exchange may twist facts to support their own interests and omit details that may have long–term negative implications. When a dominant culture deliberately exports ideology, whether interpersonally (as some baby formula manufacturers did by going to third–world nations and marketing infant formula to mothers, encouraging them to use it instead of superior breastmilk) or through information via media sources (such as the Internet or television promoting conspicuous consumption of Coca–Cola or cell phones), this is referred to as cultural imperialism. Most of the world speaks English now, instead of French, Spanish, or other languages. This is another example of cultural imperialism, where one group of people sways others to adhere to their own ways of seeing and doing things.

Applying Sociology

Nestlé Corporation Baby Formula and the Breast Feeding Protests

In 1977, a global protest began against the Nestlé Corporation because of its marketing practices to women in less developed countries that favored formula over breast milk for infants. Breast milk is regarded as the gold standard of nutrition for infants, as it provides them with essential nutrients and antibodies that help them fight disease. Nestlé indicated that they had humanitarian interests at heart when promoting the use of formula over breast milk for mothers, saying that the breast milk of undernourished mothers may be lacking in essential nutrients. Those who found fault with Nestlé’s claims point out that formula could cost up to half of a family’s income in an underdeveloped country, and that it poses significant health risks to infants.

Sometimes new mothers were provided with formula in hospitals when they had their babies, which interfered with their ability to nurse their infants after going home. Families often could not afford the formula. The formula had to be mixed with water, which posed challenges for families that did not have easy access to clean drinking water. When contaminated water was used to mix into the dry formula, it could result in diarrhea, which could be life–threatening for infants. Lack of clean, sterile bottles was also a health problem. UNICEF found that a non–breastfed child living in disease–ridden and unhygienic conditions is between six and 25 times more likely to die of diarrhea and four times more likely to die of pneumonia than a breastfed child. In order to make the formula last longer, and avoid high costs for more, families may mix more water than recommended, resulting in babies not getting the nutrition they needed. In order to ensure that babies would be nursed, in 1981 the 34th World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted Resolution WHA34.22, which included an International Code of Marketing for Breast–milk Substitutes. It bans the promotion of breast–milk substitutes and gives health workers the responsibility of advising parents. Many groups such as Baby Milk Action and other student groups continue to advocate for families in disadvantaged communities.


From “Nestlé baby milk marketing scam,” by author for Baby Milk Action. Baby Milk Action, 2011. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (2007, May). A Generation On: Baby milk marketing still putting children’s lives at risk. Save the Children UK. No. 178159. Retrieved from

Taylor, A. (1998, April 11). Violations of the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes: prevalence in four countries. British Medical Journal 316: 1117.

UNICEF. (2002, May). Global strategy for infant and young child feeding. Rome: UNICEF. Retrieved from

Questions to Consider:

  1. Were you aware of how aggressively Nestlé, and other corporations, market products to people in less developed nations? As Becker asks, whose side are they on as they sell products like infant formula?
  2. Breastfeeding is known to have significant health benefits for babies. Why do you think some people feel so uncomfortable about women nursing their infants, especially in public forums?

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