European, North or South American, African or Asian - wherever we live, whatever our upbringing, we are all children of a revolution.

It's not been a bloody uprising, nor an entirely peaceful, "velvet" revolution, says Professor Anthony Giddens. If anything, it's been a largely invisible overthrow of the old order.

The revolution to which he refers is that of globalisation - the topic at the core of this year's BBC Reith Lectures, entitled Runaway World.

At the root of this change is the "expansion of communications systems around the world".

"This is the first time at which you can have instantaneous communication across the world. That simply changes the nature of people's lives," says Mr Giddens.

"When the image of Nelson Mandela is more familiar to you than the image of your next door neighbour there's something different in the world," he says, neatly condensing the unwieldy issue into a sentence.

Name-checking the South African president also serves to reinforce his view that globalisation is not merely a western concept. Crucially, in fact, no one person or country, not even Bill Clinton or the United States, has overall control. That can make globalisation a highly liberating force.

"There was a period for a couple of hundred years when the world was dominated by the West. In the last 20 or 30 years this has changed."

While the West may still have the upper hand when it comes to influence, through television, international trade policies, currency exchange and the Internet for example, other regions are fast catching up.

Critics will accuse Mr Giddens of revisiting an already well-trodden path, yet he takes the globalisation debate further than before, drawing a number of controversial conclusions.

Chief among them is the effect on our personal lives. Globalisation is more than world money markets since it influences our perceptions of tradition and day-to-day family life, offers up new challenges to our emotions and raises new uncertainties.

While institutions such as marriage remain, they have become "shell institutions" in a process of flux. They are not necessarily redundant but instead are being redefined.

"Marriage used to be an economic phenomenon, now it's a matter of personal relationships." It means the emotional stakes in finding a partner for life are that much higher.

So while a modern marriage can be more rewarding in terms of love shared, fragile emotions bring new anxieties that were alien to previous generations.

It's a similar story with children, who fulfil more of a "feel good" role in families than in the past.

"In many parts of the world still, and also historically, people wanted quite a lot of children because [they] helped with working on the farm or in the family business.

"Now in western countries, and I feel this will be an increasing trend across the world, there are much smaller families. With that comes the idea that children are a prized possession because now it costs money to have children so in a certain sense you love them much more."

This prizing of children has translated into law so that "children have far more rights" which means "they are going to talk back to you".

It might scare some parents, but he likes the idea. "Children should speak back to their parents."

His views are bound to court controversy, nowhere more than in the field of tradition.

He questions the idea that tradition is mostly "dogma" constructed by opponents of progress. But all across the world, he says, tradition is under strain largely as a consequence of the globalising process. The decline of tradition is closely related to the growth of fundamentalism. "One of the most dangerous things in the world is the rise of different kinds of fundamentalist views. It is an embattled defence of tradition; a reinvention of tradition in a global world."

In Giddens's world tradition is largely redundant, although he does see a purpose in the pragmatic customs of government.

"You can't live without the influence of the past. You could not have a consistent government in society if you do not have some trappings of ceremonial.

"The question is how do you limit fundamentalism and still sustain a cosmopolitan conversation between traditions?"

The influence of globalisation on democracy has already been well documented. The domino-like toppling of Eastern Europe's totalitarian regimes came after television news footage motivated individuals to take to the streets.

Yet he will tell the assembled audience at his fifth and final Reith lecture that global communications also threaten democracy. Citizens now have access to more or less the same information as politicians, so corruption or bad decision making has become easier to expose.

Badly managed governments must therefore face up to an electorate that is increasingly cynical about democratic power.

It's a rich irony that the much-touted "democratising effect" of globalisation could eventually strip democratic states of their liberties.

"We are in the rudimentary stages of something like a world society. We have to learn to live in that society. We have to learn its risks and dangers, its opportunities and its contours."

Without this awareness, today's young revolutionaries of globalisation may turn out to be tomorrow's victims of an unforeseen, unquantifiable and unwelcome force.

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