Does Globalization necessarily lead to cultural homogenization?

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 21 December 2016

Does Globalization necessarily lead to cultural homogenization?

Globalization entered everyday English usage in the early Sixties, following the periodical of Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy (Mc Luhan 1962). Malcolm Waters, a principal authority on the subject, define globalization as a “process in which the limits of geography on social and cultural arrangements retreat and [as a consequence] people become ever more aware that [such constraints] are retreating” (Waters 1995, p. 3). The term ‘global’ is an astoundingly recent creation, appearing for the first time in the 1986 second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED’s definition of ‘to globalize’ is easy and to the point: “to render global. ” In globalization “a large and increasing proportion, whether native or of immigrant backgrounds, are also people with little or no education and few Marketable skills” (Cohen and Kennedy: 2000, 75). “Globalization, in transnational corporate lingo, is conceived as the last of three stages of global transformation since 1945” (Jameson and Miyoshi 1998). The impact of the new world economy has been just as great on North-South relations as on North-North ones.

For one thing, as Manuel Castells suggests, some parts of the South are becoming increasingly irrelevant and marginal to the world economy (Castells, 1997). In other parts, the possibilities for information-based development are there, but a totally different set of new policies is required. These policies would have to be based on the development of human productive potential. In popular usage, globalization is associated with the idea that advanced capitalism, aided by digital and electronic technologies, will ultimately obliterate local traditions and creates a homogenized, world culture.

Critics of globalization argue that human experience everywhere is becoming fundamentally the same. The transformative power of digital technologies in a globalised world means that “information and knowledge have now become media of production, displacing many kinds of manual work. Marx thought that the working class would bury capitalism but as it has turned out, capitalism has buried the working class” (Hutton and Giddens 2001:22).

Globalization is both Homogeneity-Heterogeneity as it “refers to both the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”. In other words, it covers the acceleration in concrete global interdependence and in consciousness of the global whole (Robertson 1992: 8). It involves the crystallization of four main components of the “global-human circumstance”: societies (or nation-states), the system of societies, individuals (selves), and humankind.

This takes the form of processes of, respectively, societalization, internationalization, individuation, and generalization of consciousness about humankind (Robertson 1992: 215-6; 1992: 27). Rather than referring to a multitude of historical processes, the concepts above all capture “the form in terms of which the world has moved towards unicity” (Robertson, 1992: 175). This form is practically contested. Closely linked to the process of globalization is therefore the “problem of globality” or the cultural terms on which coexistence in a single place becomes possible (Robertson, 1992: 132).

The actual process of globalization has been erratic, chaotic, and slow. Some observers of modern politics argue that a basic version of world culture is taking shape among extremely educated people, particularly those who work in the rarefied domains of international finance, media, and diplomacy. Hyper elites of this nature make up what Samuel Huntington (1996) calls a “Davos culture”, named after the Swiss town that hosts yearly meetings of the World Economic Forum.

Whatever their ethnic, spiritual, or national origin, Davos participants are said to follow a identifiable lifestyle characterized by consistent behaviour (social ease, aristocratic manners, and the ability to tell jokes), technological complexity (knowledge of the latest software, communications systems, and media innovations), complex understanding of financial markets and currency exchange, postgraduate education in influential institutions, common dress and grooming codes, similar body obsession (dietary restraint, vitamin regimes, fitness routines), and a control of American-style English which they use as the main medium of communication. “Super cultures in the global age of communication which is distinguished by growing and ‘complex connectivity’” (Tomlinson 1999)

Davos people, it is asserted, are instantly identifiable and feel more comfortable in each other’s presence than they do amongst less sophisticated compatriots. The World Economic Forum no longer commands the consideration it did in the Nineties, but the term “Davos” has entered world vocabulary as a synonym for late-Twentieth-Century cosmopolitanism. Building on this idea, the sociologist Peter Berger (1997) argued that the globalization of Euro-American academic agendas and lifestyles has formed a worldwide “faculty club culture”. Since the Sixties, international funding agencies have sustained academic exchanges and postgraduate training for scholars in developing countries, permitting them to build alliances with Western colleagues.

The long-term consequence, Berger argues, is the formation of a global network in which similar values, attitudes, and research goals are collective. Network participants have been instrumental in encouraging feminism, environmentalism, and human rights as global issues. Berger cites the anti-smoking movement as a case in point: the movement began as an elite North American preoccupation in the Seventies and consequently spread to other parts of the world following the forms of academe’s global network. As with Davos sophisticates, members of the international faculty club rely on English to communicate with each other. The anthropologists Ulf Hannerz and Arjun Appadurai have studied similar elites that work on a global scale.

Hannerz (1990) believes that a world culture appeared in the late Twentieth Century, stemming from the activities of “cosmopolitans” who nurtured an intellectual approval for local cultures in the developing world. The new global culture, in this interpretation, is based on the “organization of diversity” rather than “a replication of uniformity. ” “Cultural globalization refers to the intensification and expansion of cultural flows across the globe. Obviously, ‘culture’ is a very broad concept; it is frequently used to describe the whole of human experience” (Steger 2003: 69). By the end of millennium, international elites had organized dozens of NGOs to assist preserve cultural diversity in the developing world.

Institutions such as Cultural Survival (located in Cambridge, Massachusetts) now work on a world scale, drawing attention to indigenous groups that expect to see themselves as “first peoples”—a new, global description that emphasizes common experiences of utilization. Appadurai (1997) claims that modern diasporas are not simply transnational but “post national” meaning that people who work in these spheres are unaware of national borders and socialize in a social world that has several home bases. Fundamental to these elite visions of globalism is a disinclination to describe exactly what is meant by culture. This is not unexpected, given that the idea of culture has become one of the most contentious issues in contemporary social sciences.

Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, anthropologists defined culture as a shared set of beliefs, customs, and ideas that held people together in identifiable, self-identified groups. Scholars in several disciplines challenged the idea of cultural coherence as it became obvious that members of close-knit groups held fundamentally different visions of their social worlds. Culture is no longer professed as a pre-programmed mental library, a knowledge system inherited from ancestors. Modern anthropologists, sociologists, and media specialists treat culture as a set of ideas, aspects, and expectations that are continually changing as people respond to changing circumstances.

This logical development reflects communal life at the turn of the Twenty-First Century; the disintegration of Soviet socialism and the rise of cyber capitalism , both of which have increased the perceived speed of societal change everywhere. Globalization empowers the hybridization of nations and communities to fight cultural imperialism or chauvinism by helping them to describe who they are, where they come from, and where they are going. Globalization and technology assist communities to develop cultural networks, free from state or hierarchical controls, regulations, or limitations. It also helps to demystify cultural differences by easing intercultural connectedness, interactions and hybridization. Therefore, while properly managed, globalization can be good for cultural inspiration, diversity and development.

There is a ‘new cosmopolitanism’ in the air as, through criticism, the concept has been rediscovered and reinvented. As the late Nineties there was a sharp increase in literature that attempted to relate the discourse on globalization (in cultural and political terms) to a redefinition of cosmopolitanism for the global age. “The new cosmopolitanism is the prerogative of wealthy, self-serving, anational agents of capital on the one hand and, on the other, international moralists. ” Nussbaum, 1996, 5. For this reason it is worth pointing out that etymologically, cosmopolitan is a blend of ‘cosmos’ and ‘polis’. Thus ‘cosmopolitanism’, captivatingly enough, relates to a pre-modern ambivalence towards a dual identity and a dual devotion.

Every human being is rooted (beheimatet) by birth in two worlds, in two communities: in the cosmos (namely, nature) and in the polis (namely, the city/state). More exactly, every individual is rooted in one cosmos, but concurrently in different cities, territories, ethnicities, hierarchies, nations, religions, and so on. This is not an elite but rather an inclusive plural membership (Heimaten). Being part of the cosmos nature, all men (and even all women) are equal; yet being part of diverse states organized into territorial units (polis), men are different (bearing in mind that women and slaves are expelled from the polis). Leaving aside for one moment the issue of women and slaves, ‘cosmopolitanism’ at its root includes what was separated by the logic of barring later on.

“Cosmopolitan” ignores the either/or principle and symbolizes ‘Sowohl-alsauch thinking’, the ‘this-as-well-as-that’ principle. This is an ancient ‘hybrid’, ‘melange’, ‘scape’, ‘flow’ idea that is even more structured than the new offshoots of globalization discourse. Thus cosmopolitanism generates logic of non-exclusive oppositions, making ‘patriots’ of two worlds that are concurrently equal and different. The “anti-globalization” label became prevalent after the Seattle demonstration, apparently “…a coinage of the US media” (Graeber 2002:63). However, it is significant to realize that the term is strongly contested amongst activists – and that many, if not most, reject the label “anti-globalization” entirely. So what is it, exactly, that activists oppose?

Although there has been significant attention paid lately to militarism in the context of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems to me that most activist accounts in recent years have focused more centrally on phenomena linked with economic globalization: the increasing power of corporations, the growing role of international financial institutions, and the neoliberal policies of trade liberalization and privatization propounded by the latter and from which the former benefit. These are seen to produce economic inequality, social and environmental destruction, and cultural homogenization. They are also accused of leaching power and autonomy away from people and governments – of being anti-democratic. Such an understanding of “the enemy” chimes with many commentaries on the movement (Starr 2000; Danaher and Burbach 2000). It can also be discerned on activist websites.

The Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum (2002) declares participant groups “…opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism”. The statement of principles on the Globalize Resistance site (2002a) indicates that it is primarily against the extension of corporate power over people’s lives under the heavy hand of international financial institutions similar to the WTO and IMF. The group’s newsletters then target the exploitative practices of particular multinational corporations and draw attention to problems of debt and financial restructuring. Lastly, the Peoples’ Global Action manifesto (1998) articulated opposition to the expansion of the role of “capital, through the help of international agencies” and trade agreements.

There are significant resonances here with academic depictions of globalization. I have argued elsewhere that an ‘economic-homogenization’ model of globalization is becoming increasingly dominant in both academic and popular usage, which focuses attention on the improved combination of the global economy and its homogenizing effect on state policy and culture (Eschle 2004). Such a model is prevalent in International Relations (IR). It is characteristic of liberal IR approaches that support globalization that skeptical refutations of globalization are described as exaggerated and ideological and critical IR theories condemn globalization as profoundly damaging.

It is with this last, critical, approach in IR that we find the strongest resonance with activist discourses. Both activist and academic critics share the assumption that globalization equates with the neo-liberal economic developments described above. Then, in an extremely significant move, these developments might be linked to the underlying structures of the economy and globalization reinterpreted as the latest stage of capitalism. According to Klein, “the critique of ‘capitalism’ just saw a comeback of Santana like proportions” (2002:12). The global culture is usually used in contemporary academic discourse to distinguish the experience of everyday life in specific, exclusive localities.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 December 2016

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