Critically assess the claim that globalisation produces cultural homogeneity on a global scale. Do American/Western cultural forms destroy ‘local’ cultures? Is the mass media simply a conduit for western cultural products and meanings? What is a cultural hybridisation? Globalisation has been blamed for many of society’s ills. Yet there is little consensus on what globalisation is or whether there is an alternative to it. It is conceived of in economic, political and sociological terms and cultural globalisation is yet one more facet of a process which is both a fact and the future of modern society.
This paper will examine the main theoretical approaches to cultural globalisation and investigate whether it is justifiable to speak of a global cultural homogeneity. It will also explore globalisation as an agency for the Americanisation or Westernisation of society and consider the arguments for cultural hybridisation. Firstly however, it is necessary to begin with some definitions of the terms involved.
Culture, as defined by Giddens (2001, p31) ‘consists of the values the members of a given group hold, the norms they follow and the material goods they create.’
Hartley (2002, p51) goes on to suggest that culture is, ‘the production and circulation of sense and meaning and consciousness. The sphere of meaning which unifies the spheres of production (economics) and social relations (politics). In other words, culture is the sphere of reproduction not of goods but of life. ‘ According to Albrow (1990, p9), globalisation refers to ‘all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society.
It is the interdependence and interconnectedness of global society whereby economics and politics increasingly transcend the territorial boundaries of the nation state. However, globalisation is not confined to economics, as Hartley points out, ‘its cultural dimension includes global entertainment, fast food, fashion and culture. ‘ (2002, p98) This cultural dimension of globalisation is enabled by the media, what could be said to be the primary facilitating agent for the dissemination of culture over the past hundred years.
Crane has outlined four main theoretical approaches to cultural globalisation beginning with the cultural imperialism model (2002, p2). This approach stems from Marxist critiques of capitalist society and argues that Western and in particular American values are being forced on non-Western societies, to which they are spread by the mass media. Hence the references to the McDonaldisation or Cocacolonisation of society. One of the main proponents of this theory, Herbert Schiller argues that the capitalist world system, through its main agents, the transnational corporations, is relentlessly incorporating all societies into its gambit.
He argues the power of these corporations is accompanied by an ideological power to define cultural global reality. (Tomlinson 1999, p87) A second approach is the cultural flows or network model. This holds that cultural globalisation corresponds to a network with no clearly defined centre or periphery. Cultural influences move in many different directions and the effect of these cultural flows consisting of media, technology, ideologies and ethnicities on recipient nations is likely to be cultural hybridisation rather than homogenisation.
Hybridisation is defined as, ‘the ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms in new practices. ‘(Rowe and Schelling 1991, p231) The notion of cultural hybridisation has been further developed by Nederveen Pieterse. He points out that cultural experiences have not simply been moving in one direction of cultural uniformity and standardisation and that the impact of non-Western cultures has been overlooked in the current debate.
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