Globalisation has been the buzz word since the early nineties so much that the term “globalization” has become somewhat like a cliché to explain everything that is new and manifesting in this iron age of rapid communication and technological progress.
While we can now distinguish the various faces of globalization i.e. the economic, cultural, political and military, academics like Robert Koehane and Joseph Nye remind us that there that the social and cultural globalisation “involves the movement of ideas, information, images and people.” In trying to define Cultural Globalisation, it is probably more relevant that we first try to understand how Cultural globalization works and affects our lives and consequently see whether it is unifying or rather a subject of discord that tends to separate or segregate communities of people.
While it is acknowledged that culture is probably one of the most complicated world in the English language, it is probably due to the dynamics of culture i.e. it was never meant to be static. The notion of culture has gone a long way from the traditional definition to embrace new and emerging trends, new ideas and new ways of how people behave in the light of progress and modernism.
From the anthropological context culture is more indigenous and refers to elements that condition and distinguishes human life as opposed to other mammals and gives a sense of identity. The main ingredients are probably language, history, religion, customs, artifacts, cooking, values, traditions, and also dependent upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. While some societies have shut themselves up and try to protect form external influence (corruption) to preserve their culture, others are more open by allowing the dynamics of interaction to play or again by reaching out. For example many countries today are multicultural and multiculturalism is seen more of an enrichment than a threat by these societies.
On the other hand we are witnessing a new modern wave emerging from the west, not to say from America, which is defined as popular culture and which is flourishing. With the help of modern technology and communication it transcends borders easily and even reaches rich and poor countries, young and old, east or west, north or south and makes no distinction at all on its way. E.g. My mother who is nearly 80 years old and can hardly speak English watches CNN and likes the American movies and soaps as well as American talkback TV. She is not an exception as these tv shows are as popular in the rich as well as in the poor countries, in Asia as well as in Africa. The youth of the world listen and dance the latest American Hip-hop. The fast food chains or the McWorld are common features even in traditional societies like India. We can cite many examples where the western life style, be it wearing levis jeans, using cellular phone, using the English language are becoming more and more popular in developed or newly developed world, as well as in the third world countries. These are probably the most obvious signs that support that support the convergence theory. We are all becoming the same and in so doing we are embracing a global culture.
The rise of popular culture is no coincidence as it is tributary to the economic globalization. David Rothkopf makes no apology when he says that it is in the best interest of America that we all converge to the same cultural way. He argues that cultural differences lead to conflicts and even genocides ; he cites examples of ethnic conflicts and conflict between cultural cousins e.g. Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, Sudan and Algeria. He goes on by describing how “the decline of cultural distinction may be a measure for progress of civilization, a tangible sign of enhanced communication and understanding” (David Rothkoph 2000 page 443).
It is a fact that the United States dominates the global traffic in information and ideas and as statistics show : 75% of the prepackaged Software, 60% of prerecorded music, 32% of books come from America not to say how American way of life is becoming the mode. So behind this use of soft power, there is also the huge economic benefit as well as political benefit for America, not only in terms of exporting its products but marketing the American model and acceptance of its values which lies in democracy, free trade, individual freedom, and capitalism. Again as David Rothkopf writes “ America should not shy away form doing what is so clearly in their economic, political and security interest” by promoting its values which he describe “as the most tolerant, the most willing to constantly reassess and improve itself and the best model for the future”.
Convergence or Polarisation ?
Now that we have seen cultural globalization at work, it is time to asses its impact.
Samuel Huntington well before September 11 was saying that the world was heading towards a clash of civilasation. He based his arguments in the realists’ theory that nation states will not decline and instead the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. His predictions lie in the empirical observation of how the world is fragmented in terms of culture and civilization. His arguments also rest on the facts that :
1. Differences among civilization are basic,
2. The growing interaction among people intensifies civilisation consciousness ;
3.the economic modernization and social change are separating people from local identities,
4. The growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the west and that a dewesternisation and indigenization of elites is occurring in many nonwestern countries, 5. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people.
6. Successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization consciousness.
Again it cannot be denied that despite the use of strong geopolitics and the use of soft power, conflicts have not stopped. However while there is less war among nations there has been increasing wars, antagonism and rivalry based on cultural or ethnic differences. We can cite examples like Israelites-Palestinians, Sunnis against Shia in Iraq, Muslims and Serbians in the Balkans, in Sudan, in Indonesia, in the Philippines, in Russia, in the Middle East, Iran-Iraq, Lebanon-Syria and Iraq-Kuwait, the rise of Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism are many reasons that support Huntington’s prediction. However there are many critics of Huntington’s piece of analysis and they come mainly from liberalist institutionalists supporting that war is becoming more and more irrelevant and too costly for nation states. It is also observed that today people are more preoccupied with trade, modernism, and want to become more affluent and improve their lot. The tendency is towards a consumer society and embracing the capitalist model of production and profit. Values of freedom and democracy are taking over. It is obvious that each and everyone is looking positively or aspiring to be part of the elite ; the Davos culture club. The blatant fact is also that this popular culture makes it all easy for people, especially the young generation to relate to each other. The easiness of long distance communication with technological progress world makes the world like a global village. The impact of popular global culture cannot be minimized as it plays a very important role in that new ideology and mode of thinking or behaving.
While there seems to be a lot on the surface to conclude that “we are all the same”, but is it really the case ? Is it because the youth of the Middle East wears jeans that the have turned down their faith, religion or culture and suddenly become disrespectful towards their elders. Is it because the French youngsters watch more American movies that the French language or culture is regressing ? It is because most of the Asians are studying or have been educated in Western Universities that there in no more an “Asian way” as advocated by Mahathir Mohamed and Lee Kwan Yu ?
When we scratch the surface, the reality could be completely different. In a study conducted by the United Development Program in 2003 on quality of life, USA ranked behind Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium and that France and Spain attracts more tourists than the United States. The same report shows that in the run-up to the Iraq war, American way of life which is developing is also turning into an anti-American sentiment. According to Joseph Nye Jr, “Another source of anti-Americanism is structural. The US is the big kid on the block and the disproportion in power engenders a mixture of admiration, envy and resentment”
The resentment is manifested in many ways, Max Weber ; the English sociologist claims that there is a renaissance of local culture and language in reaction to the assault against it by western culture because it is an arrogant behaviour of secular, revolutionary ideology and a mask of US hegemony. The fragmentation is also manifested in covert and overt forms, through academic debates and through public manifestations. Edward Said in his book ‘Orientalism” criticizes the west for a narrow view of the Orient and how, the non respect and recognition of the orient culture have been the causes of conflicts. Even tough the battle against the high and popular culture is waged openly by the anti-globalists, there is a growing concern among intellectuals and locals that this global culture poises a threat to the sovereignty and territoriality of their homeland and are concerned that popular culture seduces through sheer force of marketing and promise of pleasure which is more immediate than long term. Many intellectuals disdain popular culture because of its crude commercialism and gearing more towards a consumer society rather that a production one. There is thus a fear of destruction of traditional values by corruption in a shuttle way. The resentment of the cultural domination elite, according to Samuel Huntington, may also lead to the emergence of nationalist and religious counter elite.
Asking the question of whether cultural globalization makes people more the same or different, J A Scholte found that while it introduces a single world culture centered on consumerism, mass media, America and the English language, other diagnoses have linked it to enduring or even increasing cultural diversity. She opines that globalization has not kept countless people from continuing to embrace national differences.
While it can be true, to some extent, that the American economic and cultural attraction has won over the hearts and minds of the majorities of the young people of the western world, it cannot be said with the same certainly that it is the case in the other parts of the world. We have to consider that today millions of Africans live in absolute poverty, that fundamentalism and extremism are on the rise, that most the Asian countries are still entrenched in their traditional culture, that most of the islands of the Indain Ocean, the Caribbean and the Pacific still have strong feeling about their heritage. While millions are leading a hand to mouth existence it is hard to conceive how they can aspire to converge to a global culture while living in a different reality. The rise of the popular culture is having more impact in Western countries where paradoxically, more debates and questions are raised mainly by academics. As a matter of fact cultural globalization has less effect in Asia, Russia, India, China, Africa and the Middle East. While it is touching those who can afford it because it also comes with a price, most of the rest seems to be out of it. So it can be said that popular culture is rather making a clear distinction and division among who is in and who is out, just like the economic globalization is causing a bigger gap between the haves and the haves not.
The question of a global culture and its ramifications will surely continue to be an everlasting debate of whether it is unifying or rather dividing.
Keohane Robert O. & Nye Joseph S Jr, 2000, “Globalisation : What’s New ? What’s Not ?(and so what) Foreign policy Spring 2000.
Rothkopf D : In Praise of cultural imperialism ? Foreign Policy, 107.
Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power : The means to success in world politics. New York Public affaires c 2004, 1st edition.
Huntington Samuel P, 1993 : The Clash of Civilization ? Foreign Affairs 72(3).
Said Edward W 1978, Orientalism, London : Routledge & Kegan Paul1978.
Berger Peter l, The national Interest, Washington Fall 1997
Scholte Jane A, Globalization : A Critical Introduction, Basingstoke : Macmillan 2000.
George de Lamare-Lamvohee
Agence Freedom Australia ABN 94218521043
Marketing, Training and Other Services
Mob 0433 856 966 or 0419 530 735