Globalization and Cultural Diversity: What Can Be Said of the Changing Relationship Between Diversity & Globalization?
Globalization as a political and sociological term has become a catchphrase amongst scholars. Such term may be at variance across disciplines. Some would relate globalization with the terms as internationalization, liberalization, universalization, westernization, and deterritorialization (Scholte, 24-25). In the context of this elucidation, globalization then is best understood according to what context it is being referred to.
For the purpose of this academic exercise, I opted to use the definition of globalization in the light of Westernization as pushed forward by Scholte (24-25). In this context, globalization is defined as “a dynamic [process] in which social structures of modernity are spread the world over, normally destroying pre-existent cultures and local self-determination in the process.” Such definition boldly attests the perils and the negative consequences of development on cultures.
This paper paints in broad strokes the ramifications of globalization on cultural diversity and culture per se. As a whole, this article looks into the various explanations on how globalization resulted to culture change and how societies adopted to these changes. It also basically examines the impacts of globalization on cultures and societies, the various strategies employed by various cultures to live with those changes, and how cultural relativity and ethnocentric views as anthropological terms are challenged by the globalization process.
Globalization in the context of Westernization has affected the “domestic” mainstream and indigenous cultures. It is this social process that resulted to the emergence of popular culture that is the birth of modern rituals and lifestyles which considerably shattered old customs and folkways. While old people used to cloth themselves using indigenous materials, people nowadays are into the hype of using branded clothes with Western styles (Storey, 45). Such view is in effect a product of ethnocentrism, of seeing the contemporary Western culture as something superior compared to the third world’s.
The spread of globalization around the world has been unprecedented. Some scholars would even call its movement “the amoeba effect” since it circulates and spreads in a swift fashion so that if one traditional community gets affected it loses its identity. The globalization movement has dictated the Western hegemonic power over the developing countries. Such change placed prestige and power to things considered Western (Eades and Yamashita, 65-70).
The article written by Holton (140-152) on cultural consequences of globalization explicitly described how Westernization, also equated to McDonaldization and Americanization, has made the cultures of many societies homogenized. The homogenization thesis in globalization argues that globalization facilitates the convergence of various cultures into a single and unified force thereby creating common set of cultural traits and practices, commonly found, in the modern day popular culture. With the homogenization of cultures, it is now a question whether or not traditional cultures and societies will survive amidst the weakening concept of national and cultural identity and tribalism.
Dash (52-54) in his article pointed out that the liberalization of economies opened new doors to cultural accumulation and mass cultural integration. But behind this propaganda, he contended that globalization has a political motive of hypnotizing third world citizens of the Western culture (fashion, standards, ideas) so much so that it can result into dependency, control, and patronage.
Globalization in the context of liberalization has also resulted to the dying of cultures particularly with the construction of dams and with the deforestation of forest reserves. Such economically-driven forces destroyed the ecosystem of the indigenous peoples, hence destroying them as a people. For instance, the article written by Thakkar Himanshu (12-15) published in Cultural Survival Quarterly has pointed how a development project in India has displaced a considerable number of people. Himanshu had this to say, “All available evidence shows that the alienation of the adivasis from their lands, natural resources and cultures has only accelerated under these policies in India….The case of adivasis affected by Sardar Sarovar dam under construction at Vadgam village in Gujarat in western part of India.”
Globalization has also been seen as a multiplier of conflicts, conflict between tradition and modern values, between old ways and contemporary thinking, between indigenous technology and modern innovations among others. Globalization then becomes an agent that challenges the notion of cultural diversity. This contention then challenges the concept of multi-centralism because after the entire world is becoming homogenous.
Globalization according to Valdes and Stoller (31-46) failed to consider the welfare of the great majority. It failed to identify the interests of the third world economies in favor of their own. Because of the first world’s continuing supremacy in the world’s economy and politics, the third world countries are suffering from all sorts of environmental and social ailments leading to the deterioration of their identity and culture.
Valdes and Stoller (31-46) also blamed globalization as responsible for putting indigenous peoples’ environment at risk, reduced cultural diversity, and authored the so-called one world culture. Similar to Valdes and Stoller (Ibid.), Cowen (120) also argued that the globalization destroys diversity making culture standardized. The standardization of cultures is in congruence to the Mcdonaldization of establishments making all things uniform, similar, and homogenous. Valdes and Stoller (Ibid.) pointed that, “Globalization is a process through which a given local condition or entity imposes its influence through- out the world and, by doing so, develops the capacity to designate as ‘local’ any rival condition or entity.”
While globalization/development is considered culprits to dying cultures, this social force also offers positive consequences on people. McIntosh (5-8) pointed out that globalization has taught indigenous peoples to collaborate and share strategies amongst themselves internationally. It is in this process, that the indigenous communities have brought their concerns and problems in the international agenda. For instance, as pointed in McIntosh (5-8) article, an indigenous group from Chile visited an indigenous group in Kenya to promote indigenous rights to self-determination and to teach appropriate responses to development crisis.
Consumerism as a product of globalization, paved the way to the mass production of indigenous products including their arts and music. In the article of Dean (18) entitled Digitizing Indigenous Sounds: Cultural activists & local music in the age of Memorex, the author pointed how mass telecommunications afforded the indigenous peoples a chance to promote their cultures and at the same time earn from the global economy. In his elucidation, he pointed that “this can legitimize indigenous peoples’ struggles for cultural autonomy by providing the subaltern with a forum for the mobilization of public support. However, increased global access to the cultural products of indigenous peoples also carries great risks for the continued cultural survival of local systems of knowledge, including what is often described as “traditional” or “local” music.
With the development process going on, the indigenous peoples have learned to adapt with the harsh effects of globalization. As already pointed out earlier, the indigenous peoples themselves have used the forces of globalization (technology, global networking) to advance their cultures and traditions despite the risk. They developed caucuses, peoples’ organizations, and international/global networks in order to bring their concerns to the international agenda best exemplified in the creation of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
In addition to the proliferation of associations, mass mobilizations, and civil society organizations, the academe and the professionals also established non-government organizations to help indigenous peoples advance their rights. An example of this undertaking is the Cultural Survival Inc., which is an international organization that works for the advancement of the indigenous peoples worldwide based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Globalization and its effects therefore challenge the anthropological concepts such as cultural relativism, multiculturalism, cultural diversity, and ethnocentrism. First of all, because of the homogenization and standardization of cultures, the concepts of multiculturalism and cultural diversity may die out. The Westernization phenomenon significantly influenced particularly the younger generations to patronize the life ways and customs of the West thereby putting their own cultures at risk of extinction.
Based on my research and readings of globalization, the concepts of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism face two different fates. First, the homogenization theory of globalization would enhance a global culture, hence the absence of cultural diversity. With this, all cultures are considered the same so much so that there is no need to compare and fight for cultural supremacy, of judging one’s culture better than the other, or of the necessity to understand and appreciate other cultures, because after all, the culture has been standardized.
The second fate is that the globalization processes per se is a product of ethnocentrism because it advances the Western “culture” as the better and advance culture. It should be noted that because of globalization, people from the third world, particularly those from parochial communities, tend to believe that their culture is backward. Because of the prestige attach to something Western, people tend to adapt to the culture of globalization.
While this article pointed the negative and positive points of globalization, I tend to believe that globalization in its entirety places traditional and indigenous people’s culture into jeopardy. It puts the indigenous peoples cultures into extinction. Hence, the question, will the indigenous peoples’ culture survive amidst the globalizing world?
Carranza, Julio, and Richard Stoller. “Culture and Development: Some Considerations for Debate.” Latin American Perspectives 29.4 (2002): 31- 46.
Cowen, Tyler. Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Dash, Robert. “Globalization: For Whom and For What.” Latin American Perspectives 25.6 (1998): 52-54.
Holton, Robert. “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 570 (2000): 140-152.
McIntosh, Ian. “Cultural Survival in the Twenty-First Century.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 31 July 2000: 5-8.
Scholte, Jan. Globalization. A Critical Introduction. London: Palgrave, 2000.
Storey, John. Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization. UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
Thakkar, Himanshu. “Displacement and Development: Construction of the Sardar Dam.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 31 October 1999: 12-15.
Yamashita, Shinji, and Jeremy Eades. Globalization in Southeast Asia: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives. United Kingdom: Berghahn Books, 2002.