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Influence On World Cultures Cultural Studies Essay

In this essay I will determine the extent of globalization regarding it’s influence on world cultures. I will analyse cultural homogenization, cultural polarization and cultural hybridization theories. This will enable me to determine the impact and influence that globalization is having on cultures and whether a homogenising or a polarizing effect or both are occurring.

To understand the theories of cultural evolution I will look at examples where cultural polarization, homogenisation and hybridisation are occurring and I will define whether processes are actually happening and what their influence is on cultures.

In order to understand the actual process of Globalization I will give various definitions of the concept that will enable me to interpret globalization within a cultural sphere.

It is important to note that cultures have interacted from the beginning of time, this has created mixes, clashes and new cultures. Cultures are therefore in constant evolution and often contain both conservative and liberal values within them and the way that they are interpreted by people.

The rising interest on globalization recently has brought up the topic of cultural homogenization and polarization. These processes have gained importance in recent times as there has been an increased level of interconnectedness between states and cultures.

Because the world is more interconnected now than ever before, there is a growing importance on the processes brought on by globalization and in this paper I am going to determine what these processes are and how they shape and influence cultures.

Globalization

Globalization is a very complex term. It is used very broadly by economists, sociologists and politicians to explain the mechanisms that are leading to a more and more interconnected world. 

“Globalization refers to all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society”.(Albrow, 1990: 9).

My own definition of globalization is the process of liberalisation of the markets, values and ideas, powered by the increased interconnectedness of the whole globe culturally, economically and politically.

Ritzer, in the book “Modern Sociological Theory” describes globalization as a “Spread of worldwide practices, relations, consciousness and organization of social life” arguing that almost everyone worldwide has been affected by the impacts of globalization.

The importance of globalization is highlighted by the increased power and popularity (either negative or positive) that international global organisations such as the international monetary fund (IMF) and the world trade organisation (WTO) have gained. Also private multinational organizations have hugely benefited from global expansion and globalization process as they have become more flexible and manageable to reach almost every part of the world.

Attributed outcomes of globalization are either homogeneity with the spread and diffusion of similar behaviours and practices and hybridisation where cultural mixes occur,

giving rise to new varieties of cultures. It is believed that a process which is against globalization is occurring, this is described as polarization and it describes a cultural split between states which embrace globalization and those who resist it.

In order to further define globalization I will describe the more specific term suitable to my analysis :

Cultural Globalization

Cultural Globalization is the increasingly occurring process of global conformity in people’s behaviours and needs.

Cultural Imperialism is a theory which describes the dominance and influence that a culture has on other cultures. Examples such as the European states colonization of America’s continent can be used to show how European cultural values have been spread to dominate other cultures.

Contemporary cultural globalization focused its attention on the influence and dominance of cultural values and identities from Americanized/Westernized culture to other cultures.

Homogenization

This is a theory which looks at the impact of globalization worldwide, it is linked to the influence of a major culture which spreads to other cultures by promoting values, behaviours and commodities which come from a main dominating culture.

Westernization is a process of homogenization which originates from north America, also called McDonalization, or Americanization. It is a process where mechanisms are closely interconnected with the diffusion of the globalized market economy and multinational organizations which promote particular cultural values and behaviours to other cultures, influencing them.

Worldwide, consumer capitalism has been constructed by a uniform, standardised brand image. This involves the use of mass advertisement to create an image of a superior, high quality culture. This broadcasting of cultural values, norms and behaviours has attracted the attention and popularity of other culture’s individuals.

This promotion of a main culture is causing the “homogenization” of cultures. This is to say that many traditionally Western values and behaviours are in the contemporary world more and more imitated by non Western people. 

When one is looking at the homogenization of culture globally, there are many positive aspects, such as the breaking down of barriers between societies and an increase in freedom. But the peculiarity of current global cultural homogenization is that it is impartially influenced by one area, North America, therefore more than a cultural homogenization, we can describe homogenization as an increase in the extent of one culture over others, this is the Western society influencing the rest.

Therefore homogenization is not a neutral phenomenon. The mechanisms under which globalization runs have a built in character of inequality which is created between wealthy and poor countries.

A form of resistance to this process of Western homogenization is created, minorities such as terrorist groups like Al Quaeda fight back against the globalized world in an attempt to save conservative tradition and cultural values. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have shown how problems can arise when a culture is dominating and influencing other cultures.

This highlights the issue and bring into question the process of homogenization which is impartially sided on the Western world side to influence and “convert” the rest of the world by imposing a fascination for western society, with it’s norms, behaviours, values and ultimately culture.

There is as a result of homogenization a loss of regional pride and a loss of traditional cultures.

It is argued by many that homogenization as it exists today is superficial. This means that instead of a complete form of cultural homogenization, only certain aspects are being spread. There are limitations to this cultural spread and influence on other cultures, apart from media and materialistic goods, not much else seems to travel through the barriers that cultures impose. “. It leaves largely untouched the freedom and agency of the subjects in creating and changing culture, both as individuals and as groups.”

Cultural homogenization is happening everywhere. For example, Mexico’s culture is being strongly influenced by the consumerist western capitalist culture. This has created a devaluation of Mexican products compared to U.S products. The explosion if foreign investment led to the expansion of North American brands such as McDonalds, Blockbusters, Subway etc…

While Western cultural values grow in Mexico, they inhibit and weaken local Mexican tradition. A clear example of this is that most Mexicans discriminate against ”Native” indigenous people. Western ideals have created a rejection of their historical Mexican traditional culture in exchange for a more Westernised view. Mexicans have become influenced by media, brands and ideas spread from western society to such an extent that they look up to this culture and want to be a part of it.

This example shows that a major culture can influencing another culture and radically transforming it into a new culture that rejects its traditional past and seeks to embrace an idealised, constructed image of a culture. 

The main factors which promote these cultural shift are foreign investment, the promotion of global media and rationalism.

Rather than a uniform democratic world homogenisation, what we are experiencing is a Westernisation whose influences have become global and impartially distributed. This does not mean that consequences are negative or positive, this depends on one’s point of view and to the importance given to past and culture. The interesting influence that cultural homogenization has created also shapes political and traditional values. 

In Egypt for example western influences are making women marry at a later age, many are choosing to marry different men rather than those decided by the woman’s family as Egyptian traditional culture dictates. Therefore cultural homogenization serves as a means for liberalising politics and reduce traditionalism and conservatism.

A positive view is given by Beck, he sees hope in the diminishing sovereignty of nation states and the emergence of trans national organizations and possibly a translational state as a result of the globalization and homogenization processes. We are already experiencing this shift of sovereignty, WTO and the IMF are gaining more and more power onto the individual state. Ultimately

Ritzer argues about “the globalization of nothing”, this is a similar concept that describes how homogenization is influencing society by spreading values and ideals of one cultural origin.

This process supports the idea of globalization as the imperialistic wants and needs of international actors such as corporations, states and organizations to expand their global reach in order to maximise their profits.

By nothing Ritzer means the spread and divulgence of media and values that are practically empty in context and cultural values. This is a way of homogenization that is more compatible with other cultures, as the empty forms of continent are exported throughout the world, it is much easier for a foreign culture to assimilate empty or little content rather than forms of information and media which are rich in content.

An example of this is the creation of shopping malls around the world, these unlike Westernised brands such as McDonalds are much more empty in content.

An empty shopping mall can for example be filled with local shops and although promoting the homogenization of society, it also contributed to the “Glocalization” of society, this new concept means the co existence of the global and the local resulting in the “Glocal”.

Another example of homogenization under the process of globalization of nothing is the worldwide reach and accessibility to credit cards, services provided by ATM’s re believed to be non services as “the costumer does all the work needed to obtain the service”

The next Theory is an opposing one, the polarization theory acknowledges the influences of cultural globalisation and cultural homogenization, recognising the cultural spread of western ideals. It differs from the homogenization theory by highlighting areas of cultural clashes and describing how cultures will have more conflicts than convergences in the future.

Polarization

Polarization is a term which is linked to Cultural diversity and opposition. It explains that there are definite cultural differences that are not affected by globalisation. 

Cultures are different in their basic values and cultural clashes rather than cultural mixes are expected.

An example used by many sociologists to back up this cultural diversity gap is the contrasting difference between the Islam world and the Western world. The ”Islamic” attacks of 9/11 and the following ”Western” retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq are historic facts that highlight this crack and incompatibility between the West and Islam.

Samuel Huntington in his book ”Clash of Civilizations” (1996) described the existence of various major world civilisations: ”Sinic (Chinese), Japan, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox, Western Europe, North America and Africa. Huntington believes that there are large differences between these cultures in the base of their philosophical assumptions.

Huntington believes that cultures will clash in imposing their different religions and cultural values in a war described as “McDonald vs. Jihad”, this interesting view puts the consumerist western culture against the fundamentalist Islamic one. 

Burke in his book “the 9/11 wars” concludes that al-Qaeda’s future is more likely to be that of a strong cult rather than a mass social movement. 

Initial popularity of groups such as al Qaeda has diminished as a result of the mistargeted violence which often hurt the local supporters as well, making al Qaeda an unfriendly “strong cult rather than a mass movement”

”As they lost popularity, the terrorists relied more on coercion -- and in so doing made themselves even less popular”.

We have two main opposing ideologies, one, the western ”McWorld” culture with its liberal market capitalism which connects us through cultural commodities, and on the other hand the conservative Islamic world which has in its values the liberation from capitalism and its inherited characteristics of greed and mass consumption.

In my opinion there are more connections than clashes in contemporary world relations between the West and the Islamic world. Extremism is only a part of largely moderate Islamic countries. Huntington does not recognise the extent of the connections between West and East and seems to put Central Europe and North America in the same side, even if there are also major differences between these two continents.

As David Myers puts it, “Globalization is a complicated process that does not always lead to cultural homogenization, but can also produce hybrid or even polarized local cultures”.

Myers explained that although the world is more interlinked and globalized. 

Phenomenon’s such as the homogenisation of movies, music, news, language and symbols are attributed to the strong influence and connectivity worldwide of Western society, particularly North America and Europe.

This type of polarisation that we can observe is therefore not a uniform split, on one hand we have the process of globalisation that works in conjunction with homogenisation, therefore if there is a polarisation which goes against a term as global as globalisation, this polarisation is between all those globalised and those who resist it.

The Hybridization Thesis

When looking at how globalisation influences cultures not always we see a cultural homogenisation or a cultural polarisation, but more so we notice a transformation and evolutions in cultures as they clash, join and diversify. “on the intercultural exchange and the incorporation of cultural elements from a variety of sources within particular cultural practices.”

This mixing of cultures can give rise to hybrid cultures which are new and differ from their original cultural values in an attempt to reshape and remodel culture to contemporary world.

The hybridization theory has the concept of “Glocalization” at it’s core, it can be defined as “the interpenetration of the global and the local resulting in unique outcomes in different geographic areas”.(Ronald Robertson (2001)

We find that Glocalization unlike Globalization describes how the local influences the global and reshapes the global influences on the local rendering the local globalised and at the same time unique in it’s local values.

Glocalization reflects the growth of pluralism around the world, it gives importance to the local and individual actors in shaping the influences of the Globalization process to a local level.

Hybridization is at odds with Globalization as it argues that there is an increased pluralism and diversity around the world. Globalization theory associates uniformity rather than plurality.

An example of Hybridization could be a Chinese couple in Dublin, watching a French TV show in a Arab owned pub. This shows how cultural identities are mixing in a more and more interconnected world. Mass migration along with the increased communication between countries have speeded up the process of hybridization making glocalization a possible, perhaps more romantic scenario than globalization

Conclusion

It is important to note that when cultures clash, one does not remain and one disappears, but rather cultures “clash, interact, fracture, breed and ultimately form new cultures distinct from the ingredients from which they were formed”. This describes a process of constant transformation of cultures as they are influenced by other cultures. This theory seems to reveal that eventually as all cultures interact, a single globalised culture could rise, being influenced and shaped by all cultures in the world. If this was the case it is difficult to determine what type of culture this is, but it will have similar values present in neoliberalism, free markets, low levels of state sovereignty with the increased role of international actors and multinational organisations.

Cultural values are subject to constant change and revision throughout the eras, but recently with the increased “ interdependence

driven by science, technology and economics”(Angell 1911) called “the forces of modernity” or globalisation there is a plausible view that a cultural homogenization may occur in a new unique single global culture or create an even sharper distinction between existing cultures to lead to a polarization of cultures in a globalised world.

When looking at the three main theories we see how cultural homogenization is perhaps a form of cultural repression that involves one main culture’s spreading of values, norms and behaviours to influence other cultures. This is not a pluralistic view as the influences between cultures are impartially sided on the Modern developed Western world.

The main criticism of the Homogenization theory is perhaps it’s failure to see local influence as well as global ones. The hybridization theory is more flexible in this matter as it acknowledges the strong influence of the global, but it does not dismiss the importance of the local in interpreting and reshaping the global to create the Glocal.

The Polarization theory also offers a scenario where because of the repressive nature of globalization on cultures, resistance is formed and a polarizing effect will create a split between cultures. This theory is hard to imagine as most of the world is already being influenced by globalization and the examples given by the polarization theory as opposing cultures to globalization are minorities which are often made up of extremist groups such as Al Quaeda.

Huntington in Clash of civilization perhaps does not realise that there are less differences between the Western world and the Eastern Islamic one, an increasingly moderate Islam in which only a small part participates to extremist globalization resisting “wars”.

The Hybridization theory offers a solution to the depressing reality shown by globalization and homogenization. Instead under the hybridization process, cultures expand and influence the local to give rise to the Glocal, this term acknowledges the cultural values inherited by the local and argues that it is the mix of the local and the global which will give rise to new sub-cultures.

Perhaps the more flexible theory is the Hybridization theory, it is more flexible in its definitions and takes into account both the homogenization and the polarization theories. The future will see the rise of globalization which will give rise to many unique brands of cultures which are much more global in their value and identities.


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