Globalisation And Homogeneity References To Veiled Phenomenons Cultural Studies Essay

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Globalization remains the most encompassing of all global phenomenons. It seems to be serving as an umbrella discipline which engulfs every happening all around. Globalization affects our lives in all ways. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the mobiles we flaunt are the reflections of impact of globalization on our lives. The recent up surging in Egypt and Libya are the result of the greater communications with the outer world. The kind of literature we are reading which largely comprises of Diaspora experiences [1] , is the result of the greater exposure to the outer world and to and fro motion of the individuals between two cultures. Even our Bollywood, if we can call so [2] , show better interchange of cultures. Many of our actors are working in Hollywood and few of the Hollywood celebrities are featuring in Indian cinema. Everything around seems to be reflecting the amusing interchange of cultures and a unique fusion of cultures. It doesn't seem that there is complete erosion of any one culture. Each culture seems to be adapting to another culture to form a new culture. As a matter of fact, no one culture is homogeneous. A culture may include various other sub-cultures and interaction and intermingling takes place among these sub cultures too. For example, now we find dosa-idli outlets even in small towns of northern India. It can be called "local globalization". Today, when boundaries are blurring across and within the nations and the world is just a click away, we really stop and question ourselves, where do we belong to. The easiest answer to it could be this that we belong to where our heart lies. The answer may be easy for us but it is not so easy for the NRIs who are sometimes also called ABCDs [3] . For them the question is more of 'loyalty' rather than belonging. They seem to be witnessing the nostalgic parents who don't want their children to lose their identity among the western kids. It is from here we witness the whole idea and importance of 'identity' coming into light. We living in New Delhi seldom ponder our own identity. We seem to be too busy in the run for life, because we don't need to prove our identity to anyone. I am an Indian and I don't need to proclaim it. The whole idea of identity crops up when we are amidst identities and our course of life is decided according to our identities. Only then we will make an effort to look like what we really are or may be even try to hide our identity. It all seems to be a lot of rhetoric but it is from here I would like to look into the issue of globalization and its impact on homogeneity. I will largely focus on the issue of "cultural identity". I shall also look into the ongoing debate on veil and how globalization has played its part in the whole issue.


Robert Holton gives three thesis of globalization, [4] which are as following:

'Homogenisation thesis proclaims that global culture is becoming standarised around a Western or American pattern;

Polarization thesis suggests that presence of cultural alternatives resist against Western norms. Global interconnection and interdependence do not necessarily mean cultural conformity;

Hybridization thesis argues that cultures borrow and incorporate elements from each other, creating hybrid, or syncretic, forms. Evidence to support this view comes mainly from popular music and religious life.' [5] 

No society or country is homogeneous. Homogeneous society refers to a society which comprises of similar people practicing similar culture and similar lifestyle. There has been a growing notion of evolution of the world into a "global village" where across boundaries similar culture and lifestyle is found and practiced. Theorists who oppose globalization maintain that there has been erosion of local cultures in the wake of globalization, whereas, the supporters of globalization feel that there has been a better interaction of various cultures and it has increased the feeling of brotherhood hence making world a better place to live in.

'Over the years the word 'globalization' has increasingly been used to refer to a process through which the entire human population is bonded into a 'single system' (Wallerstein 1990), a 'single society' (Albrow 1990), or 'the structuration of the world as a whole', as defined by Robertson(1990). This 'single system' then forms the framework for individual activities and nation sate operations. It is conceived both as a journey and a destination- with an arrival at the globalized state a finality, which constitutes a unit of analysis in its own right. In other words, globalization is seen as the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life.' [6] However, the people who oppose globalization refute the idea of 'single society or system' on the name of erosion and corruption of local and indigenous local cultures. According to them, it is "cultural imperialism" [7] . By cultural imperialism they mean that the western fashion, music, food etc. have overtaken the local and indigenous culture. So, pizza took over paranthas, rock took over ghazals, jeans took over sarees and suits. Words like "Americanization or McDonaldization or Coca-Colonization are used in place of homogenization. However, it does prove the point that global culture seems to following the global economy. The better promotion and marketing of the product results in wider acceptance among global customers irrespective of physical boundaries. When people follow one trend across the globe, the trend then is called "global culture". So, Hollywood movies doing well across the globe, formation of rock bands in India, entering of brands like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana etc, all explain the formation of global culture. So, opium eating and narcotic addiction has always been and still is a part of Indian culture but smoking marijuana or weed for the sake of blending in the hippie crowd is something which Americanization brought along.

However, the homogenization is too extreme a view to be accepted. The more acceptable thesis is that of hybridization. 'Consider the following example by outlined by cultural anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (1992):

"Each year the counties of Europe meet in a televised song contest……watched by hundreds of millions of people. There is first a national contest in each country to choose its own entry for the international competition. A few years ago a controversy erupted in Sweden after this national contest. It was quite acceptable that the………first runner up was performed by a lady from Finland, and the second runner up was performed by an Afro-American lady…….Both were thought of as representing the new heterogeneity of Swedish society…. What was controversial was the winning tune, the refrain of which was "Four Buggs and a Coca-Cola": Bugg was brand name for chewing gum…..Of the two Coca-Cola was much more controversial, as it was widely understood as a symbol of cultural imperialism…. What drew far less attention was the winning tune was a Calypso. (1992)"

This anecdote draws attention to a third thread woven into the complex fabric of globalization, that of hybridization, or syncretization. It centers on intercultural exchange and the incorporation of cultural elements from a variety of sources within particular cultural practices. Just as biological hybrids combine genetic material from different sources, so hybrids social practices combine cultural elements from a range of sources.' [8] Thus, Hollywood celebrities coming over to India just to get married in the Indian style and Indian couples getting married in more than one conventional manner is a unique example of hybridization. People in West have left gyms to practice yoga and Suryanamaskars. Yoga CDs of Shilpa Shetty, Bipasha Basu or Baba Ramdev are the bestsellers in the West. If we ever watch any Hollywood movies closely we can find their actors wearing "OM" pendants, T-Shirts etc. I don't think that it is only a one way traffic which leads to Americanization. There is a mutual interchange and admiration which is going on. Moreover, there can be other threats to cultures else than America. As Arjun Appadurai says "for the people of Irian Jaya, Indonesianization may be more worrisome than Americanization, as Japanisation may be for Koreans, Indianization for Sri Lankans, Vietnamization for Combodians, and so forth" [9] 

It is from the debate on homogenization that we arrive on another crucial aspect of our term paper i.e. cultural identity; because it is from here we will try to link the debate on globalization with the debate on veil.


"Within us are contradictory identities, pulling in different directions, so that our identifications are continually being shifted about. If we feel that we have a unified identity from birth to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or 'narrative of the self' about ourselves." [10] 


It is the right juncture to recall what Raymond Williams said about 'culture'. He said that "culture" is one of the two or most complicated words in the English language. The connotation that "culture" means high culture or that its scope is concerned with beliefs and values rather than practical activities and dispositions remain largely intact. [11] 

According to Featherstone, globalization suggests two views of culture. The first taking a monoculturalist point of view, treats globalization as 'extension outward of a particular culture to its limits, he globe', through a process of conquest, homogenization and unification brought about by the consumption of the same cultural and material products. The second one, adopting a multiculturalist stand, perceives globalization as 'the compression of cultures'. [12] A person may belong to anywhere but there is always a desire to reach out to what is found outside his realm. In the era of globalization it has become easier and people travel widely and imbibe within themselves what they appreciate and discard what they don't approve of. It results into hybridization of cultures rather than homogenization as we have already discussed.

'Both in public discourse and in research literature, a lot has been said about people's identity. Especially n diasporic studies and the realm of immigration research, identities of new comers, the degree of attachment to both, country of origin and country of residence, their change over time and differences between groups, has been a field of academic study, political debate and public controversy for a long time.' [13] 

'Thomas Eriksen starts from the assumption that identity is locally constructed and that 'people still live in places.' This indicates that the connected world is a stage where people with different cultures and identities meet. Various cultures manifest different identities. In the current age, collective and individual identities seem to be fragmented. With this we mean that identities are composed by interpreted fragments that originate from multiple levels. These levels range from the global to the local. A global identity and a local identity are therefore 'ideal' forms, not existing in real life. All identities are a mixture of global and local aspects. People in local settings constantly reshape their own individual and collective identities by consuming cultural elements originating from a variety of levels.' [14] 

Identity is a self remedial mechanism, with which we are born, but it is only when we are in a crowd of different identities, we exhibit it. It may by various ways, either by language or by our attire or by any other means. As a matter of fact, we are not aware of our identities until and unless we are not put to question by anybody. According to Tomilson, 'identity is not just a description of cultural belonging; it was a sort of collective treasure of local communities.' [15] Acording to Tomlinson globalization does not destroy identities; rather it gives rise to newer identities which are the result of hybridization. I earlier thought that we can change our identities by changing our loyalties, which I no more believe. Now, I feel that it is the identity which keeps on changing its colors and tunes from time to time and it's not very difficult to shuffle between two identities. So, when Indian daughter-in-laws come to India from abroad they wear the Indian clothes which they might have got in their marriages.

'With regard to identity as a concept in social analysis, Amartya Sen complains about two reductionisms. The first is an 'identity disregard', often found in economic theory, which does not add identity related questions to the set of variables explaining decisions, behavior and interactions. Countering this reductionism, Sen states that 'a sense of identity with others can be a very important - and rather complex - influence on one's behavior. The other reductionist pattern, according to Sen, consists in framing identities as 'singular affiliations' disregarding the many different and simultaneously existing identifications and belongings of any human being.' [16] 

Jan Servaes & Rico Lie [17] also gives two possible ways of conceiving 'cultural identity':

Essentialist approach - it is a narrow and closed approach - conceives identity as an already accomplished fact, as a product

Historical approach - it is an encompassing and open approach - conceives identity as something that is being produced, always in process

They also give two more senses of cultural identity. Firstly the inward sense of association or identification with a specific culture or subculture, and, secondly, an outward tendency within a specific culture to share a sense of what it has in common with other cultures and of what distinguished it from other cultures.

Now, in relation to globalization the debate on cultural identity, the best piece of work which I came across is John Tomlinson's article titled "Globalization and Cultural Identity". He argues that cultural identity is much more the product of globalization than its victim. He says that globalization is really the globalization of modernity, and modernity is the harbinger of identity.

I think that globalization when raises questions on cultural identity, it gives rise to the issue of "Ethnicity". Ethnicity celebrates the local and indigenous industry, cultures and belonging. FabIndia is an excellent example of global celebration of ethnicity. It promotes handloom and handicrafts of India.

People who oppose globalization also say that because of technology there has been sweeping of local cultures and identities. However, technology also acts a medium for revival of local cultures. In the words of Nick Knight, "the technologies that make a global culture possible also facilitate the dissemination and hence revival of distinctive local culture." [18] Thus, opening up of Indian restaurants abroad, the fan following of Herbal Queen Shehnaz Hussain etc all reflect the revival of local culture with the help of technology and information.

Thus, in the context of homogeneity and cultural identity, globalization can be defined in the words of Anthony McGrew, "Globalization refers to the multiplicity of linkages and interconnections that transcend the nation states (and by implication the societies) which make up the modern world system. It defines a process through which events, decisions and activities in one part of the world can come to have significant consequences for individuals and communities in quite distant parts of globe. Nowadays goods, capital, people, knowledge, images, communications, crime, culture, pollutants, drugs, fashions and beliefs all readily flow across territorial boundaries. Transnational networks, social movements and relationships are extensive in virtually all areas of human activity from the academic to the sexual." [19] 

It is from this definition I will draw threads of debate on veil in context of globalization and cultural identity


In France two school going girls were expelled from the school for wearing hijab in school. Soon a law came into being which banned the wearing of veil. It also prohibited people from wearing big crosses. But not as many people wear big crosses around their necks as many people wear hijab. There is a certain history of veil. There are both sections of scholars in Islam which support and condemn wearing of veil. Those who support veil quote various "suras" (Quotations) from the Holy Quran which directs women to wear veil. Similarly, "opposers" of veil also justify their stance by virtue of Quran.

Women wear hijab due to many reasons. In foreign countries women wear "hijab" or "burqa" as a symbol of identity. France had its own history of racism, which they have justified as nationalism. Whosoever, reaches France should adopt French ways and traditions. No space is left for one's indigenous customs and traditions. Integration in France means "assimilation". In foreign lands Muslim women wear hijab for their own convenience. Not in all cases there is religious pressure or pressure from their families. Some wear so that their mobility is not hampered. By wearing hijab they can move freely, which otherwise they would not have been able to, or their family would not have allowed them to. Thus, hijab assists them to realise their dreams and aspirations. If a woman is wearing hijab out of her free will, I don't see any reason for opposition.

For, opposers of veil or hijab, it is the most extreme reaction against modernity. They resist modernity by wearing hijab. They proclaim that "We are not Western and don't want to be". Young Arabs often say: I feel like everyone, but they always mention my difference. These young Arabs, have now decided to reclaim their difference, and that mean or include different things. For many it is a loud proclamation and manifestation of their religious identity. Article 1 of the French law says that: "In public elementary, middle and high schools, the wearing of signs or clothing which conspicuously manifests students' religious affiliations is prohibited. Disciplinary procedures to implement this rule will be preceded by a discussion with the student." It also explains that what amounts to be "conspicuous", it includes large crosses, a veil or a skullcap. This law by any standards cannot be justified and more so in a country which proclaims to be secular. Secularism do not means making everyone equal, rather it means treating everyone equally. This French proposition is not explicit; it can only be deduced. It is probable that consciously, French society wanted, and still wants, these women to be the emissaries of civilization in their own families. In practice, however, the burden it places on these women acts as an injunction for them to break away. How can they cut all ties with their origins without breaking away entirely from their near and dear ones, their family roots? The UN Committee charged with implementing CEDAW expressed its concern about the effects of such ban on women's access to schools and universities. The headscarf, as a religious sign, should be accepted as other religious signs; the new politically correct French attitude, which consists in pretending that religion 'belongs in the private sphere', is simply untenable. Religion is by definition public.

Now in context of cultural identity and globalization, changing boundaries not only redefine forms of political and socio cultural community, but challenge jealously guarded traditions and world views. Thus, when amidst different identities the Muslim women guard their identity by wearing hijab. As a matter of fact, hijab is a modern version of 'burqa'. Hijab covers only head whereas burqa covers the whole body. Thus, it can be understood as a product of hybridization. It can be worn over any attire. Moreover, in the wake of rise of 'Islamic terrorism' [20] , there has been a growth of a fraction of Muslims who oppose of any kind of violence on the name of religion and celebrate and glorify their identity as Muslims. They oppose the targeting if whole Muslim fraternity. The exponents of this school also promote wearing signs of their culture rather than religion. Wearing of veil cannot be called as a religious activity because if you don't wear veil you are not Non-Muslim. Thus, the French ban on veil can be seen as an extreme reaction to something not very extreme. French nationalism is an antithesis to globalization.


Thus, it can be concluded that globalization do not evades cultural identities and the resistance to the ban on veil is an excellent example that it is with the help of globalization that people across borders have come together to resist against the ban . Globalization brings people closer and gives rise to global fraternity of likeminded people, with no reference to their cultural identity, nationalities, and religious affiliations. Thus, globalization does not result in homogenization but to hybridization of various cultures giving rise to "global culture".