, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 88-112
Date: 22 Nov 2013

Globalization or indigenization: New alignments between knowledge and culture

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The pace, shape and meaning of development are cultural phenomena—fundamentally driven by the meanings people ascribe to their action, to the symbols they aspire to, and by the wider values contexts within which they are acting. However, people participating within the development process continuously confront a tension between the assertion of the cultural meanings of the local known social world and the assertion of the meanings of an idealized largely unknown social world that stretches beyond immediate experience, and that is particularly represented in commodity symbols and media images. Tension is therefore between indigenization or globalization. The product, greater valence of indigenization or globalization, results from the alternative ways in which tension between the two domains is resolved.

In the modern social world access to knowledge, as well as the impact of knowledge embodied within technological artifacts, are key drivers in both the level of participation in development and the level of colonization of indigenized meanings by globalized frameworks of understanding. The current paper therefore focuses on the role of knowledge within the interactions between globalization and indigenization.

The paper demonstrates that the general trend of development during the last half of the twentieth century has driven cultural change towards more globalized meanings and dependencies. The dynamics of technological access and change are centrally implicated.

However, new opportunities are opening up at both local indigenized levels and within modernizing sectors, and the essence of these opportunities lies in capturing a cultural advantage. At the indigenous society level, a focus on capitalizing on indigenous technical knowledge can have enormous payoffs in terms of economic development outcomes. Meanwhile, a focus on linking local with modernizing sectors through bridging technologies and knowledge across indigenous and global cultures allows indigenous cultures to share in the economic benefits of modernization. And finally, a new wave of change is emerging in the modernized sector itself, opening up quite new opportunities for “small players”—whether they be small firms or small countries. The opportunities are set within change in the global orders of technology and science over the last five to ten years. What matters is the ability of these small players to be highly responsive, to capture knowledge flows through both technical and social capabilities of their people; in other words, global advantage follows from capture of local cultural strength.

Stephen Hill is foundation director for the Center for Research Policy, located at the University of Wollongong, and established as a special research center of the Australian Research Council. More recently, he was appointed Regional Director of UNESCO for South East Asia and the Pacific. Professor Hill will assume his new appointment in June, 1995.