Globalization and Culture
KeywordsLinguistic Diversity Cultural Capital Indigenous Language Cultural Globalization Biocultural Diversity
Given the wide interest in both globalization and culture from diverse academic fields such as anthropology, sociology, communication and media, cultural and language studies, colonial and indigenous studies, and political science and international relations, it is not surprising to find little consensus in the literature on the definitions of these two concepts, let alone consensus on how they relate to each other and on their role and impact on individuals and societies.
This entry provides insights into the links between globalization and culture, based on a selective review of the literature, aiming to offer some reference points for further reflection to professionals, researchers, and students in public administration and public policy. It reflects first on the concepts of culture and of globalization, what characterizes both and how they relate to each other. It then focuses on the links between culture, globalization, and language followed by concluding remarks.
Culture and Globalization
The cultural dimension of globalization, or “cultural globalization” refers to the circulation and sharing of ideas and of meanings and values across countries; hence across cultures, with the effect of increasing social contacts (Paul 2006), this presumably leads to more positive human interconnectedness. Reflecting on how culture has been understood and used so far helps in turn understand issues associated with its global circulation and sharing.
…. culture is not a private affair – it is by definition shared, however imperfectly with other people. (Hearn 2006, p. 170)
Traditionally a differentiation has been made between high and low culture. High culture refers to the dominant elitist form of a culture (e.g., its literature and its fine arts), dominant in the sense that it tends to be shared by a minority of people with the highest socioeconomic power. By contrast, low culture refers to the way of life shared by the majority of a given people of all social backgrounds. It includes, for instance, national cuisines and its variations, national preferred sports, popular festivities including popular music, and fashion. However, democratic and global processes have watered down the divide between high and low culture by valuing all forms of cultural expression. Nonetheless it is still a useful distinction to capture power in culture dynamics in particular contexts.
French sociologist Bourdieu (1986) introduced the concept of “cultural capital,” in the context of his work on class inequalities in education. It is however a useful concept in many other contexts. Cultural capital, according to Bourdieu, is acquired from one’s particular socioeconomic background and degree of formal education and would determine one’s place in social hierarchies. It includes three dimensions of culture: embodied, objectified, and institutionalized. For example, one’s accent in speaking a national language is embodied culture (with all its possible social variables), the ownership of goods such as real estate is objectified culture, and educational qualifications represent institutionalized culture. Critics of Bourdieu have pointed out a lack of consideration given to individual agency in his theory of culture reproduction, as well as of consideration of the impact of the growth of the middleclass on class inequalities (see Goldthorpe 2007; King 2000). (For both praise and critics of Bourdieu’s key theoretical concepts, see Coulangeon and Duval (2013).)
The concepts of high and low culture, of identifiable collectivities on the basis of culture, and of cultural capital, however useful they may be in understanding the plays of culture in societies and individuals, must take account of further characteristics of the nature of culture.
Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to be those webs and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experiential science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. (Geertz 1973, p. 6)
Since the 1970s, postmodern views on culture have been dominant in academia, aware of the unreliability of fixed metanarratives on what constitutes culture (see Lyotard 1979). Some academics, concerned that cultural discrimination is fed by modernist hence essentialist interpretations of culture (an essentialist interpretation of culture, also called “cultural essentialism” refers to an understanding and use of culture as static and bounded. It does not recognized the fact that all cultures have many variables, are diverse, dynamic, and changeable within themselves. Nationalist political movements commonly seek to promote essentialist perspectives on culture.), go as far as suggesting to abandon the concept altogether. Wikan (1999), for instance, proposes to consider instead only individuals and their rights. Wagener (2015) proposes to replace the culture concept with new theories capable of explaining better the complexities of daily life, which implies considering the role of power in the working of culture in social, ethnic, and political tensions.
The notion of “intersectionality” captures succinctly the interplay between power, culture, class, ethnicity, and gender. Intersectionality (or intersectional theory), as a concept, was first coined by Crenshaw (1991), in the context of discrimination and violence against women. It is now widely applied in other contexts requiring an understanding of the dynamics between power and cultural variables.
One way out of the controversy over the nature of culture and its complexity is to go back to Williams’ (1977) concept of culture as dynamic and contradictory interactions between dominant, residual, and emergent forms of culture, with the caveat that those three forms of culture can be both tangible and intangible. Tangible culture refers to visible aspects of culture such as traditional French cuisine, Japanese manga, or the practical dimensions of religious rituals. Whereas intangible culture refers to the less visible aspects of culture in the domain of beliefs, myth, ideologies (religious, political, and other), as well as aspirations and projections – what Appadurai (1996) coined “imaginary work” (see further discussion on this topic in the next section), intangible culture in this sense operates on a more subjective and also unconscious level; hence it is harder to capture.
The notion of dominant culture in Williams can help explain how dominant social structures are maintained but also how they can be subverted by dissident individuals or groups of individuals. Residual culture is the influence of old cultural patterns, either archaic, outdated but still influencing the current culture, can be dominant, or not. Emerging culture represents new cultural ideas and practices, including those produced by minority groups, potentially from all strata of society, and which can become mainstream or not. The hippie culture of the 1960s in Western countries is a good example of what amounted to emerging culture at the time. Some may consider that the hippie culture has now become residual, is outdated, but still influencing current Western culture. Jihadism as new forms of Islamist militant movements in the twenty-first century, or ecosustainability as an environmental movement, are other examples of new emerging ideological forms of culture, both with their varying national and local overtones.
…the disjunction between vernacular, common sense and essentialist conceptions of cultures which dominate public discourses and theorized and intellectualised accounts of academics and functionaries (postmodernist or modernist) with their very different social and political agenda has never been greater. Grillo (2003, p. 163)
Grillo makes this argument in the context of his call for a better understanding of why cultural essentialism is having such a popular grip in current times. Even though essentialist interpretations of culture are commonly dismissed in academic discourse to be no more than a “figment of the mind” (Wikan (1999) quoted in Grillo (2003, p. 158)), they are nonetheless real under currents which can undermine or make any political agenda. Brexit and President Trump’s election testifies to the existence of popular essentialist sentiment toward British and American culture which are real, alive, and kicking and that neither politically nor academically correct agenda could predict.
Today the role of culture is to provide our contemporaries the intellectual and moral tools which will allow them to survive – nothing less. (Malouf 2009 p. 203)
Having discussed some different ways of approaching an understanding of culture and its uses, consideration is given next to the impact of globalization on culture. (Traduction from the author of the French original: ‘Aujourd’hui, le role de la culture est. de fournir à nos contemporains les outils intellectuels et moraux qui leur permettront de survivre – rien de moins’ Malouf (2009 p. 203).)
Globalization and Culture
Globalization, alike culture, is very much a disputed and slippery concept, too complex Steger (2014) argues “to force into a single analytical framework.” It is not the privileged study of any discipline. It concerns and challenges all disciplines.
However, there is consensus, at least in the literature, over the fact that cultural globalization (if not other global processes) intensifies social interactions across cultures, as mentioned earlier, and that current, as opposed to earlier, forms of global cultural interactions are of a new order.
This new order is the result of the increased global flow of populations, involuntary (i.e., forced migration) or voluntary (e.g., international trade and tourism), of larger access to mass media and of new technologies of communication. Appadurai (1996, p. 28) qualifies this new order as being “filled with ironies and resistances,” meaning that the impact of globalization on culture is experienced with hiccups and contradictions by nearly every country on the planet. One reason for this is that, although globalization has an undeniable homogenizing effect on culture, it is always experienced in, and affected by, local contexts. Thus, it can reinvigorate local cultural practices rather than debunk them, especially when cultural globalization is perceived as a threat or produces forms of cultural hybridization, two different processes Robertson (1997) calls processes of “glocalization.” For the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha (1994), there is however ever and only cultural hybridity, especially from the minority perspective. He warns not to read the representation of difference as “the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition” (Bhabha 1994, p. 2).
The tension between the homogeneity versus heterogeneity/hybridity/and diversity of culture is a common popular concern, in particular in relation to cultural globalization. At the core of this tension is the fact that cultural globalization is perceived to be largely the Westernization, if not the Americanization (Appadurai (1996, p. 32) notes that cultural globalization should include not only the Americanization of other cultures. It should also consider other instances of dominance of a culture over another, as in the case of the Japanization of Korean culture or the Russianization of the people of Armenia and of the Baltic Republics.) of the world’s cultures, creating a palpable hierarchy of cultures, especially in terms of the economic edge the production and diffusion of global culture can give.
Marin (2010) dates the start of the cultural Westernization of the world to the Crusades and the first discoveries of Africa and America. More to the point, he argues that these prompted the start of globalization of the economy, leading overtime to the imposition of the capitalist (neoliberalism) model as we know it today, worldwide.
Alike culture in a national context, cultural globalization has tangible and more intangible dimensions. The proliferation on the planet of American fast-food chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, or Starbucks, what Rizer calls (1993) generally “the McDonaldization of society,” are examples of tangible cultural global impact. Another example is the increase of the “migrant presence” (Martin 1985), which involves the increased visible presence of the culturally different others in people’s neighborhood, at least in Western countries. This rapprochement of cultures as lived reality, or factual multiculturalism, can promote more understanding and appreciation across cultures, as well as more desire for the supremacy of the dominant culture. Hage (1998), for example, explored what he called “fantasies of white supremacy” in an Australian context, showing the limits of multiculturalism when it only tolerates cultural difference rather than embraces it.
Adding to the concept of “the migrant presence” is the notion of the “deterritorialization of culture” as the disembedding of social relations (see Giddens 1990; Papastergiadis 2000), that is, the fact that culture and space (as in countries) are no longer necessarily linked. The Irish cultural presence in New York, the Turkish cultural presence in Germany, or the Indian cultural presence in South Africa are examples of the deterritorialization of culture that is of cultural expression which has moved outside its original physical environment to new foreign contexts. The term “reterritorialization” is used when the migrant cultural community is deemed to have become part of the local culture.
Finally, the role of international mass media, satellite television, and other new technologies of communication are ought to be mentioned as they are commonly considered to be the primary cause of global mass culture, this because of the common images and discourses they produce and diffuse worldwide. The label “mass culture” refers to the behavior, ideas, and values that are produced from common exposure to the same media.
… cultures are not ‘victims’ of globalisation or the proliferation of mass media. Cultures actively adopt and integrate globalization’s technological artefacts. Globalization’s positive effects are dynamic and span cultural interactions and permeate structures of authority at personal, national and global levels. (Magu 2015, p. 630)
More persons throughout the world see their lives through the prisms of the possible lives offered by mass media in all their forms. That is, fantasy is now social practice, it enters, in a host of ways, into the fabrication of social lives for many people in many societies. (Appadurai 1996, pp. 53–54)
The freeing of individual imaginations intrinsic to global cultural growth no doubt impacts on the construction of self and identity. It also increases the opportunity for new collective transcultural ideologies to develop based on imagined worlds. A particular target for ideological reconfiguration is the realm of religious beliefs, beyond the scope of this entry to consider, though a key feature to a deep understanding of global, national, local, and individual culture making.
The many shapes and turns that cultural globalization can take are explored further in a final section which focuses on the important role language plays in relation to culture and globalization.
Language, Culture, and Globalization
Language, culture, and communication are intimately linked as humans cannot help but categorize and express their experience of the world through linguistic and cultural filters (Kramsch 1998; Liddicoat 2009). However, the relationship between language, culture, communication, and globalization is highly complex.
Firstly, the majority of people on the planet, roughly 80%, are multilinguals (Blanchet 2016). Multilinguals use the various linguistic and cultural filters that they have at their disposal to communicate in variable and creative ways, constructing unique subjective realities and identities in the process (Kramsch 2009). Secondly, from a global standpoint, the relationship between language and culture is increasingly no longer one to one but one too many. That is, one language can express and represent different cultures, as in the clear cases of world languages such as English, Arabic, French, and Spanish.
For instance, Mexico and Central and South American countries share Spanish as their common dominant language, but they are all inhabited by different indigenous cultures (and languages) which have mixed with different versions of Hispanic nationalist history and culture. In a similar way though reversed process, migrants to a new country in time express the culture(s) of their original country through both their first language(s) and the new language they learn in their host country. In the current global era, the increasing number of individuals with complex linguistic and cultural biographies will keep intermeshing both.
Beyond the increase of linguistic and cultural hybrids among individuals, it is also important to note the impact of globalization on linguistic diversity on a collective level, that is, to note how languages are standing and evolving in relation to each other and how this in turn affects both cultural and biodiversity.
Two decades ago, Weber (1999) identified what he called The World’s 10 most influential languages using as criteria: the number of native speakers, of secondary speakers, the number of population and countries using the language, the number of major fields using the language (science, diplomacy, etc.), the economic power of countries using the language, and socio-literary prestige. His classification, arguably still valid today, ranks the most influential languages internationally in the following order: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Hindi/Urdu.
English is an important world language, but the latest cutting-edge research shows that, in the 21st Century, speaking only English is as much of a disadvantage as speaking no English. (APPGML 2014)
The ten global languages mentioned above are among the only few hundred languages commonly taught through education systems, out of the about 7,000 languages spoken in the world today (Paul et al. 2016). It is estimated that about half of these will be extinct by the end of the twenty-first century, an alarming loss if one considers the correlation between linguistic diversity and biocultural diversity.
Indigenous languages as smaller languages tend to struggle the most in surviving the force of global languages, and of globalization generally, their loss leading to the loss of biocultural knowledge on local natural environments (Robertson 2014). Evans (2010) further argues that the loss of indigenous languages leads to the loss of invaluable knowledge on how language works as a feature of humankind and on its role in human cognition. However, their relationship to the dominant and to other languages at a local level is complex, involving variable sociopolitical and historical factors, as well as local communities’ choices.
What can be argued is that language rights for all language minorities (not only indigenous minorities) matter. The right to use one’s mother tongue in particular is an existential issue, closely linked to one’s identity and sense of self, hence of one’s well-being. Further and to the point, in the complex domain of language rights, especially when it involves minority groups, Robertson (2014, p. 935) warns against “unhelpful dichotomies between modern/traditional and indigenous/non-indigenous” and further “to privilege cultural and linguistic ‘nativism’ and insularity over transcultural contact and exchange.”
Tensions between the important gain in maintaining linguistic diversity and their associate culture(s), for existential reasons and in terms of safeguarding world knowledge/heritage, and the equal need for successful intercultural communication, facilitated by the use of English (and other lingua francas), and the watering down of cultural difference, are not easily solved.
To understand the complexities of issues at stake in cultural globalization, it is useful to understand first the nature, purpose, and uses of culture, as proposed in this entry. In summary, the nature of culture is dynamic, its purpose is to create meaning and share it, and its uses intermix with matters of power, history, personal subjectivity, and collective identities, as well as other variables such as gender and social categorization. It is hard to contain culture within clear boundaries, and at the same time it is hard to dismiss its existence.
Cultural globalization can both increase and decrease human interconnectedness. This is because the global unleash of cultural information requires an increased capacity to make and negotiate meaning out of information about and across cultures. The negotiation of cultural meaning is complex; it involves the ability to communicate successfully across cultures (Wolton 2003). “Cultures” as abstract entities do not communicate between themselves, people do (Scollon and Scollon 2000), and people do not communicate in a vacuum. In the current global era, people communicate through increasing complex linguistic and cultural filters. When they do, not only language and culture come alive but also world, national, and local history as well as personal histories, with layers of positive outcomes but also unresolved issues. In order to maximize the positive impacts it can have, cultural globalization calls for the ability to understand how the big and small pictures interact, connect, or not. It calls for discernment and the choice of collaboration over power in approaching difference.
The active support of, and engagement with, linguistic and cultural diversity helps the growth of positive cultural globalization, but it is not enough. After all, as noted by Lo Bianco (2001, p. 458), there are many polyglot and multicultural fanatics, and conversely there are many “culturally sophisticated monolinguals.”
It is the new work of the imagination as social act, as posited by Appadurai (1996), which will keep playing a major role in global cultural processes, feeding greatly, though not exclusively, from electronic resources and opportunities given to it to access cultures. However, the empowerment of the world imagination is double edged. It can create new patterns of connection across individuals and collectivities leading to increase positive international interconnectedness. It can also disconnect from the real as cultural globalization tends to facilitate more virtual than face-to-face contact, giving free range to imagined subjectivities. Globalization and culture will keep interacting in nonlinear and unpredictable ways. It will keep navigating between universalizing and localizing tendencies.
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