An interconnected set of terms – globalization, global, globality – dominated analytic discourse toward the end of the twentieth century. The considerable disagreements among theorists are set out below. Then the specific issue of cultural globalization and its debates are addressed.
Key Debates About Globalization
One argument queried whether globalization was an old process, or a contemporary one. The Communist manifesto of 1848 (Marx & Engels 1990) put forward an analysis of the dizzying reduction of space and time and of the transnational force of capitalist processes, as the growing bourgeoisie sought raw materials and labor power in the further reaches of the European empires. Some globalization skeptics, such as Hirst and Thompson (1999), have argued that, at least in international trade, the world was more globalized toward the end of the nineteenth century than at the outset of the twenty-first. The exhibition Venice and the Islamic World, 828 –1797, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (Carboni 2007), provided vivid material evidence as to how much had been lost in the two centuries since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in terms of interaction and information between western Europe and the Middle East.
A second line of argument revolved around globalization’s chief components. Social theorists agreed that it is best thought of as a skein of interlocking processes but not on what those processes might be. Appadurai (1990) developed the notion of a set of “scapes” – technoscape, ideoscape, ethnoscape, mediascape, financescape – to which further glosses included a sacriscape, a genderscape, and a linguascape. Giddens (1990) suggested that globalization involved industrialization, capitalism, the nation-state system, and technological diffusion, and that modernity’s juggernaut pressed toward transnational connectivity. Held et al. (1999) suggested that four comparative spatio-temporal dimensions marked out the contemporary period: the extensity of global networks; the intensity of global interconnectedness; the velocity of global flows; and the impact propensity of global interconnectedness. Thus, globalization processes are argued to stretch political, social, and economic relations beyond clear territorial principles of organization, challenging the deeply embedded notion in the social sciences of the national society as the central unit of analysis. Yet the analytic issue remains: what is the key driver producing such effects?
A third line of argument hinged on globalization’s outcomes. Many analysts saw globalization as the expansion of transnational practices, especially practices that originate with nonstate actors and cross state borders, or simply the development of global social relations. Some theorists considered the complex skeins of economic and cultural connectivity that tie different parts of the world together now constitute a new post-societal era (Urry 2000).
Some feared a homogenization of culture as western, materialist values and desires spread around the world, while others suggested hybridization to be a key process (Kraidy 2005); historicized argument recognizes that all cultures have been hybridized through time and questions the natio-centric definition of “culture” that often pertains in such arguments. Many theorists pointed to globalization’s contradictory outcomes, producing both homogenization and heterogenization (Hannerz), deterritorialization and reterritorialization (Held), fragmentation and integration (Rosenau).
Globality And Glocalization
A closely allied term was “globality,” coined and defined by Robertson (1991) as the increasing awareness that the world is, indeed, a single place. He argued that the consequences for new claims to identity formation were among the key issues facing the twenty-first century, so that an analysis was needed of new forms of collectivity and the individual. Thus, contemporary issues such as global warming and nuclear power were seen as problems that no single state could solve but which required coordinated action across the system of states, with involvement of the global citizenry. The notion of “global civil society” itself was challenged as a chimera (Sparks 2006), while others saw it as a “multitude,” embodying and coordinating a wide range of ecological, peace, and social justice movements (Hardt & Negri 2000).
Another imagining of the “global” was of spatial connectivity, moving into the universe from the “I” outward through the local, the national, and the regional, to the ether, the atmosphere that we all breathe. This was powerfully invoked by Castells’ (1996) notion of the Internet as a global network whose functioning at any one point in time was probably impossible to map but which potentially connected individuals to others through a variety of forms of communication, the closest humanity has come to inventing a global brain. However, with the spread of Internet connectivity, there is little use in an analytic hierarchy of space that makes the global not only the largest spatiality but also the most remote: for those with access, the global is only a click away.
Everywhere in the world is impacted by globalization processes, even if the impacts are highly differentiated. Hence, macro-level globalization processes have to be studied in specific locales as place-specific. Robertson (1991) notes that it was Japanese economists in the 1980s who coined dochakuka, “glocalization,” for the emerging Japanese business practice in which goods and services were produced and distributed globally according to particularistic, local criteria. This argument countered fears of homogenizing processes since any ideas or values must adapt to local circumstances if they are to stick. He honed “glocalization” to mean the simultaneity of universalizing and particularizing tendencies, echoing some arguments about hybridization processes.
Cultural Globalization And Social Theory
Theorizing about globalization triggered significant rethinking about the foundational notion of state, nation, culture, and society as homologous, neatly bounding the same terrain. With global migrations, what constituted the “national” also became diasporic for many people. Cultural products move even more easily across state boundaries, particularly in the form of mediated content. Older terms needed re-specifying, the “international” becoming more closely linked to solely state-based relationships. “Trans” emerged as a useful prefix, with “transnational” being used for movements of peoples and things across national borders, “transcultural” suggesting personal encounters, and “translation” opening up the analysis of linguistic exchanges and adaptations. “Cosmopolitanism” was increasingly invoked as a positive embrace of global multiculturalism.
Media and communications were centrally implicated. First, communications technologies of various kinds provided the visible and invisible skeins of connectivity on which other processes of globalization rely. Global finance became the processing of digitized information, as did the scheduling of transnational travel and the purchasing and distribution of goods. Huge data-processing industries grew in Costa Rica and India, such as call centers and data archiving.
Second, press and broadcasting remain key carriers of news, and were thus powerful socializing agents of the new globality. Here the problematic of the unequal political economy of international communication may still have resonance, as western media conglomerates pump out content that circulates around the world carrying images of middleclass consumption and the prejudices of western countries. Resonances with the argument about cultural imperialism are evident.
Yet there were many rapidly developing media industries in the global south (Brazil, India, China, Egypt), so that media analyst Jeremy Tunstall, who in 1977 had published The media are American, in 2007 published The media were American (Tunstall 1977, 2007). Indeed, the 2000s seemed to augur the severe erosion of US cultural hegemony, challenged by the new voices in the Middle East, such as the television stations Al Jazeera (Arabic and English), Al Manar, and Al Arabiyya, along with other forces.
A third argument regarding cultural globalization focused on media formats, especially in entertainment, where a western show transmutes to suit a different cultural location. Lebanon’s Star academy TV show kept its contestants segregated by gender, though Bahrain’s version of Big brother was cancelled in response to clerical outrage. Such translation of formats made the world’s screens perhaps more similar than was once thought, while still producing a form of mediated hybridity (Kraidy 2005).
A fourth and final argument focused on technological convergence through digitization, whereby the dividing lines between the media industries, telecommunications, and computerization blurred and offered novel spaces for participation. Social network sites initially popular in the mid-2000s, such as YouTube, MySpace, and FaceBook, became showcases for global creativity, involving millions of nonprofessional content items, as well as platforms for political commentary and satire that could evade national censorship practices. Diasporas and home populations could actually share virtual spaces for engagement and dialogue, with unknown potential for reshaping national politics, while citizen journalists and bloggers challenged mainstream media content from their own countries and beyond.
The Contradictions Of Globalization
Yet, while some celebrated a “borderless” world, others reminded us of inequalities of gender, class, and race within the power dynamics of globalization. It was argued that the neo-liberal globalization of western consumerism and mass production had increased inequality around the world, and that World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO) policies exacerbated global inequality. In 2007, when the first person made a million US dollars selling virtual land on the Second life website, nearly three billion people still lived on less than two dollars a day, and it was estimated that the GDP of the poorest 48 nations was less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
Yet despite or even because of its frequent use, “globalization” as a single word became an empty signifier. It now seemed to require a qualifying term, e.g., “economic globalization” or “cultural globalization,” to anchor it. Perhaps the time had arrived to no longer praise globalization but to bury it. Increasingly it was recognized that to study the processes of globalization required analysis at the local level, the “glocal” (Hemer & Tufte 2007). We might anticipate more nuanced usage of the term and recognition that even if we all share some transnational processes, we do not all feel their effects in the same way. As global social justice movements grew, critical of neo-liberal policies, so global capitalist logics in China and India rapidly produced new wealth, greater integration into the world economy, and growing internal inequality.
While the economic logic of capital is a central driving force of globalization, as Marx and Engels recognized a century and a half ago, giving the term a hostile usage, its unfolding has produced contradictory impacts and responses, not least because of the increased visibility of global processes via communications. Further analysis of grounded real-world processes of globalization should produce more refined theorization and the repudiation of simplistic totalizations.
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- Tunstall, J. (2007). The media were American. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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