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As the debate about globalization has rapidly expanded and become more, rather than less, contentious, there has emerged what might be called a ”negative consensus” concerning the idea of global culture. While there is most definitely no widespread agreement, either ”globally” or ”locally,” about what we might mean by the term global culture(s), there is – for many, a seemingly reluctant -confirmation of the proposition that the issue of global culture is of paramount significance.
Consideration of culture in global or at least transnational terms has led to much rethinking of the concept of culture and its part in social life, not least because practitioners of the metadiscipline of cultural studies have made major interventions in the discussion of globalization, globality, transnationality, global modernities, and so on. Thus, the oft-called cultural turn has had a major part in elevating culture to a position of significance in the globalization debate. This is not to say, however, that the cultural factor is totally accepted as central to the thinking of those working on matters global.
Almost certainly, the most controversial question in the general, non-reductionist discussion of globalization concerns whether the world as a whole is being swept by homogenizing cultural forces, at one extreme, or whether the world is, on the other hand, becoming increasingly marked by variety and difference. Insofar as the globalization-equals-homogenization thesis has been so much in evidence in recent years, often in tandem with the conceptually unacceptable claim that Americanization is the same as globalization, the emphasis here is more on heterogeneity than homogeneity. Globalization – conceived, of necessity, as glocalization (Robertson 1992: 173-4) – is a self-limiting process.
In the light of the idea of glocality, globalization can only take hold if globalizing forces can find or produce a niche in relation to the local and the particular. This is to be seen in the maxim that it is the particular which makes the universal work.
The circulation of practices, ideas, and institutional forms around the world is a central aspect of global culture. This has in the past often been indicated by the term cultural diffusion. But the latter term in itself lacks explicit sensitivity to the glocalizing character of the circulation of sociocultural phenomena. The same is true of what are frequently cast as flows from one context to others. In recent times non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played as big a part in this as they have in the promotion and sustaining of diasporic relations with the ”homeland.” In this case the multiplication of loyalties via population movements has become a crucial element of global culture. In particular, the assimilation of immigrants in the fully fledged sense is rapidly declining, so much so that the vast question of national societal membership and citizenship is a central and increasingly controversial problem of our time. Thus, the increasing significance of transnational communities with their own cultures, the prominence of these being greatly facilitated by the new and still expanding forms of electronic communication, the relative cheapness of air travel, and the growth of the illicit traffic in human beings.
It would be perfectly plausible to insist that global culture is much richer and ”thicker” than the culture of any given nation-state. It is indeed more than a pity that so much intellectual energy has been expended in debating the homogenization-cum-Americanization thesis, as well as in arguing about the degree to which global (or any other) culture should, if at all, be considered epiphenomenally, when there is so much to address with respect to the diversity of global culture or cultures.
- Robertson, R. (1992) Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. Sage, London.
- Beck, U., Sznaider, N., & Winter, R. (eds.) (2003) Global America? The Cultural Consequences of Globalization. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.
- Lechner, F. J. & Boli, J. (2005) World Culture: Origins and Consequences. Blackwell, Oxford.
- Tomlinson, (1999) Globalization and Culture. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
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