Saturday, February 13, 2010

Globalization and identity formation

The Jamaican born British Cultural theorist Stuart Hall has famously argued that “[g]lobalization is the process by which the relatively separate areas of the globe come to intersect in a single imaginary ‘space’; when the sharp boundaries reinforced by space and distance are bridge by connections (travel, trade, conquest, colonization, markets, capital and flows of labor, goods and profit) which gradually erode the clear cut distinction between “inside” and “outside”.

Related to the single imaginary ‘space’, Harvey[i] argued that we are having an intense form of time-space compression due to transformations in capitalism. For Harvey, the crucial bridge of connections of globalization to this shift is the speeding up of production, consumption and life in general. This globalization process has consequences for the society as a whole. One of them is the gradually eroded distinction between “inside” and “outside.”

Giddens[ii] argues that the processes of time-space distanciation or the stretching of social actions and relations connect presence with absence or a departure from face to face interactions. where in large, modern societies, social interaction is governed by disembedding process, the absence and not always conditioned by space. In other words, globalization is an extension of the disembedding of social relations on a global scale. Space has been abstracted and boundaries have dissolved but this does not necessarily implied that place has lost its importance. This process has implications on culture similarity and differences. But firstly to grasp the implications we need to understand the meaning of culture.

Globalization consists not only of global material (mostly economic) forces, but also of whole sets of collective understandings and creation of meanings. Different with the old concept of culture, which is somewhat bounded, defined, unchanging, has an underlying system of meanings and it is identical. Susan Wright[iii] argued that culture is an active process with various definitions or a perpetual search of meanings. It is understood differently by different positioned people.

Norms and cultural understandings identify the global diffusion of cultural scripts and norms as part of globalization. Eriksen[iv] saw globalization entails standardization which is the establishment of common denominators, that sometimes destroys that which is locally unique. The destruction of the locally unique caused by the the unequal flows in a globalized world that Cultural imperialism is often associated with Westernization. Tomlison[v] argued that the core interpretation of cultural globalization as the Americanization, westernization, or cultural imperialism as the spread of global-capitalist monoculture. Globalization as cultural imperialism is seen as an extension of colonialism, domination and oppression. It is a “soft power” but have a profound implication for individuals. The result of cultural imperialism is that local cultures become extinct and replaced by Western culture. This is to say, culture across the world are homogenized unidirectional.

Cultural imperialism contested that people are not passive merely receivers or consumers. Risse[vi] observe that there is no increasing cultural homogeneity across the globe, but varying degrees of hybridity and ‘glocalized’ cultures linking the different local systems of meanings to the global in various ways. The widespread existence of global products such as Mcdonalds, does not imply that western values and understandings are also widespread consumed. A catchy example is HSBC’s tagline is “the World’s local bank”, hopping to address the local wisdom blends with its international banking standards.

The argument for homogenization is problematic when you focus on how identity is produced. In fact, there are increasing possibilities for difference in a globalized world. There are new forms of diversity emerge from the processes of globalization such as fusion food or musics. With the same spirit, Richard Wilk[vii] argued that asserting difference is encouraged in the global community where there are “Structures of Common Difference.” Hegemony of structure exist instead of hegemony of content. Global structures deals with diversity but they do it in a uniformly through a common grammar for the production of difference. This grammar is universal and important because it must be used in order to be recognized and understood by the global community. In other words, in order to be recognized as an indigenous group, the group must conform to these “Structures of Common Difference.” This corresponds to the idea of culture as a process of constant searching of meanings and thus creating identities.

Furthermore, Tomlinson[viii] argued that in the production of identity in a global world, the global forces are not a threat to cultural identity. Globalization actually produces differences. Identity construction is a part of modernity phenomenon. In pre-modern societies, identity was not of primary importance. Globalization entails the proliferation of modernity and, with modernity, the society became more complex and thus, identity proliferates, such as class, gender, race, ethnicity, professions, civic affiliations, etc. I lied my arguments with Tomlinson view that the more complex the society, the identity created by the individuals and collectively, became much more complex as well. To name a few; Supporterklubben Anglarna bonding individuals who wants to be identified as IFK Goteborg’s supporters; Autistic and Indigo child as new category of identity; proliferation of religion and believes; etc.

[i] Harvey, David, ”Time-Space Compression and the Postmodern Condition” in David Held and Anthony McGrew (eds.), 2000, p.90, The Global Transformations Reader. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[ii] Giddens, Anthony, “The Globalizing of Modernity” in David Held and Anthony McGrew (eds.),2000,p.97, The Global Transformations Reader. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[iii] Wright, Susan. 1998. ”Politicization of Culture” in Anthropology Today, 14(1):7-15.

[iv] Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, “Standardization,”2007, p.68, in Globalization: The Key Concepts. Berg.

[v] Tomlinson, John, ”Cultural Imperialism” in Frank J. Lechner and John Boli (eds.) The Globalization Reader,2004, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

[vi] Risse, Thomas. “Social Constructivism meets Globalization” p.131, in David Held & Anthony Mcgrew (eds.),2007, Globalization Theory: Approaches and Controversies. Cambridge, Polity press.

[vii] Wilk, Richard, “Learning to Be Local in Belize: Global Systems of Common Difference,”2002, in Susanne Schech and Jane Haggis (eds.) Development: A Cultural Studies Reader. London: Blackwell.

[viii] Tomlinson, John,”Globalization and Cultural Identity,”2003, in David Held and Anthony McGrew (eds.) The Global Transformations Reader. Cambridge: Polity.

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