Globalization and its Effect on Cultural Diversity

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This page was originally authored by Svetlana Gibson (2007).
This page has been revised by Maria Clarke (2008),Yvonne Chamberlain (2008), Jordan Drebot (2008), Ken Heales (2008), Gioia Breda (2008), Jackie Regan (2008), Soraya Rajan (2009) and Deb Giesbrecht (February 2011).




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Introduction

The discourse regarding the effects of globalization on cultural diversity is a challenging debate. The advancement of technology dissolves international boundaries and opens cultures to a whole new arena (Smith, 2000), enabling globalization to occur. Globalization can be an empowering entity. It can interconnect the world, support economic development, provide information availability and assist in developing a global village (Moahi, 2007).

There is a paradoxical dichotomy, a tangible undercurrent, when it comes to globalization and cultural diversity. On one hand, globalization has the potential to mobilize and empower people, provide a means for self-representation, support a collective identity through socialization and provide employment opportunities. On the other hand, it has the ability to disempower people by misrepresentation, provide a process for further colonization, and propel the loss of individualism and self and group identity.

Political theorist Fredric Jameson presents this as two competing future visions: one of a corporate-dominated monoculture where nations and cultural groups alike are deprived of autonomy and identity; and another of a vibrant celebration of pluralism, in which various cultural groups are in direct and harmonious contact with one another, free from limiting political forces such as national governments (1998).

Influences

Globalization provides both positive and negative influences on cultural diversity which can have far reaching impacts.

Negative Influences

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Due to the unprecedented access to cultures, a much wider audience than ever before has a gateway to see, hear and experience phenomena that were never accessible previously (Smith, 2000). Misrepresentation, stereotyping and the risk of loss of cultural and intellectual property rights are the consequences of unmonitored access.

There are a number of negative impacts globalization has had on cultural diversity, including the influence multinational corporations have on promoting a consumer culture, exploitation of workers and markets and influencing societal values. This increased availability of commercial media and products can "drown out" local cultural influences.

Loss of individualism and group identity occur when globalization encourages a 'Western ideal of individualism'. This promotes a homogeneous set of values and beliefs. The adoption of Western Culture and ideologies is seen as many computer-mediated technologies are developed, marketed and processed via western markets. The dominant population and culture of the day determine the next greatest technology along with the next commercialized gadget that will be offered up to the masses and longed for by those who are at arm’s reach of financially obtaining these devices. Kanuka (2008) also cites that e-learning technologies perpetuates colonization by designing curriculum that mimics the cognitive styles of the dominant culture. Not having access to technologies that are present in the classroom, combined with an education system geared toward the dominant society can be a lethal combination for non-dominant cultures. The present education, legal and power structures reflect western ideas and philosophies. These western ideas are easily assimilated into other cultures and paradigms with far reaching effects. There is an assumption that the values and ideologies of the "Global North" will provide a suitable framework for the new knowledge economies of the developing "Global South" (Youngman, 2000).

Globalization allows further colonization which impacts intellectual property and cultural rights. Global access to information has opened the gateway to acquiring cultural property and information. Many view that ‘if it is out there it is free for the taking’, which includes cultural signs, songs, dance, rituals and other cultural artifacts. These icons of a culture are viewed as a living heritage and are an integral part of identity (Smith, 2000). Using images, reselling them and mis-representing these rights are considered property theft and a heinous crime against communities. It is difficult to monitor or control what is out on the Internet and therefore difficult to prevent and prosecute appropriately.

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Positive Influences

The technological global mecca can be empowering for various cultures as it allows self-representation and information sharing on a whole new level. Technology provides a medium where depiction of images and portrayals of self-identity can provide the means in which truism can be established. Global media centres allow cultures a distinctive voice to promote awareness and provide public knowledge and understanding of their stories and identities. It also allows for the communication of their relevant accounts and commentaries on issues that are important in preserving the culture and knowledge acquisition of cultural ways - allowing them to retain their diversity. Being in charge of their own media production companies allows control of their artifacts, signs and symbols that are regarded as cultural property. When cultures are in control of their own public images they are better equipped to manage and represent their images appropriately without misrepresentation.

Instead of destroying some cultures, as others predicted, mass media assists in the revitalizing and restoring of cultural preservation of nations (Ginsburg, 2002). Technology can be used to preserve language, customs and culture. Technology allows for self-representation and preservation of personal and collective identity by providing autonomy and empowerment.

Global technology has provided the opportunity to redefine collective identity along with identifying a place for distinctive cultures. Global social, political and economic networks, combined with common goals, will no doubt enable the emerging empowerment among cultural peoples (Smith, 2000). This is far more advantageous than individual communities or groups coming forward to raise global or local concerns.

Global positioning of cultural groups allows social and political power that has previously not been seen.

  Example: Middle East and North Africa empowerment of civil society networks that      
  were developed through the availability of technology, have afforded the possibility to 
  overcome political and geographical boundaries resulting in international support for 
  democracy, health, environment and development issues. 
  Example: The recent Tunisia Revolution
  Example: The recent Egyptian Revolution.

A major part of these revolutions can be attributed to social networking and information exchanges made possible by networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These avenues provide information sharing on a whole new level.

Utilizing global networking provides the opportunity to problem-solve and strategize with other cultures that are experiencing similar challenges in acclimatizing to technological change. It can become a platform to mobilize ideas, viewpoints, campaigns and strategies to protect and cultivate interests and garner political power. Global technology can become a stage for public support and public awareness leading to public acceptance. Relationships are a key component of communities and communication technology thereby provides the ability to foster and strengthen relationships over the miles, creating what is commonly known as a global village. These efforts allow cultures to remain intact.

Global awareness provides many benefits, including a spotlight on government policies, access to education, living conditions, and injustices, which promotes economic pressure from foreign countries to promote national change. Cultural awareness leads to empathy, understanding and tolerance, while global markets can lead to employment, economic and educational opportunities.

The positive side of this discussion recognizes that in the history of mankind, there have been many periods of time when greater communication between cultures has lead to a flowering of creativity. Periclean Athens and Renaissance Italy are cited as prime examples. Diversity has become valued internationally, and is promoted through international organizations. This discourse views the homogenization of societies as necessary to create a “greater niche diversity” (TWBG, 2004).

 Example: Jerash Festival in Jordan. 
  This festival brings together a number of cultures from varied socioeconomic and 
  geographical backgrounds to celebrate and honor national pride and identity; 
  while celebrating cultural and artistic achievements. 
  This increases global awareness and fosters global cultural diversity.

Knowledge Community

Globalization has privatized and commercialized knowledge forcing a knowledge community to develop (Moahi, 2007). A Knowledge Community is a driving force when it comes to national and international political, social and economic development. Therefore contributions to this global economy cannot be underestimated. Cultural groups have provided input into this knowledge community; however, the dominant cultures will generally prevail.

Smith (2000) believes that globalization began in the West, and therefore it is their ideas, ideologies, values, and lifestyles that are promoted and evangelized throughout the rest of the world. Therefore the dominant culture tends to supersede all others. The global good is taken into account, as long as the ‘global’ that is being referred to means the dominant culture. This creates what is known as a mono-culture – one ideology, one culture and a homogeneous pool where society resides (Smith, 2000). Technology – which is not deemed to be culturally neutral, promotes the ideals, ethics and standards trumpeted by the dominant society. This provides finger-tip access to a range of cultures, however, also dissolves cultures into single supermarket brands(Daes, 2004). Those cultures and countries that cannot compete on a global level are left in the dust of the churning harvester of technology created by first-world countries. Developing countries do not contribute to technology and information building and sharing as compared to developed countries. Therefore, the ones who have the knowledge have the political power, and therefore the dominant ideologies. Their thoughts and belief patterns are perpetuated throughout society, enabling those who think alike, while crushing those that do not. For technology to level the playing field equal access and equal opportunities must abound in a technological society that is both gender and culturally neutral.

Impact on Education

Globalization has impacted education which is now available to remote cultures that previously did not have access. This has opened the doors to not only educational opportunities, but global employment opportunities as well.

The advent of the notion of global citizens and the well-educated workforce of the emerging globalized system has shifted educational priorities and created upheaval in traditional styles of education also known as direct instruction. Furthermore, as countries recognize the immediacy of globalization, some have begun to establish guidelines to enshrine their own cultural diversity within an educational framework that meets the requirements of emerging globalization trends.

Globalization has also contributed to an increasing interest in English-language education worldwide. In response to the emergence of English as a world-linking, global language, an increasing number of schools have stepped up English–language requirements, even at undergraduate levels. The argument is that a universal teaching language is necessary as a natural consequence of globalization.

An example of the negative impact of globalization on education is Nigeria, where a plethora of local languages adds complexity to the task of educating citizens. This means that to maintain cultural diversity, allowances must be made for the multitude of local languages. The corresponding situation in Germany or China is much different – there universities are purposing complete courses in English that incorporate and encourage market mechanisms (Braslavsky, 2003).

Impact on Indigenous Cultures

As a result of globalization, many indigenous groups are being more widely exploited through the tourism industry. The increasing ease of access to these cultures by Western tourists allows for a greater interaction between the two which is not necessarily equal. Western tourists often view indigenous groups as quaint relics of the past that they can observe and report back on to their friends at home. Inevitably there is the acquisition of souvenirs which Western tourists put on display as examples of the primitive encounter they have returned from. Even though there is interest in the culture of these indigenous groups, there is rarely a sense of equality. The tourist often sees themselves as superior and worthy of being served.

The countries in which this type of tourism occurs (ie. many African nations) often alter their policies to encourage the influx of tourist dollars to their countries. Many indigenous groups are moved from their traditional territories in order to allow the Western tourist the greatest possible Safari experience. The efforts of Western conservation organizations have convinced many African nations to alter their conservation policies to the point where there is a direct impact on the abilities of indigenous groups to continue providing for their people in their traditional ways.

A positive spin off is the greater opportunity for employment in the service industry for locals. Again, though, this tends to perpetuate the inequity in status between the tourist and the local employee. As well, the main economic beneficiaries of the tourism industry in these nations are not necessarily the local indigenous workers but the wealthy elite. Even the displays of cultural practices (ie. dances) may not be accurate reflections of traditions as they may be altered for the entertainment of the tourists. Also, this use of tradition for entertainment simply commercializes the local culture to the point where its significance may be compromised.

One of the main segments of indigenous society that are specifically targeted by multinational corporations are the young. Adolescents are far more susceptible to targeted consumerism and, as a result, may find that western consumer ideals may be more appealing to them than their own cultural traditions. They are easier to convert because their personal identity is not as set as that of an adult in their community. With this comes an erosion of cultural hierarchy as the sense of identity becomes more of a personal, individual choice, rather than a societal one. Many indigenous see globalization as a threat to the traditional family structure, creating a disconnect from cultural traditions.

Multinational corporations view indigenous land as a valuable commodity to be bought, sold, and exploited. This has had a great impact on local environments as traditional land use is being pushed aside in favour of specific uses designed to maximize the profits for larger entities. This conflicts with the view held by many indigenous groups that the land is the anchor that connects them to their culture. This exploitation has pushed many indigenous groups even further to the margins of society.

The fear for many indigenous groups is that this global pressure on their culture is only going to lead to the erosion of their traditional values to the point that the diversity of culture in the world will be slowly whittled away to the point that there will be only one large homogeneous culture world wide. The consumeristic nature of globalization is often contrary to traditional indigenous values. Globalization does not take into consideration cultural and socioeconomic circumstances. Instead, it looks to further the interests of the larger, more influential countries and corporations which are the impetus behind its spread.

Working Together

Globalization has been vilified as an exploitative measure by the West to profit from cheap labor within developing nations, and subvert poorer cultures into westernized nations. However, globalization has created an interdependency (Dunklin, 2005), rather than a dependency, and allowed some cultures to thrive rather than wither. The Plains Apaches nation, for example, is a group who used technology to preserve their language, culture and customs after striking a special culture committee which took action against a society which was in jeopardy of fading (Prins, 2002). Technology was used for restorative and recuperative activities to promote the conservation of a culture in a respectful and meaningful manner.

Organizations such as Kiva promote financial support of "Global South" entrepreneurship in 40 different countries such as Cambodia, Nigeria and Bolivia for as little as $25US. Operating with a default rate of .14%, this type of global hand up, rather than hand out, enables local men and women to stay in their villages, rather than have to travel to distance cities to find work, and provides economic freedom.

There are numerous aid organizations that attempt to assist various cultures in economic, financial, education and health issues, while simultaneously maintaining their heritage, culture, beliefs and values. For a list of Top 10 Humanitarian Charities click on this link.

Working Together and Pluralism

Canada has partnered with His Highness the Aga Khan to develop the The Global Centre for Pluralism. This centre in Ottawa is built upon the premise of openness, tolerance and beliefs in other cultures that will strike a foundation for progress and development. Differences are celebrated and diversity is one of its core values. The Global Centre for Pluralism promotes education, research and espouses the values that support pluralist societal values.

Multiculturalism is celebrated every year in Jordon with the Jerash Festival. This festival celebrates Middle Eastern and Western societies coming together to celebrate commerce, art, and culture. Their legacy shines today in the splendid cities of the Greco-Roman and Arab east, such as Petra, Jerash, Gadara, and Palmyra.

Conclusion

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Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines culture as the “total pattern of human behavior and its products embodied in speech, action, and artifacts and dependent upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations”. Globalization raises the fear that this definition will have only one pattern to define; that the resulting absence of cultural diversity will, without intervention, leave succeeding generations with nothing but a homogenized, Westernized culture to inherit.

Regardless of whether one takes a positive or negative view of globalization's relationship to culture, it appears that the institutionalization of diversity may be diversity’s biggest ally. In India, Korea, and Thailand, for example, steps are being taken to stay current with emerging trends in globalization. To ensure their labour forces are educated to be productive members of the international community, these counties have aggressively embraced globalization in their education systems. However, each country has unequivocally stated that national cultural education must be a part of its learning framework.

Globalization has complicated the process of education many times over, but in doing so has created many incredible opportunities for countries to break out of the traditional models of educating and work towards creating knowledge communities. The global citizen is seen as a person who can act locally but think globally, a goal that keeps an eye on maintaining cultural diversity while exposing a country’s citizens to the benefits of globalization.

The debate around globalization being positive and or negative is an ongoing one. It can provide a stronger collective identity, empower individual and group distinctiveness while at the same time provide a means for misrepresentation, disempowerment and an avenue for further colonization. Cultural diversity can be strengthened through globalization by providing the means and wherewithal to support cultural groups attempting to make a difference in society while still maintaining their distinctive set of beliefs, practices and values.

See Also

Multiculturalism

Culture

Indigenous Cultures and Globalization

Cultural Pluralism

Global Centre for Pluralism

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