Global Culture and the Blanding Effect
David Held defines globalisation as “the widening, intensifying, speeding up and growing impact of worldwide interconnectedness.” One of the biggest issues concerning globalisation is the impact that it has on the world’s cultures, because culture is considered to be one of the most significant and valued concepts to humanity.
Of the theories of possible outcomes from globalisation, possibly the most commonly believed is the homogenisation thesis. This theory contends that globalisation creates one singular culture around the world, and thus poses a threat to the diversity of different cultures, and particularly those localised cultures from developing parts of the world.
It is thought that cultures from developing countries are at the most risk of becoming homogenised, because they believe that globalisation is synonymous with the imposition of Western influences, particularly those of the American culture, on the rest of the world; a concept which they call ‘cultural imperialism’. This notion dictates that Western cultures have strong economies which allow them to be able to create connections through trade with the rest of the world, yet at the same time, their power allows them to enforce influence and cause change to the seemingly inferior existing cultures that they connect with.
Many of these localised cultures from developing countries seem to be so easily led by the West, because it claims to offer them prosperity and access to a global community, which will better their lifestyles and economy. However, many people believe that the West instead manipulates these developing countries into adopting their values of capitalism and consumerism so that they can increase their own profit levels.
Further to this, much of the world’s media is produced and distributed by the West, particularly America, which means that it is likely to be biased towards Western culture and ideals. The concern is that Western media culture is centred on advertising, and this encourages an increasing consumption of goods, which therefore could cause localised cultures to develop consumerist ideals. Many fear that the West uses globalisation as a tool of ‘corporate imperialism’ to increase the demand for its products and to monopolize the media to create a singular flow of information, ideas and values.
Evidence of this is provided by the fashion industry in multiple different ways. It is a fairly recent development that sees fashion commanding a global market, much of which is dominated by a number of large, chiefly international brands, and there is some suggestion that this may have caused there to be less unique and culturally specific fashions that exist in the world. Instead, it is thought by some, that fashion and clothing is now very much the same in every country.
Little over one hundred years ago, in 1909, the Frenchman and banker Albert Kahn, embarked upon a project to photograph the people of the world. His aim was to create a record of the many cultures that existed all around the world, and he intended that this would encourage peace and understanding amongst the different cultures. This collection of photographs included many images of people in national dress or wearing local fashions, which meant that it was possible to identify where someone lived by looking at their clothing.
However, there is evidence that this is no longer the case provided by the Dutch photographer, Hans Eijkelboom. He executed a very similar project to Kahn’s, the results of which were published in a book titled People of the Twenty-First Century. Over a period of more than twenty years, Eijkelboom visited many different countries to photograph their people and more specifically, their clothing or appearance. These photographs show that there are vast amounts of people around the world who look and dress in a very similar way, which suggests that globalisation has indeed caused a homogenisation of style and trends.
As June Sarpong states, changes to fashion and the industry as a whole are inevitable, but globalisation has had a tremendous impact on where and how fashions are manufactured. Production has shifted from what is known as the developed world, where wages are high, to the developing countries such as China, India and Hong Kong, where costs and wages are much lower. These developing countries are able to build their wealth and create connections with the more developed countries through the exportation of fashion products, but other developing countries, such as Ghana, have been unsuccessful in their attempts to do the same. Various Ghanaian governments have attempted to improve the country’s industrial sector by bettering education, and by raising expectations that graduates will have the employable and marketable skills that employers desire; it is then expected that these graduates will take job roles in the industrial sector, which will in turn have a positive impact on Ghana’s economy.
However, despite these efforts, Ghana’s fashion industry has struggled to develop, and instead their fashion production industry remains dominated by dressmakers who specialise in custom-made garments that are sold on the roadside for a relatively low market value. This lack of development is partly due to Ghana’s inability to provide the quality of products that are demanded by the destinations it exports to, such as the United States and Europe, and also due to competition by other developing countries who can manufacture products on a larger scale, in a shorter amount of time, and at a lower cost.
Ghana’s own fashion marketplace is also affected by globalisation, partly because a large amount of second-hand clothing is imported from Western areas of the world and this is sold very cheaply. This means that many Ghanaians now dress in Western styles, which is in part due to their being more affordable and also more easily available to them than traditional Ghanaian clothing.
Not only in Ghana, but also in many other developing countries, there is an increased favourability of Western clothing over local clothing, though this is not only due to price and availability. Consumers in these developing countries consider country of origin to be one of the most important influencing factors in their purchasing decisions. Whilst Akaah and Korgaonkar claim that this is because these consumers associate international brands with high quality products, and also because they consider them to be trustworthy and therefore low risk, others believe that it is because of the positive brand perceptions associated with lifestyle and status.
Finally, consumers in developing countries are said to believe that by owning products from international brands, they become citizens of a global community, which therefore makes them feel connected to the rest of the world.
Many people believe that localised cultures are unable to compete with the dominant Western cultures, which use globalisation and particularly their monopolisation of the world’s media, as a tool to spread their lifestyles and values. However, there are several cultures that are actually thriving in this globalised world, because they have been able to utilise globalisation to their advantage.
A further example of hybridisation is the multinational corporation, McDonald’s. There are currently over thirty thousand McDonald’s restaurants in the world, which are spread over more than one hundred countries and territories. It is frequently thought that the prevalence of McDonald’s restaurants around the world has caused further homogenisation of multiple different cultures, because many people believe that McDonald’s offers one singular menu, causing standardisation to the food of different cultures.
This is a common misconception, however McDonald’s actually adapts its’ menus to suit the tastes and demands of the culture it is serving. For example, McDonalds offers a burger made of prawns in its’ Japanese restaurants, where seafood is one of the main components of the diet, Greek restaurants offer pitta bread instead of traditional burger buns, and in Arab countries, kosher and halal menus are available.
Levitt believes that globalisation has created a singular global culture, where everybody shares the same tastes and values; therefore he assumed that products and services would not need to be differentiated to suit the different regional markets. McDonald’s is just one company that has proved that this is not the case, as they have demonstrated that they adapt to and borrow various elements of the cultures that they operate within, instead of replacing the culture completely. This also suggests that Western cultures and companies do not necessarily aim to dominate and eliminate the diversity of foreign cultures, but that they instead want to embrace them and adapt themselves to suit the foreign cultures.
Also, some of the cultures from developing or non-Western countries have demonstrated that they are able to resist domination and elimination by Western cultures, because they are also able to adapt themselves and absorb some of the values of Western influences. These examples suggest that homogenisation is not an inevitable outcome of globalisation, although there is evidence to suggest that it does exist in some situations. Instead, it seems more likely that globalisation is causing hybridisation, meaning that the world retains its’ many different cultures, but they are all influenced by each other and are adapting to suit this.