"Globalization, both as an ideology and process, has become the dominant political, economical and cultural force in the 21st century." Quote from "Globalism: The New Market Ideology" by Manfred D.Steger Two powerful scenarios dominate the public discourse about the cultural consequences of globalization. The one very common scenario represents globalization as cultural homogenization (for example Benjamin Barbers McWorld vs. Jihad). In this scenario the culturally distinct societies of the world are being overrun by globally available goods, media, ideas and institutions. In a world where people from Vienna to Sidney eat BigMacs, drink Starbucks coffee, talk about human rights and work on their Apple computers, cultural characteristics are endangered. As these commodities and ideas are mostly of western origin, globalization is perceived as westernization in disguise. The other scenario is that of cultural fragmentation and intercultural conflict (encapsulated in Huntington's Clash of civilizations and most recently "confirmed" by the ethnocides in Africa).
But can we really reduce the processes of cultural globalization (i.e.
the process of world-wide interconnections) to these two stereotypes?
What about the meaning that local people attach to globally
distributed goods and ideas? Why do people drink Coca-Cola and what
sense do they make of the soap operas they watch? Do they really trade
in their century-old lifeworlds for the kinds of Madonna and Bill
Gates? And how does the homogenization scenario fit with its rival,
the imminent cultural fragmentation?
In order to gain a clearer picture of contemporary global cultural
changes, we have to study cultural practices worldwide. Objectively
measurable figures concerning death rates, intercultural marriages and
market-shares have to be understood in their wider social context.
They have to be related to specific worldviews, gender relations and
the local meaning of death and wealth.
An ethnographic approach to globalization
But how does one study these intersubjective aspects of life? Many of
the writings on the cultural aspects of globalization generalize from
experiences gained in the West to other parts of the world. What we
need instead are decentralized perspectives, ethnographic "deep
descriptions" (Geertz) from local communities all over the world and
combine them with the predominantly quantitative data obtained through
the perspectives of economists, political scientists and others. What
people say and what they actually do or mean is often a very different