And Oh-So Austere: Globalization Coming Into View

The globalization of cultural symbols and concepts has left the world in between two ages, a temporal space where persons and their generations find it hard to find themselves. Thanks to technological developments, the ability for culture to be diffused to distant regions of globe — from, say, a European or American cosmopolitan center to less influential nations and cities — is vastly expanded. Still, despite this intermixing in a global melting pot, with populations fleeing westward for reprieve, promotional worlds are built up around users hunched over computers and laptops, where advertisements are personally tailored for them, divorcing them from their cluster of friends.

Whilst most of the literature on the topic of globalization argues that, as fewer and fewer trans-national corporations compete to expand market share, once diverse cultures have fallen victim to a homogenization process, some research sees the reality differently. By arguing the case for blowback or resistance to trends of global cultural standardization, these analysts seemingly borrow from laws of physics that state for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This reaction from below is newfangled nationalisms in nations that perceive a whittling away of their national sovereignty by the vector of global governance, business, and sociality as anti-republican traditions, totally devoid of respect for common law.

In his essay, “Learning to be local in Belize,”1 Richard Wilk puts his hand on this transpiration in Belize, where a mere two decades ago, at a time when foreign cultural influence was scarcely so pervasive as now, most Belizeans denied that such a thing as ‘Belizean culture’ existed at all. They did, after all, live where the United States considered backyard. For example, in the realm of cuisine, the honored guest from the north, Wilk, was usually treated to something from a can. Such observations by Wilk turn his paper not into further proffering of the “progressive penetration of global commodities into every crevice of daily life,” but, instead, as an account of local diversification amid global standardization.

To be sure, the global standardization remains, but there is community blossoming and counter-trends taking part that is very much important to the makeup of the dominant culture. In other words, Belizean absorption into international markets and contests has resulted in the people of the country flexing their distinctiveness and diversity apart from other nations. This process represents their entering into, what Wilk terms, the “structure of common difference.”

This Belizean expression of difference positions itself contrary to the ideologies of nonpareil professional marketing managers, who attempt to invoke a transformation in consciousness, in terms of consumer behavior, from an episteme that holds for truth the existence of a universal rationality based on the western model. Put succinctly, a basic premise of their marketing techniques holds that consumers, markets and competitors around the world will behave the same; that, when put in environments more similar than different, the differences in people will tend to blur, to fade with time.

This managerial rationality is an “undisputed instrument of knowledge.” For instance, the field of neuro-marketing helps to make a science of predicting — more to the point, dictating — global consumer habits. The foundational study that gave rise to this field analyzed how, in test subjects shown products with which they identified and, therefore, enjoyed, blood rushed to a small location at the front of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for self-identification and the formation of personality. Such knowledge of human behavior can help to globalize a certain type of commoditization, a professional marketing manager might reason. 2

For some, globalization is an ideology, a fact of life. It certainly is a reality in every person on the plants life. Moreover, its process is a political one. As George Orwell told, everything is politics. Policies of deregulation and philosophies of free trade — a euphemism for corporate expansion — abet globalization and justify not just the macro-economic axiom of comparative advantage, but, also, the micro-economic foundations of neuro-economics in the neo-classical economic model — including therein basic assumptions of inherent maximizing inclination of Homo economicus in an environment of scarcity. For historically powerful global elite financiers, internationalists and their national bureaucrats, globalization serves as a rationale for the recent history’s restructuring of states and economies; “a historically specific project of global economic management.” It is, for such entrenched power interests, “a view of ordering the world.”

Managers and experts of trans-national corporations are particularly strong advocates of globalization because they view it as offering opportunities of boundless proportions; the concept by which to judge quality, mere efficiency. For them, globalization represents the possibility of doing business without restriction; that, de facto, supply and demand does not do autonomous market making and eradication, they can and do. And will continue doing so, in their “view of ordering the world.” They ensure this progression persists.

Such a worldview stands in contraposition to the free market capitalist ideology, by its mainstream definition. The vision of TNC managers, consultants and management academics is a global one. In fact, they are referred to by many as “globalist” with “globalist” occasionally being prefaced with the qualifier “demise-of-the-state,” meaning, essentially, they hold no allegiances to any nation-state or its culture. TNC marketers built a worldview upon the maxim of globalization, thereby forming theories about consumers and competitive strategies. Although a complex abstraction, globalization daily becomes increasingly the true superstructure of our daily lives. 3

  1. Wilk, Richard. (1995) “Learning to Be Local in Belize: Global Systems of Common Difference.” Development: A Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Susanne Schech and Jane Haggis, Blackwell. []
  2. Frank, Lone. “How the Brain Reveals Why we Buy.” Scientific American, 2 November 2009. []
  3. Applbaum, Kalman. (May 2000). Crossing Borders: Globalization as Myth and Charter in American Transnational Consumer Marketing, American Ethnologist. []
Justin O'Connell blogs at The Handshake Times. He can be reached at: justin@libertycpm.com. Read other articles by Justin.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on May 1st, 2010 at 10:00am #

    Interesting point but Belize is a bit unrepresentative. When I was young, it was called British Honduras and was claimed by Guatemala. There was thus a question mark over whether there should even be a country called “Belize” at all. Logically, that should have led to an “identity crisis” and I doubt if globalisation has much to do with it. Also, there is indeed a renewal of local cultures. Regional cultures have flourished to an extraordinary degree in Europe. Irish culture has flourished under the EU umbrella and the Belgians are once again talking about splitting up. Think also: Abkhazia, Ossetia, Corsica and all the cultures arising from ex-Yugoslavia and the ex-Soviet Union. I doubt if any of that has do do with economic globalisation and is more a product of the discovery of the cultural richness of the human race. Everybody says: “how different we all are!” and then adds: “me too!”.

  2. bozh said on May 1st, 2010 at 10:57am #

    At this time i wld like to point out that sanity demands that not only people be much interdependent in all of our affairs,but also all nations.
    So globalized interdependence appears a better way to go. If most of nat`l traits wld disappear, the more this wld enhance peace and love for cooperation among all people and nations or ethnoses.

    Alas, asocialists fear this possibility or even probability of happening and the best way to deter this is by waging wars and relentless quest for greater dependence of own respective folks but also nations.

    If a country wants peace, asocialsists wld ensure that it retains its peace only on conditions laid out by asocialists.
    Case in point is n. korea, cuba, venezuella, iran, iraq, palestine! They want peace. Which means also w.o. threats of war or demonization, lies etc.
    They can have their perfect peace any time they become dependencies and vast number of their respective people also stay or become utter dependencies.

    Israel, too, can get anything it wants as long as it is an utter dependency! Or am i wrong seeing it as such? If so can one enlighten me how that`s not so?
    So do uzbeks, tajiks, pakistanis, indians, et al. tnx