The Houston Institute for Culture is developing a series of topics related to globalization. Our purpose for this forum is to encourage public awareness and discussion on the impact of globalization on culture -- on quality of life aspects of culture and the creative energy and independent thinking that is behind most cultural activity.
Globalization is the worldwide spread of influence of culture, language, religion, transportation, communication, media, technology, trade, business practices, and interrelated government and corporate finance, as well as environmental and health concerns.
A broad example of globalization is the common use by many people worldwide of Internet and global positioning satellite receivers, or the use of weather satellite imagery to track a hurricane, and sophisticated military aircraft to judge its strength, as this information is provided to nations like Mexico or Honduras, or South Seas islands, in real time. Another example is the availability of news from countries around the world through networks like World Radio Network. Further indicative of globalization is the fact that the broadcast is often entirely in English.
A more specific definition most applicable when used by politicians, economists, activists and media is found in Collins dictionary: Globalization is "the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications."
Globalization in its modern stage is responsible for vast cultural destruction and cultural leveling (largely created by the homogenizing effect of mass media and consumer marketing). Cultural leveling, as used here, is not a leveling effect on financial resources of different cultures of the world. Globalization is typically responsible for further distorting the disparities that exist between different cultures. Cultural leveling is generally the spreading influence of a dominant culture through its media and technology, affecting the interests, beliefs and lifeways of other cultures. Cultural leveling may result from the influence of numerous positive and negative systems.
Cultural leveling may seem as mundane as our now common use of the World Wide Web (a technological boom spread more rapid than television), or as omnipresent as our incessant spending on popular corporate brands through the growth of numerous worldwide industries, or even as undetectable as the communications satellites orbiting the earth. People often attribute cultural leveling to the marvels of modern technology, overlooking the human programmers behind its content or the tremendous financial gains of land and media owners, manufacturers, and distributors who develop consumer interests.
In a speech at the University of Houston, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu specified, "Globalization -- the concentration of capitol and the exclusive concentration of communication systems -- affects not only the lives of indigenous peoples, but also affects the lives of poor people of the world. When we speak of free trade, we are not talking about the small and middle commercial sectors of the world, but rather we are speaking of the great monopolies."
The broad impact of globalization is exposed in the diversity of efforts organized to detour its most detrimental effects, which are consistent with industrialization: Consumer advocacy organizations are concerned with poverty and debt; Human rights organizations are concerned with its impact on indigenous cultures and political dissidents; Environmental organizations are concerned with its impact on ecology and nonrenewable energy sources; And, health organizations are concerned with the spread of communicable diseases and poor health caused by industrial pollution.
Stages of Globalization
There are almost infinite recognizable historical stages in the ongoing process of globalization, including colonization, slave trade, establishment of churches in foreign lands, inventions in mass transportation, industrialization, development of interstate highways, electrical infrastructure, etc. The building of wealth and empire has usually resulted in the most notable phases of globalization. Historically, the process has created new cultures, such as African-Americans, whose family histories are often rooted in slavery. The process has also resulted in great economic disparity between cultures in nations often called the "first world" and indigenous peoples of remote regions, such as the Amazon, that are said to be "underdeveloped" or "developing." The terminology typically refers to infrastructure and access to natural resources. Aggressive exploitation of the resources by outside cultures often contributes to the disparity. A major factor in modern globalization is media technology and access availability, which is assimilating the interests, particularly in areas of news and entertainment, of many cultures around the world. With the advances in electronic media, modern globalization is experienced through consumer trends and the growth in sales of dominant name-brand products.
Economic Globalization is often referred to as "Corporate Globalization," because it is primarily the mission of larger corporations to globalize their operations. A fairly accurate summary can be found in Collins dictionary: "the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications." The spread of corporate activity (the replacement of local independent and family business with corporate business, the sales of franchises, the strategic implementation of corporate operations in distant markets, etc.) can affect local economies in far away places. The simple form of this is determined by the success of the business and its outside ownership; If the business is profitable, then it draws more resources from the community than it provides. There are many more complex factors, including the availability and limit of the community's resources. Governments and citizens debate the positive and negative effects of trade treaties that open markets to foreign investment, privatization and corporate profit taking. International finance is also complicated as many nation's owe tremendous debt to world financial organizations, and nations receive subsidies from wealthy nations like the United States, which come with restrictions and stipulations that affect those nation's economic needs and sovereignty in some matters.
Influence on Worldwide Culture
Because modern globalization uses highly effective communication tools (electronic media, television, wireless connections, satellite, Internet, etc.), marketing, western entertainment and western-influenced business development are escalating rapidly throughout the world. Medical sciences, engineering and technical training in western universities are providing a slower-moving form of global knowledge. There are many patterns of spreading influence: religions are increasingly in conflict; easily duplicated digital media (entertainment and information) is becoming standard; and, English and Spanish continue to grow in worldwide usage.
Interpreting Cultural Effects of Globalization
The most effective strategy used to promote expanding markets and sources of profit is to develop common interests of consumers through media. It isn't simply a process of manufacturing, marketing and distribution. The nationalizing of culture through media and corporate sponsorship has created phenomenal growth for many corporations in the United States. Highly efficient and profitable businesses spread across the United States have enabled American consumers to fund modern globalization. Profits derived by individual corporations from many widespread and diverse markets have allowed for almost limitless expansion. As American businesses expand to foreign markets, the only impact Americans are often aware of is the loss of distinctiveness of other cultures. The distinctiveness becomes less understood over time and people seek greater uniformity in culture out of desire for convenience.
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HOUSTON INSTITUTE FOR CULTURE