The contemporary era is a globalised one. The interconnectivity of peoples, cultures and nations abounds, with the global exchange of ideas, commodities and technologies at an unprecedented level and scope. However, growing concern amongst critics of globalisation is the attendant possibility, and supposed certainty, of its expedition of homogenisation.
It is the global interconnectivity of the internet age above all in which homogenisation seems to be occurring “without precedent in human history, at least for the scope, speed and manner in which changes are taking place” (Pollock, 2002: 15). Its proliferation into the commonplace daily routine of human life, particularly in the northern hemisphere, has allowed globalisation to occur at a rapid pace. And yet, this is hardly the only instance of globalisation in history. Bisley (2007) establishes many antecedent instances, such as Roman Empire, Mongol Empire, European Colonial Age, summarily globalised the world through conquest and imperial expansionism. So too did the advent of free trade and tractate amongst fellow imperial powers. Perhaps then, the postcolonial world is one that has yet to adapt to just that: post-colonial thought. Many of the current paradigms for globalisation are based on the basic assumption of cultural usurpation: where colonisation, invasion and wars of religion and ideology effectively lead to the victorious side spreading and enforcing “his superiority and that of the ‘civilization’ he imposed upon the colonized” (Cohen, 2007: 43), which is surely the more absolutist manifestation of homogenisation than can be seen today.
Despite supposed near ubiquity, the internet can equally be said to proliferate disparities of thought: “the sociophere is far more extensive than we realize” (Govier, 1997: 227). The unprecedented interconnectivity of the world, is not reflective of two parties meeting on the shore, field of battle or court of previous ages, but rather a multilateral discourse between participants abounding. After all, despite discourse, Americanisation is not the only demonstrable cultural diffusion, although it is frequently the most criticised: “once Americanisation is relativized, Japanization or Russianization… can be apprehended and analyzed as integral parts of a fundamentally nonobjective and fractal world” (Ching, 2001: 295). Accelerated still, the disparity of these participants ensures a maelstrom of multilateral discourse (Holton, 2005: 55; Cohen, 2007: 23).
This pervasion of commonplace routine by any concept or object is often a watermark for homogenisation: “there is no denying the fact that certain styles, brands, tastes and practices now have global currency and can be encountered virtually anywhere in the world” (Tomlinson, 1999: 83). Importantly however, this is a superficial homogenisation: disregarding that commodities need not necessarily carry the same value or mythology in all cultures. For example, a global brand amongst the typical culprits of Americanisation — the fast food outlet KFC — is treated rather differently in Japan than its homeland. Where it was designed merely as convenient and enjoyable for mass consumption in the United States, in Japan it has acquired additional ritualisations: being the modern meal for the commercialised, secular Japanese Christmas celebration (Whipp, 2010; Smith, 2012); it is an approximation of a singled out Western perspective, filtered through the Japanese fascination with the West and their own cultural traditions of gift giving at the nearby New Year celebration (Hendry, 1995). The conception and proliferation of stereotypical iconography and motifs is one of appropriation (Anheier & Isar, 2010).
Likewise, Coca-cola, another brand from the United States becomes localised in its material culture in the Caribbean (Miller, 1998): glocalisation. Here, it represents a local bottling livelihood rather than the iconography of capitalist American prosperity. Therefore, whilst global presence ostensibly gives the appearance of homogenisation across cultures, it disregards the emic perspective of the “pluralistic, distinct, and disjunct disunities of cultural formations” (Ching, 2001: 295), on which all things are valued and defined.
Urbanisation is a phenomenon of particular note. As hubs of international trade, immigration and cultural exchange, the city has superseded the nation-state in terms of global importance: “Globalization has not obliterated geography, but it has created new hierarchies in which cities are key centres, operating horizontally across space, as much as vertically within nation-states” (Holton, 2005: 61). Indeed, the city has with countries being viewed in economic, political and media discourse in synecdoche: London for United Kingdom, New York and Washington for USA, Tokyo for Japan. Moreover, it can be said that such cities share more in common with one another than they do with their domestic counterparts (Beckel, 2001: 18). They share the same regulated global financial systems, act as platforms for the same world events, they offer the same commodities which in turn are consumed by similar demographically split denizens. Thus, there is an internal heterogeneity within the nation-state at least, even if the global city’s newfound cosmopolitanism can be accused of relative ubiquity (Bisley, 2007:163) as a result of those global brands and commodities.
The city as a migratory site, an epicentre for cosmopolitanism through infrastructure and migration (Holton, 2005: 60-61), avails construction of this supposed ubiquity. Indeed, this multicultural infusion alters the fabric of the urban landscape with multitudes of new and disparate styles and peoples. In turn this command of cultural capital formulates a self-replenishing allure of cosmopolitanism (Zukin, 1995). A proliferation ensues, both on influx and interaction, with enclaves of peoples that gradually develop into hybridised “multiple identities and lifestyles” (Brown, 2006: 134). The assimilation of peoples could be said to be factor of homogenisation. But, can a migrant be said to wholly discard their antecedent formative cultural identity; do they forget their mother tongue or avail themselves of their deep rooted mores, even if they adapt their religion, ideology or lifestyle? Formulation of global cities through immigration not only becomes a synecdoche for the nation it represents, but also the multicultural world assembled in patchwork microcosm.
Conversely, the Japanese Sakoku isolation policy of the 18th and 19th century: a measure adopted to combat the suffusion of Christianity on the Japanese archipelago, from the Iberian culture (Hogan, 2011: 40): an active attempt at ensuring stability and cross-continental cultural heterogeneity. During the period, however, Japan can be said to have suffered in terms of “political and social development… arrested by obsessive internal controls” (Millard, 2001: 12), in comparison to the rapidly globalising world in the the Age of Discovery (Bisley, 2007).
Exceptions prove this rule, as it can be noted that through Dutch merchants (the sole allowable international trading partner, limited to a single port in Nagasaki): “the fascination with perspective, and later with shadows and other light effects, was born of the most minimal contact between Japanese artists and… European books” (Little, 1996: 76). Such works created in this time, often of foreign realms and vistas unseen as they were by Japanese eyes, were in application a mere “approximation”, “imitation”, “experiments”, “misconceptions owing to incomplete understanding” (Little, 1996: 78). Perception was filtered through enculturation, through their own cultural predispositions to what they heard and read.
Comparably, although with intent, the disparate landscapes of the vast British Empire were frequently depicted in the style of the picturesque canon of British landscape painting, based not so much on the literal presentation of the foreign lands, but metaphorical representation through the aesthetic of Britishness and the homeland (Auerbach, 2004). In an effort to create an image of familiarisation and unity amongst the multinational subjects, this can clearly be taken as propaganda, and a very active attempt at homogenising the empire. Likewise, recent isolationist attitude of the North Korean Juche has recently demonstrated both the stagnation of isolation but also, an homogenisation of its internal culture: with strict regulations on the haircuts its citizens are allowed to wear (BBC, 2004). Active thought can be both a means towards and combatant against the homogenisation of culture and national identity.
The foundation of a nation state and overarching national identity is far from a concrete certainty. Borders, territory and unions are fluid. Since decolonisation borders and unions have followed a continually diminutive scalar trend. “While globalization is contributing to a cosmopolitan sensibility it is equally driving a rise in nationalism…” (Bisley, 2007: 210). Even in the contemporary age examples such as the ongoing the Québec sovereignty debate (Duchesne, Eagles & Erfle, 2003), the Scottish Referendum for independence (Carrell, 2013), the Crimean succession (Harding & Walker, 2014) and the recent Venetian referendum (Molloy, 2014) calling for an independent Venetian Republic, demonstrate that there is dual trend (alongside the aforementioned global city) towards increased microscopical identification and cultural differentiation. Rather than homogenisation, their conception of political and cultural identity is ever more specific.
Of homogenisation through globalisation, “language loss is one aspect” (Pollock, 2002: 15). Differentiation can occur within a nation perhaps by the survival of a regional language or dialect: Welsh in Wales, Neapolitan in Campania and Southern Italy and Catalan in Catalonia, which has been suggested as a major proponent for the conservation of the distinct Catalonian identity (Brandes, 1990: 24). Which, it should be noted continues to be considered the native language by around 40% of the Catalonian population despite the Spanish language being “imposed on the local population by the governing authorities in Madrid for more than two and half centuries” (Ferrer, 2000: 190). Conversely, the legislation protecting the use of Canadian French dialects in the provinces of Québec and New Brunswick (Gade, 2003) allows for the distinction of different cultural groups within the same national borders. It is clear that the is a perception that the use and regulation of language are vehicles by which cultural identity can be defined, dictated or conserved.
Similarly, even as part of a collective nation or within larger overarching international institutions (such as the European Union, Arab League or United Nations), regional identities remain. One can simultaneous be both European and British, and moreover identify as Welsh or Scottish, for example; or else, Puerto Rican and American; a Londoner and yet an international migrant (Wills et al., 2010; Favell, 2011). Not only is a scalar trend towards increased subcultural differentiation — the antithesis of homogenisation — but, a multilayered hybridisation of identity. Peoples are therefore allowed to identify with each of their experiences rather than merely allegiance to the homeland: formulating multilayered, cosmopolitan subcultures.
The global reach of world religions is also demonstrates a paradoxically heterogeneous reality through its multiplicity and subcultural divergence, despite overarching philosophy. Mexican Catholicism deviance from that of the papal ideal, for example, is typified in the folk figure of Santa Muerte (Cheshnut, 2012), who seemingly combines the image of a virgin saint with pagan skeletal imagery of pre-Christian Mexican society. Furthermore, her worship and reverence is one often associated with crime and criminals, as well as the poor and disenfranchised (Chesnut, 2012). Syncretism at a subcultural level. Indeed, Christianity itself can be noted by its several different and sometimes conflicting schools of thought and multiple schisms, not least in the Protestant and Catholicism divide in Renaissance England. Likewise, Buddhism is another prime example. Its wide spread nature both global, and predominantly in East Asia, does not prescribe a singularity of thought. Beyond its two major branches, Mahayana and Theravada, its appearance in Japan is in tandem with the other dominant belief system: Shinto (Shimazono, 2005). Not only do both systems exist side by side, but there is a certain degree of hybridisation between them: individuals are not required to adhere to one exclusively, and many rites of passage are shared between the shrines of each (Shimazono, 2005: 1096). Birth and marriage rites might take place in a Shinto shrine for the same individuals as do death rites in a Buddhist temple. Singularity nor bastardisation is an inevitability of globalisation.
In assessing the effects of globalisation on the world, one must not only take the theoretical into account — because of course, superficially should all cultures be receptive in exactitude, homogenisation would eventuate — but also, commodities and ideologies that have already and continue to be transmitted. Indeed, much of the Twentieth Century can be characterised by the very active stand-off between conflicting ideologies, independence versus imperialism, Liberalism versus Fascism, Capitalism versus Communism, Democracy versus Dictatorship. Conflicts and incursions attributable to active globalisation (Bisley, 2007: 208).
As the dominant occupants of the Appauradai’s (1990) Finanscape and Ideoscape, respectively, Capitalism and Democracy stand as two foundations for contemporary thought, and contemporary life. Yet, despite radiation neither are uniform, taking various forms and systems. Democracy is of the people, of the individual. It enfranchises the disparate voices of people. Capitalism is of self-determination, and profit through means of production. Whilst their near ubiquity, as in the aforementioned case internet’s proliferation, seems to denote homogeneity. Yet fostering self-determination as one of key tenets: “argues passionately against instrumentalism or determinism, and for the recognition of the human as the bearer of universal rights” (Pollock et al., 2002: 5), and profit through trade as another, suggest otherwise. In fact, in regards to its main criticism of exploitation for financial gain taken as fact, how can the world be homogenising: “when global disorder, poverty and inequality are now at historic levels?” ask Held & McGrew (2002: 76). This damning rhetoric decrying the homogenisation of peoples, facilitate heterogeneity: for better or worse.
Inextricably linked to Capitalism, and the commoditisation of the interdependent globalised world, Postmodernism proclaims that the ethnoscape is permeated and impacted by the mediascape in the current age of globalisation (Appadurai, 1990). Film is an agent of change, and commander of cultural fashion. Hollywood then, becomes a figurehead for the so-called Americanisation (Bisley, 2007: 163; Holton, 2005: 115) in its domination of the field. And yet, other world cinemas endure: not least in Britain, France and Japan, but also and the growing industries of Canada and Scandinavia. Even within the powerhouse of Hollywood capitalism can be seen to overrule homogenisation at times: the editing of content for certain audiences — notably the Chinese market — so as not to infringe upon cultural values, cause of offence or merely to avoid confusion. These in term augment profits. Postmodernism furthermore places great emphasis on Liberalism and self-determination: cornerstones of the cosmopolitan lifestyle marked by “multiple identities and lifestyles” (Brown, 2006: 134).
Indeed, since the advent of mass media fashions have been easily disseminated. Fascinations with the exoticism and antiquity born out of Napoleonic conquests and the birth of archaeology were commoditised by the media: admired and appropriated. Egyptian, Mayan and Mesopotamian antiquity in the formulation of the Art Deco style. “Cultural capital does not exist in a social vacuum… forces that ground its circulation and tie it very much to local passions and loyalties” (Bridge et al., 2006: 59). Again, globalised ideas are deconstructed from their original purpose and meaning and reapplied to the appropriating culture’s needs, values and intentions. Fashions arose in the colonial countries on the world stage based on the acquisition and display of such antiquities and technologies. The Great Exhibition for example, or the successive World’s Fairs, created a fascination with the mystique of exoticism. The publicity augmenting its reach, and accessibility to all. ‘Global Culture as Cultural Imperialism’ (Tomlinson, 1999: 79) was born, and so the cosmopolitan identity: one that seeks to exude the impression of exoticism and expedition, through transference.
The global flows of ideas, ideologies, technologies and commodities in the current age is uniquely multilateral, and democratic. The speed at which they are conveyed through the omnipresent mass media that pervades society enables multilateralism to form a fluid impressionistic ethnoscape. The self-determinism and liberalism conveyed by reigning globalised ideologies, likewise, promotes the formulation of Cosmopolitan identities: “humanist discourse of rights founded on the unique and inviolable presence of ‘human’ personhood” (Pollock et al., 2002: 5). The trend towards such individualism, seen both at the societal and personal level, uses the philosophy of self-determinism in the accumulation of knowledge, awareness and cultural capital as commodity. In turn, through sheer profuseness of disparate cultural and subcultural identities — multilayered and hybridised — proliferates the cycle and ensures that no single culture or aspect, through imperialism, isolation or influential immensity, can achieve an overpowering osmosis of cultural superiority. This combination in multitude of individualism and cosmopolitan fluidity of thought, exchange and movement precludes the melting pot ever truly forming one singular, global alloy of homogeneity.
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