Globalization and cultural distinctiveness

Amir Mohammad Sayem

Of course, globalization is inevitable in the world and important for development. But globalization, which is usually indicative of the process by which economic, social, political and cultural aspects are integrated globally with the flows of goods, ideas, norms, values and many others across countries, is dynamic and is multi-directional, meaning that it is an ongoing process and different social, economic and other aspects of any country can be globalized, even if some countries can dominate some aspects in economic, social, political, cultural or other terms in the globalization process. It affects the economic system, political system, cultures or cultural distinctiveness of societies and persons, and many other aspects. Globalization has positive and negative effects and does not similarly occur across regions, countries and localities.

Of course, cultural distinctiveness, or the uniqueness of a culture that is a set of patterns of human activities of a society, a social group, or a person, is very important for not only every society but also every person. Notably, each society and human being tries to be different from other societies and human beings respectively, even if there can be some similarities and, in this respect, cultural distinctiveness plays a very significant role. Cultural distinctiveness helps each human being to develop personality and identity in a distinctive manner and helps each country or society to develop an identity that is distinctive from others. Cultural distinctiveness leads to the distinctiveness of a society in terms of goals, laws, policies, plans and other aspects and a social group or a person in terms of thoughts, behaviors or ways of living.

As already indicated, globalization can affect the cultural distinctiveness of persons and societies. Indeed, cultural interaction occurs among societies. In the interaction, some cultural elements can become globalized. But, of course, cultural elements of different countries may become globalized depending on many factors including how these are flowed across societies. Different societies accept globalized cultures at varying degrees. Similarly, personal cultural norms and values of persons may interact with globalized cultures. Different persons may accept different globalized cultural elements. But cultural interaction is constant. Consequently, cultural globalization is also constant. This indicates that societies and persons go through adaptation and re-adaptation of diverse cultural elements, including norms and values, good or bad.

Globalization and cultural distinctiveness can be viewed from several perspectives such as cultural homogeneity, heterogeneity and hybridization. In the cultural homogeneity viewpoint, an increased interaction among cultures of societies leads to a more homogenization of cultures in the world. In this sense, the globalization or international exchange of diverse goods, services, capitals, technologies, human movements, norms and values and others is the process of acculturation of the world. At the extreme form of this version, cultures can be a unique world culture. More dominant countries or cultures are the driving forces for acculturation, as diverse mechanisms including products, goods, services and mass media of those societies are more dominant. Many also call the homogenization of cultures the Westernization or Americanization of cultures.

In the heterogeneity viewpoint, cultures are different across regions, countries, localities. Even if there are some sort of similarities among cultures or cultural elements and there are influences of intercultural forces at the global and local level, cultures of societies or localities become different from each other. According to this view, cultural changes of societies driven by international flows of cultural elements are meager since each culture remains unique and such changes are superficial, meaning that cultural changes occur in some traits only and the globalization of culture or cultural elements does not lead to fundamental cultural changes of societies. This is mainly because there are preventive forces of each culture to protect it from the flows of cultural elements from trans-boundary flows. Thus, culture is diversified across societies and milt-dimensional, especially in terms of its flows.

But none of the above viewpoints are absolute. Indeed, there can be neither world culture nor local culture without being affected by globalization. Globalization changes cultures across societies and localities. This is inevitable because of cultural interactions across societies. Both external and internal flows interact to create a unique culture that may be called the hybridization of culture. The main point of such a viewpoint is the continuous process of mixing and blending cultures of societies, even if there are core cultural elements of societies. Of course, barriers to external flows of cultural elements exist but these are not enough for the complete protection of local cultures from external flows. Consequently, globalization shapes and reshapes the cultures of societies.

But an important point can be raised on whether the adaptation and re-adaptation of cultural elements from others driven by globalization can erase the distinctiveness of cultures of societies and persons all in all. Since it is impossible for globalization to erase local cultures completely, the cultural distinctiveness of societies and persons remains. But because of continuous interactions among global, regional and local cultures, the cultural distinctiveness of societies as well as individual persons takes new forms with the integration and re-integration of some new cultural elements and rejection of some old cultural elements. But, of course, such a change varies across countries and among persons mainly depending on the cultural aggressiveness of globalized cultural elements or external flows and the resistive capacity of societies and persons.

Of course, another important question remains on whether the changes of the distinctiveness of cultures are in the desired direction. Indeed, the impacts of globalization on culture can be both good and bad, or harmful or beneficial, and the cultural distinctiveness of societies and persons can be shaped and reshaped accordingly. Globalization can help replace good and bad cultural elements that are attached with societies, groups or persons with both good and bad external cultural elements. But, notably, goodness and badness have no universal understanding, even if some cultural elements including some cultural norms and values can be universal. Along with cultural universalism, cultural relativism is, thus, important to define the goodness and badness of cultures. This indicates that the understanding of goodness or badness of cultures is subject to the local context as well as global context at varying degrees.

Since cultural distinctiveness of societies and persons are important and the adaptation and re-adaptation of cultures are expected and undeniable across countries, it is desired that cultural changes enrich the distinctiveness of cultures of societies and persons and/or lead to cultural distinctiveness in the desired direction with the appreciation of good cultural elements and rejection of bad ones from internal and external flows. In this respect, more efforts are needed. Undeniably, mass media can play significant roles in the protection and promotion of good cultural elements, including norms and values, from internal and external flows. Also, educational institutes, textbooks, dramas, advertisements and other platforms can play very significant roles in this respect.