Globalization and Cultural Identity Essays

4500 Words Oct 13th, 2013 18 Pages
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Globalization and Cultural Identity
John Tomlinson

It is fair to say that the impact of globalization in the cultural sphere has, most generally, been viewed in a pessimistic light. Typically, it has been associated with the destruction of cultural identities, victims of the accelerating encroachment of a homogenized, westernized, consumer culture. This view, the constituency for which extends from (some) academics to anti-globalization activists (Shepard and Hayduk
2002), tends to interpret globalization as a seamless extension of – indeed, as a euphemism for – western cultural imperialism. In the discussion which follows I want to approach this claim with a good deal of scepticism.
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Identity as Cultural Power
Let us begin with identity, a concept which surely lies at the heart of our contemporary cultural imagination. It is not, in fact, difficult in the prolific literature of analysis of the concept to find positions which contest the story of identity as the victim of globalization that I sketched above. To take just one example, Manuel Castells devoted an entire volume of his celebrated analysis of ‘The Information Age’ to the proposition that: ‘Our world and our lives are being shaped by the conflicting trends of globalization and identity.’ For Castells, the primary opposition to the power of globalization lies in ‘the widespread surge of powerful expressions of collective identity that challenge globalization . . . on behalf of cultural singularity and people’s control over their lives and environment’ (1997: 2). Far from being the fragile flower that globalization tramples, identity is seen here as the upsurging power of local culture that offers (albeit multi-form, disorganized and sometimes politically reactionary) resistance to the centrifugal force of capitalist globalization.
This more robust view of the ‘power of identity’ is one to which anyone surveying the dramatic rise of social movements based around identity positions (gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, nationality) might easily subscribe. So, recognizing the significant cultural sources of

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