Cultural globalization is the spread of the culture, customs, or ideas of a place or a people to the rest of the world.
The cultural globalization hypothesis argues that homogenization of culture leads to the homogenization of the human experience. In other words, the con of cultural globalization is that there may develop one world culture (an Americanized world) rather than cultural diversity.
Cultural globalization theorists believe that globalization has picked up pace only over the last century. This is a result of unprecedented technological changes such as the internet and cheap international travel.
Peter L. Berger and Samuel P. Huntington have been among the most important theorists of cultural globalization.
Pros of Cultural Globalization
1. Standardization of Time and Space
Cultural globalization has allowed for uniformity of standards in measuring time and space.
For instance, historically different cultures had different calendars based on different determinants (solar, lunar, etc.). Once, the very sense of time differed across cultures, but now we all follow the same time norms and calendars.
Similarly, different units used to be used for measuring distance, mass, volume, etc.
Today, the Gregorian calendar and its months are followed in most of the world, while the metric system is used for measuring the space the world over.
This has allowed not just for ease of communication, but for greater scientific progress. It led to freeing up human resources from the cumbersome task of always having to convert from one system to another.
The British geographer David Harvey called this phenomenon, which is characteristic of postmodernity, a “compression of time-space” (Harvey, 1989).
2. It is a Catalyst for Positive Social Change
Cultural globalization allows for a spread of positive political and social values such as democracy.
This happens both through the use of mass communication as well as the physical movement of people across boundaries and the exchanges between diasporas and their homelands.
For instance, the spread of ideas such as freedom, democracy, secularism, feminism etc. has led to political movements in many parts of the world demanding greater rights for their people.
Twenty-first-century revolutionary movements such as the Arab spring, the orange revolution, etc. were fuelled by ideas born out of a culture of globalization that allowed liberal values to be widely disseminated and accepted in societies with traditionally autocratic political structures.
However, in recent years, the rise of nationalism and China’s defiance of democracy makes us wonder if this ‘pro’ is really happening at all.
3. Economic Growth
Cultural globalization creates greater opportunities for wealth creation as it allows businesses and people to move and operate across different geographies with greater ease.
For instance, the widespread use of the English language and American corporate culture in much of the world allows businesses to expand to virtually any geography without having to worry about linguistic and cultural barriers.
Similarly, familiarity with the English language allows people from poor third world countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, etc. to migrate to rich, first world Anglo-Saxon nations such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. and afford a better standard of living.
4. Broadening the Human Perspective
Cultural globalization allows humans living in one part of the world to learn how other people experience life.
For instance, American culture has spread to much of the world, allowing people in China or Japan to experience the American way of life.
Similarly, the spread of Chinese cuisine or Latino music to America allows Americans to experience the way of life of other cultures.
All of this allows for a broadening of perspective of the people who come into contact with other cultures.
Cons of Cultural Globalization
1. Erosion of Local Cultures
Cultural globalization, while bringing people together, can also pose a threat to local cultures, languages, and traditions.
For instance, the widespread use of the English language is good for creating economic opportunities for people in the Third World. But, it also threatens their indigenous languages. The teaching of English in school is fast replacing local languages as the medium of instruction, thereby hampering the development of local languages. (Mikanowski, 2018)
Another example of erosion of local cultures is the disappearance of ancient cultures and customs due to technological changes brought by globalization.
For instance, camels were once an integral part of the cultures of people in the arid and semi-arid parts of South and West Asia, India, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Camels were used not just for transport but also for milk, making clothes, and even musical instruments using camel hair.
However, the advent of modern transport has made the camel virtually obsolete in modern life even in arid regions.
Unlike horses, camels have little value in sport, ceremony, or showmanship. This has led to not just a steep decline in camel numbers, but also a disappearance of cultures and peoples associated with camels (Sunder, 2021).
2. Widening of Inequalities
Cultural globalization allows for greater opportunities for wealth creation. But, it has been argued that it also makes some people wealthier and leaves other behind.
For instance, while cultural globalization allows businesses to offer more opportunities to English speakers in the third world, such opportunities are limited only to those who can afford to invest in acquiring expensive English language skills.
Similarly, in much of the third world, legal immigration to a first world country is an option available only to the relatively well-off because of the high costs involved in getting visas and the entry barriers (such as education or skill level) imposed by the destination countries.
3. Clash of Civilizations
Clash of Civilizations is a concept popularized by the American historian and political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008).
Huntington argued that where cultural globalization on the one hand is bringing the world and its people together, this proximity can also generate friction as different cultures struggle to maintain their individual identities.
This can result in a conflict of values, and occasionally, violence (Huntington, 1996).
4. Ecological Impact
Cultural globalization can also have an adverse impact on the environment.
Cultural practices particular to one region may spread to others, irrespective of whether or not they may be suited to the ecology of the region.
For instance, in many parts of the world, food was traditionally consumed in organic, locally sourced containers such as those made from tree leaves, wood, or bamboo.
But the spread of fast foods and packaging has also meant the spread of plastics.
Another example are the feral camels of Australia that were first brought to the Australian continent by British colonialists from Asia.
While camels are becoming extinct in South and West Asia, threatening millennia old cultural traditions, their population has exploded in Australia, causing severe environmental degradation (Traill, 2017).
Table Summary: Pros and Cons of Cultural Globalization
|Pros of Cultural Globalization||Cons of Cultural Globalization|
|1. Standardization of time and space||1. Erosion of Local Cultures|
|2. Catalyst for Positive Social Change||2. Widening of Inequalities|
|3. Economic Growth||3. Clash of Civilizations|
|4. Broadening the Human Perspective||4. Ecological Impact|
Examples of Cultural Globalization
McDonaldization is a term coined by the American sociologist George Ritzer to describe increasing cultural conformity.
Like a McDonalds outlet that offers the same hamburger in identical looking restaurants served by identically dressed employees all over the world, several products of cultural globalization are characterized by uniformity, efficiency, and predictability or what Max Weber called rationalization of the modern world. (Ritzer, 1993)
2. Spread of Evangelical Protestantism
Peter L. Berger described evangelical protestantism as another example of cultural globalization.
Berger compared it to Islamic resurgence, which was restricted to the Muslim world or among the Muslim diaspora.
By contrast, evangelical protestantism brought the protetant ethic to regions where it had never before existed, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Rooted in an American ethic, evangelical protestantism brings to the societies it spreads to a culture heavily tinged by American, protestant ethos. For instance, American gospel songs are sung by Mayan evangelicals in Mexico and Guatemala (Berger, 1997).
3. Spread of Foods and Dishes
Our grandparents likely remember a time when they didn’t eat a variety of different dishes from around the world.
But today, recipes and spices from around the world are commonplace in multicultural societies. We can eat Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and American foods from a range of restaurants in most world cities.
However, remember that food is just one part of culture. The deeper elements of cultures are the values and beliefs that cultural groups hold.
4. Spread of Fashion
In many nations, younger people are enjoying pop culture and fast fashion that comes from overseas.
This means you may go somewhere like Morocco and see a lot less of the traditional clothing as younger people are out and about wearing westernized fashions.
Similarly, French fashion has historically spread around the world quickly as people were influenced by big Parisian fashion designers.
5. Spread of Political Ideologies
Cultural globalization leads to the spread of ideologies and beliefs. Examples of ideologies include capitalism and democracy.
The best example of this is this is the 2011 Arab Spring, which was an example of the spread of democratic movements around the world. Some succeeded, while others were suppressed by dictatorships.
Similarly, in the early 2020s, there was a rise in authoritarianism in the United States and Eastern Europe. It’s likely that these cultural movements influenced one another thanks to technological globalization.
6. Davos Culture
Davos culture is a term used to describe the global business and political elites that attend the World Economic Forum summits at Davos in Switzerland.
The term “Davos Man” was coined by the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (Zanin, 2009).
The Davos Culture view of the world is one centered on the benefits of a globalized world, characterized by a preference for open markets and lower trade barriers, a positive view of competition, a healthy role for global finance, and so on.
Davos Culture is a classic manifestation of cultural globalization, in that the attendees at such global conferences, irrespective of their national, religious, linguistic, or ethnic origins share a similar outlook on political, economic, and social affairs, born out of their embeddedness in a globalized culture.
Table Summary: Examples of Cultural Globalization
|Example of Cultural Globalization||Explanation|
|1. McDonaldization||McDonaldization is a term coined by the American sociologist George Ritzer to describe increasing cultural conformity.|
|2. Spread of Religions (e.g. Evangelical Protestantism)||Evangelical protestantism brought the protetant ethic to regions where it had never before existed, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.|
|3. Spread of Foods and Dishes||Today, recipes and spices from around the world are commonplace in multicultural societies.|
|4. Spread of Fashion||In many nations, younger people are enjoying pop culture and fast fashion that comes from overseas.|
|5. Spread of Ideologies||Cultural globalization leads to the spread of ideologies and beliefs. Examples of ideologies include capitalism and democracy.|
|6. Davos Culture||The rise of a global elite culture that share similar neoliberal values.|
Globalization has several interlinked aspects – including economic, political, and cultural.
While cultural exchanges have been occurring for millennia, cultural globalization refers specifically to the unprecedented acceleration of the transmission of cultural norms sparked off by technological changes such as the internet and cheap air travel. Cultural globalization can be a force for the good, as when it creates opportunities for economic growth and brings about positive change in societies. However, it can also have a darker side when it erodes cultures and creates deep income inequalities.
Related Globalization and Culture Articles
Berger, P. L. (1997). Four faces of global culture. The National Interest, 49, 23–29.
Harvey, D. (1989) The condition of postmodernity: An enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Blackwell.
Huntington, S.P. (1996) The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order Simon & Schuster.
Mikanowski, J. (2018) Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/27/english-language-global-dominance
Ritzer, G. (1993) The McDonaldization of society. Sage.
Sunder, K. (2021) Camels are disappearing in India, threatening a centuries-old nomadic culture National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/camels-disappearing-in-india-threatens-a-centuries-old-nomadic-culture
Traill, B. (2017) Voracious and plentiful, feral camels remain a major threat to Australian Outback Pew https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2017/02/21/voracious-and-plentiful-feral-camels-remain-a-major-threat-to-australian-outback
Zanin, T. (2009). Samuel P. Huntington and the Ambiguities of American Power. International Journal, 64(4), 1109–1116.