Interpretations of Culture and Globalization part 1
This is part one of a multi-part meditation on culture and globalization and Africa that I wrote a month or so ago.
In modern discussions regarding globalization, the issue of cultural imperialism and a growing homogeneity often arises with regard to less developed societies, usually in the Third World. Well meaning individuals argue that globalization instills a Western-dominated homogeneity that oppresses minorities and eradicates culture differences that ought to be preserved. They point to the plethora of big box Wal-Marts, McDonald’s, and Starbucks crowding out the multiplicity of local variations. They lament a semi-undefined uniformity, citing an array of disappearing traditions, from speaking English to loss of “traditional” dress.
However, such individuals are engaging in a different sort of cultural arrogance; it is a subconscious arrogance that individuals who are exposed to Western products and Western ways will automatically toss aside all facets of their culture, in favor of the vastly superior West. It also fails to recognize the complexities of culture.
What they fail to realize is that culture cannot be reduced simply to clothing, food, and cars. Culture is much more complex then that. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who pioneered the theories of symbolic anthropology, has argued that culture consists of the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that a group of people uses to interpret the world around them. Meaning is ascribed through socially agreed upon symbols that guide human behavior. These created symbols form “webs of significance,” which define human behavior. Culture and its symbols are learned through experience and interaction. As the human experience shifts and changes over time, so do the meanings ascribed to these symbols.