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What is Cultural Globalization?

By Sofree
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cultural globalization is the rapid movement of ideas, attitudes, and values across national borders. The term "globalization" came to be widely used in the 1980s, but as early as the 1960s, the Canadian literary critic Marshall McLuhan popularized the term "global village" to describe the effect that the ability to connect and exchange ideas instantaneously would bring to the world. This sharing of ideas generally leads to greater interconnectedness and interaction between peoples of diverse cultures and ways of life, which can have both positive and negative results. Consequently, as technology has accelerated the process, it has sparked considerable controversy.

Historical Perspective

Though often thought of as a modern concept, the processes of cultural globalization can be traced back through most of history. Even during times when most societies tended to exist in relative isolation, international trade and exploration often led to transformative exchanges of ideas. For example, the expeditions of early European explorers resulted in interaction with Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Among many other results of this was the introduction of the potato into Europe from South America, which had profound effects on the European diet. Likewise, the British Empire’s colonization of India produced many cultural impacts on that nation which can still be seen today.

It was the rapid technological developments of the 20th century, however, that accelerated the process considerably, and which really caused people to begin contemplating globalization as a broad concept. Decade by decade, telephones, radio, jet air travel, and television media spread information around the world with increasing efficiency. By the end of the century, the Internet had made it possible for ordinary people on opposite sides of the Earth to connect instantly and cheaply, whether for the purpose of conducting business or for personal communication.

A Smaller World

The ultimate consequence of cultural globalization is a world that seems smaller, and in which interactions take place more rapidly. While information once took weeks, or even months, to travel long distances, communications are now nearly instantaneous. In turn, this means that decisions tend to be made much more quickly. For example, within minutes of a major political upheaval in one country, financial traders around the world might react by selling stocks in large volumes, resulting in a financial panic even before events can be fully analyzed. In earlier times, before globalization reached its current level, such results would have tended to be more limited in scope, and would have taken place more slowly.

Cultural Similarities

Cultural globalization is perhaps best exemplified by pop entertainment culture. Young people in Moscow, for example, dance in ways that are similar to those in Rekjavik and Tokyo. Japanese animé is watched in Chicago, and Mexican soap operas are enjoyed by viewers in Manila. The newest release of a musical group can be spread worldwide quickly through a variety of video sharing websites; celebrity personalities achieve global pop icon status through the same means. It is easier than ever before for people from divergent cultures to find common interests.

Beneficial Aspects

Those in favor of the concept of a "global village" often point to the benefits that the exchange of knowledge and information can bring. Some say that this new widespread cultural awareness could help reduce bigotry and discrimination, and might even smooth international relations as a whole. As people of diverse backgrounds communicate more freely and enjoy many of the same fads and tends, they might discover that they are not really so different as they initially assumed.

Foremost among its proponents is big business, since the more culture becomes globalized, the easier it is for businesses to sell their products in other countries. Certain goods, such as soft drinks or portable electronics, are sold the world over. Many brand names are just as coveted in Madras as in New York. Economic globalization goes together with cultural globalization, and it is sometimes pointed out that cultural globalization is more commercial-driven than country-driven.

Negative Aspects

The critics of cultural globalization often argue against its destructive effects on national identities. They warn that unique cultural entities may vanish, and that languages spoken by small populations could be at an increased risk of extinction. The specific values, traditions, and history — the identity — of a culture could disappear. They fear the threat of dominant, industrialized cultures overtaking and supplanting indigenous ones, silencing new and different ideas. Critics also warn that vast multinational companies could make secret deals without popular input or concern for the best interests of local populations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon132036 — On Dec 05, 2010

Would you say social globalization and cultural globalization are generally the same concept?

By anon130590 — On Nov 29, 2010

globalization can never work out without having the way paved by power relations. though Japan and china happen to be the most technological powers, McDonalds is much more favored than chinese restaurants. none to blame, but this doesn't mean that one i not making profits from the other.

By shoeshopper — On Aug 31, 2010

johnson19- It is true that many western ideas and practices are being adopted by many people around the world. However, it is impossible to blame one country or continent on cultural globalization.

For example, a major factor in cultural globalization is technology. Some of the most advanced and sophisticated technology comes from Japan and China. Therefore, many Asian ideas are being adopted in other parts of the world.

Cultural globalization does not just mean the spread of western ideas. The world is an incredibly diverse place and therefore a wide range of different ideas are moving across borders, not just western ideas.

By johnson19 — On Aug 31, 2010

Do you think that the United States and Europe are mostly to blame for cultural globalization?

By anon85205 — On May 19, 2010

i agree that media play an important role in cultural globalization.

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