During the time when imperialism, defined by Said (1994: 8) as “the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory,” was prevalent, efforts were made to change ideologies, practices, and beliefs of people who were different. This mentality led to colonialism, which Said defines as the “implanting of settlements on distant territory” (1994: 8). Imperialism and colonialism led to the imposition of new ideologies and attempted to restrict local cultural practices and behaviors in some areas. They were events that were forced on the locals.
Before claiming that the effects of globalization imitate imperialism and colonialism, it is important to establish the fact that these forces do not exist in the same manner as before. These two terms implied one-way domination – a more powerful country/entity dominating a less powerful country/entity. One of the hallmark signs of globalization is the trade of consumer products. This in itself points to an exchange. This exchange occurs because there is a demand for products and services. It may be that “market demands for products of (usually) American culture merely demonstrates the power of cultural imperialism to shape global tastes to profit U.S. corporations” (Dunch 2002: 304). However, “this conceptualization attributes coordinated intent and coercive power to “capitalism” or “imperialism,” and little or no autonomy to the people on the receiving end” (Dunch 2002: 304). A choice to import foreign goods and services is being made; it is not an automatic occurrence. Perhaps the reason why colonialism and imperialism are still seen as relevant factors, such as Canagarajah (1999) discussions about linguistic imperialism, is because they are still being viewed as a one-way force. Instead, there has to be a deeper investigation that analyzes how the country/entity that is being ‘dominated’ is benefiting from the situation. These forces need to be recognized as an interaction in which there is something to gain from each side.
When referring to the rapid speed at which globalization is occurring, it is easy to forget that it is not occurring automatically. Indeed, some countries have kept their distance from globalization – such as Cuba and North Korea. It is people and their decisions, who determine the extent and speed at which globalization occurs. As Giddens notes
the power of the big companies can easily be exaggerated – and is greatly exaggerated by those who say that corporations ‘run the world’. Nations, especially where they act collaboratively, have far more power than corporations, and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. Nations have control of territory, corporations do not; nations establish frameworks of law, corporations do not; nations control military power, corporations do not. (Giddens, 2002: xxv)
Kuwait has encouraged globalization and this is evident with the presence of expatriate workers. In fact, this presence is a prominent feature of the society. Tétreault and al-Mughni note that “as the result of the development of the oil economy, Kuwaitis become a minority in their own country, outnumbered by the non-Kuwaiti population which forms the bulk of the labour force” (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 68). This has occurred not because the foreigners are ‘taking over’ the country, but rather because “foreign workers are much cheaper to employ and, as a result, make up the vast majority of private sector employees (Ismael, 1982; Crystal, 1992; Tétreault, 1995a)” (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 68). Some attempts have been made to increase the number of Kuwaitis employed in private sectors “by adopting ambitious ‘Kuwaitization’ programmes, but even though government officials talk about Kuwaitization in the private sector, they provide no rational incentives capable of effecting such a transition” (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 68). Rather, Kuwaitis receive numerous social benefits from the government, including a guarantee of a secure job in the state sector. Therefore, despite government encouragement for Kuwaitis to participate in the work force, their other policies that provide a secure government job and numerous social allowances to Kuwaitis do not encourage them to change their status. Therefore, they rely on foreign employees to work in the private sector (Tétreault and al-Mughni 1995: 70). Ultimately, what compels the movement of a nation are the people. Therefore, although it may seem like globalization is causing foreign ideas and workers to take over a country, it is essential to look at the context in which globalization is occurring before making judgments about it being imposed on a country and its people.
One prominent aspect of globalization is the resulting interconnectedness among people. This interconnectedness increases the need to be understanding and broadens one’s exposure to people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. On the other hand, the mixing of cultures as a result of globalization may also enhance the awareness of differences among people, and this could lead to conflict. However, acknowledging the interconnectedness caused by globalization may serve as a starting point to dissolve the lines that are dividing the ‘center’ and ‘periphery’. With the flow of ideas, labor, and products across borders, the separating line is becoming more and more blurred. Implementing these compartmentalizing labels seems to be creating more of a victim mentality – ‘I am from the periphery and therefore I am oppressed’ – than one of a survivor – ‘I may be from a poorer country, but I am trying my best to succeed in my given circumstance and environment.’
Canagarajah, S. (1999) Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dunch, R. (2002) ‘Beyond cultural imperialism: Cultural theory, Christian missions, and Global Modernity” History and Theory 41 pp. 301-325.
Giddens, A. (2002) Runaway World: How Globalisation is reshaping our Lives. London: Profile Books.
Said, E. (1994) Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage.
Tétreault, M.A. and al-Mughni, H. (1995) ‘Gender, Citizenship and Nationalism in Kuwait’ in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 22(1/2) pp. 64-80.