Apart from negotiations within the local community, it is also clear that
nations, societies, and communities are in closer cultural contact with one another than ever before. People now have a greater chance of knowing about others’ cultural way of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. They also have a greater chance of directly or indirectly influencing cultural change beyond their cultural community. Consequently, people in many parts of the world see unparalleled opportunities for cultural growth, and equally unparalleled threats to their cultural identity. (Kumaravadivelu 2008: 148)
In a discussion, some Kuwaiti students expressed how globalization had made them feel even more Kuwaiti. This coincides with Anthony Giddens’ claim that globalization can actually act as a force to enhance and strengthen nationalistic identities. Giddens (2002) points to globalization as “the reason for the revival of local cultural identities in different parts of the world” (Giddens 2002: 13). While some people believe that globalization is causing the destruction of local cultures, others believe that it actually helps enhance cultural identity. In her research, Wang (2007) emphasized that people “are not mere objects of cultural influences, but subjects who can reject or integrate culture” (Wang 2007: 83). Moreover, it is because of the interconnectedness among people that attachment to one’s own traditions, values, practices, and so forth, are emphasized. “In the new era of globalization, people become much more concerned about the uniqueness and particularity of their own culture” (Wang 2007: 83). Many people find comfort in the traditions they learned from their parents and family and keep it at the core of their being – it solidifies who they are. This is not to suggest that they are restrained by their traditions. Rather, it grounds them, helps them branch out to explore other avenues of interest, and in some cases it can distinguish them from others.
Aside from reinforcing local identity, there are also signs of how globalization does not penetrate or break local ways of doing things like conducting business. Yan (2002) illustrates how the effects of globalization are integrated into Chinese culture in a way that is beneficial for them. Yan explains how
Western-style management and business skills are, in practice, only secondary to the success of many private entrepreneurs, although in public many attribute their success to modern management and technology, in order to fit the widely accepted official narrative of modernization. It is no wonder, therefore, that so many Chinese business elite and managerial professionals hold substantially localized views of the world, regardless of their Italian-made shoes, Swiss wristwatches, and fluent English. (Yan 2002: 24)
She explains that “one of the major reasons why the Chinese business elite do not feel the drive to become westernized is that the Chinese way of doing business helps them to survive and succeed in China” (Yan 2002: 24). Once again, the context of this scenario is important. Yan mentions success in China and is explaining this from a Chinese perspective. The definition of success used in this context may vary from how others define the term. Moreover, not incorporating western ideals may be a form of resistance and a way to maintain what they feel are important elements of their culture.
This is a similar trend seen in Kuwait. For instance, although hospitals advertise the modern, Western made technological equipment, educational institutes advertise the employment of foreign experts, and the shops boast about having the latest trends from Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and New York, many Kuwaitis are employed by the government and work in institutions that are not infiltrated by foreigners. Consequently, they are able to maintain their bureaucratic system and shape the rest of the social system accordingly. The Kuwaiti social security scheme is set up to benefit Kuwaitis only. In order to maintain this arrangement and gain from the benefits, Kuwaitis have to work within the system that they have created. Even Kuwaitis who are eager to see a change in the business strategy of the local environment feel that for the most part, Kuwait has struck the right balance between Western business ideals and local habits. Some may feel that the system needs to be changed, but nobody is in a rush to alter the structure since they receive many benefits from the current establishment.
Kuwaitis are choosing what to incorporate and how to incorporate elements of globalization; however, this prioritization differs among the locals. The government is filtering globalization in a way that they believe will not harm the basic fundamentals of their society. Furthermore, they are using elements of modernity – mass communications, technology, etc. – to assist them in maintaining traditions and enhancing religious authority. For example, in her research, Wheeler found that even the Internet was being appropriated to suit personal preferences. In particular, she found that several Islamists were using the Internet to preach the message of Islam. “All of these uses of the Internet by Islamist social forces in Kuwait suggest that access to new media technologies can result in enhanced local identity, rather than a subversion of such (Wheeler 2000: 442). On the other hand, there are more liberal Kuwaitis who have a different idea as to what the fundamentals of Kuwaiti society are. The effects of this conflict are explored in the next post.
Giddens, A. (2002) Runaway World: How Globalisation is reshaping our Lives. London: Profile Books.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Cultural Globalization and Language Education. Yale: Yale University Press.
Wang, Yi. (2007) Globalization Enhances Cultural Identity. Intercultural Communication Studies XVI(1) pp. 83-86.
Wheeler, D. (2000) ‘New media, globalization and Kuwaiti national identity’ Middle East Journal 54(3) pp. 432-444.
Yan, Y. (2002) ‘Managed Globalization: State power and cultural transition in China.’ in Berger, P. & Huntington, S. Many Globalizations: cultural diversity in the contemporary world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.