Tomlinson discusses Ronald Robertson’s (1992) model of unicity in which he emphasizes that through globalization, “the world is becoming, for the first time in history, a single social and cultural setting” (Tomlinson 1999: 10). However Robertson emphasizes that even in this unified world, “social and cultural difference may become accentuated precisely as it is identified in relation to the ‘world as a whole’” (Tomlinson 1999: 11). It is essential to acknowledge the fact that it is still individuals who make up this world even as globalization brings us closer – whether it is through increased travel, better communication, or just curiosity. With every interaction there is an exchange of ideas, ideals, and ideologies. Robertson’s perspective of the world indicates the balance between interconnectedness, while still allowing for space “to cope within the empirical complexities of a world which seems to display simultaneous processes of integration and differentiation” (Tomlinson 1999: 12).
Globalization should not be seen as a force that is taking over the world without any restriction. Yan describes how in China “the country’s elite had accepted the view that globalization represented an inevitable stage in China’s modernization as well as an opportunity to catch up with the developed countries” (Yan 2002: 20). Instead of being passive recipients to the change that is occurring, she explains how “to take advantage of this opportunity, the Chinese state has been playing an important role in forming a national consensus, facilitating China’s participation in the globalization process, controlling the direction of economic integration, and balancing the pros and cons of cultural globalization” (Yan 2002: 20). Yan calls this ‘managed globalization,’ which I think is a perfect description of how globalization is being incorporated into countries (Yan 2002: 20).
Continuing her analysis of globalization in China, she emphasizes that globalization does not necessarily mean cultural convergence. It would be “if one merely counted the number of Western cultural items imported into China and consumed by local people. But a closer look shows that, more often than not, the imported culture is transformed and localized, as in the case of McDonald’s in Beijing” (Yan 2002: 33). Elements of consumer capitalism are quite evident. One of the risks of cookie-cutter industries, like Starbucks and McDonalds is that people might feel that their country is becoming like everyone else’s, thus leading to the homogenization of their country. However, just because similar industries, goods, and services are available in several countries does not mean that the people are becoming homogenized. “Homogenization is basically something imposed on people by market forces. It treats people as objects. However, it should be noticed that even while they use those goods, people can and do assert themselves as subjects, integrating them in their own way of life” (Wang 2007: 84). Following Yan’s (2002) example of McDonald’s in China, even McDonald’s in Kuwait has adapted to local traditions and religious expectations by serving only halal (the animal is slaughtered according to the guidelines in Islamic law) meat, using turkey or beef bacon in sandwiches instead of pork, and even incorporating a special sandwich, the McArabia, to suit local tastes and please local customers.
Tomlinson, J. (1999) Globalization and Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Wang, Yi. (2007) Globalization Enhances Cultural Identity. Intercultural Communication Studies XVI(1) pp. 83-86.
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.