Chapter Two: Cultural Globalization

I. What Is Culture, Anyway?

Few words are as hard to define as culture. In a strict, anthropological sense, 'cultural' is often used in contradistinction to 'genetic'. That's to say, if a piece of human behaviour cannot be attributed to genetic evolution, then it is said to have a cultural origin. On the other hand, in discussing the culture of a human group or tribe, the word is usually being used in a portmanteau sense and includes both genetic and non-genetic elements.

In this book, it would not make much sense to discuss the globalization of genetic aspects of culture, since they are already common to all humans; clearly, its arguments are concerned more with the differences between humans rather than their similarities.

On the whole, the word will be used here to convey the totality of the idea that a person has of their own (or another) society, and inevitably this is going to trespass sometimes onto genetic ground, not least because it is often unclear where the dividing line actually occurs.


This chapter continues the analysis of the process of globalization. Although the word itself is most often used in economic contexts, and the vociferous opponents of globalization focus their attentions mainly on its economic dimensions, cultural globalization is arguably more fundamental to the process. Without cultural globalization to create a common mental framework among humans, economic or political globalization would have little impact on most aspects of human life.

When American chocolate bars began to elbow traditional Russian sweets off the supermarket shelves in the 1990s, the Russians called it 'snickerizatsiya'. Even the old-style magazin (grocery store - and it was a French word adopted in the 18th century) turned into a 'supermarkyet'; and you can't move in Central Moscow without falling into an Irish bar.

The French look down their Gallic noses at 'Mickey Mouse' culture (a French word, of course) and have a grand institution whose task it is to maintain the purity of the sacred French language. But still there is Disneyland outside Paris, where children go at le 'weekend', and there are 'pubs' on the Champs Elysees.

Economic and political globalization is driven mostly by international or global institutions and organizations, assisted by language; but cultural globalization is driven by language, assisted by revolutions in communications and travel.

Culture, as expressed and articulated by groups of people (nations, villages, schools, legislatures, clubs etc) evidently changes along with development of individuals' internal understanding of their roles. Since much of the cultural identity of modern human individuals is wrapped up with the concept of nationality, changes to the form, role and status of nations will have a disproportionate influence on culture.

Says Martin Wolf 1 : 'The State normally defines the identity of human beings. A sense of belonging is a part of people's sense of security. It is perhaps not surprising that some of the most successfully internationally integrated economies are small, homogeneous countries with a strong sense of collective identity.'

That is no doubt correct, but its corollary is that as people increasingly feel themselves as actors on a global stage, rather than on a national stage, so will culture become global rather than national. This is not at all to say that culture will become homogenized into some kind of featureless global mish-mash – what is feared by some opponents of globalization – because a person who steps out of the strait-jacket of national cultural identity has freedom in both directions, both onto a bigger stage and also onto selected smaller ones.


1 Wolf, M (2004) Why Globalization Works, Yale University Press