The Impact of 

Globalisation on 

Cultural Diversity

Iris C F Gomes

Referring to globalisation in terms of time-space compression, a term first used by British geographer David Harvey, Professor Yudhishthir Raj Isar began his talk on Globalisation Versus Cultural Diversity at Goa University. The modern age has seen swifter movement of products, services and finance from one country to another; the arts, languages and culture have found a universal arena in the same way. So also, the connectivity between people across regions has increased. The innovations in telecommunications, transport and media, and the expansion of multinational corporations that are culture sensitive and their worldwide marketing strategies, etc, have all contributed to narrowing this time-space compression, in effect leading to globalisation.

There are arguments that attempt to strictly classify globalisation in the brackets of positive or negative. Proponents idealise the concept, believing it to be solving the world’s economic problems, creating a platform for equality and encouraging peace; while the critics see it as a mechanism that is condemning the poor to increasing poverty, increasing hegemonic domination and providing fertile ground for new world threats such as terrorism. In the case of cultures, it seems that various cultures take and receive from each other in a process of creative destruction. However, the commonly held notion is that globalisation is contributing to a steamroller effect that allows for uniformity and standardisation.

Professor Isar argues that the phenomenon has contributed to repluralisation instead. Cultures carry the weight of both the positive and the negative aspects in what Professor Isar refers to as ‘positive aspirations and negative anxieties’. He explains further citing Goa as an example of positive aspirations in people profiting from globalisation, especially where the Goan diaspora is concerned, and yet there are negative anxieties about the loss of Goan culture and identity. On one hand there is rejection of globalisation from some quarters while on the other hand there are those who embrace it and even exploit it.

American cultural scholar Frederic Jameson referred to globalisation as the post-modern version of the proverbial elephant. The story from the Panchatantra is about the different perceptions of six blind men as they feel different parts of the elephant. Being a multi- level phenomenon makes globalisation a concept that has multiple understandings. Thus, the reception of globalisation differs from culture to culture.

The definition for culture put forward by UNESCO makes us see cultures as bounded wholes, that is, they are complete within themselves. The fallacy of bounded wholes contributes to the idea of reification, which is when a concept (culture) is looked upon as a thing that makes other things happen. Ergo, culture is essentialised, meaning all members of a particular group are reduced to one single essence, or people are reduced to the nature of their culture.

The concept of global culture is embraced by those who have a utopian vision in which they believe that its existence is crucial to world peace and security. Others deny its presence as they fear its hegemonic nature, which will lead to a dystopian reality. Another camp believes global culture to be an impossibility because the world holds too many lifestyles, values, ways of thinking, etc, to be unified under one single culture. Some feel that globalisation of culture is taking place but will never be in the nature of a national culture. Still others have a view that this world culture is but a shared framework of norms, for example we all believe in democracy, have concern for world ecology and so on. The way people all over the world are making a claim on culture, believing in culture, arguing on culture, is a new global culture by itself as culture was never a topic of discussion before the 1950s.

A certain section of people desperately want to hold on to their traditional values in the face of globalisation. Professor Isar says, ‘But there are also those who wish to jettison traditions. This was a feature you saw very much in the early years of independence in many countries. Probably not in India except in very small numbers. But in many African and other countries that gained independence in the 50s and 60s, there was a discourse that everything traditional is bad. So in globalisation you have many who are wanting to jettison their traditions in favour of globally dominant cultural models.’

Indians in the world today seem to be following Gandhi’s openness to other cultures but not wanting to be blown off their feet. This propensity to preserve Indian culture while imbibing the best of the others to be on par with the global standard has come not just from the nature of Indians in India, but is the result of the many years of existence of Indian diasporas that began often under difficult conditions.

Social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai in 1996 described this disjunctive and contradictory nature of globalisation by proposing five dimensions: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes and ideoscapes. There is a global exchange of ideas and information, which is fluid in nature, through these dimensions. ‘Within each of these scapes also exist varieties, diversities and multiple realities where ideas and images change,’ says Professor Isar.

Ethnoscapes refers to migrations of refugees, tourists, exiles, immigrants and others across nations and cultures. While relatively stable communities do exist, these peoples in motion not only influence the politics of the nation they migrate to, but the politics between nations is also affected to an extraordinary level. The economy and society are changed in the same manner.

The technoscape involves the internet and the digital world that allows for new types of cultural interactions. This dimension has implications, with its worldwide reach, on the finanscape, because it has ushered in a new way of conducting economic transactions. A good example of how these three dimensions work together is the mail order bride. With more than 7000 brides entering the USA purely through mail order bride agencies, using the internet, the ethnoscape of the country is being altered with cultural changes being introduced. The finances of the country the mail order bride comes from as well as the one she travels to, are both affected.

Mediascapes is the media – the dissemination of information. Ideologies of politics, social movement, government, etc, which are moving throughout the world come under the heading of ideoscapes.

In the political sphere, NRIs and other groups maintain a hold over the politics in their homeland by funding political parties, financing arms for the Tamil Tigers and so on without experiencing repercussions.

The economic arena has the example of outsourcing in India leading to the cultural change of the creation of a new Indian middle class. They are eager for global consumerism and hence willingly accept globalisation. You have ITC’s e-Choupal initiative that has brought farmers in immediate contact with grain prices among other things, serving as an example of ethnoscape meeting finanscape and technoscape at another level.

Indian artists now participate in exhibitions all over the world and their works reflect the transformations in Indian society with new cultural additions, address social problems.

Globalisation can be said to have begun in the 15th century with the conquests of nations and imperialism but the last century has seen its acceleration. With this acceleration there is a more rapid movement of larger quantities of diverse elements such as matter, energy, meanings, ideas, etc. Hyper globalisers support these changes. Sceptics are those who do not oppose globalisation but bemoan the erosion of cultures that takes place to some extent. The creation of hybrids and networks as a result of the interactions between cultures is what interests the transformationalists.

Globalisation can be measured in terms of extensity, intensity, velocity and impact. The geographical area covered would be the extensity. Intensity refers to how many interconnections there are and how strong they are while velocity is the speed at which these networks interact. The impact of globalisation is of significance as it is related to whether ideas, symbols and values are being imposed, diffused or emulated; whether interpenetration is taking place or whether there is resistance (resistance can lead to affirmation of local cultures).

The uncertainty of globalisation caused by indeterminate governance, and the imagery of changes that is difficult to grasp, can drive people to hold on to their respective cultures. In conclusion, globalisation can be determined as a useful tool to effect positive change as long as the new ideas presented pertain to and benefit all peoples.