A website revolving around the social and economical injustices brought about by Globalization. Also, questioning if Globalization does in fact exist or just a progression from 18th Century imperialism?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Are National cultures still important?

1,502 words

‘National Cultures are still very important’ Evaluate this view of the globalization of culture’

I will begin this essay by defining ‘national culture’ and the ‘globalisation of culture’ to develop an understanding of this contemporary debate. Then give these concepts over to three theories: Inter Nationalist, Globalist and Transformationalist to help explore this discourse further, using explanations and evidence. During this process, I’ll evaluate each theory and use it to summarise on whether or not ‘national culture is still very important‘.

"Culture" can be defined as "shared meanings, values and practices" of a society (Woodward, 2004, p.22) or more specifically "beliefs, behaviour, language, and entire way of life of a particular group of people at a particular time" (Encarta Encyclopaedia, 2002 ). It as an awkward concept to apply to a nation, since it depends on the perception of the individual and geography. Someone that lives in the centre or the periphery of a multi-cultural city, such as London, will consider the culture of his or her nation as very different to someone that lives in a more rural and traditionalist area, such as South West England.

The concept "Globalisation (of culture)" is also fairly subjective. Is it a process of stretched social relations? Whereby the interaction between people has become borderless and because of that, culture has become
globalised?. Bollywood on British television and the popularity of Asian cuisine in the West is an example of this? Or is it an intensification of flows? Where the transactions of cultural exchanges between communities has stepped up a gear in recent years? The amount of TV receivers has almost doubled from 1985 to 1997 (from 748 per million to 1,396), is this a microcosm of cultural globalisation? (Mackay, H. 2004a, pg50)

If any of this is actually happening, whether it is good or bad, new or old and to what extent is all open to debate, as the following conflicting theories highlight.

These two concepts "National culture" and "Globalisation" are what many commentators are suggesting as confrontational. Is the National Culture in control of itself and the onslaught of global structures? Or is it an inevitability that Global culture will reign over the traditional and homogenous national identities? Or maybe the debate is a lot more complex to put into simple terminologies.

A school of thought that believes national culture does in fact have the autonomy and sustainability to maintain itself comes from Inter nationalists. They believe ‘National cultures are still very important’ and that globalisation is an exaggeration and at worst, a myth. Their explanation is that any global cultural flow is dependant on the nation-state and national culture is as prominent now as it ever was.

Evidence used to support this theory can be in the shape of the BBC (a public service broadcasting network and a traditional national institute), who is statistically proven to be more popular than the archetypal global trans- national company, BSkyB, owned by Rupert Murdoch. 44% of British citizens opted to watch the BBC in the mid 1990‘s, compared to only 4.9% who watched Sky. (Mackay, H. 2004b, pg. 66-69). Does this prove national culture is still more prevalent and important?

Also, the fact the 1990 Broadcasting Act in the UK has the power to penalise satellite services (Mackay, H. 2004c, pg. 69), that India rejected MTV Europe for more "domestically produced material" (Mackay, H., 2004d, pg. 67) and that the Iranian state even banned satellite dishes within its borders (Mackay, H. 2004e, pg. 63) will be widely celebrated by Inter nationalists, interpreting these examples as the nation controlling the global.

However, some could say the Inter nationalists are ignoring the affects globalisation has had on national culture, despite it’s continued existence. Many may argue that the example of BBC being more popular than their global competitors lacks comprehensiveness. For example, it doesn’t take into account any recent changes in the way the BBC broadcasts (becoming more global, i.e. the coverage of the Iraq war) or that the BBC may have become a global institute in itself, what with the World Service and its satellite services. Are these all facets of how globalisation has hijacked national culture and cultural products?

A Second theory that antithesis’s the claim ‘National culture is still very important’ comes from what is known as Globalist. An ideology based around the belief that a phenomena is happening which is recent and highly significant and that the agency of the nation has been dramatically altered by global structures that
encompasses culture. Also, economic globalisation has had an impact on national cultures, with free trade agreements providing easier access for cultural products to cross borders. This general assumption of globalisation is split into two and termed Positive and Pessimistic.

A Positive Globalist, by definition, will interpret cultural globalisation as a way in which individuals have the opportunities to experience a diversification of cultures rather than a homogenous monoculture. In the example of Television, they’ll celebrate such initiatives as the Peacock Report which allows agents to choose what we view on Television rather than "decisions being made about what we can watch by the cultural elitists who control the BBC". (Mackay, H. 2004f pg56).

Pessimistic Globalists, although in agreement that globalisation is at play, argue that the affect is far from benevolent. The Frankfurt School of Sociology coined the phrase ‘Cultural Imperialism’ (Mackay, H. 2004g, pg 65), a term designed to highlight the homogenisation of global cultural differences and the one-way cultural flows of globalisation, usually the "west over the rest". When "five major Western news agencies are responsible for 80% of the worlds news" (pg61), it will be the pessimistic globalists who will be quick to point out an imbalance and that globalisation is polarizing the world into winners and losers.

Despite the persuasive argument put forward by the Globalists, the evidence used, such as the liberalisation of UK media by the Peacock Report for more choice and global interpenetration, does lack empirical adequacy. Just because globalisation may have more access to national media doesn’t mean it is experiencing increased popularity, otherwise why do people still prefer the BBC over Sky?. Also, the western news agencies owning the majority of news outlets still overlooks the fact the nation-state has the power to outlaw various cultural products and national citizens can reject foreign cultures through consumer choice.

A Third and final theory comes from Transformationalists, who take a more cautious approach than the objectivity of the Internationalists (National over Global) and the Globalists (Global over National). They believe in two-way cultural flows involving both the national and the global in a form of negotiation
that can ultimately transform national culture.

Also, the whole general notion of globalisation over national culture is too complex, they would be the group that will question: Do we assume that what is under threat is "an outdated homogeneity of national culture, in an era in which nations are characterized instead, by cultural hybridity" (Mackay, H. 2004h, p75)? In other words, as well as asking if globalisation exists, should we also be asking if national culture is what we presume it to be?

More profoundly, they believe that any affect globalisation has on the importance of national culture involves anthropological study. For example, it is one thing for globalisation to impose itself on national borders, but it is another thing for national citizens to retrieve it in order to give it its significance.

As Matterlart and Schiller theorized, "…viewing Western capitalist television entails the inculcation of Western values" (Mackay, H. 2004i, p75)). This, put simply, means that individual agents have to ‘decode’ the messages that global cultures offer in order for it to be a phenomena. The impact of globalisation isn’t so much in its dominance, but in the strength of negotiation between the individual agent and the structure of globalization. This suggests that the importance of national culture is measurable to the peoples desire to remain nationalist.

It is very hard to find any incomprehensiveness or incoherence towards the Transformationalist theory since they make very few claims. However, it can be said by some to suffer from empirical inadequacy. For example, the link between an individual watching western television programs and the endangerment of national culture isn’t backed with any evidence. However, their core belief in that "the actual significance [of cultural globalisation] is difficult to measure" (Kelly, B. 2004, pg31) should enjoy popularity among social scientists, since it creates scope for further study and acknowledges the complexity of what national culture is as well as globalisation as a concept.

In Evaluation, in contrasting the three theories of globalisation and the explanations they use, it is clear that whether "National culture is still very important" or not is ambiguous in the contemporary context of ‘globalisation’.

The Internationalist approach, suggesting national culture is more prevalent over global culture does seem to explain the popularity of the BBC well, despite its recent changes. And their claim that the contemporary world is experiencing a continuity of national sovereignty and national cultures rather than a complete revolution by globalisation, as globalists would argue, does hold more weight. Although overall, I tend to agree with Transformationalists in their claim that the national culture is still important, but to what extent is difficult to conceive.
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