Globalization, World Economy, and Multiculturalism

게시 날짜: 7월 9, 2010, 카테고리: International Political Economy


Globalization as many people perceive is quite a multidimensional progress, and process of analyzing multiculturalism in relation to globalization is more so. Thomas L. Friedman argued that there are two aspects regarding the globalization. One is the Lexus, and the other is the olive tree. The Lexus symbolizes the integrated or common drive for prosperity and development; the olive tree stands for the desire to retain identity and traditions. As the process of globalization deepens, both of these aspects get more evident too. This analysis brings us to more fundamental understanding of our globalized world. As many will agree, what we call today “globalization” is not a very unique or distinctive phenomenon when we define it as “progress towards the worldwide integration.” In that sense, the eras of the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire had been much more “global” than our world today. There is more to it than mere homogenization in our globalization. It was actually triggered by ongoing economic internationalization since the end of the Second World War. Because globalization is affecting almost every aspect and structures of our lives, we often forget the obvious fact that contemporary globalization was initiated and still driven by economic interdependence.

Then, it is pretty clear why the conflicts against the progress of globalization keep forming. It is quite ironic too, since the very reason that initiated the post-World War II world economy system was to prevent the world from ever experiencing another catastrophic warfare through discarding protectionist policies and intensifying economic interdependence. However, after roughly a half century has passed, the economic sector is ever more globalized than in any time of history, and various kinds of conflicts have risen due to this economy driven globalization. Economic sectors, trades, finances, etc. have brought the world together, but other factors such as politics, culture, or security are not in parity—if one might prefer in the Marxist terminologies, the “base” is driving factor of globalization and “superstructures” are lagging behind. This is very simple but probably the most insightful explanation for the entire picture.

Many states (or non-governmental actors) have given up their ideal of autarky or self-sufficiency in order to pursue the benefits of free trade, even though they knew it meant the increase of macroeconomic vulnerability. On the premise that every man-built states are rational actors, this relative sacrifice of economic rights was possible only because each actor realized that in the long run, liberalized world economy would yield more benefits than locking up their doors. However, once the virtue of free trade and economic interdependence has matured, other parts once protected by individual sovereign rights regarding political, social, and cultural behavior were simply not ready to be globalized yet, at least willingly. Since the significant degree of political, societal, and cultural assimilation was accompanied by economic globalization, there are bound to be frictions and noises.

Now, concerning the economic and commercial nature of globalization, it is quite true that globalization may not be able to be a savior for regional cultures of minorities. “The Lexus” can overwhelm our standards of living and impose its influence on our cultures. Come to think of it, there was no such thing as ‘respect for minority culture’ in the history of mankind. Why start now? (Think of the previously mentioned Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire.) Nevertheless, one might argue that “demands” for respecting multiculturalism gained its power within the process of globalization, and also did the viable means or channels of communication for expressing those demands. It is true that the olive tree has been causing regional disputes and may be considered as a defect. However, cultural diversity is more secure now than ever in the course of civilized history. The voices demanding multicultural rights are represented by many international organizations (although they have little enforceable means to intervene on these kinds of matters) pressuring on nation states and majority cultures to protect human rights or to respect cultural minorities.

The future of globalized civilization can be ugly. On one hand, hegemonic superpower and multinational corporations are expanding their influence and shaping our own identities for us, and on the other hand, people are bombing each other trying to grab “the precious”[1] regarding each one’s culture, religion, and beliefs. A lot of those who mention globalization still use it as a synonym for unification or assimilation, and the spreading of westernized cultural values. But one should also keep in mind that there are more to it than assimilation and consolidation. The regionalized disputes and multicultural demands are also an important part of globalization. The problem is that, the state sovereignty and each prioritized cultural value acclaimed by it is still too powerful for any other actors of IR to respond to multicultural demands on their own. In a more constructivist approach, supreme sovereignty of the state, even though it is still unchallengeable, can some day shift its form into more appropriate one for meeting various demands and solving them. Until that day, we have to manage with our current intergovernmental organizations such as UN and other non-governmental actors assisting them.

[The Rebel Sell: Why the culture can’t be jammed], written by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in 2004, proclaims that counterculture became a part of consumer culture and had failed to bring about any significant changes. Globalization is in most cases about changes toward upholding universal values, and culture today is not what we traditionally considered it to be. This is all part of “the Lexus”, or “McDonaldization” in another terminology. In a more cultural sense, the Lexus can indicate the tendency of assimilated commercial culture, combined with monolithic economic globalization and information revolution. Maybe the good old Say’s Law, which suggested that supply creates its own demands, have a point in this case. It is quite true considering our globalized economy, that newly formed commercial or “common culture”—that some researchers in popular culture enthusiastically referred to as “prosumer culture”, a compound of producer and consumer—was in fact inserted to us according to the interest of certain powerful actors.

However, this cannot be the complete explanation for every aspect of globalization. The growing attention to regional conflicts, voice of cultural minorities being represented, building a whole new structure which does not involve any particular states’ or actors’ interests are the major consequences of globalization just as well. Although many processes include building norm according to the interest of global hegemony and forcing its cultural value, they are not the inevitable outcome of globalization. Building norms is not the end by itself, but merely a means. We did not create all those IOs including United Nations and World Health Organization or agree on basic sets of rules and norms (including international laws, gentlemen’s agreements, or GATT), just to embrace so-called ‘Americanized—or Westernized—values’ and commercial culture created by MNCs. The initial phase of globalization can be unarguably homogeneous with dominance of Western values and norms. Some might say that globalization is nothing more than a mere process of executing constructive power performed by the global hegemony. However, I believe that very nature of the structure can always alter through intersubjectivity of transnational actor’s interests or mutual agreements, and more importantly, the worldwide conflict and consensus of identity groups.

[1] A reference to Gollum and the “one ring” from [The Lord of the Rings] by J.R.R.Tolkien


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