Friday, November 19, 2010


GLOBALIZATION MEDIA AND CULTURAL IDENTITY: an analysis with reference to Sri Lankan experience

           The modern epoch opened as an era of globalization. Most of the critics portray this term as a world with permeable borders. Furthermore globalization is a widespread concept with a considerable degree of ambiguity. This ambiguity does not mean that it remains unclear or ill defined. Globalization has been viewed from different perspectives and dimensions particularly in relation to different interests, subject areas and scope. One perspective attempts to define it as a process of strengthening and extension of the international instability of commerce, capitals, technology and labor force. Another perspective refers to institutional changes, which are brought about in the society by the increase of these flows and the development of the transnational corporations. [Adesoji 41] In this point of view, it stressed the weakening of the regulating function of the national states. In its stronger version, globalization can be implied as disappearance of the state in its economic dimensions. Yet another perspective refers to the growing homogenization of certain processes and behaviors like the introduction of global standards in the production of goods.

In other words, what it means is the transformation of the state, the emergence of a new kind of global politics in which the state is one actor among many. [Glasius, Kaldor, 1] Accordingly the obvious fact is that globalization results by having a world with permeable borders.

Today money, goods, and services readily cross national boundaries. Instantaneous messages and enormous libraries of information flash across the Internet. Television, telephones, and wireless communications connect people in everywhere. In another viewpoint globalization can be interpreted as an integration and democratization of the world’s culture, economy, and infrastructure through transnational investment, rapid proliferation of communication and information technologies, and the impacts of free-market forces on local, regional and national economies. Hence it has been difficult adopting a standard definition and under different perspective and spheres it gives slightly different viewpoints, globalization can be interpreted as a combination of all the above mentioned factors.

The concept of globalization is not a new concept. Deluxe Encyclopedia 2004 conveys the roots of globalization as follows. According to it the most important globalizing process was the migration of human beings from the birthplace of the species to other continents. Soon after people settled down to work the land, they began to trade with other societies, nearby and far away. Then there came numerous inventions of the world like wheel and sailing vessels. Silk Road carried goods and ideas between China and the Roman Empire. Not only goods it carried information, clothing and cooking styles, techniques of metalwork, decoration and religions too. Then the concepts like imperialism, colonization took place and exploration of countries caused for exploitation. Though these conflicts were terribly destructive, they were part of the process of globalization that has brought about modern society.

Therefore it is evident the fact that globalization is not a new concept. It is an existed concept from the past. Moreover Karl Marx observed the same situation, the origination of globalization in Das Kapital as follows though the situation was not labeled as globalization during that era

“The capitalists’ ‘avarice’ for consumption as the accumulation; production and surplus value go on increasing. Marx says, ‘Luxury enters into capital’s expenses of representation’... Capitalists accumulate not for accumulation’s sake but to convert it into capital and to generate more surplus value. But what for this surplus value? Marx explains, “At the historical dawn of capitalist production - and every capitalist upstart has personally to go through this historical stage, avarice, and desire to get rich, are the ruling passions”4 … the capitalists need expansion of their markets. So Marx already explained it in the Communist Manifesto, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connection everywhere”5. [Sen. 121]

Accordingly today we get familiar with the development of the above condition and we label it as globalization. When this condition gets more familiar with the present world it affects to the states in different ways. It could affect socially, politically, economically and culturally. Nowadays we see that globalization has invaded the culture. Hence globalization is from West to the rest all those affectations have an effect, not largely on Western developed countries but on under developing countries. However the development of this concept now resulted by having a global culture in the world.

Culture can be interpreted as a way of life adopted by a certain group of people of a particular society at a specific time and place. Every society has its own culture and way of life. Culture is established by a group of people who live together and stick to some principles in their society. Consciously or unconsciously people adopt the culture of the group that they born to. Nowadays culture becomes an important domain in relation to the concept of globalization. Globalization makes people have common needs and common challenges and as a result of that people form common societies which can address to their challenges.

Cultures of people are diverse, even when dealing with similar realities. They mould a people’s way of life and thinking and give distinctiveness to a community. The process of globalization tends to bring about homogeneity of cultural behaviors throughout the world, at least in certain aspects of life such as in food, dress, leisure, music, and sports. The mass media and advertisements create wants, especially for TNC products such as McDonald’s food (present in 111 countries), Coca cola, jeans and rock concert music. The universalization of the demand for these goods may give the impression of a pervasive global mono-culture. [Balasuriya,]

Today, many nations are multicultural societies, composed of numerous smaller subcultures. Local culture and social structure are now shaped by large and powerful commercial interests. Cultures also cross national boundaries. For instance, people around the world now know a variety of English words and have contact with American cultural exports such as brand-name clothing and technological products, films and music, and mass-produced foods. Unlike past nowadays travel where we want easily. Distance is not a problem for that. Therefore Diaspora has become a common factor for all. And Diaspora too brings their own cultures when they move to another country. Hence there can be seen multicultural societies all over the world.

When we talk about globalization we often talk about cultural convergence and the intermixing of pop cultures around the world. Author David Singh Grewal argues that globalization does not just influence which other cultures we encounter in our daily lives. More importantly, globalization changes our own culture. [Grewal, 2009] Most often dominant societies can shape the culture of less powerful societies, a process some researchers call cultural domination. Today, many anthropologists openly oppose efforts by dominant world powers, such as the U.S. government and large corporations, to make unique smaller societies adopt Western commercial culture. Right now this cultural domination has identified in the term of Cultural Imperialism.

According to Tomlinson cultural imperialism is ‘the use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and habits of a foreign culture at the expense of a native culture.' [] Furthermore according to Tomlinson economic power has enabled high capitalistic countries to exert a considerable control over weaker countries economically and culturally. Since America or Western countries are seen to dominate the world’s capitalism, their popular culture, Hollywood, the English language, and companies that include Nike and McDonalds, appear to show their cultural imperialism over the world. [Thomlimson, 54]

This situation basically happens through its relation with media. Rapid changes in technology in the last several decades have changed the nature of culture and cultural exchange. People around the world can make economic transactions and transmit information to each other almost instantaneously through the use of computers and satellite communications. Media is the vehicle which brings the effects of globalization to each nook and corner of the world. Media come out with images, sounds, and spectacles help produce the framework of everyday life. Furthermore it can have a certain effect on our lifestyle while dominating our leisure time, shaping political views and social behavior. Additionally it provides materials for people to forge an identity. Radio, television, film, and the other products of the culture industries provide the models of what it means to be male or female, successful or a failure, powerful or powerless. Media also provides the materials out of which many people construct their sense of class, of ethnicity and race, of nationality, of sexuality, of “us” and “them.”

It is through media we get familiar with the effects of globalization. Daily stories and images of media provide the symbols, myths, and resources which help people to constitute a common culture for the majority of individuals in many parts of the world today. Media culture provides the materials to create Identities and we insert ourselves into contemporary society what we identify as a global culture.

According to Manuel Casetells the information revolution and reconstruction of capitalism have established a new society that could be called the “network society.” The most important characteristic of this society is its prevalent culture established by a diverse and comprehensive media system. [Babran, 2008] Hence technological revolution constitutes a basic support for capitalist globalization. This revolution is the important device which speeded up the process of globalization. Critics of globalization often cite "media imperialism" as a dominant vehicle for the expansion of a homogenous, consumer-based culture extending across borders. [Richards, French 2000] As a result of this situation powerful western countries are largely carrying a one-way transmission of ideas and values and end up with displacement of indigenous cultures in under developing countries.

This situation can be observed through Sri Lanka. As a developing country it has the facets of globalization. According to the ideas discussed above Sri Lankan culture has vastly affected and affecting due to this situation and it mainly occurs in relation with rapid development of media.

Throughout the past centuries and still Sri Lanka has been moving along with the process of globalization. If we move to the past decades of the country according to the introductory factors mentioned above, even during the era of western colonization too had good as well as bad facets of globalization in Sri Lanka. The psychological consequences too on the colonized, Portuguese, Dutch and British were severe because whatever they did in Sri Lanka was first for their own benefit. Even the advantages brought to us were due to the requirements of the colonial government. Some of the advantages of colonial rule were the building of roads, railways, harbors and hospitals in the colonies. The colonizing powers introduced the modern education system and medicine. They even introduced modern agricultural methods. Most often, the colonial government exploited the Sri Lankans and their natural resources. Only a very small share of profit was given to us. Our country was used as the source for the raw material and the markets for the finished foreign goods. This badly affected our economy. Even politically these nations made several changes. They arbitrarily partitioned our country in some cases, while at some places they made divisions on the basis of language, religion and custom.

There were also social and cultural effects. Various European languages with a rich tradition of literature were spread. The impact of western education and culture, their dress and language was acutely felt. Most of natives in Sri Lanka have also migrated to the West and also there had been number of elites who followed the Western pattern. Accordingly this situation proves the fact that though it was not so strict, though it was not so rapid and though the way of spreading the concept was different there were the facets of globalization in Sri Lanka from the past. If we take the present condition of the country we can see that nowadays Sri Lanka is highly affected by it.

Consequently nowadays a vast majority of the Sri Lankan community is getting influenced by it. As a result of that western culture is attacking to the indigenous Sri Lankan culture. In some major cities the influence of western culture is being increasingly felt with the introduction of major fast food brands such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken as well as the appearance of major clothing brands such as Levi and Bench. Most of the critics identified this situation as a threat to Sri Lankan cultural identity. In the political structure some critics identify it as a loss of sovereignty in the country.

Sri Lankans have subsisted on their own food production except some items. Consequent to globalization Sri Lanka has increased its import of rice and other basic commodities. Neighboring India has always been trying to set foot in the name of modernizing Sri Lankan industrial sector. Through means of globalization India and other countries keep an eye on controlling Sri Lankan lives. [Kumaaran, http//]

Culture is a major factor in the process of globalization. With the rapid process of globalization indigenous culture of Sri Lanka has globalized. If we pay close attention to the present Sri Lankan society it can be seen the fact that basic requirements of the people have increased. People unlike to get satisfied with what they have in their own countries they always look for something else. Then there can be seen western influence as well as cultural interactions. With the above two factors people try to imitate the culture of other countries. This cultural imitation affects the indigenous culture of the country. It is due to globalization states’ boundaries get broaden. And naturally people observe the traditions and cultures of other countries. Consequently they get familiar with cultures which are alien to them and obviously they forget their own cultures.

As mentioned earlier these cultural effects come through media. Globalization is not achievable without high technology and communication. Cultural affectation comes through communication. When new technologies emerged, that transformed the speed and range of communications, allowing the process of globalization faster. It is clear that globalization is an ongoing process, with its most visible aspect being the spread of information and communication technologies. Sri Lankans too affected by that. Currently media has close relationship with the people and Sri Lankans too having experiences on it.

The following is an analysis is according to the survey that I have done under the theme of globalization media and culture in relation to Sri Lankan experience. There I have interviewed number of people who belong to different years of age, different social background and different nationality. But here I have categorized what they said according to their age. Under that I categorized them into three groups like youths age between, 15-30, middle age, 30-50 and age more than 50.

According to the views of the youths in Sri Lanka it is clear the fact that they get familiar with the current situation. Though they see the disadvantages they cannot get rid of it because all those modern changes are interconnected with their life styles. They are evident with the social and cultural changes that come with globalization. They are so familiar with media especially television and internet. They accept the fact that media corrupt the indigenous culture of our country. For example Sinhala language is facing to a threat due to this situation. They talked about the changes that happened in the fashions, foods. They like the accessibility of knowledge and instant gratification that come with the concept of globalization. They believed the fact that globalization brings social reality – media reality – hyper reality. They recognized the fact that Sri Lankans are loosing their cultural identity. But according to the ideas given by the most of youths, they said that they too have to move with the present condition and them too getting attracted to westernization. Though they are evident what happen around them is wrong they are unable to get rig of that.

According to my survey, I felt that middle age people who have experiences on both present and the past mostly get lost in this situation. They see the advantages as well as disadvantages of modern facilities. So they are afraid to be familiar with modern world. They always compare present with past. For example they assumed that nowadays they can buy easily what they want but for all they that they need money. They said that most of the people in the present society have become money minded. They have lost their cultural values. Media brings all the things that can corrupt the native culture of the country. They are in between the modern and the past eras. But they too have to join with the present society under certain circumstances.

Third group is the people who belong to the group of age above fifty. Most of the people who belong to this group of age see this situation as a mock. They always think about how nice how it is calm and quiet the life that they spend in the past. Most of them don’t get the love and caring of their children as their children are having a hectic lifestyle. They accept the fact that modern technology brings more facilities to them. But at the same time they argue on the fact that though they don’t have such facilities in the past they spent a happy life with their children and the parents. A larger concern in the emerging global information economy is the fact that most of the people cannot afford the types of products advertised on global media. Though it happens like that, their dissatisfaction of what they have constantly exposed them to these media messages and make them want to have those products that they can never afford. And that causes to a social unrest. For example due to the rapid development of technology it creates different versions of the same product. Mobile phone is one thing. This group of people argued on this fact and said it does not matter they use a mobile phone for communication but when comes different versions of the same product and when they get more familiar with that product with media they feel it is good they have the newest thing of that product. Then they need money and that makes their lives worse. And as a result of that crimes and violence become a common factor in the country. According to them they sill get satisfy with the simple lifestyle that they had in the past.

Above analysis is a sum up that based on the ideas given by the interviewers who belong to different age groups. According to that it is obvious the fact that globalization has multitude fallouts like increasing poverty, rising crime and violence, environmental degradation, changes in life styles and erosion of cultural values in Sri Lanka. Though most of the people in the country aware of that they are unable to get rid of it especially youths. As youth represents the present generation this would continue in future more than now. Middle age people feel that they are unable to fit in to the present as well as the past. They are like in between the processes of globalization. And the older generation just keeps a look at on the different changes happen in the present society.

Globalization is the gradual illusion of the weakening of state powers. It also represents how an individual life can be transformed by global forces, and one can expand one’s connections around the world. With globalization, individual lives become affected not just by their local communities, but by economic, political, and cultural processes or forces that operate worldwide. As it is a global process no body can avoid of it. The only thing that we can do is to be familiar with the process of globalization by understanding its effects both good and bad.


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