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Globalisation Of Culture Essay, Research Paper

To what extent can notions of a global consumer culture be explained as part of an Americanisation of trans-national consumption patterns?

To tackle this question effectively it is going to be important to assess the notion of a global consumer culture. This relates to the trends of the ?developed? countries and the growing consumption patterns that have been formed by transnational corporations (TNCs). A TNC can be defined by as a corporation that operates in different countries or areas of the globe to be able to maximise business processes. These corporations now operate as if the world had no borders, choosing areas of the globe that are most suited to their practices. This then relates to globalisation and the growing interdependence between different peoples, regions and countries – that has come about through the growth of these corporations. Their growth has been central in the production of an international division of labour that sees most low skilled manufacturing work produced in developing nations and this has been aided by the growth of telecommunication technologies. TNCs are able to use areas of the globe and the ?stages of development? of these regions for comparative advantage, utilising areas of cheap or highly skilled labour to suit corporate needs. Globalisation is apparent when seen in the light of the information networks that have allowed for the emergence of TNCs and the beginnings of a global culture of universally recognisable symbols. There are obvious signs of this globalising trend: McDonalds and Coca-Cola being the most visible forms of an Americanisation of branded consumption. The term ?Americanisation? can refer to the control or power that the United States holds within the ?global network?.. There are many American transnational corporations, however all centres of financial power produce such companies. This essay will seek to look at the effects of this globalising process for the individual and nation states. It will then be necessary to look at the effects of a ?culture of consumption? and the implications this has for notions of Americanisation and a global consumer culture. To do this it will be important to look at the ways in which TNCs operate, and the effects of this for global consumption. This essay will try and assess the claim that transnational consumption patterns are in fact being ?Americanised?..

The world?s population is being brought closer together through a process of time space compression; this has come about through the growth of information technology. Information networks between nations allow for the capitalist development of economies all over the world. These processes of ?development? and time space compression under capitalism have a distorted effect upon individuals and nation states. The international division of labour provides new flexible labour markets and this allows for strategic policies that maximise profit. This provides opportunities for the countries that are touched by these corporations but profits are distributed unequally, placing the individual within a multitude of positions. This is the case throughout the world but most notably within the developing countries. Contributors to time space compression and development may not see any of its benefits and may be trapped by the networks within which the system has positioned them. A transnational capitalist class or global elite benefit from this process however the majority, on a global scale, are left on the fringes of this process looking in collecting points of symbolic reference that have no relevance to individual situations. There are multiple positions within this globalising process of time space compression and also the creation of a culture of capitalist symbols that are globally recognised. The growth of consumption throughout the world has arguably had an impact on general standards of living, but it is also apparent that this impact is unevenly distributed. Though creating potential opportunities and benefits, the capitalist system and TNCs that lie behind this are not underpinned by rules based on shared social objectives.

The growth of the media-corporation as a TNC is of importance in this process. These media have aided this process of time space compression by creating a sense of the global with people having images from around the world ?beamed? into their homes. Nevertheless, their primary use is the promotion of consumer culture and this is closely linked to capitalist development and the creation of a culture of globally recognisable symbols. Though in real terms the majority of the world?s population has not reached a point where it is possible to ?conspicuously consume? the levels of consumption in developing countries have increased dramatically. ?What was once considered a luxury twenty years ago is now a necessity? a private car for every middle-class family in France a wrist watch for every rural family in India, a refrigerator for every family in China?? United Nations Development Report 1998. The images of consumption and lifestyles that are produced in the developed world are becoming increasingly adopted in cases where people cannot afford such. This is not to say that the poor of the world are becoming conspicuous consumers but the images are there for people, if possible, to buy into. Arguably this situation is maintained by a ?transnational capitalist class? who it can be said are the main beneficiaries of capitalism and globalisation. It is this class of people that are in positions that are able to help solidify the culture ideology of consumption. Sklair (1994) argues here that the culture of consumerism, is a set of practices that are ideological and that while this culture is available to the dominant classes it erodes other cultures as it is seen as the only path of development. It would be fair here to say that aspects of a national culture that do fit in with this culture ideology of consumerism will survive and be absorbed by capitalist culture defined by an ideology of consumption.

The power that America and the other developed nations hold within the global network cannot be under estimated. All areas of financial power are able to influence global consumption and cultural patterns by the diffusion of cultural and material goods. Time space compression has broken down the boundaries of physical location and this has had an impact for the ways in which countries interact with each other. This has implications for trade, and it is the rich countries that hold the power within this situation. These countries are able to negotiate amongst themselves and in ways that can produce detrimental consequences for the people of developing countries. To become a ?developing? country nations have to open themselves to global markets, and thus the global forces that are forging greater interdependence between states. Decisions that increasingly effect national interests are made by quasi-regional or quasi-supranational organisations such as the European Union (EU) or the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In these groups it is the developed nations with the backing of TNCs from these countries that are able to exert the most influence.

In terms of the individual the globalisation of consumption is opening up a set of new cultural references that exist outside of the nation state. An example of this is the growing realisation of global problems and this is linked to global social movements like Green Peace that are able to utilise the ?instantaneous? properties of telecommunication technologies. However, these are still interpreted through the languages and discourses of the nation state. It would be fair to say that ?the nation state? will resist unwanted intrusions upon its culture and feeling of national identity. However whether it be in the form of consumption of material goods like cars etc or the consumption of ?movies? and other cultural artefacts, the lasting effects of TNCs will be difficult to resist. This is not to say that America is the only country that is having its culture globalised. There are cultural artefacts from many areas of the globe that through global networks are now present in many other countries and this is apparent in the diffusion of western musical cultures. However this diffusion is not simply from the most developed countries, it also occurs towards the most developed nations. These nations are able to amalgamate aspects of culture from all around the world and absorb them into their sense of national culture. It would be fair to say that if local cultural practices don?t challenge the ideology of consumption they will be commercialised into the system.

The developed nations then are able to set trends in consumption patterns and these in some form are then diffused throughout the globe. This is not to say that culture automatically diffuses out from its source, some items may be rejected on the grounds that it undermines a country?s sense of national identity. The French banned North African television from being shown, because it was deemed that immigrants should adopt French culture rather than ?imposing? their own culture upon the French. Another example of this is that of the Islamic nations that ban American television programs from being aired. This type of top down prohibition in this case can be argued to create an underground activity that only seems to cement its roots further. It is apparent that globalisation is closely linked or fused with the growth of global capitalism, a system that on some level incorporates the majority of the globe. The developed nations hold the power within this situation and are able to diffuse ideas that act as a reference for the ?developing? nations and are then implemented by a capitalist class within these countries. This process is by no means an inherently bad thing with ?liberalising ideas? and matters of global importance filtering from the core to the periphery. However this system is based around the consumption of goods and free markets and these have their own flaws and are creative of inequality. It would then be fair to say that developing nations are not passive receptors of capitalist ideas and the ideology of consumption, ideas are subject to interpretation through various discourses. Nevertheless it is possible to see that a global set of cultural references maybe established and that future cultural developments will be based on these for the people that have access. However, this needs clarifying because each nation is a totality with vastly different histories and it is these historical discourses that will prevent the adoption of a standardised mass capitalist culture. People all over the world interpret signs and symbols in culturally different contexts, what is popular somewhere may be less so elsewhere and this is connected to interpretation.

It would be fair to say that the majority of the world?s people know more about American cultural symbols than vice versa. This is because of the amount of material that is diffused out from this source. Films, music, material goods and information flow from America and the other developed countries towards the periphery. There is of course the language barrier and this provides ?foreign? countries with a barrier against Americanisation, but it also prevents the diffusion of their own cultures. South American countries are reluctant to accept television programs made by American firms for their own countries because home produced programs are generally preferred. Brazil produces many of its own programs and this allows for the diffusion of foreign cultural artefacts but in the interpretation of the countries producing it. Nation states still have strong cultures that have not been broken down by global networks. These cultures are made up of historical discourse that allows for the interpretation of signs and symbols in a variety of ways. However the globalising nature of communication networks and the cultural flows that are now present are providing new points of focus, a post-modern set of cultural references. This is the promotion of culture without a reference and this in itself could be called Americanisation. That is to say the promotion of instant consumer satisfaction, based in the present with no reference to the past. It would also be fair to say that what is being globalised is the capitalist system and though this is opening endless possibilities it is in fact being driven by TNCs. This then poses questions about the sort of global culture that is potentially being created. Though there are now points of reference outside of the nation state and possibilities for different communities there are the problems of distribution that are inherent to capitalism.

In trying to draw some conclusions it is clear that the spread of a global consumer culture is a difficult phenomenon to assess. Capitalist development throughout the globe relies on the consumption ideology of capitalism. In this sense the notion of a global consumer culture is viable because capitalism is now the dominant ideology and this is maintained by a transnational capitalist class that have access to its benefits. The proponents of this class come from the wealthy financial areas of the globe, TNCs and the wealthy in the developing countries. This process is aided by the growth of telecommunication technologies and time space compression. This in turn has enabled the promotion of the dominant ideology of consumption and provided global reference points that are equal to some of the claims of post-modernists. However Nation States and their cultures are not passive receptors of such mass-produced symbols and they are interpreted within the historical discourses of the receiving nations. The claim of an Americanisation of consumption patterns is not strictly correct because the dominant financial powers throughout the globe all produce cultural artefacts that are part of a capitalist consumer ideology. However ?Americanisation? is a term that could be used in terms of the creation of a global culture without reference, the culture ideology of consumption.


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