Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Culture and Globalization Reconsidered [Part 4]

Applying the thought of Arendt and Adorno to contemporary research on culture and globalization has substantial implications. The three theses concerning globalization and culture, outlined above, no longer appear to be focusing on culture per se, but instead on consumer goods; the commodities of the culture industry.
The polarization thesis seems to be strengthened. Through the lenses of Arendt and Adorno, it appears that the polarization thesis is referring to the polarization of, on the one hand, global consumer capitalism and the commodification of cultural objects and, on the other, cultural fundamentalism (and tribalism) and those who wish to distance themselves from the commodification of the culture industry. This is not to say that these cultures are actually polarized, but that there is a division between those who are assimilated into the global capitalist economy and those who wish to remain distinct from the global economy despite its power moves.
The homogenization thesis seems to be strengthened, but also transformed. Cultures are being homogenized (even as they are being hybridized), but not necessarily in the sense of Americanization, Westernization, or peripheral cultures becoming a cultural monolith similar to the core. Cultures are becoming homogenized in that the cultural objects are becoming commodities in the global market; homogenization as commodification. More and more cultures are being assimilated and homogenized into the global economy and their cultural objects are becoming commodities. Furthermore, the commodities of the culture industry appear to be fulfilling the desires of local consumers, however the culture industry standarizes and manipulates these desires and, in the end, the consumer desires the commodities produced by the culture industry. Critics of the homogenization thesis can speak of glocalization, the adaption of global products to satiate local tastes, but this is not simply a neutral hybridization of culture, but an adaption of global products to satiate local tastes in order to make a profit on the commodities of the culture industry.
The hybridization thesis seems to be unmasked of the guise of cultural diversity and is seen in a different light; as a hybridization of commodities to be consumed by consumers in other global regions in order to turn a profit. Granted, cultures are experiencing a hybridization, however, the cultural objects of a culture are (being) transformed into commodities to be consumed in the global market. Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto offer a commodity to be consumed by consumers to make a profit in the global market. McDonald’s in Moscow is offering a commodity to be consumed, not a culture to endure. A cultural object in one region of the world is turned into a commodity that can turn a profit in another region of the world. Whether the people of this other region want the commodity or not, the cultural industry manipulates the desires of these consumers to desire these commodities. Therefore, the hybridization thesis is not referring to the hybridization of cultures, but to the recent availability of one region’s consumer goods (such as McDonald’s) in other regions of the world (such as Moscow), or the hybridization of consumer cultures.
As cultural objects are assimilated into the despotism of the global capitalist economy, the cultural objects become commodified and standardized. Cultural objects have been turned into commodities, and in so doing, commodities have been given the same status of the displaced cultural objects; commodities are now considered “culture”, as can be seen in Holton and Nederveen Pieterse’s descriptions of culture. Here is where we see such things as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola referred to as “culture”. It is not that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have been elevated to the status of culture, but culture has become commodities and commodities have been given the title of “culture” because of their identical status and ends in the capitalist economy; as commodities or objects with exchange value to be consumed.
Must we think of culture as a commodity to be consumed? Can we think of culture otherwise? As something that cultivates nature into a place fit for human habitation? And as something that endures and outlasts?

The Commodification of Culture: Arendt and Adorno [Part 3]

In discussing these three paradigms of culture within an increasingly globalized world, the utilized concepts of culture emerge as all-inclusive descriptions as to what is included under the umbrella of “culture”. Nederveen Pieterse, in Globalization and Culture, relies on a common anthropological definition articulated as follows, “culture refers to behavior and beliefs that are learned and shared: learned so it is not ‘instinctual’ and shared so it is not individual.”[1] Likewise, Holton employs Clifford Geertz’s description of culture as a catalyst to commence his article. Geertz describes the concept of culture as “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbolic forms by means of which men [sic] communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.”[2] Within this definition, writes Holton, “[t]here is room here for Coca-Cola as much as Chopin, for practical knowledge as much as religious symbolism.”[3] Granted, culture, when described in the ways above, does indeed envelope Coca-Cola and Chopin, McDonald’s and Michelangelo, ATM’s and Ambrose Bierce. However, does culture lose its meaning when described in such an all-inclusive way? Can descriptions of culture have any meaning if both the Big Mac and the sculpture of Bacchus are considered cultural artifacts? In what follows, the thought of Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno will be employed both to critique the contemporary “mass culture” (Arendt) or “culture industry (Adorno) and lead toward a more specific and nuanced description of culture within an increasingly globalized world.
Hannah Arendt, in her essay “The Crisis in Culture”[4], refers to the anxiety concerning the relationship between (mass) society and (mass) culture, and to the strange situation of the modern individual characterized by loneliness, excitability, and lack of judgment. She questions whether it is still possible to rediscover the past without continuing standards of interpretation, in an increasingly secularized world of utilitarian culture. This survey will focus on Arendt’s analysis of what she identifies as the contemporary “mass culture” and, later in the essay, rearticulates as “mass entertainment”.
In her essay, Arendt begins with an etymological account of culture.
Culture, word and concept is Roman in origin. The word ‘culture’ derives from colere – to cultivate, to dwell, to take care, to tend and preserve – and it relates primarily to the intercourse of man [sic] with nature in the sense of cultivating and tending nature until it becomes fit for human habitation. As such, it indicates an attitude of loving care and stands in sharp contrast to all efforts to subject nature to the domination of man [sic].[5]

However, this is only one side of Arendt’s concept of culture. She continues by revealing the cultural characteristic of durability. “An object is cultural to the extent that it can endure; its durability is the very opposite of functionality, which is the quality which makes it disappear again from the phenomenal world by being used and used up.”[6] Therefore, for Arendt, “developing nature into a dwelling place for a people as well as in the sense of taking care of the monuments of the past, determine even today the content and the meaning we have in mind when we speak of culture.”[7]
In her essay, Arendt describes the concept of “philistinism” as a notion which “designated a mentality which judged everything in terms of immediate usefulness and ‘material values’ and hence had no regard for such useless objects and occupations as are implied in culture and art.”[8] At the turn of the 18th century, society could be described in terms of “philistinism”, as lacking interest in culture and art due to culture and arts lack of a relevant, utilitarian aspect. However, the philistine was displaced by the cultural philistine who “seized upon [cultural artifacts] as a currency by which he [sic] bought a higher position in society or acquired a higher degree of self-esteem.”[9] The cultural philistine ascribed value to cultural objects. These ascribed values, according to Arendt, “were what values always have been, exchange values”.[10] Society, then for Arendt, “wanted culture, evaluated and devaluated cultural things into social commodities, used and abused them for its own selfish purposes, but did not ‘consume’ them.”[11] Society is distinguished from mass society in the sense that mass society “wants not culture but entertainment, and the wares offered by the entertainment industry are indeed consumed by society just like any other consumer goods.”[12] Culture objects have become commodities of the entertainment industry and are, therefore, no longer “cultural objects whose excellence is measured by their ability to withstand the life process and become permanent appurtenances of the world”.[13] For Arendt, they should not be judged according to these standards. Furthermore, they are not “values which exist to be used and exchanged”.[14] According to Arendt, the commodities of the entertainment industry “are consumer goods, destined to be used up, just like any other consumer goods.”[15] Cultural objects are preyed upon my mass society, and mass society “will literally consume the cultural objects, eat them up and destroy them”.[16] No longer considered cultural objects, these consumer goods
serve…to while away time, and the vacant time which is whiled away is not leisure time, strictly speaking – time, that is, in which we are free from all cares and activities necessitated by the life process and therefore free for the world and its culture – it is rather left-over time which still is biological in nature, left over after labor and sleep have received their due. [17]

Therefore, for Arendt, “culture is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment”[18] and this consumer’s society, in search for entertainment is “feeding on the cultural objects of the world.”[19]
Theodor Adorno, in “Culture Industry Reconsidered”[20], explains that “mass culture” is not an adequate descriptor and instead propones the term “culture industry”. Adorno believes the culture industry is a system by which society is controlled though a top-down creation of standardized culture that intensifies the commodification of artistic expression. Like Arendt, Adorno writes of the commodification of cultural objects. “The cultural commodities of the industry are governed…by the principle of their realization as value, and not by their own specific content and harmonious formation.” Adorno continues, “[t]he entire practice of the culture industry transfers the profit motive naked onto cultural forms.”[21] He qualifies this statement by writing, “[e]ver since these cultural forms first began to earn a living for their creators as commodities in the market-place they had already possessed something of this quality.”[22] However, the economic aspect has been privileged and this commodification has intensified in our contemporary context, so much so that the “[c]ultural entities typical of the culture industry are no longer also commodities, they are commodities through and through.”[23] Culture has become an industry that submits to the rules of any other producer of commodities. Culture has been forced into a pastiche dominated by the capitalist economy.
In works such as Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Max Horkheimer) and Negative Dialectics, Adorno theorizes that the phenomenon of mass culture has a political implication, namely that all the many forms of popular culture have become a single culture industry whose purpose is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests. Although Western culture was previously divided first into national markets and then into highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, the contemporary view of the culture industry is that there is a single marketplace in which the best or most popular works succeed. This recognizes that the consolidation of media companies has centralized power in the hands of the few remaining multinational corporations now controlling production and distribution. The theory proposes that culture not only mirrors society, but also takes an important role in shaping society through the processes of standardization and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects. The culture industry claims to serve the consumers’ needs for entertainment, but conceals the way that it standardizes these needs, manipulating the consumers to desire what it produces. The outcome is that mass production feeds a mass market where the identity and tastes of the individual consumers is increasingly less important and the consumers themselves are as interchangeable as the products they consume.
Arendt’s critique of mass culture, or mass entertainment, and Adorno’s critique of the culture industry both problematize the descriptions of culture posited by Holton and Nederveen Pieterse. If “culture” is characterized by its durability, and mass culture or the culture industry refers to the commodification of cultural objects that leads to the consumption of these cultural objects, then these cultural objects can no longer endure and outlast. Therefore, if these cultural objects are consumed, they are no longer “culture” according to Arendt’s description.
[1] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 46.
[2] Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”, The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, 1973, 89, quoted in Holton’s “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 142.
[3] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 142.
[4] Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and Its Political Significance”, Between Past and Future, Penguin Books, 1993, 197-226.
[5] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 211-212.
[6] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 209.
[7] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 213.
[8] Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture”, 201.
[9] Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture”, 204.
[10] Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture”, 204.
[11] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205.
[12] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205.
[13] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205.
[14] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205.
[15] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205-206.
[16] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 207.
[17] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 205. Arendt’s emphasis.
[18] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 207.
[19] Arendt, “The Crisis of Culture”, 211.
[20] Theodor Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered”, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, J.M. Bernstein, ed., Routledge, 1991, 85-92.
[21] Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered”, 86.
[22] Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered”, 86.
[23] Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered”, 86. Adorno’s emphasis.

Culture and Globalization: Polarization, Homogenization, Hybridization [Part 2]

In recent cultural studies, the foremost inquiry concerns the influence globalization has upon culture. In what follows, the three major paradigms that have surfaced in contemporary scholarship will be surveyed. This section will rely heavily on the thought of Jan Nederveen Pieterse, as presented in his book Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange, and Robert Holton’s article, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”. This section will begin with a survey of the polarization thesis, followed by an overview of the homogenization thesis, and concluding with an outline of the hybridization thesis.

The Polarization Thesis: The Clash of Civilizations
Benjamin Barber argues that cultural forces in the shadow of globalization are experiencing a global cultural polarization and characterizes this cultural phenomenon (and entitled his 1995 monograph) as Jihad vs. McWorld.[1] These dialectical metaphors refer to the cultural polarization of global consumer capitalism, metonymically embodied in McDonald’s, and Jihad, referring to cultural fundamentalism (and tribalism) and the struggle for justice for the downtrodden left maimed in the path of global capitalism. McWorld, then, promises to bind us together through consumption of so-called “cultural” commodities, while Jihad promises liberation from the capitalistic characteristic of consumption and greed through tribal pursuit of justice.
Samuel Huntington, the president of the Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard, is another advocate of the polarization thesis. He writes that “a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in coming years…will be the clash of civilizations…. With the end of the Cold War, international politics move out of its Western phase, and its centerpiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations.”[2] Huntington divides the world into “the West and the Rest”. He writes that the “political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War” (i.e. between the USA and USSR) have been replaced by the boundaries of civilizations (i.e. between the West and Islam) and these boundaries between civilizations are “the flash points for crisis and bloodshed”.[3] Huntington considers the West as a “universal civilization” and the “rest” are attempting a “modernization without westernization” and moreover, these “differing modernities” lead to the “breakdown of western civilizational hegemony”.[4] However, according to Nederveen Pieterse, the West has strong ties in “the rest” through arms flows and military technologies trading. In a post-Cold War world, and the United State’s role within it, is less a civilizational conflict and more an “unraveling of geopolitical security games most of which have been initiated by the U.S. in the first place…”.[5] However, as Nederveen Pieterse writes, “[t]he oddity of Huntington’s view” is its “political perspective on culture coined in conventional national security language. Culture is politicized, wrapped in civilizational packages that just happen to coincide with geopolitical entities.”[6] Huntington’s view of cultural conflict emphasizes that which distinguishes one people from another. This is a very specific description of culture, according to Nederveen Pieterse, and furthermore, is a one sided notion of culture. “Diversity is one side of the picture but only one, and interaction, commonality or the possibility of commonality is another.”[7] Nederveen Pieterse goes on to give a common, anthropological definition of culture; “culture refers to behavior and beliefs that are learned and shared: learned so it is not ‘instinctual’ and shared so it is not individual.”[8] This places no boundaries on culture; “and therefore, culture is always open.”[9] Cultural relativism or “cultural differentialism” can serve as a defense for cultural diversity and lead to local empowerment, but it could also lead to a “politics of nostalgia”.[10] However, Nederveen Pieterse writes that “[e]ither way the fallacy is the reification of the local, sidelining the interplay between the local and the global.”[11] Mainly, Nederveen Pieterse believes that Huntington fails to mention the cultural connection between the East and the West and also the cultural difference within the West; between North America and Europe.

The Homogenization Thesis: The McDonaldization of Culture
In the dark shadow of globalization, the most widely held description of culture is that of homogenization; the “convergence toward a common set of cultural traits and practices.”[12] Those who consider culture to be continually directed toward homogenization, hold the belief that the so-called global culture follows the global economy and this has lead to such phrases as “Coca-colonization” and “McDonaldization”. The notion of “McDonaldization” refers to the “worldwide homogenization of societies through the impact of multinational corporations.”[13] McDonaldization is viewed as cultural Westernization, and more particularly Americanization, of the entire globe.
In this view, the mechanisms for change are closely linked with the globalization of the market economy and multinational corporations. As Robert Holton notes, “[c]onsumer capitalism of this type has been built upon a standardized brand image, mass advertising, and the high status given by many Third World populations to Western products and services.”[14] The birth of the global consumer has not simply been founded upon “the utilitarian convenience of global products” but “on the sale of dreams of affluence, personal success, and erotic gratification evoked through advertising and culture industry of Hollywood.”[15]
Furthermore, this view of cultural homogenization and the global economy has been strengthened by the rise of the Internet and other information technologies. Companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, and Motorola have perhaps surpassed McDonalds and Coca-Cola as cultural icons at least among the world’s affluent populations. This reveals that, if there is any warrant to the homogenization thesis, it is not a static homogenization.
Another dimension of cultural homogenization is that of the assimilation of “elites” into the political, educational, and economic life of Western society. The experience of a Western education not only globally disseminates Western knowledge but also creates similar values which then influence international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and multinational/global corporations. This gives rise to the emergence of similar interests of global “elites”.[16]
There is much to be said of the homogenization thesis provided that it is viewed in a dynamic and ever-changing way. However, viewing the interrelationship of globalization and culture as ever-evolving toward a monolithic global culture has its limitations and is open to critique. First, as Holton notes, “the strong association of cultural globalization with Americanization is overstated.”[17] In this post-colonial age, there remains a strong cultural relationship between the former colonizing nations (for example; the United Kingdom and France) and their former colonies (such as India and the former French Congo). Evidence of this includes the predominance of cricket over baseball in India, or the Coca-Cola consumed in the former French Congo, which is bottled in Europe where the French-speaking Congolese look for cultural status.[18] “Paris is the cultural magnet”, writes Holton, “not New York or California.”[19]
A second critique against the homogenization thesis is leveled by Shannon Peters Talbott in her examination of the homogenization thesis, and particularly McDonaldization, through ethnography of McDonald’s in Moscow. She concludes that it is not so much cultural homogenization, but a global localization. The Moscow McDonald’s varies from its American, Western counterparts by catering to the consumers in Moscow.[20] As Nederveen Pieterse writes, “Firms may be multinational but ‘all business is local’.”[21] McDonald’s then may be an increasing global corporation; it only survives by catering to local tastes and needs. Therefore, for Nederveen Pieterse, “it would make more sense to consider McDonaldization as a form of intercultural hybridization, partly in its origins and certainly in its present globally localizing variety of forms.”[22] Multinational corporations, such as McDonald’s have abandoned product standardization and have developed marketing, design, and product strategies that are as numerous as the variations of consumer demands in differing markets. This is “glocalization”, a notion that “has been used to suggest that the global and the local may be mutually reinforcing rather than necessarily in conflict.”[23] Markets, customers, and products may be global in many contexts, but are local in design and content.
The above critiques are focused on the homogenization thesis in general and Americanization in particular, this third and final critique is centered specifically on cultural homogenization as Westernization. In his essay “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”, Arjun Appadurai writes of regional homogenization, where the cultural “periphery” is threatened by cultural homogenization from the cultural “core”. He writes, “for the people of Irian Jaya, Indonesianization may be more worrisome than Americanization, as Japanization may be for the Koreans, Indianization for Sri Lankans, Vietnamization for Cambodians”.[24] There are then, according to Appadurai’s analysis, multiple “cores” that hold cultural power, rather than a relationship of core-periphery centered on the United States or the West, to which all others are homogenized.
Cultural homogenization, if there is such a thing, is not as simple as some would take it to be. First, if it is to be considered at all, it is imperative that it is viewed as a dynamic process. Second, there is much evidence that if cultural homogenization is occurring, it is not simply an Americanization of the cultural world. In the second critique above, we see that other Western cultures have arisen as cultural powers from the remains of colonialism. However, this is still focused, perhaps too greatly, on the Western world as containing the cultural powers that are shaping the rest of the world. Therefore, third, if the world is experiencing cultural homogenization, we must view this homogenization as being a multi-centered phenomenon, a homogenization of peripheral cultures to “core” regional cultural powers.

The Hybridization Thesis:
The third and final paradigm to be surveyed views the interconnection between globalization and culture as a hybridization of cultures in the world. Holton writes that the hybridization thesis focuses “on the intercultural exchange and the incorporation of cultural elements from a variety of sources within particular cultural practices.”[25] There is an over-abundance of evidence strengthening this thesis. For example, the McDonald’s in Moscow that mixes an American fast-food restaurant into a Russian market. Or the use of ATM’s in Japan used by women in kimonos. Or the young American students who eat at a Vietnamese restaurant after class in Toronto. Hybridization is not only urban, for example, agricultural techniques (such as plowing techniques and crop rotation). The evidence that strengthens the hybridization is difficult to exhaust.
For Nederveen Pieterse, hybridization is the “solvent between the polar perspectives”, it derives its “existence” from the paradigm of polarization and the paradigm of homogenization, and derives meaning only in relation to them.[26] “It resolves the tension between purity and emanation, between the local and the global, in the dialectic according to which the local is in the global and the global is in the local.”[27] Hybridization, according to Nederveen Pieterse, views globalization as an open-ended process of interconnection of cultural influences (eastern as well as western). “The growing awareness of cultural difference” and globalization are interdependent.[28] There is both cultural difference and a “striving for recognition” on the global scale. This “striving for recognition” for Nederveen Pieterse, “implies a claim to equality, equal rights, same treatment: in other words a common universe of difference”.[29]
Furthermore, Holton writes that hybridization refers to “cultural forms that are somehow transcontextual but less than cosmopolitan in scope.”[30] In this sense, we can still speak of different “cultures”, as they are not cosmopolitan culture, but we must recognize that they are some of the cultural forms are transcontextual, therefore “cultures have become so intermixed that there is no longer any pure or authentic culture distinct from others.”[31] For Nederveen Pieterse, hybridization privileges border crossing and begins in the “fuzziness of boundaries” and therefore subverts both nationalism and identity politics.[32] The importance of the hybridization of cultures, for Nederveen Pieterse, “is that it problematizes boundaries.”[33]
[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld, Ballantine Books, 1995.
[2] Quoted in Nederveen Pieterse’s Globalization and Culture, 42-43.
[3] Quoted in Nederveen Pieterse’s Globalization and Culture, 44.
[4] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 44.
[5] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 44-45.
[6] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 45.
[7] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 46.
[8] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 46.
[9] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 46.
[10] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 47.
[11] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 47.
[12] Robert Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 570, July 2000, 142.
[13] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 49.
[14] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 142.
[15] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 142.
[16] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 143.
[17] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 143.
[18] Jonathon Friedman, Cultural Identity and Global Process, Sage, 1994.
[19] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 143.
[20] Shannon Peters Talbott, “Analysis of Corporate Culture in the Global Market-place: Case Study of McDonald’s in Moscow”, Paper Presented at International Institute of Sociology Conference, Trieste, 1995 cited in Nederveen Pieterse’s Globalization and Culture, 50.
[21] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 50.
[22] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 51.
[23] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 144.
[24] Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”, Global Culture, M. Featherstone, ed., Sage, 1990, 170.
[25] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 148.
[26] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 57.
[27] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 57.
[28] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 57.
[29] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 58.
[30] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 150.
[31] Holton, “Globalization’s Cultural Consequences”, 150.
[32] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 53.
[33] Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture, 86.

Culture and Commodity: Globalization and the Culture Industry [Part 1]

In a shrinking world, where space and place have been dominated by time (identified by Heidegger as “uniform distancelessness”[1]), where national differences are being superceded by “gender and identity politics, ethnic and religious movements, minority rights, and indigenous people”[2] , how should one engage cultural differences? In an increasingly borderless, globalized world, are cultures clashing (the polarization thesis), becoming converged and monolithic (the homogenization thesis), or experiencing a cultural global mélange (the hybridization thesis)?
However, before a description of cultural activity can be determined, a normative description of the concept of culture must be offered. This is where the paradigms of hybridization, homogenization, and polarization jump the proverbial gun. With a weak foundation, these theses will deteriorate and begin to crumble. Therefore, using the thought of Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, this paper will offer a critique of the descriptions of culture used as the foundation for these three paradigms; the polarization thesis, the homogenization thesis, and the hybridization thesis. It would seem that these three paradigms begin with a description of culture that ignores Arendt’s critique of “mass culture” and Adorno’s critique of the “culture industry”, and, therefore, these three paradigms, when referring to “culture” are instead referring to the commodities of the culture industry. They are referring to commodities that are consumed, rather than culture that endures, outlasts, and cultivates nature for human habitation.
The trajectory of this paper will begin with a survey of the three accepted paradigms of culture in the face of globalization; the polarization thesis, the homogenization thesis, and the hybridization thesis. In the second section will consist of an overview of Arendt and Adorno’s critique of mass culture (Arendt) or the culture industry (Adorno). This will then be applied to the description of culture employed as the foundation of these three paradigms. Finally, the third section will briefly survey the three paradigms through the lens of Adorno and Arendt’s critique of the culture industry.

[1] Martin Heidegger, “The Thing”, Poetry, Language, Thought, Perennial Classics, 2001, 163-164. “Man puts the longest distances behind him in the shortest time. He puts the greatest distances behind himself and this puts everything before him in the shortest range.” Through time, space has been conflated and abolished. Heidegger continues, “What is incalculably far from us in point of distance can be near us…What is happening here when, as a result of the abolition of great distances, everything is equally far and equally near? What is this uniformity in which everything is neither far nor near – is, as it were, without distance? Everything is getting lumped together into uniform distancelessness. How? Is not this merging of everything into the distanceless more unearthly than everything bursting apart?...What is it that unsettles and thus terrifies? It shows itself and hides itself in the way in which everything presences, namely, in the fact that despite all conquest of distances the nearness of things remains absent.”
[2] Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003, 41-42.