Globalization and Culture

Dec 22 2004

Forum Planetagora (*)

Jean Tardif

Globalisation is emerging from many ongoing and interrelated processes that cause the multiplication, acceleration and intensification of interactions between human societies.
Globalisation is not limited to the development of economic and financial flows; it affects every sector of human activity. It has a cultural dimension since it brings together in an unprecedented way values, ideas, lifestyles, and views of the world whose differences appear more significant as they become commonly perceptible.
Cultural globalisation, carried forth by migration, tourism and communication through the media, transforms the world, its possibilities, and its frontiers: it structures the imagination. It is a structuring process that cannot be analysed in simplistic terms of domination or uniformisation, nor can it be considered solely on the basis of increased economic and financial exchanges.

The creation of the State and the Nation-state changed the definition and the perception of social, political, economic and cultural space to the extent that it seems impossible to think about space beyond state borders. Globalisation entails a transformation which is at least as significant. Territories, social groups and the nation-state are here to stay, but globalisation is creating new spaces. Hence, the global realm can no longer be correctly perceived through local or national lenses. In order to understand these spaces, we should try to see them as hubs of human activity instead of fixed areas that define a social group. This would lead us to consider cultural exchanges as intertwining processes, a concept very different from geopolitics based on frontiers.

A cultural map of the world would be quite different from a geopolitical or geoeconomic map. Geocultural areas would include, for example:

  • Country- cultures (Japan, Denmark, China…)
  • Cultural spheres (The Arab world, the Bantu world…)
  • Linguistico-cultural areas (IberoAmerica, Lusophonie Francophonie…)
  • Diasporas (Chinese, Turkish…)
  • The recently advocated project Europe of Cultures
  • The “globalising Hyperculture” promoted by the media.

These geocultural areas are not static; they are in constant evolution and could be considered as situated on a moving continuum. Should these spaces decide to establish themselves as actors, they could become spheres of responsibility, interaction and coexistence, in the same way as regional entities for other issues, and provide the foundation for cultural pluralism as part of a political framework for globalisation.

Power, rivalries and conflicts are no longer played out within the framework of a physical territory as they were when the main concern was the control of natural resources. Power is now tied to the ability to manipulate symbols in the mediatised global space. The production of concepts and symbols is at the centre of power struggles; it has a commanding role in the complex dynamics of globalisation. Culture (values, symbols, world representation, language, art…) and its modes of expression structure relationships between humans and societies at every level of human activity, including the global level.. This is why geocultural issues should be dealt with on the same par as geopolitical and geoeconomic issues; they are not merely a component thereof. The issues at stake relate to geocultural spaces, geocultural markets and geocultural actors, also described as the “industries of the imagination”.

Due to the global media, the different representations of the world enter into new and direct relationships, but in structurally unequal conditions. This makes differences more perceptible and leads to questions and concerns for which it is important to understand the political and strategic implications. These crucial questions cannot be analysed in the simplistic terms of cultural hegemony, of opening cultural markets, or even of devising public cultural policies at the national level.

Cultural globalisation raises concerns related to cultural security: threats of cultural darwinism, cultural hegemony, radical incomprehension… Belligerent forces could be at work if we cannot find a framework for interaction between societies and cultures that truly respects their equal dignity. Those surprised by the rise of movements associated with identity, who themselves may consider the nation-state as the “end of history”, seem to ignore the fact that identity, the innate need for recognition, along with technological innovation, constitute the permanent spring of history. To ignore this fundamental force only nurtures the risk that the fundamental human need for identity will spin into directions that are difficult to control.

Topics for discussion:

  • Globalisation and culture: what are the stakes? (already on line in the experimental site)
  • Culture and identity
  • A cultural map of the world: the geocultural areas
  • Cultural security
  • From cultural exception to cultural pluralism (already on line in the experimental site)
  • The “globalising Hyperculture”: the emergence of a sixth continent
  • What is the future of cultural identities?
  • Your suggestions
  • Jean Tardif


(Translated from the French version (Jean Tardif) by Paule Herodote)

(*) Hispanic and Portuguese speaking partners who join the French-speaking and other partners concerned by issues of cultural pluralism.


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