Cultural Globalization

Cultural Globalization

Elsewhere, we have discussed the various aspects of globalization in international relations. We have introduced the topic of globalization, and the history of globalization. We have also evaluated the pros and cons of globalization, and looked at related topics such as the media and globalization, trade and globalization, and the relationship between globalization and technology.

In this article, we are going to examine the relationship between culture and globalization. Scholars argue that much of the attention to globalization has been centered on economic issues (Globalization 101). However, it is imperative that we also understand the relationship between culture and globalization. Thus, we will define cultural globalization, discuss how culture and globalization influence one another in the international system, as well as discuss some of the benefits and criticisms of globalization as it relates to issues of culture. Namely, we will discuss questions like ‘what is the effect of globalization on culture’ and also ‘how globalization impacts cultural diversity’. 

What is cultural globalization?

There are a number of definitions of cultural globalization. For example, Watson (2016) defines cultural globalization as “a phenomenon by which the experience of everyday life, as influenced by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, reflects a standardization of cultural expressions around the world. Propelled by the efficiency or appeal of wireless communications, electronic commerce, popular culture, and international travel, globalization has been seen as a trend toward homogeneity that will eventually make human experience everywhere essentially the same. This appears, however, to be an overstatement of the phenomenon. Although homogenizing influences do indeed exist, they are far from creating anything akin to a single world culture.” So again, the question is based on globalization and cultural diversity. Is the world becoming 

While the direction of cultural globalization can go in any direction, many have suggested that countries like the United States have had a much greater influence on globalizing culture. There is a great deal of evidence to support this belief in American cultural globalization. Part of this has to do with the size of the American economy, which is the largest in the world. In addition, it is one of the wealthiest economy. Furthermore, scholars argue that the widespread use of English throughout the US is another important factor. Namely, “The ability to speak English grants one access to almost the entire U.S. population, as well as hundreds of millions of other people around the world” (Globalization 101).

Thus, we see a large US influence in economic globalization. But this mass market also has connections to cultural globalization. The US is a large producer of various for media. When we often think of cultural globalization, we tend to immediately look at mediums such as film, television, music, and literature. There are many reasons to think about US media and its relationship and influence with regards to cultural globalization.

United States and Cultural Globalization Through Corporations

However, while it is the case that American culture has been globalized through movies or television shows, scholars argue that American culture can also be found in many other things. For example, As Crothers (2012) writes:

“While American movies, music, and television programs are important parts of the U.S. global pop culture, they are not the whole of it. The values, ideals, mores, attitudes, behaviors, norms, and rituals that embody life in the United States can be found embedded in a host of other artifacts” (195). Crothers goes on to say that American culture is also ingrained in a series of consumer products that have worldwide reach. For example, take the notion of a franchise. A franchise is a brand that is controlled by a company, and that company can sell an individual (s0 the right to use their brand (through selling of that product) (Crothers). When one looks at the number of franchises that have over a thousand locations outside of the country of origin where that business was created, one finds that there are many American companies who are on that list. Whether they are clothing brands, car companies, or restaurants, American companies have a large global reach. In fact, looking at a 2011 list of top number of franchises for a company, the top five companies are McDonalds, 7-Eleven, KFC, Subway, and Burger King (Franchise Times, 2011, in Crothers, 2012).

The questions arise with regards to whether a company, just because it is from a particular country (such as America, for example), means that it has with it the “American” culture. Some might argue that it would not be accurate to suggest a company has with it the culture of that country. However, others say that the cultural globalization of a company is clear, that the company indeed is very much tied to the culture in which it was created and arose from. As Crothers (2012) argues, “[w]hether franchised or not, brands like McDonalds, Coca Cola, Starbucks and 7-Eleven carry an American identity and an American set of cultural values and practices to the larger world” (200).

Others echo this position. For example, scholars at the SUNY Levin Institute (Globalization 101) argue that “The spread of American corporations abroad has various consequences on local cultures, some very visible, and others more subtle. For example, the influence of American companies on other countries’ cultural identity can be seen with regard to food, which matters on two levels. First, food itself is in many countries an integral aspect of the culture. Second, restaurants can influence the mores and habits in societies where they operate.” They go on to also say that “restaurant chains not only affect eating habits, but they also influence the traditions and habits in countries where they are located.” For example, if a culture views drinking coffee as a practice that involves sitting in cafes, issue may arise (such as in the case of Starbucks in Italy, for example) when a company has a service that allows for “to go” coffee (Globalization 101).

One can see it through the example of Levis, a global clothing company those jeans (while not the first in the world), have nonetheless come to represent an international cultural presence. Part of this originated with need (thicker clothes for miners), but soon the jeans were featured in many American films, which further expanded the cultural globalization of the jeans (Crothers, 2012). Jeans are something that many throughout the world are familiar with, and own (Crothers, 2012).

Other Directions of Culture and Globalization

While there is a lot written on the relationship between the United States and globalization (and US culture and globalization), it would be inaccurate to say that the United States population itself has not also experienced non-American cultures. Yes, American art, literature, music, and culture in general is very influential in the world. But it is also important to note that “the flow of mass art is not just one way. Many Americans, as well as audiences in other nations, have developed a taste for Japanese anime and martial arts films from Hong Kong…The Western taste for different national cinemas is also illustrated by the existence of the film festival in the Italian city of Udine…” (Carroll, 2007). There is also a rise in film industries in India, which are continuing to have a great influence on the world, as well as musicians, visual arts, along with many other aspects of culture that are stretching far outside of the borders of the artist’s home country.

Cultural Globalization: Globalization and Cultural Diversity

There is a large debate surrounding the issue of culture and globalization, and it revolves around the questions of globalization and cultural diversity. Namely, the question that many ask is what are the effects of globalization on cultural diversity? In this section, we will discuss the effects of globalization on culture. For those who question the effects of globalization on culture argue that although there might be political economic benefits of globalization, there are negative effects of globalization on culture.

The critics of cultural globalization argue that a couple of things are happening. First, they are arguing that as we are becoming more and more connected (economically, technologically, culturally), we are becoming more and more similar to one another. By sharing ideas, language, music, the concern by some is that the differences that exist between different cultures might become lost over time. For example, one of the primary concerns is related to the issue of language. With certain languages being used more than others (in terms of overall number of people that speak that language), smaller languages might one day become extinct (the issue of extinct languages is not a new concern, but has happened over the history of humankind).

Related to this, a second concern is that not only are these different cultures either shifting towards other cultures, but that the only cultures that are continuing to have a strong (and increasing presence) are the ones from more economically and politically dominant countries. More specifically, as Tomlinson (2003) states, some are concerned that

“[t]hough globalization has been judged as involving a general process of loss of cultural diversity, some of course did better, some worse out of this process. Whilst those cultures in the mainstream of the flow of capitalism – those in the West and, specifically, the United States – saw a sort of standardized version of their cultures exported worldwide, it was the ‘weaker’ cultures of the developing world that have been most threatened. Thus the economic vulnerability of these non-western cultures is assumed to be matched by a cultural vulnerability. Cultural identity is at risk everywhere with the depredations of globalization, but the developing world is particularly at risk” (269-270).

However, he argues that there is also another way to look at the relationship between culture and globalization. For him, he suggests that instead of viewing cultural globalization as threatening to existing cultures, he suggests that the globalization itself can be a catalyst for actually creating and shaping culture. He argues that despite what some argue, culture is difficult to be changed by globalization, particularly when there already exists “national identity” and institutions in the country that continue to maintain this identity. And while states themselves can be altered by globalization, his argument is that it is not a “destruction” of said culture (Tomlinson, 2003: 271). So, for some, the argument is that instead of one culture dominating another, the relationship between cultural globalization and cultural diversity is one that actually allows for greater diversity. For example, Cowen (CATO, 2003) argues ” …that markets support diversity and freedom of choice, that trade gives artists a greater opportunity to express their creative inspiration. The preconditions for successful artistic creativity tend to be things like markets, physical materials, ideas, and inspiration. When two cultures trade with each other they tend to expand the oppor- tunities available to individual artists.

Others have taken a similar position with regards the debate on globalization and cultural diversity. For example, Wang (2007) argues that globalization is not this monolith that some argue. In addition, globalization is not the uncontrollable force that easily sweeps away other cultures with the dominant culture, but rather, as Wang suggests, individuals themselves have the ability to accept what cultural globalization offers, or equally, they have the ability to reject it.

Magu’s argument iterates this point of human choice as it relates to the effects of globalization on culture. Namely, “Individuals’ roles in the transmission of culture—even those participating in a globalized world— cannot be underestimated. Individual decisions and choices—agency—are critical to the processes of cultural globalization, wherever it is evident” (635).

Others also point out to the benefits of globalization with regards to the preservation of cultures. With regards to globalization and culture, and more specifically, the relationship of globalization and cultural diversity, take the issue of language, for example. While some blame globalization with the cause of languages dying out, others suggest that globalization and new technologies have allowed languages to exist–arguably for very long periods of time (if not forever). Magu (2014) cites the example of Swahili scholars working with Google on making Swahili more accessible to the world, and how this helps the Swahili language, writing:

“In developing the Google-Swahili language interface, Google collaborated with East African academics and Swahili scholars to verify maintenance of the language’s integrity. The “global” came to the “local” to learn and adapt, and then the local became global after Google’s interaction with the Swahili scholars. Suddenly, a language that was localized to the Greater East Africa (a few pockets of diasporic communities) found its way to global availability. Now, with a computer terminal, one can learn Swahili from anywhere in the world, as is the case with many other languages. Thus, Swahili is re-defined through cultural artifacts that originated in the “West”—computers, internet, Google—and globalized to anyone that has access” (638-639).

Globalization and Culture: Conclusion

As we see, cultural globalization is a very important issue for international relations. In this article, we have discussed the definition of cultural globalization, the influence of America and its culture on the world, as well as the debate surrounding whether globalization is good or bad for cultural issues. We have examined the effects of globalization on culture, and the debate surrounding globalization and cultural diversity. It is important to keep thinking about the issues related to globalization and cultural change, particularly as we find newer ways to connect with one another.

Cultural Globalization References

Carroll, N. (2007). Art and Globalization: Then and Now. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 65, No. 1, pages 131-143.

CATO (2003). Globalization and Culture. Policy Forum, May/June 2003, pages 8-16. Available Online: 

Crothers, L. (2012). Chapter 14: The American Global Cultural Brand, pages 195-216.

Magu, S. (2014). Reconceptualizing Cultural Globalization: Connecting the “Cultural Global” and the “Cultural Local.” Social Sciences, Vol. 4, pages 630-645.

Tomlinson, J. (2003). Chapter 23: Globalization and Cultural Identity, pages 269-277. Available Online:

Wang, Y. (2007). Globalization Enhances Cultural Identity. Intercultural Communication Studies XVI, No. 1. Pages 83-86. Available Online:

Watson, J. L. (2016). Cultural Globalization. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available Online: