Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Culture, Identity and Globalisation

Md Khaled Bin Chowdhury

Culture, Identity and Globalisation
Md Khaled Bin Chowdhury

Culture being a comprehensive concept is a difficult term to define. Similarly globalization is also a debated and complicated phenomenon requires continuous dialogue. The discourse of the relation among globalization, culture and identity is also inconclusive. In their introduction to the five-volume Cultures and Globalization Series, Anheier and Isar conclude that it is a truism that globalization has a profound impact on culture, and in the same way cultures shape globalization. The current globalization phase, given its reach and impact is certainly bringing about challenges to collective and individual identities. On the other hand, cultures when cross the national boundaries and are accepted and practiced in other lands in many cases pose threats to the cultures having the peripheral status.

Though globalization is expected to eliminate discrimination and ensure equity and fair play among the nations, there is a debate about whether homogenization is actually being brought about by globalization. Even though we claim it to be    homogenization, it is actually superficial as the benefits do not reach to all strata of people.  It does not have impact on how people relate to each other and how they find meaning and purpose in life. Actually, globalization brings much more awareness of cultural identity than before. In a deeper sense, globalization enhances cultural identity and people become much more concerned about the uniqueness or the particularity of their own culture.

Sociologically, identity is a person's learned notion of self, combined with a sense of belonging expressed and experienced through values, ethnicity, language, nationality, locale, and the like, and is closely related to a sense of "we-ness." The following questions – “are identities stable over time or changeable? Is my local identity a resisting power to cultural globalization? Is our identity at stake if we accept the culture of others? These debates are still unresolved. Again it is not always without difficulties when some nations tried to strike a balance between the two opposing cultures. It led to a kind of identity dilemma for some nations. The Malaysian Muslims tried to make a kind of compromise between the cultures of both the West on one hand and the Islamic and the Malay on the other and are in a kind of dilemma regarding identity. The same phenomenon may happen in some Arab countries as their rulers are gradually opening up to the Western cultures but the subaltern are reluctant and resistant to accept the imposed culture.

The United Nations (UN) offers the best conceptualization of global identity, and defines global identity as “consciousness of an international society or global community transcending national boundaries, without necessarily negating the importance of state, nation, or domestic society” (Shinohara, 2004, p.1). The proponents of Global identity believe that it can also promote working for the good of the whole, with its emphasis on universal human rights. At its best, it inspires coordination and cooperation among the people of all nations to improve the quality of life for all. Globalization opens a wide range of options for groupings, even groups that are geographically dispersed, allowing almost infinite ways of identification with each other.

In that effort many strive to be a citizen of the world. The multicultural individual travels through a process of both cultural learning and cultural un-learning. As a result, the multicultural person is always recreating his or her identity. He or she moves through one experience of self to another, incorporating here, discarding there. We cite the example that many people of the US are agitating against lockdown to justify our position for disobeying the Lockdown in our country. But do we accept and practice all the best things of the Western cultures? Are we not opportunists in the sense that we find the excuses for escaping our other important responsibilities at our opportune moments? A newspaper reports say that 27 private banks did not spend a penny on social responsibilities(SR) heads during the last fiscal year  showing excuse of bad business for the pandemic?  So, the question “Who am I?” cannot be understood apart from the question “What do I do?” We see that a person’s identity shifts not only in accordance with the changing global social and economic relations and power politics but also petty personal and business interests.

The rich and powerful nations have occupied the greater parts of the world’s business sectors, to the extent of putting individuals and societies in different countries, which are not able to compete, at a challenge. The result is that these Peripheral economies do not have a sway on the economies of the Centre economies. For example, we can say that our garment industries are dependent on the whims of the big economies, the importers, even though we provide the cheapest labour in the world. The fact is that the world may be a global village, but still not a global community. Globalization could not create an equitable society free of exploitation and discrimination.

We know that after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, there has been a power shift in global politics. According to Huntington, with the end of Cold War, the hegemony of West has been challenged by two powerful non-Western powers: one is Islamic civilization and the other is Chinese or Confucian civilization. Again, some kinds of resistances were formed against West and the attempts of West for introducing and promoting democracy and its own interpretation of human rights were termed by the opponents as the new forms of imperialism. The majority of resistances in the Muslim world against the Western imperialism were created by some Islamic countries, by resisting the Western civilization and culture. Attempts were on through spreading Islamic cultures and prohibiting satellite TVs in some other Islamic countries; hence gradually, we observed the appearance of wave of new Islamism with various forms in the global policy though there was also problem in doing it arbitrarily.

On the other side of the coin it is a fact that the subalterns are not commonly willing to sacrifice their cultural roots at any cost. They are constantly searching for their cultural roots and are defending them. If we can respect the diversity of people and their cultures in this new era, it can lead to global community marked by unity in diversity. The cultures may no longer be local in the traditional sense, but still different and pluralistic. This will lead to a new kind of globalization that will not be homogenizing but unifying. And hence, the discourse will go on unresolved in days ahead. But there should not be any attempt to impose the Cultures of the Centre on the cultures of the Periphery in the name of globalization because living in unity amidst diversity is always a golden path.


The writer is an Associate Professor and Chairman, Department of English, BGC Trust University, Chattogram