The Changing Face of Cultural Globalization – Abstract

Lecture on Wednesday 20th June 2007
By Prof Jan Servaes

Cultural globalization has to be seen as an evolving process positioning individuals and communities as active participants in the consumption of information and appropriation of communication. Cultural identity has become a crucial concept in the debate on globalization. We start from the assumption that cultural identity is locally constructed. The subconscious references and choices that we make on a daily basis, and which attach meaning to the information we receive, are related to our concept of ‘self’ and ‘other’.

Various cultures manifest different identities. In the current age, collective and individual identities seem to be fragmented. With this we mean that identities are composed by interpreted fragments that originate from multiple levels. These levels range from the global to the local. All identities are a mixture of global and local aspects. People in local settings constantly reshape their own individual and collective identities by consuming cultural elements originating from a variety of levels.

There are at least two possible ways of conceiving cultural identity: one essentialist, narrow and closed, the other historical, encompassing and open. The former thinks of cultural identity as an already accomplished fact, as a ‘product’. The latter conceives cultural identity as something that is being produced, always in ‘process’.

Furthermore, the term cultural identity refers to two complementary phenomena: on the one hand, an inward sense of association or identification with a specific culture or subculture; on the other hand, an outward tendency within a specific culture to share a sense of what it has in common with other cultures and of what distinguishes it from other cultures.

Mass media can be viewed as industries that commercialize and standardize the production of culture. Apart from being a business that produces, distributes and sells marketable products, the media’s other equally important characteristic is its being cultural.

Cultural products, more than any others, reflect the cultural values of their producers and the social reality in which they were produced. Viewing a television program or listening to the radio, therefore, cannot be seen as a simple act of consumption; these acts involve a rather complex process of decoding or appropriating cultural meanings. Therefore, media globalization is more than a process of domination by Western, or American media, and ultimately, of the Westernization, or Americanization of world cultures. Therefore, the relation between structured patterns of global communication, on the one hand, and the local conditions under which media products are consumed, on the other hand, can best be understand as the axis of globalized diffusion and localized appropriation.

What is of interest here is the idea of cultural mixing or hybridization through a process of encounter and negotiation. The mix is not only in-between cultures, but also in-between what can be termed the global and the local, or the processes of cultural globalization and cultural localization.

About Prof Jan Servaes

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