Westernisation or Globalisation? (General Paper / O-Level)

Adapted for website – GP tuition articles- copyright Knowledge Skills LLP
Adapted from J.S Nye :

GP-american-globalisation

One key issue for GP discussion regarding globalisation would be that of culture.

The following article is a rather pro-globalisation and pro-American article regarding the positive effects of changing culture.
It raises good questions on how Singapore negotiates its own cultural identity in today’s global context.

The parallels with Singapore and how to utilise these points for AQ and essay are covered in other notes. (not available for website)

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, globalization is not homogenizing and Americanizing the cultures of the world. Although the United States is at the forefront of the current information revolution, which is creating many similarities in social and cultural habits (such as television viewing or Internet use) that are attributed to Americanization, correlation is not causation. Imagine a country that introduced computers and communications at a rapid rate in a world in which America did not exist. You would still expect major social and cultural changes from such modernization. Because the US is at the forefront of the information revolution, there is a degree of Americanization, but this is likely to diminish over the course of the twenty-first century as technology spreads and local cultures modernize in their own ways.

Historical proof that globalization does not necessarily mean homogenization can be seen in Japan. 150 years ago, during the Meiji Restoration, Japan became the first Asian country to embrace globalization, and to borrow successfully from the world without losing its uniqueness. The Japanese intentionally scoured the world for ideas in science, technology and innovations that would allow it to become a major power rather than a victim of Western imperialism. It even sent its young people to the West for education. The Japanese reformers were well aware of Anglo-American ideas and institutions, but deliberately turned to German models because they were deemed more suitable to a country with an emperor. The lesson that Japan teaches the rest of the world is not simply that an Asian country can compete, but that after a century and a half of globalization, it is possible to adapt while preserving a unique culture.

What is more important about the Japanese example is that the image of a homogenizing America reflects a mistakenly static view of culture. Efforts to portray local cultures as unchanging often reflect reactionary political strategies rather than descriptions of reality borne out by historical fact. Do we know of any cultures that have remained unchanged through time? To find any of them one has to travel to the small, primitive, magico-religious communities made up of people who, due to their primitive condition, become progressively more vulnerable to exploitation and extermination. Vibrant cultures are constantly changing and borrowing from other cultures – and that borrowing is not always from the US as Japan has shown.

Globalization is also a two-edged sword. In some areas, there is not only a backlash against American cultural imports, but an effort to change American culture itself. Capital punishment, largely supported by Americans draws criticism from Europeans for outrageous violation of human rights. American environmental attitudes toward climate change or genetic modification of food bring similar criticism. More subtly, America’s openness to immigration both enriches and changes American culture. Immigrants, ideas, and events outside America’s borders are changing American culture within the borders of the US.

Finally, globalization and the information revolution may strengthen local cultures and hence reinforce rather than reduce cultural diversity. Some French commentators express fear that in a world of Internet global marketing, there will no longer be room for a culture that cherishes hundreds of different types of cheese. But on the contrary, the Internet allows dispersed customers to come together in a way that encourages niche markets, including hundreds of Web sites dedicated only to cheese. Similarly, the Welsh language in Britain and Gaelic in Ireland is in greater use today than fifty years ago, being given a new lease of life by the Internet.

Thus, as globalization spreads technical capabilities, and information technology allows broader participation in global communications, American economic and cultural preponderance may diminish. Global cultures are far more diverse than we give them credit. The influence may come heavily from a source, but change is reciprocal. The US will probably have less control in the future, and it may find itself living in a world somewhat more congenial to its basic values of democracy, free markets, individual liberties, and human rights.

End of excerpt – For GP tuition

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