To what extent can it be argued that cultural globalisation has led to a homogenisation of national and local cultures?

Essay 2003 18 Pages

Cultural Studies - Basics and Definitions



By general sense, 'globalisation' has been referred to the emergence of a 'global cultural system'. It suggests that 'global culture' is brought about by a variety of social and cultural developments such as: the existence of a world satellite information system, the emergence of global patterns of consumption and consumerism, the cultivation of cosmopolitan life-styles, the emergence of global sports such as football and cricket world cups, spread of world tourism, the decline of the sovereignty of nation-states, world wide health problems such as AIDS, establishment of systems like League of Nations, United Nations and more importantly, the global consciousness of a single space: the 'global village' (McLuhan and Powers, 1989).

In many of the sociological interpretations of globalisation, the notion of culture as ‘the texture of everyday life’ (Bateson, 1990: 150) remains of primary importance. While enthusiasts have asserted that globalisation involves ‘the development of something like a global culture’ (Robertson, 1992), others have been more cautious, arguing that globalising cultural forces, such as international media and communication networks, produce ‘heterogeneous dialogues’ between different cultures (Appadurai, 1996). Again others, claim that the globalisation of culture leads to homogenisation, to a Western, often Americanised standardisation of tastes and desires, which in turn leads to what Ritzer (1993) has called the ‘McDonaldization’ of the world.

Essentially modernist in attitude, neo-Marxists and neo-Weberians such as Hamelink (1983), Schiller (1985), Herman and McChesney (1997), Korten (1995), and Ritzer and Liska (1997), see the capitalist world system in the guise of multinational corporations incorporating and rationalising national economies and societies while homogenising and standardising once distinct cultures. Some also claim that globalisation rhetoric has become ‘an ideological mask disguising the emerging power of US corporations to exploit and enrich themselves […]’ (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2001: 62). Much academic labour has been expended on the question of whether globalisation in itself means homogenisation, or whether we are seeing a much more complex process of proactive and reactive patterns emerging, sometimes giving prominence to levelling factors, at other times privileging local, regional or national adaptive, transformative or oppositional countercurrents – or possibly even giving rise to multicultural arrangements and practices or different strategies of identity negotiation (Basch et al., 1994; Gutmann, 1994; Hannerz, 1992; King, 1991; Wilson and Dissanayake, 1996). For Hannerz ‘globalisation means above all this: a global homogenisation in which particular ideas and practices spread throughout the world, mostly from the centres of the west, pushing other alternatives out of existence’ (1996: 24). Contrary to this view, Robertson (2001) argues that ‘globalisation is not an all encompassing process of homogenisation but a complex mixture of homogenisation and heterogenisation’. Featherstone (1990: 2) writes of global culture ‘in terms of the diversity, variety and richness of popular and local discourses, codes and practices which resist and play-back systemicity and order’. Writing about the proliferation of America’s consumption patterns and culture – ‘America’s most successful and most profitable export[i]’ (Newman, 1999: 47) – Ritzer stresses that,

while Robertson (2001) emphasises heterogeneity and the coexistence of the global and the local, the cases of McDonaldization and the new means of consumption indicate the centrality of homogeneity, cultural imperialism and the triumph over the local. (Ritzer, 2001: 179)

Yet, it has been noted that the emerging global culture is also creating new forms of literature, music, and art, in which, for example, the former colonies ‘write back’ – to use the expression of Edward Said. Salman Rushdie is perhaps one of the most prominent examples, mixing traditional Indian myths and experiences with cosmopolitan London views. Also, new music emerges in cosmopolitan centres like Paris and London and also in Germany – where, amongst others, African, Afro-American, Asian and European rhythms, styles, languages and dialects meet. This hybridisation of cultures is ‘a global phenomenon that happens locally’ as Gerle (2000: 159) stresses. As many people ‘equate the homogenising processes in the sphere of cultural production with Americanisation’ (Armstrong, 2000: 372) and as it has been suggested that ‘few symbols of US culture symbolise the nation’s domination of the mid/late-twentieth century as much as its popular music’ (Seago, 2000: 119) it seems to be worthwhile to examine this aspect of cultural globalisation in greater detail. This is done in the following pages by looking at the genre of hip-hop and its development in Germany.

The localisation of hip hop culture in Germany

Hip-hop began as a form of African-American street culture, which originated in New York during the early 1970s. Aware of the inner-city tensions that were being created as a consequence of urban renewal programmes and economic recession, a street gang member, who called himself “Afrika Bambaataa”, formed the “Zulu Nation” in an attempt to ‘channel the anger of young people in the South Bronx away from gang fighting and into music, dance, and graffiti’ (Lipsitz, 1994: 26). Hip-hop has since become better known because of rap music, the aspect of its style, which has been most widely publicised and marketed. Beadle (1993: 77) has suggested that rap is ‘to the black American urban youth more or less what punk was to its British white counterpart’. According to Keyes (1991: 40), the distinctive vocal technique employed in rapping ‘can be traced from African bardic traditions to rural southern-based expressions of African-Americans — toast, tales, sermons, blues, game songs, and allied forms — all of which are chanted in a rhyme or poetic fashion’.

Hip hop in German cities was originally influenced by the US American rap groups featured on local and national radio and on MTV Europe. Also, the presence of the US army in many parts of the country meant that the local citizens were kept constantly in touch with many aspects of US American popular culture — particularly, US films, shown in their original English versions, US-style diners and US music and fashion. Within this microcosm of US cultural resources and information the first rap groups were formed. The original bands attempted to copy the style of their African-American counterparts. This, however, was a very brief trend and soon rap groups started to realize that, as with the African-Americans, theirs was a distinctive form of ‘lived’ ethnicity, which demanded its own localised and particularised mode of expression’ (Gilroy, 1993: 82).

The cultural form of rapping represents a fairly simple and highly accessible tool for young people to express their opinion and thoughts. Indeed, according to Beadle, the initial appeal of rap for young African-Americans related to the possibilities for instant creativity and expression, which it offered to them. Relying only upon the ability to ‘talk in rhythm’, the art of rapping became the perfect ‘vehicle for pride and for anger, for asserting the self-worth of the community’ (1993: 85). Robinson, in writing about hip-hop culture in Cuba, similarly states that,

Hip-hop is a powerful thing, the most potent force in popular music worldwide over the past two decades. It spreads like fire and it's accessible to anyone, as observer or participant. To express oneself eloquently in the hip-hop idiom does require skills, but not years of practicing scales and finger exercises. You need only a microphone, something to say and somebody to listen. (Robinson, 2002: 7)


[i] The following table gives a short overview of the share the US culture industries have of the world market.[illustration not visible in this excerpt]

Source: Business Software Alliance, Recording Industry Association of America, Euromonitor Plc. Published in Rothkopf, 1997: p.40.

A 1998 survey of eleven- to fifteen-year-old boys and girls in a school in Kathmandu showed that their favourite TV programme was MTV and the most popular radio station was Hits FM, a western music channel. Few of the students ever watched Nepal Television or India’s state-run public service broadcaster Doordarshan. In a dozen Asia-Pacific countries surveyed by the A.C. Nielsen company the same year, Coke was the favourite drink in eleven (in Thailand, the favourite drink was Pepsi) (Lasn, 1999: 25). Moreover, one out of every four restaurant-prepared breakfasts in the U.S. is eaten at McDonald’s. Every three hours a new McDonald’s opens somewhere in the world. (Lasn, 1999: 78).


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University of Leeds – Trinity and All Saints College
Globalisierung Globalisation Homogenisation Heterogeneity Hip Hop local cultures




Title: To what extent can it be argued that cultural globalisation has led to a homogenisation of national and local cultures?