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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:30 03/09/2007
Debate: International Symposium

Perspectives of the 21st Century: Culture and Globalization

Miyazaki, June 19, 2000

Globalization, according to one view, contributes to cultural diversity and can lead to the creation of new cultures. On the other hand, another view suggests that globalization undermines traditional cultures and leads to homogenization and assimilation with stronger cultures. Behind these two contrasting evaluations of globalization, one can point to the duality of human nature. Humans seek diversity, progress, and change while at the same time they also seek homogeneity, order, and stability. Recognizing the dual nature of humans, this symposium was held based on the idea that a point where the two conflicting ideas of globalization can come together and agree does in fact exist.

Keynote Address

In the keynote address, Dr. Hayao Kawai, the Director General of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan, noted the difficulty in balancing globalization on the one hand and individual identity on the other. However, what is important is how "open identity," forged over the course of one's lifetime through contacts with others, has come to be developed and how it will develop in the future. In looking at Japanese culture, for example, while both Buddhism and Confucianism were introduced to Japan from abroad, through the changes applied to these beliefs by Japanese, a new Japanese identity was formed. In other words, the important thing is not choosing Culture A or Culture B, but rather respecting each culture, and through their acceptance and introduction, creating a new Culture C, a continuation of "cultural transformation."

Within the process of globalization as well, it is vital that there be respect for each and every culture while introducing them, and that a mutual understanding which also includes mutual polishing exist. Cultural coexistence, Kawai stressed, should not mean simply tolerance or just living together, but also involve an "empathetic understanding." Kawai referred to the issues that arise in order for this to occur, such as language, economics, and individuals. Regarding language, it is necessary, Kawai suggested, for Japanese to consider in English what Japanese themselves are thinking and how those outside of Japan view Japanese. The economy, which has been rapidly changing through globalization, can not be ignored. The rapid expansion of stock trading, through the IT revolution, has endangered the economies of other countries, and there is the danger that money will become the way to rank humans on a worldwide scale. Only the individual is able to resist this, Kawai argued. Economic activities and scientific technology, which are thought to hold universality, can not offer explanations for the fundamental problem facing individuals-one's own death. That is because it is a personal issue. In this sense, what becomes important then is religion and art in one's life. Globalization, Kawai added, is no longer simply on the level of internationalization, but is a question of thinking not only about humans, but animals, plants, and all other things that live on the planet.

Panel Discussion

First Session (Globalization and Identity)

The first session considered the ambivalent aspects of globalization, i.e., the problems globalization poses in terms of cultural universality and cultural diversity. The session provided specific examples with the participants discussing the situation in their respective countries and delving into the historical, regional, economic, and ethnic experiences.

Masakazu Yamazaki, a Playwright, and the President of the University of East Asia, Shimonoseki, Japan, pointed out that globalization presents the twin problems of world "unification" and "individualization." Phenomenon in the area of unification include the internationalization of the market economy, the coming together of media, such as the Internet, linking the individual to the world, and the universalization of values, ethics, language, etc. On the other hand, in individualization, Yamazaki spoke of the nation state being responsible for redistributing the riches not found in the market system, the region as a regional union of states, and the local areas within countries all being more and more pronounced. After pointing out that in this type of situation, each individual is "both a citizen of the world and a national citizen at the same time," and suggesting that identity is diversifying and becoming more complex, Yamazaki asked each of the panelists for their opinions.

Roland Robertson, a Professor at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, defined globalization as (1) increasing compression, or connectiveness, of the world, and (2) increasing reflexive consciousness of the world. Regarding the debate as to whether the world is being homogenized, or whether it is becoming particularized, Robertson observed that in a number of major respects the world is being subjected to homogenizing forces, but argued that there are equally powerful trends in the direction of greater variety and difference. He then emphasized the next three interrelated matters.

First, Robertson pointed out that it is often said that the world is being Americanized, but in fact the cultures of the world are hybrid in nature. Indeed, America itself is the major site of the hybridization of cultures from around the world. Secondly, it can not be denied that due to globalization and hybridization, all so-called indigenous cultures are at risk. However, in the sense that cultures are constantly being invented and reinvented, indigenous cultures can be maintained. Finally, glocalization follows the process of mutual penetration of local and universal characteristics, and when considering human rights and other universal problems, can serve as an important model.

Emmanuel Todd, a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, Paris, France, argued that as far as culture was concerned, globalization did not pose a threat. That is because even if the surface levels of culture, such as cooking and fashion, change, the more important but less conscious aspects of culture, such as family systems, remain intact. Moreover, even if societies modernize, there are little changes seen in the value systems held. This is true even in the case of movements of people across different cultures, namely immigrants. Todd demonstrated that the lifestyles and value systems of these people are maintained, and likewise, in the economy-the heart of globalization-divergences in the economic activities, such as consumption and production, in each country continue. Globalization is an asymmetrical process, Todd argued, which tends to reinforce or highlight differences between nations. Moreover, there are family systems which possess the power to resist the spread of individualism. For example, despite the increase in education and rates of literacy through modernization, the recognition that marriage is not an "individual" issue still remains imbedded in the thinking of the Arab family.

The moderator pointed out that (1) with globalization, uniqueness in cultures was actually enhanced, and (2) while, at the superficial levels of the economy and culture, globalization was continuing, there was resistance within the basic levels of traditional culture (family systems) and convergence did not in fact necessarily take place.

Kim Moon-Hwan, Professor of Seoul National University, Korea, offered an alternative view, focusing on economic globalization, and stressed the importance of "universal ethics and moral values." In particular, the market only works efficiently when systems are in place and because of this, it is necessary, Kim argued, to have "a stable structure of order" that is superior to market principles. Kim proposed "Asian values" as one concept that is able to cope with harmonizing global ethics and individual (national) ethics. Moreover, in Korea's case, the ethic and value system of daily life developed from experiences of the influence of diverse cultures as well as the stagnation caused by colonization, is giving birth to a new market economy.

In response, the moderator noted that because differences in economic strength exist between countries, a higher order (ethics, moral value) that rises above market principles is necessary, and emphasized the importance of Kim's point.

Nurcholish Madjid, the Rector of the University of Paramadina Mulya, Indonesia, explained how unification occurs by introducing the domestic historical, geo-political, and anthropological diversity and complexity of Indonesia, and stressing the importance of "Unity in Diversity" (Bbinneka Tunggal Ika), the motto of his country. Madjid suggested that the experience of Indonesia, as an example of coexisting diversity, may serve as a good model when examining globalization.

Present-day Indonesia is in the process of nation state-building, and for this a concept of cultural relativism that recognizes diversity is absolutely necessary, Madjid emphasized. With this experience, the richness of the culture of Indonesia comes from tolerance and pluralism. The more people, or a group of people, have confidence in themselves, the more tolerant people would become toward diversity in culture. Through mutual respect and recognition, a global culture that acts as an overarching culture but still makes room for subcultures to flourish can develop.

Wolf Lepenies, the Rector of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin, Germany, observed that the fact we are aware globalization is taking place is new. Lepenies noted that there are two ways to view globalization and the future-with pessimism or optimism. The pessimistic view fears that globalization brings increasing and insurmountable problems. The optimistic view, on the other hand, is that globalization provides the chance to work together to resolve the challenges facing mankind. Traditionally, lesser developed states would learn from higher developed ones. Now however, a new symmetry of learning - "fuzzy learning" - is emerging, Lepenies argues, in which we learn together. This is necessary because no one country has experienced the challenges mankind is facing today.

Second Session (For the Creation of the 21st Century: Universal Values and Cultural Diversity)

In the second session, the moderator, building on the discussions during the first session, asked the panelists for their opinions on a number of points.

Firstly, regarding the relationship between glocalization and value systems, Robertson emphasized that while it is important to respect cultural diversity, there is a limit to what should be tolerated-citing examples of wife-beating and capital punishment that exist in some countries.

Secondly, in response to a question about the possibility of parallel or concurrent changes taking place in traditional family systems among advanced industrial countries with different cultural backgrounds, Todd recognized that duality did exist in some cases, but stressed that they were small and also pointed out that changing structures were in fact different by regions within the same country and even more different among other countries.

Thirdly, regarding stable order superior to market principles, as well as the universality of ethics, Kim emphasized that the Asian value system, which shows respect for lifestyles with nature and the environment, was a success in Korea and, as a value system that is above market principles, could contribute to globalization. Kim suggested that the leadership of the intellectuals is necessary.

Fourthly, in response to a question as to what is the force that unifies a culturally different society, Madjid cited the five principles that serve as the cultural basis of Indonesia, as well as the influence of modernization on his country. He also stated that he was optimistic about the future prospects of Indonesia, which respects diversity, and emphasized the importance of world cultures being able to flourish in globalization.

Fifthly, regarding the difference in relativity and "fuzzy learning," Lepenies explained that it was not "learning from each other" but "learning together." Moreover, Lepenies emphasized the latter, explaining that the new global problems mankind is facing today are new and we can not learn about them from each other since no one has experienced them before.

In the second half of the second session, discussion focussed on the rapid changes globalization has brought with regard to the nation state, noting both the expansion and reduction in the role of the state.

First of all, through globalization, glocalization, in other words, the particularization of universalism (a concept known as dochakuka that Robertson says he has borrowed from the Japanese), the view that the local becomes emphasized was confirmed. In the same way, nationalism has become more strongly pronounced in the globalization process. However, interestingly, this nationalism, it was pointed out, is not emerging from within countries but often from outside of them, particularly with the spread of the Internet and e-mail.

Moreover, as the core of globalization the role and existence of NGOs and NPOs have become increasingly important in supporting areas which states are not able to cope. However, on the other hand, it is also true that there are INGOs that exist in order to battle the encroachment of globalization. In other words, the immediate and important need for states, NGOs, and NPOs to clarify such points as just who is the agent and who is to be held accountable has become increasingly clear.

The panelists were all in agreement that global culture does not mean a global mono-culture, and that diversity can and does exist.

Regarding the point about just how religious values, such as those of Christianity, are reflected with globalization progressing, the opinion was that religion throughout the world is by no means decreasing. Likewise, although it appears that religion has lost its influence nowadays, religious values, while not taking the dress and attire of an organized religion, did in fact continue obviously to play a big role. It was pointed out that these tacit religious values exist while making decisions with ethic and moral implications, although the issues themselves may not be debated in a religious context.

Moreover, the conflict between individualism and collectivism was discussed, and it was emphasized that the issue was one in the same and dynamic and thus should not be discussed separately.

In conclusion, globalization is not just taking place on the level of business or economics, but is also rapidly occurring at the individual level (values, ethics) as well. What is important is that values such as "human rights" and "individualism" are not just considered as a given, but are more actively examined when considering why these values exist and why they are seen to be natural.

In addition as a final note, what's required of the developed countries at the Kyushu/Okinawa Summit is an even more active discussion on the differences in values that exist between the developed and developing countries, and a recognition of the responsibility to explain to the developing countries the values and views of the developed countries.

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