Global consumerist culture. Looking at Middle East identities through “coke-bottle” lenses – Part 1



This analysis examines the evolution of the cultural identity (national, religious, etc.) due to the impact of globalization. Cultural and local identities differently “react” to the strong global pressure but, from an economic point of view, scholars argue the existence of a global community united by consumerist practices. Nevertheless, the widespread of products at a global level does not seem to be wherever accepted. Especially, whereby globalization means Americanization, the situation changes. By analyzing the relationship between global and local identities, this article proposes a view of identity shaped by a global consumerist culture focusing on the Middle Eastern  region by looking through “Coke-bottle” lenses. That is to say, it sheds light on the widespread, and the reason of, rejection and boycott of one of the most representative globalized products, Coca-Cola.   

 Globalization as identity-maker?


Doubtless the thrust of globalization in the cultural sphere has been generally seen in a distrustful perspective. It has been usually depicted as the ruin of cultural identities, squeezed between multiple factors of homogenization and consumerism. This analysis tries to approach that vision with a little of skepticism. Obviously, it’s undeniable the influence of transnational capitalism in allocating and sponsoring its cultural products all around the world but, at the same time, that cultural identity seems to be much more the result of globalization than its prey.

Conventionally, the concept of cultural identity is linked to traditions, experiences, language passing from a generation to another one within a geographical framework in which people live. It is not only something which bounds people currently live there but it represents also a sort of continuity with the past. Cultural identity, conceived in that way, is the nexus between spatial and temporal dimensions creating a sense of belonging. Moreover and ever conventionally, globalization is one of the dangerous threats to cultural identities because it would spoil stable localities, it would displace peoples, bringing about an homogenization of cultural experiences, by breaking boundaries and traditional, religious, national, tribal, bonds. Globalization has been judged as involving a general process of loss of cultural diversity. Some cultures, especially in the western capitalized world, followed a standardization on their own to be exported worldwide, while in the developing world, single identities have been threatened. In this sense, there has been conceived the equation between economic power and cultural potential capacity of manipulating identities.

Nevertheless, one could argue that globalization, instead of tearing down identities, has been the most important driving force in shaping and promoting cultural identity. This claim calls for a diverse kind of the concept of identity and it also demands a complex consideration of the globalization process: which becomes a result of the interaction between a social, economic, technological impulsion towards the ‘global’ and the ‘local’ efforts. The force towards the global dimension merges a sense of capitalist spreading out with the swift increase of deterritorialization in multiple sectors. However, this force is accompanied by a range of habits and procedures expressing various sorts of local entities: e.g., cultural identity movements but also less formally organized expressions of identity like those involved in local consumption preferences[1].

Therefore, there are several forces contributing to the construction of the cultural identity and one cannot easily get rid of the question by depicting cultural identity as a fragile victim of globalization.


The perception of globalization and its inflections


This article wants to examine the construction of cultural identity from the perspective of globalization process. For this reason, it needs to take into account a view of the globalization process. Globalization is a term that could be inflected in several ways. It affects the growing mobility across frontiers of commodities, goods, people and mobility in the field of information and services. If one takes a look at the main streets of the city centres or at the big malls on the outskirts, one can notice the most famous and diffused worldwide brands, restaurant chains, clothing shops chains, or one can recognize global products in brands of electronic devices. Effectively, there are a lot of examples, starting from the exotic fruits in the supermarkets to ethnic restaurants.

How many countries your shoes have been in before being purchased by you?

Moreover, apparently, in the 21st century the most powerful signal and effect of globalization process is the internet and all the consequences on communication and technology it implies. Perhaps, all of these makes Marshall McLuhan’s vision something real, that the world is now a ‘global village’.

With globalization inflected as communication and mobility the result is the meeting. Interactions are responsible of new cultural forms and range of skills. Globalization, from this perspective, is conceived in terms of a process of hybridization. Of course, on the other face of the coin, the meeting can turn out tension and hostility. The difficult relations between Western and Islamic worlds could be an example of this ‘global stress’ but even within western world there are elements of frictions, especially regarding the ‘American’ (that is the American multinationals from Hollywood factory to fast food restaurant chains) influence over the life-style, which threatens ‘traditional’ identities or ways of thinking.

In the recent period, the resurgence of national, regional, ethnic and territorial attachments have been read as collateral products of globalization.

Basque, Scottish, Sudanese identities and claims for independence have been explained by someone as maverick processes in a more and more boundless world without borders. The resurgent religious cultures and fundamentalisms seems to be upstream too, particularly, the case of Islamic fundamentalism and its opposition to global times[2].

There is a third way to see the encounter, as an accumulation of cultural phenomena, where new global elements coexist alongside existing and established local or national cultural forms. In this case, globalization recognizes the continuity with earlier social and cultural life.

As there’s already been noticed, the key words in this analysis are: globalization, identity and culture. The end of this analysis is to try to merge those words in order to pinpoint, if it is possible, the existence of a global culture determining identity.

In order to do that, this article shall look at aspects of globalization in relation to culture and identity. On the one hand, there is the sensation that cultural encounters across frontiers can design new kinds of cultural hybridization. On the other hand, instead of cosmopolitan ideals, others perceive cultural homogenization and the wearing out of cultural distinctiveness. Globalization is also linked to the corroboration of particular cultures and identities whose reinforcement is due to a rejection effect. Of course, these developments are not historically unique. The relationship between global interference and local identity or activity, as between system and actor, is an endless story either one looks at the past or one looks at the future. What is undoubtedly exceptional now is the pace, the scale, the overwhelming pressure of global interactions.  From this pressure, new forms of universal culture new hybrid developments emerge. It would be a mistake and a mystification to think of globalization in terms of homogenization, that is, as it is commonly considered and suspected. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake too to regard it as an unstoppable engine producing diversity. Therefore, it is important to recognize the complex nature of globalization process. On this basis, how is it possible to sketch a global cultural identity? What is the necessary key one can use to access that global cultural identity? 



[1] Tomlinson J., ‘Globalization and Cultural Identity’ in ‘The global transformations reader : an introduction to the globalization’ debate / edited by David Held and Anthony McGrew, 2nd  Ed., 2004, chapter 23, p. 270.

[2] K., ‘Encountering Globalization’ in ‘The global transformations reader : an introduction to the globalization debate’ , edited by David Held and Anthony McGrew. 2nd Ed., 2004, chapter 20, p. 244.