This is our last week working with Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perraton's Global Transformations text (although, there is a really good chapter later on "Globalization, Culture & the Fate of Nations" that I think I may bring into the discussion in the next week or so). Here are some thoughts I have on their chapter on"Corporate Power and Global Production Networks":
The chapter begins... "Aside from global finance, perhaps the commonest image of economic globalization is that of the multinational corporation: huge corporate empires which straddle the globe with annual turnovers, matching the entire GNP of many nations" (Held 236). I began alluding to this when I was interacting with their historical surveys of global influence and political empires (see week 6). Today's global landscape is no longer dominated by such large, territorial, military/political empires like ancient Rome or 19th-Century Great Britain. The new empire is the Multinational Corporation (MNC). These companies span the globe, manufacturing, marketing and distributing their products all over the world. The expansiveness and pervasiveness of the influence of MNCs makes their impact much greater than their own profit-margins. MNCs function as influencing powers on the global level. "...MNCs are not simply 'national firms with international operations' which wander the globe in search of maximum profits.... MNCs and global production networks are critical to the organization, location and distribution of productive power in the contemporary world economy" (Held 282). Where MNCs choose to do business can make or break the economies of entire nations. Where MNCs choose to make their products or services available, they impact not only the economy, but the society and culture as well.
And no nation on earth has done the MNC-thing quite like the United States: "US multinationals continued to expand on the basis of their technological superiority across a range of sectors" (Held 243). This, in effect, makes the US a dominant, and even colonial power in the world, not through military conquest and territorial occupation (although recent activities in the Middle East are worth discussing in that light), but through economic and cultural presence via US MNCs.
In addition to Held et al's Global Transformations, we've been reading a new book this week: Globalization & Culture:Global Melange, by Jan Nederveen Pieterse. At one point in his book, Pieterse discusses three paradigms of globalization: "Clash of Civilizations," McDonaldization," and "Hybridization," all of which I thought aptly describe the ways I've seen impact of globalization in recent history. The second of those, however, is the one that most appropriately applies to MNCs and my group's topic of Global Media as a whole. "McDonaldization is a variation on a theme: on the classical theme of universalism and its modern forms of modernization and the global spread of capitalist relations. ...These are variations on the theme of cultural imperialism, in the form of consumerist universalism or global media influence. ...Modernization and Americanization are the latest versions of westernization. If colonialism delivered Europeanization, neocolonialism under U.S. hegemony delivers Americanization." (Pieterse 49). Through its fast food, its media, and the impacts of other MNCs, the United States has been exporting one thing more than anything else: its culture. A professor in a Theology and Pop Culture class I took two years ago said the Popular Culture is America's biggest export. We need to be aware of that as Americans. As Americans who are first and foremost followers of Jesus, we need to be aware of the impact our culture is having on others. We need to be careful about the ways we choose to support US cultural dominance, and savvy about the ways we can subvert it.
I was interested, however, to read Held et al's analysis of the USA's diminishing dominance: "The USA clearly remains the largest overseas investor and its foreign FDI stock has continued to grow in absolute terms. But its share of global FDI has fallen, from around 50 per cent in 1960, to around 25 per cent today" (Held 248). As more and more nations get into the globalization game, the less extreme will be the USA's global cultural presence. Of course, we still need to be wary of a relatively small clique of Developed nations hoarding the pie and leaving few or no pieces for the Developing world. But nevertheless, there is hope that globalization, as unstoppable a force as it seems to be, may not ultimately result in a universal US/Western global culture.
Pieterse thought the same, and suggests that what we are headed for is Hybridization in this post-modern, post-colonial era. Instead of completely distinct cultures clashing, or all cultures being subjected to the dominance of one, he sees a hybrid coming, where distinct local cultures will be enhanced while interacting more freely and openly with every other local culture, creating an ongoing, dynamic global culture that is integrative and representative of the whole (Pieterse 52-55). I think that is the sort of future we as Christians can confidently work toward and look forward to, because it is one in which the Kingdom of God can be proclaimed without being combatant toward any peoples and without destroying any cultures. The Kingdom has come to fight evil, and destroy the power of Hell... not peoples and cultures. To the people of the world we can proclaim justice and freedom in Christ, and from the cultures of the world we can call forth a beautifully rich palette of new worship to God.