Dynamic traditions: why globalization does not mean homogenization

Published date01 August 2006
Date01 August 2006
AuthorRichard Volkman
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management
Dynamic traditions: why globalization does
not mean homogenization
It is alleged that the global application of informa-
tion and communications technologies will tend to
obliterate or water down the rich and varied cultur-
al lives that have been embedded in geographically
and culturally isolated traditions. However, closer
examination reveals that living traditions will adapt
in ways that remain true to cherished traditional
values. Such dynamic traditions are not threatened
by global competition.
While new information technologies enhance the
already formidable information processing power
of markets, culture serves as a framework for mean-
ing rather than as a causal vector in competition
with market forces. This indicates that globaliza-
tion does not entail the simple supplanting of cul-
ture by the market, and diversity is not generally
threatened by global competition. While some local
or traditional differences may be transformed, this
is not correctly conceived as a flattening or homog-
enization of any living tradition. Rather, new cul-
tural forms emerge from the churning of the global
market, as dynamic traditions adapt and change. In
this sense, the globalization of culture is not a zero-
sum game.
The classic articulation of the economic advantages
of globalization can be traced to 19th Century
economists, including Adam Smith and David
Ricardo. Smith is often credited with first appreci-
ating the role of market incentives in increasing
material wealth through the guidance of an “invisi-
ble hand.” While the details are difficult to unpack
without advanced mathematical models, the main
idea is simple enough: Buying and selling in a com-
petitive market generate incentives for the efficient
production, use and allocation of goods and servic-
es. The fact that someone is willing to pay for serv-
ices gives others a reason to provide those services,
and each has a reason to provide the services at a
lower cost or higher quality than rivals. This com-
petition for buyers ensures that goods and services
tend to be produced at the best price/quality, where
that notion is entirely fixed by the preferences of
consumers. Meanwhile, since consumers pay for
goods and services, they have a reason to minimize
waste and inefficiencies in use, while those who
most need or desire a commodity bid up its price,
so the market tends to allocate goods and services
Info, Comm & Ethics in Society (2006) 3: 145-154
© 2006 Troubador Publishing Ltd.
Richard Volkman
Southern Connecticut State University, Hew Haven, CT 06515, USA
Email: volkmanr1@southernct.edu
In light of the relation between culture and markets, an analysis of cultural evolution reveals that globalization will not
lead to the homogenization of world cultures.
Keywords: Globalization, market, culture, tradition, dynamism
VOL 4 NO 3 JULY 2006 145

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