The world as we know it is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of countries harnessing the power of comparative advantage and increasing trade and exchange. This is hugely beneficial to the average consumer: we don’t just have variety in goods and services but also their availability at a cheaper price. Globalisation not only has benefitted the consumer but has also strengthened countries’ relationships both economically and politically. Gone are the days of strict protectionism and sky-high tariffs; instead, economies are much more assimilated and so are different countries’ culture.
While increasing imports may signal higher living standards for countries, there is also the risk of culture erosion as services and products bring a new influence that can change the course of the country’s socio-economic policies. We have seen this happen in the Korowai tribe in Papua, Indonesia. While previously hunter-gatherers, their contact with the outside world has led to a shift to sedentary village life due to the introduction of new technology and trade of natural resources. The natural environment for them has now changed from a means of living to an economic resource from which they can profit off resulting in the exploitation of sago palms and other flora in the area. Not only has the environment suffered but their way of living has also changed. Whereas previously the tribes used to make music through pig-skin drums, the availability of radio and television has transformed their music scene. Now, instead of their linen clothing, tribesmen wear t-shirts and shorts with pop culture emblazoned on them.
Of course, perhaps these changes are welcomed for the Korowai tribe. Indeed, they are no longer subjected to their previous way of life: they now have access to a wider range of products which includes Coca-Cola and alcohol (Bintang Beer). Yet, the point of cultural erosion remains. New generations of the Korowai tribe no longer know how to speak the traditional language and their customs have become tales. Globalisation, while arguably raising their quality of life, has limited culture.
This isn’t a recent thing. For many centuries, culture in different areas has undergone significant changes through different influences. If we look at the British Empire, its colonies participated in something known as Empire Day, established from 1902 onwards, in which the British Empire and its prowess was celebrated. It wasn’t just the peripheries where culture was being changed: churches in the metropole itself created strong links with Missionary movements all across the Empire, communicating new ideas and information about the Empire to citizens back home. The Empire was hugely important in boosting the British economy and transforming traditional British mercantilism but was equally important in changing culture for both sides. The impact of globalisation in this way has led to many countries imposing policies to reduce the threat to their culture. This can be seen in the Middle East. In the 1990s, a Barbie doll ban was proposed as the miniskirts and swimsuits adorned by the Barbie dolls were seen as a ‘manifestation of Western Culture’ in a society where women typically cover their bodies. By contrast, some countries intentionally change their culture to fit in with the international norm. Due to the United States’ power over international affairs, countries wishing to emulate the US’ socio-economic structure may adopt new cultural values.
Ultimately, globalisation has warped, transformed and completely changed culture in different regions. While some of this is welcome, countries wishing to preserve their customs and values may put in place preventative measures in the form of protectionism. However, this may result in retaliation and a fall in trade. It seems international society is constantly changing in terms of culture and we are rapidly approaching a world with less languages and similar traditions. With increased trade and standard of living comes the opportunity cost of cultural erosion yet it seems most of us are comfortable with this trade off.