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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October, 1998 - ... open end


Subject:global culture 2
Date:Sat, 12 Dec 1998 17:06
Author:Joana Breidenbach  [Breidenbach@compuserve.com]
Reply To:forum1@hkw.kbx.de


Thanks for your responses - I was very peased to hear from you and also thanks for your letter, Britta!

Let me respond to your criticism first, Hans. You are right in that I should have written about Belizes "cultural heritage" not "national" heritage. But nevertheless, the conquest and colonization is a fact for a county like Belize and theres nothing we can do about that. Belize has for some centuries now been part of the worldsystem - on terms which were not by its own making. But the question is not how to turm the clock backwards or preserve some mystic "traditional" culture, but how we enable indigenous people nowerdays to gain more control of their fate. We all live in the modern age and I presume that very few indigenous people would choose to live like their forefathers. According to the anthropologist Richard Wilk, who I was mentioning in my earlier mail, various people in Belize identify with highly diverse groups (mostly inspired by North America, yes "americanization"!): They take as their role models among others 1. the highly politicised Maya and Garifunda communities in the US, 2. the catholic church, 3. the US-pop culture (NBA, MTV, Cosby show) and 4. the official "developement" model proposed by the government.

As for tourism, yes, we can all think of examples of the detrimental cultural and ecological effects of tourism. But I think ist far too easy to dismiss the tourist industry as an instrument of cultural imperialism. As a huge industry (involving 800 Million people on the move eyery year) it is not only responsible for the wealth of many countries, but incresingly people all over the world utilize tourism in order to revive and strengthen their own identities (often vis a vis their own hegemonic and oppressive national governments). I think of the Ainu in Japan, who have actively promoted their own "traditional culture" for tourists in order to fight their marginalized position in Japan and force the mainstream to recognize the Ainu as a distinc ethnic group. They created "traditional villages" where tourists can stay but which are also used for the revival of their language, their crafts and cuisine. They established schools and fought the government for land in order to grow a special grain. One of the results of this was, that earlier this year a japanese court acknowledged - for the first time - that the Ainu are a distinctive group. I could add many more examples of local tourist initiatives in various parts of the world.

I think we have to realize, that most people nowerdays want to be a part of the global scene and not be treated as an endagered fossil. The real challenge lies in the way we can work towards a more equal exchange. I see two very important avenues 1. in a more just economic stystem (with less protectionism by the industrialized nations and policies which prevent the dogmas of neo-liberalism being tried out on the poorest countries) and 2. in the strengthening of something which I would call a "global consciousness". And isn't the internet a great potential instrument for fostering just that? We are obviously a long way away from "global consciousness", a frame of mind which tolerates other views and lifestyles, acts for the benefit not only of ones own "club", and tries to learn from others, not impose ones own view on them (the west needs a lot of work to do!). What we have today, I call "comparative consciousness", i.e. most people know that their own way of life is one among many, but still most think of their own lifestyle to be better than that of their neighbours. But still, comparative consciousness is better than nothing and ist a good point of departure. And this is where your comment, Anjali, fits in so nicely. I liked the analogy "I will never know how bright my white is till I place it alongside another colour". The growing self-consciousness of people, in the face of increasing interconnectedness, is one of the very exciting developements nowerdays. Some people are quick to point out that this also leads to fundamentalism and they are right, but there is so much else going on as well, isn't there?

Britta, in your letter you asked if I had some information on appropriations of McDonalds and Coca Cola. There is a book I haven't yet read myself about local appropriations of the hamburger in Southeast-asia. Unfortunatly I haven't got the title on me, but it came out this year and I think it was University of Stanford Press. I'm sure that the people at the University Press Bookshop in Berkeley could give you the details and they probably have the book itself. Coke is used for offerings in Mexico (I saw an old man in the Chiapas region offering it while a catholic church service was going on). On the japanese island of South Ryukyu Coke bottles are standing on the altars as the shape of the bottle reminds people of the body of a pregnant woman. In former times abstracted images of pregnant women in clay were used as fertility symbols and good luck charms, nowerdays its a bottle of Coca Cola. In Russia apparently the consumption of Coke gets rid of wrinkles. Most of the examples I can think of are not so much conscious expressions of cultural differences (this is what you asked about) but about the way globally available consumer goods get integrated in a local society and aquire a different meaning. You might like to have a look at "Coca-Cola: a black sweet drink from Trinidad" by Daniel Miller (actually my favourite anthropologist on globalization and consumption), in: Material Cultures. Why some things matter, ed. by D. Miller, University of Chicago Press 1998. Millers ethnographies of commerce in Trinidad are also a very nice read on advertising practices. Maybe more about that at a later date.

There is a question I wanted to put out to you, but it has to wait. My children want to read with me "A christmas carol" by Charles Dickens, a long standing part of a typical german x-mas!

My regards to all of you, Joana


Joana Breidenbach
Berlin



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