What is glocalization?


Anti-globalization protestors march through the Swiss town of Bern.
Anti-globalization protestors march through the Swiss town of Bern.

For some critics, globalization brings to mind nightmare images of a world where a single, homogenized global culture sweeps the planet, crushing whole cultures in its path. They envision a world where major corporations and internation­al organizations wield powers held formally only by nation states. Everyone wears the same shoes, eats the same food, listens to the same music and accepts the same mainstream values.

While most agree that the dangers of waking up to find yourself in a globalized zombie world are slim, globalization is a reality. The term refers to the phenomenon in which economies, cultures and governments from around the world appear to integrate toward one global system.

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International travel and trade, the Internet and globally accessible media outlets continue to make the world a much smaller place. Major oil and communications companies boast greater bank holdings than many countries' gross national products and command global political influence. Yet the world is still a vast mosaic of traditions, societies, values and beliefs -- all the elements that make up local culture.

Conflict between cultures has defined much of human history -- from tribal turf wars and imperial conquests to clashes of religion and lifestyle. Where different values meet, confusion and unrest can follow. The same continues as powerful global companies move into local areas while local areas reach out for available technology, information and economic benefits.

This is where glocalization enters the picture -- it's an answer to the problems of globalization. Just as the word itself is a melding of "global" and "local," glocalization involves the managed meeting of the growing global arena with localized, everyday life. Glocalization's goal is to ensure a globalized world is a stable and integrated place, while also protecting the cultural heritage of local areas.

On the next page, we'll explore the business-world origins of the word, and some of the ways corporations glocalize their global product to match the local market.

Glocalization and Business

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The pairing of glocalization and business originated in Japan during the 1980s. In this incarnation, glocalization pertained to the idea of adapting a global product to fit a local market. By 2000, the term had become a buzzword in big business, with countless companies looking for ways to glocalize everything from hamburgers to Web sites.

After all, if you have a product with international potential, what would be the best way to convince local consumers to buy it? Would you introduce it as is or adapt it to meet the consumers' tastes and needs? Supporters often summarize the philosophy with the slogan, "Think locally, act globally."

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McDonald's Corporation is one of the best users of glocalization. Each of its restaurants, in more than 100 countries, offers McDonald's branding, but the actual menus vary to meet the local culinary tastes and dietary requirements. McDonald's restaurants in India offer mostly chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes since many Hindus don't eat beef. Walk into an Israeli McDonald's and you can order a kosher Big Mac (minus the cheese).

Various global television networks adapt their programming to better suit particular markets. In 2006, Cartoon Network introduced an anime version of its U.S. animated series "The Powerpuff Girls" called "Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z" to air on Cartoon Network Japan. MTV Networks boasts channels in more than 20 countries. The network glocalizes each channel to deliver a popular mix of regional and international artists.

Glocalization often involves a certain degree of trial and error as companies test the strengths of their products on local consumers throughout the world. For instance, when Wal-Mart opened stores in Germany, one of the store's signature practices had an adverse effect on customers. The use of greeters discouraged many German shoppers who were unaccustomed to such obliging customer service.

Glocalization applies to far more than fast food and prime-time programming. Next, let's look at how glocalization is changing the structure of global power.

Glocalization and Culture

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If you look at glocalization as a dialogue between the global and local sectors, you get a good understanding of its challenges and potential benefits. With glocalization, a global corporation's goal isn't to say, "Here's a sandwich." Rather, the corporation asks, "How can we make a sandwich you'd like?" When glocalization and culture connect, local communities play crucial roles in developing and sustaining global policies.

The marketing, funding and infrastructure behind a product may come from a global corporation, but the local level dictates what finished form that product will take. In this way, glocalization is a bottom-up system of governance for globalization.

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Take the economic model of glocalization and apply it to larger cultural and political issues and you have an entirely new way of looking at the world. National governments cease to be the major decision makers and become important players alongside cities, local leadership groups, private companies and international organizations.

If you view the world as a collection of nations, you see varying levels of stability and social equality, depending on what country or region you're looking at. View the world as a whole and things look a lot grimmer. Parts of the Western world benefit from the latest technology, while disease, famine, war and starvation plague portions of the Southern Hemisphere. Some cities have grown into centers of knowledge and culture, while others swell with cheap manufacturing labor.

Just as fair trade coffee eliminates most of the middlemen between producer and consumer, glocalization eliminates many of the various governments and organizations that stand between global resources and local communities. This gives cities and local authorities an increased global role, blurring the division between geography and politics.

Organizations such as the Glocal Forum and the Think Tank on Glocalization push for the creation of a more stabilized world though a series of glocalized strategies:

  • Emphasizing city-to-city diplomacy
  • Developing local economies and encouraging free societies
  • Encouraging and revitalizing local cultures
  • Developing tourism opportunities for economic and social benefit
  • Developing sporting opportunities for economic, social and health benefit
  • Empowering youth with a glocalized view of the world
  • Using information and communication technology to foster economic development and social relations

The intended result of all these strategies is the same: Develop a world where local areas benefit from global resources while retaining their own cultural identities.

Follow the links on the next page to learn more about glocalization.

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Sources:

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  • MTV International (May 16, 2008)http://www.mtv.com/mtvinternational/
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  • The Glocal Forum. "Glocalization Research Study and Policy Recommendations: Executive summary." dgCommunities. (May 15, 2008)http://glocalization.developmentgateway.org/uploads/media/glocalization/ex-sum_.doc
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