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March 21, 2010, Sunday

Social and cultural impacts of globalization

As the world gets increasingly interconnected through globalization, a sundry of changes are taking place, some of which evade our attention mainly because we are more concerned about the economic and political impacts of the phenomenon. Life as we know it is changing. Changes enter our lives through technology, consumer products, new thoughts, lifestyles and visions of others.

In this sense, globalization is a social and cultural process in which individuals of different cultural backgrounds interact with each other in all spheres of life more intensively than before. This integration is increasingly exposing people to different ways of thinking, cultural values and new forms of family life. Women are getting out of the family home; children are educated to partake in a world other than that of their parents.

Global trends such as cooperation in the same production or trade networks enable societies and individuals to know more of each other. Their differences become familiar and acceptable rather than alien and contentious. Is this “sharing human experience”?

As human communities share their experiences through the global networks of work and information, a greater cultural understanding develops that may help improve the lives of individuals and their families. Said differently, globalization is a phenomenon created through human activity that in turn constantly changes human activity/behavior.

One of the most interesting phenomena of globalization is the shaping of online communities. This process has led to the evolution of new identities for people around the world while disregarding where they live and what their nationality is. This is a new phase of acculturation. New ideas, new methods of work and good life and governance are being shared worldwide even in the most secluded places of the globe.

All of these changes have substantial impacts on the family because the family is the strategic social unit where division of labor, social role play, collective decisions for members and their future, their movements and development are decided on. Such decisions define the identities of family members and their interaction with the larger society. Moreover, all of these decisions may change, be debated, be renegotiated and their conflicts resolved. In other words, not only societal but intra-familial issues are affected by globalization, now more than ever.

Needless to say, the impact of globalization on families is differential, depending on many factors, but specifically depending on where the family lives and the social class it belongs to. Women may get out of the family circle to join the workforce in traditional-conservative environments. But to denote that they belong to a cultural environment that is morally different, they may dress differently and cover their heads. Hence two culturally different worlds meet to be permanently changed.

Globalization’s most profound impact is changing gender roles and securing women’s place in the workplace. The empowerment of women in turn changes the hierarchical role distribution that works against women both in the family and in society at large. Increasing the need for higher education puts more women to school and upgrades the quality of men’s professional training. Today’s jobs are much more skill-intensive, and many educational systems around the world are ill prepared to provide more functional training to students for the types of new jobs available.

The global proliferation of communication carries ideas and currents across continents, sensitizing remote people to similar agendas and promoting mutual agendas. A good example is the global campaign against brand names that exploit child labor. Such moves toward greater social justice and equality take place amid heated debates on the negative impacts of globalization such as retaining poverty and inequality rather than eradicating them. The crux of the debate is whether globalization leads to more opportunities for people or increasing inequality. The correct answer may be, “Globalization can lift people out of poverty, but the inequalities between groups get stronger.” The question is, “What shall we do about it?”

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