Consuming Globalization: Youth and Gender in Kerala, India

Article excerpt


In much popular discourse, a short-hand way to mark the advent and impact of globalization is to point to the evidence of "global" youth consuming practices and symbols in often remote corners of the world: during the 1990s, for example, the popularity of the basketball star Michael Jordan and his team the Chicago Bulls in the slums of Brazil and in rural villages in Africa, the spread of hip-hop music around the world, and the popularity of McDonalds among young people in China. These examples have a theory of globalization and youth embedded within them. Youth is seen as a consuming social group, the first to bend to what is understood to be the homogenizing pressures of globalization, a globalization fundamentally tied to Americanization. (1) Youth consumption practices become an index of the presence and reach of globalization.

Such short-hand ways of indexing the salience of contemporary forms of globalization as a cultural force obscure the ways in which new global cultural forms are inserted into long-standing struggles over the meanings of modernity in many postcolonial locations. (2) While attention to globalization as a new cultural force is crucial to understanding the changed cultural, political, and economic conditions under which much of the postcolonial world now struggles, situating globalization within long-standing histories of the production of modernities around the world is in turn crucial to interrogating claims about newness, homogenization, and cultural force that the discourse of globalization itself produces. As I will argue below, in the context of India, an understanding of the dynamic relationship among youth, consumption, and globalization requires an interrogation of the conditions under which young people engage new spaces of consumption. These conditions are profoundly shaped by colonialist and nationalist categories such as "tradition/modernity" and "public/private" which structure the ways in which young men and women negotiate new consumer identities and spaces.

The equation between youth, consumption, and globalization is also made within scholarly discourse. Though this discourse tends to challenge the notion that globalization is about the Americanization of the world, all the difference and deviation from a homogenized understanding of globalization is folded into a notion of a resistant "local", in opposition to the "global", in ways that produce overly dichotomous and somewhat caricatured notions of both what globalization entails and the complexity of what might constitute "the local". For example, globalization, as a political, economic, and cultural force, operates as much through the production of difference as sameness. Likewise, the "local" might collude with and resist structures of globalization, partaking of hegemonic forms of cultural nationalism that both dominate and marginalize, as is the case with Hindu nationalism in India. Further, folding the difference and deviation from a homogenized understanding of globalization into some undifferentiated notion of the "local" leaves unmarked the nature of a specifically postcolonial difference. This is especially true with respect to understandings of consumption within cultural studies and anthropology.

Cultural studies of youth have highlighted the role of consumption practices in the formation of youth cultures. (3) These studies have focused on the ways young people deploy music and clothing styles in order to form subcultural youth identities which are seen as acts of resistance against a dominant culture. This body of research has opened up the possibility that consumption does not simply produce victims of capitalist hegemony, but is a site for a complicated mediation of youth identities. More recently, this focus on youth cultural practices has extended beyond the Euro-American context, to link a concern with globalization, youth cultural studies, and spatiality in non-Western contexts. …