Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket

Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket

Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket

Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket

Synopsis

Most people still think of themselves as belonging to a particular culture. Yet today, many of us who live in affluent societies choose aspects of our lives from a global cultural supermarket, whether in terms of food, the arts or spiritual beliefs. So if roots are becoming simply one more consumer choice, can we still claim to possess a fundamental cultural identity? Global Culture/Individual Identity focuses on three groups for whom the tension between a particular national culture and the global cultural supermarket is especially acute: Japanese artists, American religious seekers and Hong Kong intellectuals after the handover to China. These ethnographic case studies form the basis for a theory of culture which we can all see reflected in our own lives.Gordon Mathews opens up the complex and debated topics of globalization, culture and identity in a clear and lively style.

Excerpt

This book is about cultural identity. Most people today tend to think of culture as belonging to a particular society: Japanese have Japanese culture, French have French culture, Americans have American culture, and so on. But today this has become confusing: we belong to our particular national culture, but many of us in today’s affluent world also choose—or at least believe we choose—aspects of our lives from what can be called “the global cultural supermarket.” You might eat raisin bran for breakfast, curry for lunch, and sashimi for dinner; you may listen to opera, jazz, reggae, or juju; you may become a Christian, an atheist, a Buddhist, or a Sufi.

One result of this is a profound contradiction that many of us in the affluent, media-connected world live within. We feel that we belong to our particular national culture, and believe that we must cherish our culture. But we also consume from the global cultural supermarket, and believe (albeit in large part falsely) that we can buy, do, be anything in the world we want—but we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have both all the world’s cultures to choose from and our own cultural particularity. If you believe that you can choose aspects of your life and culture from all the world, then where is your home? Do you have any home left to come back to? Can home and roots be simply one more consumer choice?

I focus in this book on three groups for whom the tension between particular national culture and the global cultural supermarket is particularly acute: Japanese artists traditional and contemporary, American religious seekers Christian and Buddhist, and Hong Kong intellectuals in the shadow and wake of Hong Kong’s return to China. Japanese traditional artists may claim that their arts represent the essence of Japaneseness, an essence that their fellow Japanese have lost. Some Japanese contemporary artists seek a return, through their rock or jazz or abstract painting, to their Japanese roots. But is the Japaneseness

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