Nancy Morris (2002) argues that there is no pure culture, and therefore globalization poses no threat to it. Her position is that one of the alleged downsides of globalization is the impact that it has on indigenous cultures. However, no culture is pure and untouched, as there are always influences of other cultures. Given that, globalization cannot have a negative effect of culture, because “cultural interaction has always been the norm, and cultural identities are more resilient than is often credited” (p.278).
This can be seen in the Reading Terminal Market. In the market, there are stalls representing a number of different ethnic groceries and restaurants, from the Middle East, Asia, the South and more. These stalls exist in part because of the forces of migration, where people have moved to America. The cultural resiliency that Morris discusses is thus in evidence — people from those cultures no longer live in those cultures but they are still attached to their foods as cultural artefacts. A shop representing a country can be part of the way that somebody keeps his or her national or ethnic identity alive when it has been removed from this setting.
Yet, people holding onto aspects of their identities in a foreign land is not entirely going to prevent the influences of cultural mixing. Indeed, being immersed in such a diverse environment will only serve to speed up the cultural mixing process. Moore notes that “the interchange of cultural elements in an evitable consequence of contact between groups” (p.280), and at the market there is significant contact between groups. They will try each other’s foods and become exposed to each other’s ideas — the communities will connect. This will bring about influence from not only the dominant “American” culture but the other cultures present in the market. This is an example of what Moore describes as “multicultural hybridization and glocalization” (p.281), wherein she notes that food and music in particular are common examples of the phenomenon of such cultural mixing. A place like the Reading Terminal Market is therefore at the front lines of globalization and the process whereby people retain some elements of cultural identity but begin to shift other elements.
Part 2. In Commodities and Culture, John Fiske notes that “culture is a living, active process” (p.23), and the commodities of a culture necessarily must reflect that culture’s immediate setting. At the Reading Terminal Market, there are a number of different stalls selling ethnic foods, something that can be said to reflect globalization. These commodities are available because there are communities of people that identify with those commodities as reflective of their culture. But there is something else about the market. Fiske argues that “in order to be popular, cultural commodities have to … appeal to what people have in common, to deny social differences” (p.28). Both can be seen at the market in these stalls. First, clearly these stalls represent a need for particular groups to actively express their differences. They exist because there is a market for things that are not highly commodified, at least not in this country.
Second, these stalls represent some commonality — a number of groups for whom there is not only a need for cultural products, but that where there is a need to be part of a greater community of peoples with the same niche need. In other words, there is something unique about the need to participate in this market, versus opening a similar shop in an ethnic neighborhood. This is a form of de Certeau’s guerilla warfare – the market exists as a weapon of rebellion against the powerful capitalist domination (p.32), and that is where the market’s appeal lies, and where many different peoples can be motivated to band together in a common cultural battle. Thus, the RTM represents “constructing our space within and against their space” (p.36) as a means of waging this cultural battle.
Morris, N. (2002). The myth of unadulterated culture meets the threat of imported media. Media, Culture and Society. Vol. 24 (2002) 278-289
Fiske, J. (1989). Commodities and Culture, Chapter 2. 23-47.