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8.3 Globalization Studies and Anthropological Methods

Globalization studies related to business have dealt with the activities of multinational enterprises (MNEs hereafter). Their subjects of inquiry are not only the workplaces of MNEs but also the goods and services that they provide. Sociological studies of globalization, a typical example being Ritzer (1996), often focus on the power balance between the established and non-established domains. A sociologist's main interest lies in uncovering how the established domain dominates the non-established one. In line with this standpoint, globalization, which includes the concept of modernization, or civilization, aims to standardize and mainstream non-established institutions and systems within the globally established system.

However, anthropologists seldom agree that such kinds of standardization should occur. Even though the observed forms of a system (or goods) may be the same, there is no guarantee that their meanings are the same. In an anthropological study of McDonald's, the fast-food chain in East Asia, James Watson proposed that form and content should be distinguished in relation to globalization issues. [1] That is to say, the same appearance of a hamburger at McDonald's restaurants in different countries does not always imply the same meanings for customers in each country.

Anthropologists usually focus on the cultures that drive human and social behaviors. The established and the non-established domains each have an inherent culture derived from different cosmologies. When a system and/or goods are imported from an established to a non-established domain, an act of translation is required to enable a fit of the system or goods within the latter culture. This translation process is sometimes accompanied by displacement. For example, at early stages of the launching of McDonald's and Starbucks in East Asia, customers consumed their products as symbols of a modernized “cool” lifestyle. Their meanings were thus quite different from those of the associated fast-food chains in the United States.

Some globalization studies have been influenced by postcolonial studies. [2] According to Hiddleston (2009), “postcolonialism refers to the wider, multifaceted effects and implications of colonial rule.” [3] As in this definition, postcolonialism is usually presupposed to be colonial. Thus, postcolonial studies implicitly assume that subjugation and administration by colonial masters continue. This view does not apply to countries that have not been colonized. I, therefore, propose to use a migration metaphor instead, as I illustrate in the next section.

  • [1] Watson (2006), pp. 196–197.
  • [2] For a study of science from the viewpoint of postcolonial studies, see Anderson (2009).
  • [3] Hiddleston (2009), pp. 1–2.
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