World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2008

  • Globalization = Cultural Homogenization?

    Thursday 24th January 2008 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm

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  • Globalization = Cultural Homogenization?

    • Lee C. Bollinger • Jean Charest • John W. Chidsey • Michael E. Haefliger • Ken Livingstone • Yo-Yo Ma • Jaya Row • Shashi Tharoor

    Moderated by

    • Peter Gumbel

    Thursday 24 January

    As the world moves increasingly towards globalization, what does this mean for societies? Will cross-border migration or the increased movement of capital and goods lead to greater cultural homogenization? Or will trends, such as broader access to mobile phones, Bollywood films and hamburgers actually lead to a greater diversity of identities combined with different forms of multiculturalism?

    Key insights of the session include:

    • The challenge in globalization is to retain commercial value while responding to local flavours, culture and traditions. The global restaurant chain, Burger King, deliberately adapts to local customs by offering different foods, decor and uniforms in different countries.

    • No one quite knows where cultural trends are heading. What is clear is that “McWorld” is not becoming reality. The winds of globalization flow in various directions. People have their own identities and tastes. Each culture is able to contribute to another.

    • Bollywood, the rapidly expanding Indian cinema industry, is exporting to its global diaspora and to countries such as Egypt and Senegal, where non-Indians are avid followers. Indian restaurants in the UK have adapted to local tastes, and employ more people than many other industries together.

    • A world that changes too quickly provokes cultural insecurity. The challenge is how to enable habits and cultures to evolve without sacrificing individual journeys through life. Global influences do not have to destroy; they can also enrich. When the “forest reaches the savannah”, highly diverse communities emerge. Culturally, the most interesting things happen on the edge, with the overlap belonging to all.

    • London has emerged as the world’s most multicultural city. Globalization is inevitable but should not require assimilation. People need to choose their own lives. Some will prefer to stay within their own communities, while others will seek to integrate. The important thing is not to leave anyone behind.

    • The bombings and killing by extremist groups – another effect of “globalization” – in London, Madrid or New York do not qualify as a culture. Attitudes should not lead to a new cold war, this time with Islam.

    • Cultural survival depends on economic strength. Toronto is a multicultural city, where globalization has not led to homogenous urbanization. Instead, rapid economic growth has provoked greater diversity.

    • Art is crucial towards strengthening individual identities and cultures. Canada has adopted a different approach to preserving – and invigorating – its home-grown film industry through subsidies and quality control.

    • Institutional support through universities, museums, media and cultural activities is vital for promoting cultural identity and diversity. During the Iraq war, for example, Canada benefited from more varied perspectives via the French press and other European outlets.

    • Quebec has sought to protect its French culture by regulating the use of English. While some consider this the only way to preserve a threatened culture, others see it as inhibiting individual choice.


  • Michael E. Haefliger Michael E. Haefliger
    Executive and Artistic Director, Lucerne Festival, Switzerland

    1983, graduate, Julliard School; 1999, Exec. MBA, St. Gallen Univ.; GMP, Harvard. Early 1980s, solo ...

  • Shashi Tharoor Shashi Tharoor
    Member of Parliament, India

    BA (Hons), St Stephens College, Delhi, India; MA in Law and Diplomacy and PhD, Fletcher School of La...

  • John W. Chidsey John W. Chidsey
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Burger King Corporation, USA

    BA, Davidson College; MBA in Finance and Accounting and Juris Doctorate, Emory University; CPA, Illi...

  • Jean Charest Jean Charest

  • Lee C. Bollinger Lee C. Bollinger
    President, Columbia University, USA

    Leading First Amendment scholar; has taught and written on freedom of speech and press for over 30 y...

Moderated by

  • Peter Gumbel Peter Gumbel
    Europe Editor, Fortune Magazine, France

    Studies at Bristol University. Over 16 years' experience with Wall Street Journal including Correspo...