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13.3: Selective Importation and Adaptation

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    Globalization most certainly changes the landscape of contemporary social life (see the discussion of the five "scapes" in the previous section). Yet it would be a mistake to think of globalization as a state that emerges without human agency. In most cases, people make decisions regarding whether or not they want to adopt a new product or idea that has been made available to them via globalization. They also have the ability to determine the ways in which that product or idea will be used, including many far different from what was originally intended. A cast-off Boy Scout uniform, for example, may be adopted by a Maasai village leader as a symbol of his authority when dealing with Tanzanian government officials.[14]

    First emerging in the late 1980s, the term glocalization refers to the adaptation of global ideas into locally palatable forms.[15] In some instances, this may be done as a profit-generating scheme by transnational corporations. For example, McDonald’s offers vastly different menu items in different countries. While a Big Mac may be the American favorite, when in India you might try a McAloo Tikki (a breadcrumb-coated potato and pea patty), in Hong Kong mixed veggies and egg mini twisty pasta in a chicken broth for breakfast, in Thailand corn pies or pineapple pies, or a Steak Mince ‘N’ Cheese pie in New Zealand. In other cases, people rather than corporations find innovative ways to adopt and adapt foreign ideas. The Zapotec of Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, have found a way to adapt globally available consumer goods to fit their longstanding cultural traditions. Traditionally, when a member of the community dies, that individual’s relatives have an obligation to ease his or her passing to the afterlife. One part of this obligation is making an extraordinary number of tamales for the mourners who come to pay their respects at the home altar that has been erected for the deceased. These tamales are intended to be taken home and were once shared in traditional earthen containers. Rather than disrupting this tradition, the introduction of modern consumer goods like Tupperware has made the old tradition of sharing food easier.[16] In this case, Zapotec culture is not threatened by the introduction of foreign goods and ideas because the community incorporates new things into their pre-existing practices without completely trading old ideas for new ones. Practices like these provide evidence that fears about globalization leading to nothing but cultural homogenization may be exaggerations. Yet, other communities refuse these products precisely because they equate modernization and globalization with culture loss. For example, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Rigoberta Menchu recounts how adamantly the Maya elders where she was raised warned the youth away from consuming Coca-Cola or even using modern corn mills rather than the traditional mano and metate.[17]

    Definition: glocalization

    The adaptation of global ideas into locally palatable forms.

    Case Study: Both Global and Local-Salsa Dancing Around the World

    While there are a variety of texts regarding the histories of salsa music and dancing, as it exists today the salsa scene is inseparable from the five flows of globalization described above.[18] Take for instance the vast number of salsa “congresses” and festivals held worldwide throughout the year. People from near and far travel to these events as dance students, social participants, performers, and instructors (the ethnoscape). Travel to and from these events, often internationally, depends on modern transportation (the technoscape). What is being taught, shared, and communicated at these events is, primarily ideas about different dancing style and techniques (the ideoscape). In addition to the costs of gas/parking/airfare or the like, registration, hotel rooms, lessons, DJs/bands, and other services are all available because they are being paid for (the financescape). Finally, these events could not exist as they do today without online advertising (see Figure 1 for an example), workshop and performance schedules, and event registration, let alone video-clips of the featured teachers and performers (the mediascape). Indeed, the very fact that dancers can come from disparate locations and all successfully dance with each other—even in the absence of a common spoken language—testifies to the globalization involved in such dance forms today.[19]

    Advertisement for the New Zealand
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\):Advertisement for the New Zealand Salsa Congress, 2012.

    The widely shared patterning of movement to music in this dance genre does not, however, negate the very real differences between local iterations. Featured in the very title of ethnomusicologist Sydney Hutchinson’s recent edited volume, Salsa World: A Global Dance in Local Contexts, real differences between local contexts, practices, and meanings are shown in chapters dedicated to the salsa scenes in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, rural America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia (Cali), Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), France, Spain (Barcelona), and Japan.[20] Learning to dance at family gatherings is different from learning in a studio. Learning to dance to music that plays in every building on the street is different from learning in a setting with entirely different local instruments. Learning to dance is different when everyone comes from the same general socioeconomic and ethnic background compared to learning in extremely heterogeneous urban settings. This set of comparisons could continue for quite some time. The point is that even global forms take on local shapes.[21]

    Lifestyle, Taste, and Conspicuous Consumption

    While some aspects of globalization are best studied at the societal level, others are best examined at smaller scales such as the trends visible within specific socio-economic strata or even at the level of individual decision-making. The concept of “lifestyle” refers to the creative, reflexive, and sometimes even ironic ways in which individuals perform various social identities. Sociologist David Chaney describes lifestyles as “characteristic modes of social engagement, or narratives of identity, in which the actions concerned can embed the metaphors at hand.”[22] The lifestyles we live and portray, then, can be seen as reflexive projects (see the Fieldwork chapter for more information about reflexivity) in the sense that they display both to ourselves and to our audiences who we think we are, who we want to be, and who we want to be seen to be.

    Chaney argues that people only feel the need to differentiate themselves when confronted with an array of available styles of living.[23] Societies organized via organic solidarity (versus mechanical) are predicated on different goods, skills, and tasks. Within this framework, the rise of a consumerist economy enables individuals to exhibit their identities through the purchase and conspicuous use of various goods.[24] Globalization has increased the variety of goods available for individuals to purchase—as well as people’s awareness of these products—thus expanding the range of identities that can be performed through their consumption habits. In some situations, identity is an individual project, with conspicuous consumption used to display one’s sense of self. For example, a student who feels alienated by the conservative, “preppy,” students at her East Coast school can cultivate an alternative identity by growing dreadlocks, wearing Bob Marley T-shirts, and practicing djembe drumming, all of which are associated with the African diaspora outside the United States.

    Critics have argued that a consequence of globalization is the homogenization of culture. Along similar lines, some have worried that the rapid expansion of the leisure market would decrease the diversity of cultural products (e.g. books, movies) consumed by the populace. The disappearance of small-scale shops and restaurants has certainly been an outcome of the rise of global conglomerates, but the homogenization of culture is not a foregone conclusion.[25] Globalization enables individuals in far-flung corners of the world to encounter new ideas, commodities, belief systems, and voluntary groups to which they might choose to belong. At times these are at the expense of existing options, but it is also important to acknowledge that people make choices and can select the options or opportunities that most resonate with them. The concept of lifestyle thus highlights the degree of decision-making available to individual actors who can pick and choose from global commodities, ideas, and activities. At the same time as individual choices are involved, the decisions made and the assemblages selected are far from random. Participating in a lifestyle implies knowledge about consumption; knowing how to distinguish between goods is a form of symbolic capital that further enhances the standing of the individual.[26]

    How much free will, freedom of choice, or autonomy an individual actually has is an age-old question far beyond the scope of this chapter, but in many cases a person’s consumption patterns are actually a reflection of the social class in which she or he was raised—even when an individual thinks he or she is selectively adopting elements from global flows that fit with his or her unique identity. In other words, an individual’s “taste” is actually an outgrowth of his or her habitus, the embodied dispositions that arise from one’s enculturation in a specific social setting.[27] Habitus results in a feeling of ease within specific settings. For example, children who have been raised in upper-class homes are able to more seamlessly integrate into elite boarding schools than classmates on scholarships who might find norms of dining, dress, and overall comportment to be unfamiliar.[28] Habitus, the generative grammar for social action, generates tastes and, by extension, lifestyles.[29]

    Definition: habitus

    The dispositions, attitudes, or preferences that are the learned basis for personal “taste” and lifestyles.

    Recall the vignette that opened this chapter. The fact that the students of this prestigious liberal arts college are in the position to critique the ethical implications of specific recipes suggests that their life experiences are far different from the roughly one in seven households (totaling 17.5 million households) in the United States with low or very low food security.[30] Inevitably then, what people choose to consume from global offerings—and the discourses they generate around those consumption choices—are often indicative of their social status. Once a commodity becomes part of these global flows, it is theoretically available to all people regardless of where they live. In actual practice, however, there are additional gatekeeping devices that ensure continued differentiation between social classes. Price will prevent many people from enjoying globally traded goods. While a Coca-Cola may seem commonplace to the average college student in the U.S., it is considered a luxury good in other parts of the world. Likewise, although Kobe steaks (which come from the Japanese wagyu cattle) are available in the U.S., it is a relatively small subgroup of Americans who would be able and willing to spend hundreds of dollars for a serving of meat. Having the knowledge necessary to discern between different goods and then utilize them according to socially prescribed norms is another mark of distinction between social classes, as anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work on taste made clear.[31]


    1. Robin Schmidt and Morten Vest, Maasai on the Move, Film, directed by Robin Schmidt and Morten Vest (2010, Danish Broadcasting Corporation).
    2. See Chanchal Kumar Sharma, “Emerging Dimensions of Decentralisation Debate in the Age of Globalisation” Indian Journal of Federal Studies 19 no. 1 (2009): 47–65.
    3. Anya Peterson Royce, Becoming an Ancestor: The Isthmus Zapotec Way of Death (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011).
    4. Rigoberta. I Menchu, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, trans. Ann Wright (London: Verso, 1984).
    5. See, for instance, Peter Wade, Music, Race and Nation: Musica Tropicalin Colombia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). Or, Lise Waxer, The City of Musical Memory: Salsa, Record Grooves, and Popular Culture in Cali, Columbia (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002).
    6. For more on traveling to train at such congresses and festivals—whether salsa, or any other embodied practice—see Griffith and Marion, Apprenticeship Pilgrimage: Developing Expertise through Travel and Training (Lexington: forthcoming).
    7. Sydney Hutchinson, Salsa World: A Global Dance in Local Contexts (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).
    8. Also see Lise Waxer, Situating Salsa: Global Markets and Local Meanings in Latin Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 2002).
    9. David Chaney, Lifestyles (London: Routledge, 1996), 92.
    10. Chaney, Lifestyles.
    11. Ibid.
    12. Ibid., 24.
    13. Ibid., 57.
    14. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).
    15. Shamus Rahman Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).
    16. Chaney, Lifestyles, 60.
    17. Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, “Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2014”
    18. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction.

    Adapted From

    "Globalization" by Lauren Miller Griffith, Texas Tech University, and Jonathan S. Marion, University of Arkansas. In Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology, 2nd Edition, Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges, 2020, under CC BY-NC 4.0.

    13.3: Selective Importation and Adaptation is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.