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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project:

It's a Small World After All

By Robbieana Leung


My head tilted backward as my eyes scanned the tall red structure that stood majestically before me in Agra, India. The dark pillars of Fort Agra, erected during the construction of the Taj Mahal during the 14th century, were an interesting paradox: they were delicate due to their age, yet incredibly firm. In fact, many tourists were climbing the walls that were carved with painstaking detail and precision. Among the sea of blonde and brown - tourists from Europe and the United States of America - was a distinct group of Indian high school children. The group of forty students and chaperones were sprawled throughout the courtyard, posing for picture opportunities, just like Semester at Sea students.

Taken aback at the unexpected sight of Indian tourists behaving just as we were, I found my eyes naturally followed them with greater interest than I had in the historical fort. With their bulky black film cameras, I watched the Indian students eagerly take pictures of their peers who posed with arms draped over each others’ shoulders. The atmosphere was noisy with rapid exchanges of dialogue between the students, who spoke in sentences that were mixtures of Hindi and English. For every couple of Hindi words, I was able to recognize an English word, such as “photo” or “pillar”.

Close by, two Indian girls dressed in jeans and t-shirts stood within the fort structure, smiling at the camera. Looking closely at one of the girl’s shirts, I saw that it said “Roxy.” As I read her shirt, one of the Indian students noticed the name on my shirt, which duplicated the lettering on the girl’s shirt. He stood in front of me and read the brand name aloud, with a sense of recognition in his voice. Initially, I was surprised at his recognition, because I did not expect an American brand to be popular in India. The irony of my surprise is that my own Roxy shirt was produced in the “east”, meaning that in some ways it actually originated in the east. Thus, it would be natural for these students to know the brands that I call "Western".

The boy who read my shirt out loud soon departed with a smile, and headed towards the Indian school group standing by the pillars. Separated from the teenagers by a single pillar, there was an older lady dressed in a bright green and yellow sari. The symbolism of the pillar drew its meaning more from the present than from the past -- it represented the generation gap that takes the form of a culture gap between the girls and the woman. Their clothes alone demonstrated the Indian youth having some things more in common with youth around the world than in their nation’s local heritage. The culture gap between the two generations was also manifested in the new hybrid language of Hindi and English that I had heard earlier.

        This paper utilizes observations in India, Turkey and Croatia to draw conclusions about the impact of globalization on culture. Scholars have debated whether or not globalization will eventually destroy the diversity of cultures, in creating a Westernized monoculture. While the answer is uncertain, my observations from these three countries reveal that as globalization draws the world closer together, two kinds of subcultures are being created. The first subculture is an increasingly homogenous youth culture that reflects American ideas and ideals and the second subculture is the integration of two different cultures into a third, hybrid culture.

Read these three projects before you move on to my analysis below:

India: Transnationalizing Marriage

Croatia: It's A Small World After All

Turkey: Serendipity in Istanbul


            Will globalization eventually destroy the diverse cultures and replace them with a Westernized monoculture? This is the hot debate topic of today, in which I believe the answer could be both yes and no.  India was an important country that provided much support for this conclusion. My observations made at Fort Agra and the Indian-American wedding helped me to instead realize that two sub cultures are formed as a result of globalization: a fusion of two cultures into a hybrid one, and a homogenous youth culture.

            Based on the way that the Indian students were talking, their dress and general decorum that highly contrasted with that of their elders, I determined that globalization may be creating a westernized monoculture among the youth. This theme was also evident in at Club Fuego in Croatia, where the locals and Semester at Sea Filipino and Latino crew members wore clothes and danced in ways that mimicked American culture. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the music played was from America, which reflected the influx of American music into a European country.

            While these observations show me that youth around the world are becoming more familiarized with the American culture, at the same time I also do not believe that globalization will completely wipe out their ethnic or mother culture, simply because this is such an integral and engrained part of their identity. In George E. Marcus’ article Ethnography in/of the world system: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography, “in conducting multi-sited research, one finds oneself with all sorts of cross cutting and contradictory personal commitments…” which is then resolved “in being a sort of ethnographer-activist, renegotiating identities in different sites as one learns more about a slice of the world system” (113). He gives the example of Emily Martin’s Flexible Bodies book, where she finds herself “an AIDS volunteer at one site, a medical student at another, and a corporate trainee at a third [field site]” (113). In some sense, the multi identities experienced by anthropologists in their field sites reflect to a certain degree the individuals who are experiencing globalization. Like an anthropologist who experiences different pieces of life as he/she move into and out of cultures and field sites, people all over the world experience an influx of ideas and commodities from a variety of cultures abroad.

It is significant that these pieces of life incorporate themselves into the lives and culture of individuals who are exposed to them. It is also significant that because the American culture is one of the most dominant cultures that spans the world, many countries are constantly being exposed to and changed by this specific culture. This theory is demonstrated by the clubbers in Croatia. Although they came from many different countries, spanning Asia, Europe, America, they collective body dressed like Americans as they danced with American styles to American music. Marcus argued that anthropologists have multiple identities, which conform to the atmosphere that they are in. His example may reveal that while the youth subculture is homogenizing, this does not necessarily prove that globalization is the new Westernization or Americanization. Indeed globalization certainly reveals that American culture does engulf some local cultures, yet this is only a facet of the prism. My observations about the Americanized youth culture merely scratches the surface of the force of globalization that is changing the world in multiple ways that are unseen and seen and for better or for worse.

            Another aspect of the prism of globalization is the integration of two cultures to form one, versus the “swallowing up” of cultures by a dominant one. In my piece  Transnationalizing Marriage, I express that the cross cultural wedding stimulated thoughts with a strong focus on the formation of a hybrid culture, which stems from the Indian and American culture combining (not consuming) each other.  Such seemingly opposite cultures make me suspect that there needs to be much compromise and integration of both cultures in order to overcome any culture clashes. The newlyweds' future child will be an Indian American, whose identity will be rooted in both cultures. Because he/she will be raised in a culture that is a mixture of both Indian and American, the child will be a product of a hybrid culture.

The concept of a hybrid culture is evident in my own life as a third generation Chinese. Being ethnically Chinese yet born in the USA, I grew up in two different atmospheres. Living in the USA and going to International and American schools promoted my intake of American culture, while my parents nurtured my Chinese heritage. They did this by engaging me in the celebration of ethnic festivals, such as the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year, and teaching me to respect “Chinese values” of discipline and filial piety. Thus, I have grown up in a new culture, which is akin to the hybrid culture that I have observed in these countries and attempt to describe in this paper.

When I am with my family, it is obvious that I am not completely Chinese, yet not completely American. My father, who is a local Chinese and has lived in Hong Kong for all his life, often begins a sentence with a couple Chinese phrases sprinkled with English words (aka "Chinglish), which accommodates my American culture. While Chinese is my father’s first language, he speaks mostly English and Chinglish when he is at home. However, in the work environment and in daily conversation in Hong Kong, he speaks mostly Chinese.  On the other hand, my mother, who is Chinese but grew up in the United States, does the opposite. She speaks English at work, as it is her first language, and sometimes when she speaks to my sister and I, she will address us in Chinese: “Mui mui” (younger sister) or “Jie jie” (older sister). My identity is heavily rooted in both cultures, that pull have an equal pull on my life. Neither culture dominates, but is integrated within each other, causing me to be American Chinese or Chinese American.

            Since this hybrid culture phenomenon has obvious parallels in my life, I was surprised that my initial reaction to the wedding was an automatic assumption that the Caucasian women wearing Indian saris were guests or even tourists to India. The possibility of them being in-laws of the Indian family had not crossed my mind. I had reverted back to my Nacirema mindset and had seen them as Naidnis, not Indians. They were immediately “others”. This experience showed me how the forces of globalization challenges people to have open minds, since the invisible ties around the world draws together connections that are sometimes not comprehendible or imaginable. Thinking about how quickly the world is globalizing, this made me realize that in the future, the world may be regarding people of dual citizenship or culture as a common phenomenon. Perhaps people of one citizenship will be the minority. In a couple of decades, I may be more surprised by people who are only one culture and ethnicity than people who are a mixture of cultures and/or ethnicities.

            The fusion of cultures is evident in my paper, Serendipity in Istanbul. Throughout my travels in Turkey, locals addressed me with greetings from a variety of Asian cultures. Asian tourists coming into Turkey have influenced the locals' knowledge of Asian cultures, demonstrating globalization's transportation of ideas from one part of the world to another. The calligrapher who drew the beautiful fusion character “ai”, or love, with Arabic artistry, had met many Asian tourists, which sparked his curiosity in the culture and language. Inga and I were able to show him our cultural knowledge because both the Turkish calligrapher and us spoke English - the common, middle ground language that is a “global language”. Although neither the Turkish man nor we were ethnically American, and English was not our mother tongue, we spoke it because the forces of globalization came into our lives, proving the importance and dominance of American culture. 

            Meeting the calligrapher was very symbolic of my two themes of globalization. The distribution of certain aspects of culture into different parts of the world is causing cultures to be transnationalized. People are becoming more aware of each other around the world, and adopting some of the cultural norms of one culture and integrating it into their own. This was evident in the Turkish calligrapher’s knowledge of and interest in Chinese culture, and me traveling to Turkey to learn more about the calligrapher’s culture. This phenomenon is forming two types of subcultures that seem paradoxical yet coexist. While one subculture demonstrates the formation of a homogenous youth culture that reflects American values due to a rather dominant and widespread American culture, the other subculture is a hybrid culture that does not conform to one culture but integrates values from two cultures. The dominance of American culture was shown in my ability and the calligrapher’s ability to speak English as a common middle ground, while the hybrid of cultures was symbolically shown through the character ai that the calligrapher drew.

In chapter two of Jenny B. White’s book, Money Makes us Relatives, which is entitled “Bridge Between Europe and Asia,” she discusses the changing face of Turkey as a result of globalization. White says that Turkey has changed so much from influences from all over the world that sometimes she cannot recognize her homeland. The country has mosques and churches proudly towering in the city and buildings with various unique architectures - showing the old and new, saturated with multiple religious influences from around the world.

In a sense, cosmopolitan Turkey is like the our multiple identities as people living in a global world - some of the influences that we take in are more strongly than others, allowing them to dominate us and make us more similar to each other (ex: homogenous youth culture) while some influences we take add on to what we have already (ex: hybrid culture). In the end we are people, whose identities are cluttered with influences from different time periods and cultures, just as Turkey is cluttered with influences from the Ottomon Empire, Rome, Europe, Asia, Arab countries and Christian countries. Turkey truly is the Bridge Between - literally and metaphorically. While some parts are more European or Asian than others, in the end Turkey is a hybrid city. Similarly, while globalization has shown a dominance of American culture among the youth, it has also shown hybrid cultures forming.

There are downfalls to this hybrid culture, which are outlined in Takeyuki Tsuda’s article “No Place to Call Home” with regard to Japanese Brazilians feeling like foreigners in the country of their ancestors, Japan, and their cultural home, Brazil. They are not entirely Japanese or Brazilian, due to their lives being influenced by both cultures, causing them to fall outside the comfort zones of either country. Neither country can really relate to them because they are a hybrid culture, yet the Japanese Brazilians can relate to both. This is the beauty of hybrid cultures - its people provide hope for the future, because they can identify and understand multiple peoples. These inate gifts allow them to have the skills to be peacemakers and literally the bridge between cultures.

In the example with Turkey, many of the locals who are cross cultural become important players in shaping diplomacy in the world, which is one of the prized benefits of Turkey joining the European Union. There is hope that these people will smoothen future relationships between the West and East. Either through homongenizing a culture or integrating a culture into another, globalization is turning us into individuals whose values and understandings of multiple cultures around the world are allowing us to have a key role in the world as mediators who smoothen the lines of segregation and misunderstanding. Countries do retain some of their unique cultural identities yet the world seems to be smaller, and more connected. It is less apparent that we live in many different countries and instead more apparent that we live in one world. There is a very important opportunity given to us global citizens: We have the chance to create unity among peoples of the world, and in the process unify the human spirit.


            Whether or not the world will be completely become an Americanized product of globalization, I cannot give a true answer. Whether or not globalization is a positive or negative force, I also do not know for certain. Time will tell. However, based on my observations in India, Croatia and Turkey, I predict that globalization has had very positive outcomes thus far: it is creating a world that is more closely and strongly connected than ever, producing people who are global citizens that are more understanding of cultures abroad. The gap between “them” and “us” is decreasing. Our “others” are becoming more familiar and instead, more closely related to us in culture. We should celebrate this change. Perhaps it is a step towards a more united world that is not just connected by its ties through the flow of trade, commodities, or people, but also in spirit.

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