Global yet local – the case of Coca Cola

All this talk about globalization, cultural markers of identity, deterritorialisation, diasporas and more makes all these thoughts, ideas, and personal bouts I had with globalization spinning in my head. When today in class the Gatorade machine in the middle of the jungle was mentioned I knew I had my next blog post.

Spoiler alert: This is not about Gatorade, it is about Coca Cola.

Like Gaby posted before food and drinks are a very strong cultural marker. Coca Cola has a very successful export history and is, according to the Coca Cola website enjoyed in over 200 countries worldwide. Thanks to its distribution and bottling system you can find Coca Cola in virtually every country of this world.

Yet Coca Cola does not taste the same in every country. Since local water is being used wherever possible, the taste is altered. Also, the products that are being offered are fine-tuned to meet the local sense. Fanta in Germany is not Fanta in the U.S. and it is not Fanta in Mozambique.

Coca Cola is an example of globalization. It is everywhere and it’s spread was aided by globalization technology. The drink symbolizes western values and lifestyles. So how can something that is so global be so local at the same time? If like the readings suggested, globalization makes us aware of our differences and guides our thinking in a “us as opposed to them” way, how can a drink achieve that? After all,  unless you import bottles from one country to another you won’t really notice any differences.

Well, the one place where globalization comes together and allows each and everyone to see (but more likely taste) that the world is a global place with local taste is the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta. Once you have taken the tour and learned all about the history and how the bottles are bottled you are being lead into this room with fountain machines. Each one is labeled after a region or continent and the individual drinks dispensed are also labeled by country. You can sample as much as you want, the taste of the world is at your fingertips.

When I found myself in that room, globalization really hit home. I found Fanta from Germany that I had not drank in months. And I found a lemonade from Mozambique that I had not seen in years. People got really excited as they compared their “home flavor” with all the other ones offered. We all had this idea of how Coca Cola or CC products taste like but in this room we had to realize that the world is a big place with many different tastes. Not everything is yummy, by the way, there are some pretty hideous concoctions out there (to my taste anyways), but my point is that something that most of us would consider a marker of our culture is also a marker in many other cultures though it takes on a slightly different taste (or meaning if you want to bring it to a more theoretical level).

It is because of globalization that Coca Cola can be found in virtually every country in the world but it is also because of globalization that we can experience that global can be local without having to be a uniformed taste.

By Franzi

Full disclosure: I love Coca Cola the German way but the U.S. coke just isn’t the same so while being in the U.S. I (yikes!) prefer Pepsi. I know, way to ruin the mood of this post! Sorry Coca Cola!

Diasporic Communities: A Stew of Multiple Cultures

So an interesting thought has struck me this week in our discussions of nationalism and it’s evolving nature.  I apply this particularly to the development of “Chinatown’s”, “Little Italy’s”, “Little Havana’s”, and “El Barrios” in major United States cities.  As Karim H. Karim began discussing, the development of these diasporic communities across international borders could have transnational ramifications on telecommunication systems and nation-states.  Karim poses a fascinating point about the boundaries of nations and media technologies being challenged by diasporas, but I would like to take a closer look at these multi-cultural diasporic communities in the United States.

Karim looks at diasporas as single cultural entities, with one nation’s values, customs, and traditions being represented.  However, I would like to note that diasporas do not necessarily maintain this homogenization.  In these “Chinatowns” and “El Barrios”, multiple Southeastern Asian and Hispanic nations, respectively, co-exist, it is more than Italian, Chinese, and Cuban individuals.  Despite the moniker of each area, these communities encapsulate Koreans, Japanese, Italians, French, Cubans, Jamaicans, Panamanians, Brazilians, and Peruvians, respective to their own niches.  Individuals from across the globe are gathering in these large diasporic areas, mixing and stirring up their traditions and values with other cultures.  These melting pots are expanding and increasing their presence across the United States.

In response to the growing diasporic communities in the United States, the United States International Development Agency and United States Department of State has set up the “IdEA” program to get plugged into these communities and develop stronger bonds with nation-states.  It is through initiatives like “IdEA” that the United States can uncover the multicultural relations occurring in these diasporic communities and find ways to represent their diverse needs.

So next time any of us grad students wonder on down to Chinatown in DC, let’s take a second to realize how representative it is of all South East Asia.


Diasporic Communities in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

This week’s readings offered us an interesting selection of thoughts on nations, nationalism, and other institutions. While each piece brought up different sets of points, I was particularly grabbed by Karim’s discussion on the growing power of diasporic communication flows and the subsequent effects on nation-states.

I find it fascinating that the dynamics of these communities have been altered by the power of the Internet and modern technology. A hundred years ago, leaving your homeland meant that you might never see your community again. Today, diaspora have the ability to exchange emails with people on the other side of the world. They can follow news in their community and thanks to transnational media networks, they have increasing access to the diasporic programming and news. Karim notes that the price of these services is a significant barrier to many diaspora, but it seems likely that it will decrease in time. You could argue that modern technology is slowing the process of assimilation.

On a broader note, I was also intrigued by Karim’s meditations on diasporic links to particular geographical location. “Forced or voluntary migrations diminish the physical links of those who leave the homeland,” he writes. “But they take with them the mythical and linguistic allusions to the ancestral territory, which they invoke in nostalgic reminiscences.”

Let’s take Alderraan, for example. Although it is technically – ahem – a fictional planet in Star Wars, I think it illustrates some of Karim’s thoughts on diaspora communities.  After Darth Vader decides to unleash the destructive power of the Death Star on Princess Leia’s home planet, thousands of Alderanians who are off-planet at the time are left without a physical homeland.

Darth Vader and Princess Leia invite you to consider the impacts of diasporic communities on international (or intergalactic) communication

During the aftermath, diasporic communities form on other planets, but Alderranians continue to exchange symbolic goods and services and form what are in essence intergalactic networks.

Before my example veers too far off course, let me tie it back into one of Karim’s points about the use of media networks as a tool for activism. If we can pretend that the Rebel Alliance is a media network for a minute, we could argue that Alderranians were using this particular network to mobilize support for their “homeland cause.” As Karim points out, media networks are sometimes employed to further support for homeland causes of diaspora, such as the Kurds and Tibetans. Homeland politics are a huge topic of interest for certain diaspora groups, particularly those who are the “first generation” in their new country.  Thanks to international communication and modern technology, you can hear about that news almost as soon as it happens.

By Kira

Education and Nation Building

This SIS 640 class is mostly made up of graduate students in the International Communication program. Here is a confession: I am not a student in that program. I came to AU to get my masters in International Education and Training so many of the topics covered in class are seen by me through a cultural lens (previous education) or an educational lens.

This week we talked about Nation Building and how communication relates to it. Yet I could not stop thinking about how often the readings have already mentioned that education and schools are an important marker of a culture. Schooling is an important aspect of nation building and in building a common identity/philosophy. Education through schooling instills a certain system of beliefs, of values, of truths, a notion of friend and foe. I specifically mention schools because there is a lot of education going on in the private sphere (e.g. the home) that is difficult for a nation/government to grasp and manipulate.

Curricula are set by the government or by institutions acting on its behalf. In this regard it is the government that decides how it wants its national identity portrayed and taught in the classroom. Markers for national identity (such as flags, a certain type of vocabulary, iconic images, classroom behavior) are part of the classroom and the teachings. That is why the teaching of Western educators in Third World countries (starting in a more organized way as soon as colonialization sprung up) was often received by the indigenous communities as an attempt to impose Western values.

Thus, for the nation building process schools, as a mean for education, are essential.

By Franzi

The Libyan Prime Minister an Alabamian?

Taking a step away from the theoretical background of international communications and jumping into some of the international issues of today, I find myself drawn to discussing the events occurring in Libya.  Just a week ago, a United States Ambassador (Christopher Stevens) and several other United States officials were killed by an assault on the United States Embassy in Libya by a group of Muslim radicals. Despite the United States’ claim of a Anti-Islamic film (produced in the United States) sparking the attack; protests and demonstrations against the United States and Israel have overtaken North Africa and parts of the Middle East.  What ever the exact cause of the Embassy attack or the breakout protests, new political leaders are stepping up in Libya.

Amidst the turmoil and uprising, the General National Congress of Libya elected Mustafa Abushagur as Prime Minister of Libya.  My interest in Dr. Abushagur’s recent appointment as the Prime Minister, comes from his days as a Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (My Hometown).  During the mid-1980s until late 1990’s his family resided in Huntsville as he helped develop the optical engineering program at the University.  It was only until the Revolution of last year that Abushagur returned to Libya to participate in removing Moammar Gaddafi and instituting a new regime.

Despite the unfortunate timing of Dr. Abushagur stepping into the Prime Minister role less than 24 hours after the attack on the United States Embassy.  He represents the new path for Libya.  Electing a highly “Westernized” individual with strong ties to the United States.  I am not here to state Dr. Abushagur is absolutely reflective of “American culture” and his previous work in the United States dictating his future political decisions, but I would like to leave this post open-ended to toss out thoughts on the recent appointment.

How do you think the Libyan people will respond to the election of Dr. Abushagur, considering his background? What is the American response to the election of Dr. Abushagur? Despite the desire of many to stabilize Libya, will the Islamic extremists stir up additional conflicts refuting the new appointment? I’ll just wait to see the responses of the Libyan people and how the country steps forward into 2013.


Theoretical Perspectives

Reader, I confess: it took me some time to muster up enthusiasm for this week’s set of readings. I am of the opinion that “theory” is a necessary evil that must be endured in order to get to the ‘good stuff.’

With all that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Carey’s “A Cultural Approach to Communication” was a fairly interesting (not to mention digestible) read. I particularly liked the idea that communication is a “symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed.” While the manipulation of reality may sound a little Inception-esque, I think that Carey is actually trying to illustrate how communication helps us describe reality. Symbols, languages, and other forms of communication are the colors with which we paint our world. When we can’t communicate, we feel cut off and isolated. For example, I once found myself at a party in a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language. Being unable to participate in the conversation was a source of frustration for me, and gave me a sense of loneliness. Perhaps I wasn’t truly “cut off” from reality, but I was limited in my ability to interact with my surroundings, and that felt numbing.

Later, Carey goes on to say, “For the ordinary person, communication consists merely of a set of daily activities, having conversations, conveying instructions, being entertained, sustaining debate and discussion, acquiring information. The felt quality of our lives is bound up in these activities and bound up with these activities and how they are carried out within communities.” In many ways, this describes the relationship between culture and communication. The two go hand in hand, and you cannot impact one of these notions without influencing the other.

By Kira

The value of culture


As is argued through the lens of Critical Theory, culture is seen as a commodity. This results in the mass production of cultural artifacts that are a reflection of that culture’s communication style (Thussu pg 54). The creation process has the masses, the least common denominator, in mind. Culture is not perceived as the transmitter of heritage or the carrier of profound beliefs. Instead it is being consumed, mostly without second thought by the masses. It can be so easily consumed because these mass-products are easily accessible e.g. on tv and do not require a lot of thought process. The product is being being broken down in easy to digest pieces with a little cliffhanger here and there to tie you over the commercial break.
If you look at the current mass media output, especially in the area of tv and movie production, there is a clear bias towards (scripted) reality-tv (Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of XYZ, Honey Boo Boo) and easy to digest movie plots (good vs. evil fighting it out in 90 minutes with a lot of action and guns or chick flicks that center around the apparently only issue concerning women in their 20s which is getting hitched) in the Western hemisphere.
Of course one can argue that this is what the masses want, easy access to easy to digest entertainment. And I do agree: after a day of working, running errands, taking care of screaming children, attempting to impress your boss so that you stay at the company while everyone else is being fired you DO want to settle in the evening to a world of entertainment that nice and easy to digest. A world that makes you laugh, albeit mostly at the expense of others or a world where you do know that in the end the good will prevail. But the fact that non-mass culture movie producers have a very hard time getting funding, finding themselves in the “independent movie” niche, should be alarming. Is what they have to say less important? Do their movies have less cultural value than Honey Boo Boo and hence they deserve a struggle to get their project up and running since they don’t cater to what the masses want?
What I am wondering is, in 100 or 200 years from now, what will society think about our consumer behavior today? What does the fact that (scripted) reality tv is so popular across the Western culture say about us now, and what does it say about us in 200 years when the need for a certain level of voyeurism has been replaced by something else. Will the society of the future look at who owns media today, who produces it and with what intentions? Or will they be even more one-dimensional in their entertainment needs resulting in the fact that a show such as Jersey Shore is suddenly difficult to grasp due to the nature of the characters, their actions and their cultural background?
This post refers to Thussu “Approaches to theorizing international communication” from International Communication: Continuity and Change.