Measuring Cultural Globalisation

Foreign Policy magazine Randolph Kluver and Wayne Fu have published a ranking of most culturally globalised countries. According to this study, Singapore and Switzerland are the most culturally globalised countries, while the Philippines and Pakistan are the least. The authors cite official multilinguistic policy and per capita income as key drivers of globalisation.

One clear pattern that emerges from this ranking is that the globalization of culture may have a significant linguistic component. Three of the top five nations (Singapore, Switzerland, and Canada) have official bilingual policies. English-language permeation also tie into a country’s capacity to absorb international cultural products. Seven of the top 20 nations in this index (United States , United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Singapore, and Israel) are among the top 10 English-speaking countries in the world.

However, when we consider the bottom 10 countries (Peru, Romania, Morocco, Thailand, Turkey, Philippines, Egypt, Indonesia, China, and Pakistan), we see that multilingual nations are not guaranteed a high degree of cultural globalization: The Philippines and Pakistan—two countries where English is widespread—still rank near the bottom. The biggest barrier to cultural globalization seems to be poverty, as all of these countries have a per capita gross domestic product of under $8,000, and 4 of the 10 have a literacy rate of less than 60 percent. Also, some countries, notably China and Indonesia , have government policies that restrict the import of foreign books and journals. Poverty, illiteracy, and lack of social openness all are associated with a lack of cultural globalization. [Foreign Policy]

While the results of the study seem to tie in with empirical observations, I do not think the metrics used are comprehensive enough. They take the per capita import of newspapers and other publications as “cultural proxies”; specifically they ignore movies because they were not able to procure good enough data! Taking into account the dominant role of Hollywood and Bollywood in shaping popular culture well across national boundaries one might end up with a radically different ranking. Books and magazines probably reflect “intellectual cultural imports” while movies and music are popular mass market imports.

Secondly, the study ignores the fact that globalisation is a two-way street; “cultural exports” must be counted too. I think the title “Cultural Globalisation Index” is too ambitious for this limited study.