The Dialectic of the Global and the Local
Cultural diversity seems to be endangered. The goods, services and cultural products that we consume tend to be similar in different parts of the world as an increasing amount of what we drink, eat, wear, see, read and come to want is currently provided by global corporations competing to expand the market for their goods and services (Crothers, 2012). In his book, Globalization and American Popular Culture, Lane Crothers mentions how ‘most of the globally ubiquitous commodities have their roots in America; they are the products of the first mass consumer society. Brand names like Coca-Cola, McDonald' s and Nike represent high-profile symbols which are (over) loaded with a series of complex cultural associations, and their continually growing global presence and appeal serve as evidence of the persisting presence, power and success of American commercial imperialism’ (Crothers, 2012). Therefore, the local, ‘authentic’ and ‘unique’ cultural expressions from places have the danger of being slowly homogenized and ignored.
However, considering globalization as a thread by polarizing it against the idea of local is also dangerous. After the 11th of September events in the United States, different countries around the world declared the war against terrorism and started to close their borders, looking inside and being aware of the other. In November 2001, UNESCO adopted a Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, looking for dialogue between cultures rather than segregation stating: “the protection of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and requires the full implementation of cultural rights, including the right to take part in cultural life” 3. This way, thinking about cultural diversity implies not only looking inside but also needs to be connected with the rest of the world.
Local wisdom is not isolated, as it is the knowledge and experience of those who discover things by living and working in one place (Fletcher, 2012), it is also the interactions between places. A simple example of this is Finland, which is very well known for its strong coffee culture, but this product is grown and imported mostly from Brazil and Colombia which also have different cultural expressions related to its production and consumption. Globalization is a non-linear, dialectic process in which the global and the local do not exist as cultural polarities but as combined and mutually implicating principles. The global and local are not separate containers but mutually constitutive social processes (Savage et al., 2004).
Becoming Local, Awareness and Smell
The idea of local is directly linked with the concept of place. Certain spaces become places when human agencies interact with them as the particularities of culture and history come to be inscribed in them (Casey, 1996). For example, a room, a house, a neighbourhood, a park or a city are not only physical spaces but also containers of emotions, memories, ideologies, traditions, knowledge and many other human intangible expressions. Spaces get meaning and then become places. Localism is also related with the identity of place, Michael Savage (2004) cites in his book, Globalization and Belonging, the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, who argues that ‘localities are not given primordially but are socially produced through processes of boundary definition. Neighbourhoods are inherently what they are because they are opposed to something else and derive from other, already produced neighbourhoods (Savage et al., 2004). This means that places get their identity by the otherness and the differentiation between the experiences from one place to another, which of course are related to both subjective and objective interpretations.
The identity of place is given by how people experience it involving all the senses. Apart from what you see, what you can touch, smell, hear and sometimes taste, brings the particular characteristics of locations and their ‘uniqueness’, which sometimes people are not aware of. This experience involves both intimate and common feelings, as individual memories are woven together creating the fabric of the identity of places.
Smells are powerful triggers for emotions and certain aromas can even act as part of the common memory generation. This particular relationship between aromas and memories let us engage with our history in a more emotional way (Bembibre & Strlič, 2017). Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič, from University College London Institute for Sustainable Heritage, wrote a research article related to smells and culture affirming that ‘in heritage guidelines, odors are often recognized as a value associated with a place, or with certain practices. Currently, smells are viewed as an aspect of cultural significance, an overall measure of the value of a particular place to the public’ (Bembibre & Strlič, 2017). This connection between odors and place has the opportunity of identifying them and also brings a particular experience different from other senses. Thus, this relationship encapsulates the importance of understanding the role of odors in the public’s memory or collective imagination as according to Bembibre and Strlič (2017) ‘communal value is also an assessment category that can be used to consider the cultural value of a smell. It derives ‘from the meanings of a place for the people who relate to it, or for whom it figures in their collective experience or memory’.
This tension between localism and globalization in terms of loss of cultural diversity can be addressed by the idea of awareness. The concept of sense of place explores how we feel, interact with and transform places, where individual and common memories inhabit. These interactions happen in everyday life and the stimuli behind can be ignored. By bringing awareness of the things that build the experience from places –especially in the case of smell which is directly connected to memory– is possible to create new bonds and identification with them. The loss of diversity is caused due to sameness, so sameness can be addressed by identity.
Well then, this is when our project begins.