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The Globalization of Nothing, George Ritzer, Pine Forge Press

23 September 2010
tags: ,

book cover

Image via PineForge.com

George Ritzer, from the University of Maryland, is a well-known specialist of globalization and its effects on society. With The Globalization of Nothing 2 (second edition, a “shorter, tighter, and more focused [on] globalization” than the first edition), he writes one more book about globalization, which might be considered as tiresome – but he introduces new concepts like grobalization and the something-nothing continuum, and provides a discerning analysis of today’s world.

“Anything that is purely local is fast disappearing from the world scene”

The author creates the concept of grobalization, which is a fairly far-fectched term to describe the international expansion of brands and processes (i.e. capitalism, the credit-card, fast-food chains) throughout the world. George Ritzer coined the term like that because these entities have to “[see] their power, influence, and in many cases profits grow“, hence the term grobalization.

The other important contribution to the analysis is the definition of the nothing and, on the other hand, something. The former is “a centrally conceived and controlledform largely empty of distinctive content“, and some examples of nothing are multinational brands, the service provided by an ATM or dressed cast members in amusement parks. Something, however, is “indigenously conceived, controlled and [...] rich in distinctive substantive content“, and examples of something can be a highly personnalized service, a gourmet meal or pottery from a specific local area.

interior

The Mc Guire's Pub in Pensacola (Florida) : an example of a "great good place"

What Ritzer criticizes is that the expansion of nothing-like entities destroys local forms of something. For example, in 2002, the Scottish soft-drink Irn-Bru has been surpassed by Coca-Cola for the first time in history. This is one example of the highly symbolic coca-colonization. One could argue that cola is also subject to local adaptations (glocal forms), like Mecca-Cola, Breizh-Cola, Corsica-Cola and many others in France. However, these products are still modified versions of cola ; and the we’re mainly talking about the grobalization of the soft-drink !

flickr photo

From Atlanta (Georgia), Coca-Cola has spread its product all over the world. The brand is now the most valuable worldwide (Image via Flickr.com/yannigroth)

The effects of these phenomena on consumer culture are numerous. Consumption has indeed become a central value and we often get to hear that the system would collapse if large number of people did not consume. Ritzer evoques “our patriotic duty [of] consuming” and criticizes the sheer quantity of products available to us and the disorientation that we experience in front of it : he dubs it Loss Amidst Monumental Abundance. One way to cope with it is to consume local products and crafts, in order to “engage in (creative) acts of self-expression“.

shelf adidas store champs elysees

Personalization & customization allow to add personal content and ymbolic sense to a standardized product. Something or Nothing ? (Image via Flickr/yannigroth)

To put things in a nutshell, I think the analysis is very interesting and makes us realize how many things are expanding worldwide and the threat this causes to local authenticity. Not every expanding entity is nothing, as the example of some brands – which “are also endowed with distinctive content” – shows. He cites Apple (always!) and Saab. Even though the book is not long, I found it laborious to read and would have appreciated a more approachable writing style.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 16 October 2010 14:50

    In an interview to Philosophie Magazine, French anthropologist Marc Augé also talks about non-places (“non-lieux”) : places where people coexist only by circulating, consuming and communication ; he thinks that the individual is getting more and more isolated in what he calls the over-modern (“surmodernité”). Fortunatelly, he concludes that cycling (yes, cycling) is a good means to get our relationship to time & space right back on track ;-)

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