Ram, U. (2004) 'Glocommodification: How the Global Consumes the Local -- McDonald's in Israel', in Current Sociology, Vol 52, No.1: 11 - 31.
Globalization can dominate and replace the local, or it can be resisted, leaving room for cultural diversity. The argument here is that 'homogenisation occurs at the structural-institutional level; heterogenisation, at the expressive-symbolic' (11). This can be seen by considering the impact of McDonald's on Israeli culture.
Burgers are popular in Israel, with substantial growth recorded by McDonald's, Burger Ranch, and Burger King since early 1990s. Other American products also sell well, including fast food frozen TV dinners, as well as Coke, Nike and Reebok. Changesed in the Israeli family have helped to increase the demand for fast food. The arrival of McDonald's led to controversy and fears about Americanism.
However, falafel, 'fried chickpea balls served in a "pocket" of pita bread with vegetable salad and tahini (sesame) sauce' (13) also survived as something like Israel's original fast food, and, indeed, production has grown recently. Falafel is now available in a niche-marketed gourmet version, in a variety of flavours, and with a cosmnopolitan mixture of available beverages -- it 'reflects a composite global - local trend' (14). The production of conventional falafel has also been altered, and takes on a form of '"McDonaldized" standardization' (14), and has developed associations with fresh and healthy vegetable foods, although it is also been increasingly '"engineered" by food technicians and subjected to tastings by focus groups' (14). Falafel can be eaten in specially designed outlets with a retro styling, and has thus become commodified even as it persists.
McDonald's did have to alter its menu to appeal to the Israeli palate, responding to an increase in meat consumption in Israel. As a result 'The Israeli customer now has the distinction of being served the largest hamburger (120 grams) marketed by McDonald's worldwide' (15). The Israeli custom of sharing food has also led to the provision of 'a package meal for 4 eaters' (15), but by a rival company, Burger Ranch.. The Mac is kosher for Passover. These examples show that there is a complex mix between global and local -- the global can revive the local; it can transform the nature and meaning of the local; the local can cause modifications in the global.
In another example, controversy arose because McDonald's wanted to open a branch at a particularly significant site in northern Israel -- Golani Junction -- which had seen an important military encounter in the Israeli war of independence, 1948. One reaction was to suggest that the restaurant had diminished or desecrated the site, and a protest movement arose. McDonald's responded by removing their golden arches symbol and replacing it with the 'olive- tree insignia of the Golani brigade' (17). Ram points out some of the contradictions here, since the war was also fought with American weapons, and American military technology in particular had long penetrated Israeli society. The Israeli army was also quite pleased to have a McDonald's at hand, since it helped them pursue their policy of privatising food supply for soldiers [another example of postfordism, says Ram, 17]. The army even defended this policy by suggesting it led to a kind of democratization of the opportunities to eat off-base. Thus 'the flagship of American fast food was summoned to the rescue of the Israeli army's egalitarian ethos' (18). It is futile to try to defend selected traditional cultural forms while promoting market forces more generally. Another problem raised by the development was that the land originally belonged to local Palestinians, and one emerged to claim compensation -- the Israeli government claimed there was a 'public need' for development, but the larger issue of land rights was clearly raised as well: land has also been recently privatized in Israel, moving away from the original collective policy designed to promote agricultural use.
Overall, American consumerism has been modified by Jewish nationalism, but American consumerism has won. There may be local victories at the symbolic level, combined with global ones at the structural level: McDonald's as a form of logic 'the logic of commercialisation-rationalization' (19) has triumphed in Israeli society. It would be wrong to pursue one-sided discussions here (and Ritzer is an example of arguments in favour of one-sided homogenisation). One-sided homogenisation seems common to Weberian, Marxian and Baudrillardian accounts of social change, and there is even a neoliberal version which stresses the democratic benefits to be gained by 'economic development'. There are also contrary views that suggest that the traditional and local are capable of resisting and domesticating globalization and preserving diversity (see pages 22 - 3). Ram prefers Hall for restoring a notion of an imbalance of power, pointing out that it is really a matter of domination and resistance, rather than just a cultural matter [those same old concepts can be applied to anything!]. A study of McDonaldization in south-east Asia found that locals were indeed able to maintain local distinctiveness, merging their own with global culture to produce a new kind of 'transnational culture' (22) [and see Traphagen and Brown on Japan]. This argument often turns on the issue of the variety of local dishes included on the menu -- and the case of the falafel can be seen as a supporting example. There is sometimes a conservative view behind this transnational argument, which sees cultures as relatively fixed and thus able to select different aspects of the global effect (23).
The issue is resolved by thinking of different societal levels again. Globalization on the structural level is dominant, 'but on the symbolic level, it is a two-way street' (24), hence the composite or partial forms of McDonaldization in the examples above. McDonaldization is part of a global process of privatisation and standardization. This notion links with the work by MacCannell on 'staged authenticity', as a way of incorporating 'the other' into the tourist industry, while Gans offers a similar example of 'symbolic ethnicity', to refer to the nostalgia for country of origin by third-generation immigrants (24). In these examples, symbolic differences can actually be functional for structural sameness, as in niche marketing [and as in the 'individualism' offered by the culture industry for Adorno]. In this way, even multiculturalists and 'advocates of identity politics'can help 'to divert attention from implicit structures' (25). Certainly, global corporations have been able to develop a local marketing strategy (with an example from Coke page 25, and another one from Barbie and her various 'folk customs' [costumes?], page 26). Overall, 'the particular explicit symbolic "difference" may be a source of great emotional gratification [to the consumer); but from the perspective of the social structure, the system of production and consumption, what matters is the exact opposite' (26).
McDonaldization will not be resisted by invoking symbolic differences, because it is really about 'deep-seated social relationships involved in... production and consumption -- i.e. it is about commodification and instrumentalisation' (26). It is a classic example of commodification. It fits Marx's description of the fetishism of commodities -- 'productive relations are concealed behind associations between produced objects... associations between commodities are expressed as relations between subjects' (27) Thus 'global commodification [combines] structural uniformity with symbolic diversity' (27).
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