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Issue 2015, 3

Mapping the Glocal Turn: Literature Streams, Scholarship Clusters and Debates

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Abstract: Based on a bibliographical survey, this article presents evidence of a silent glocal turn in 21st century academia. Several terms compete for describing the newfound situations of hybridity and fusion in the world, and glocalization is a new term that offers a high level of precision in comparison to other contenders. Three specific clusters of inter-disciplinary scholarship are identified as cutting edge areas of research: the study of consumer culture, the field of urban studies and the study of management and/or organizations. Within these areas, glocalization is employed in varied and often contested ways according to specific research agendas. Glocalization thus has become a contested term. The article identifies and describes three debates that involve contrasting appropriations of glocalization. First, there is a contrast between geographical and social interpretations of glocalization, which in turn are based on contrasting definitions of space (geographical versus social). Second, there is a debate over the extent to which glocalization is sufficiently incorporated into global studies, or whether glocal studies should be defined separately from global studies. Third, there is a contrast between homogenization versus hybridization advocates in cross-cultural management and the social sciences. Although often cast as a conflict between proponents of globalization versus proponents of glocalization, this particular debate might be transcended in favor of more inclusive perspectives that suggest a “both/end” solution over an “either/or” interpretation of the opposing views. Glocalization is a recent addition to the vocabulary of 21st century humanities and social sciences. Its employment is also part of a broader wave of interest in the glocal that is not contained within these fields but, rather, extends further into information-communication technology (ICT), medicine and environmental science. To mention one such example, it is not accidental that the glocal has been invoked in the context of discussions about the “participatory web” or “Web 2.0” (Boyd 2005). It is obviously impossible to address all the twists and turns within the multitude of fields that have employed the terms glocal and glocalization in the course of a single discussion. Inevitably, a full treatment is reserved for a lengthier and more in-depth discussion elsewhere (Roudometof Forthcoming). In the following, then, I restrict myself to an overview of the employment of the glocal. Although I briefly touch on the employment of glocalization in business, I nonetheless concentrate on the humanities and social sciences. The goal is to present an overview of the various bodies of literature, to identify and discuss clusters of scholarship where glocalization is among the important research foci and to offer a brief overview of emerging debates within this nascent field of study. As I have stated elsewhere (Roudometof 2015) the glocal is a new word whose origins most likely lie somewhere in the early 1990s. It stands in sharp contrast to the global, the appearance of which dates back to the late 19th or early 20th centuries. The emergence of the glocal in scholarly discourse is a feature of the post-1989 era, and its rise has been ubiquitous after the turn of the millennium.


Keywords: glocalisation, geographical, social, hybridization, homogenization.

The Silent Glocal Turn

Unlike cosmopolitanism and globalization, two concepts that have become extremely popular among academic audiences and, since the fall of communism, have saturated literature in a variety of fields, the terms glocal and glocalization have been far less popular as an explicit object of academic preoccupation. For example, in the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies (Turner 2010), glocalization does not even appear in the volume’s index. And yet, a headline in the Financial Post (Shaw 2011) declared that “Glocalization Rules the World”, and in an article in Time magazine, the post-crisis economy is described as “going glocal” (Foroohar 2012)[1]. It is precisely this important disjuncture between the practical employment of glocal in research and also in the popular press, on the one hand, and the relative under-theorization of the glocal among the academic community, on the other hand, that gives rise to the realization that there is a glocal turn in academic research. That turn has been somewhat muted or to be more precise it has been a silent one: while using the term, many researchers do not engage with it theoretically. But as this discussion shows, glocalization has gained a prominent place in intellectual discussions in several disciplines or fields of study.

After all, the disjuncture between the growing academic popularity of glocalization and the explicit engagement with glocalization in its own right has created the conceptual room for the creation of this journal. Evidence of the glocal’s growing usage is incontrovertible. Based on a survey of several databases from EBSCO Host there were a total of 4,079 entries using the word glocal in text[2]. There is a clear rise in the use of the word with 511 entries reported between 1996 and 2003 and over 3,000 entries appearing between 2004 and 2014. Although the glocal is increasingly employed in academic discourse, it is not always consistently used and the concept of glocalization is not always uniformly interpreted. That is by no means surprising, as different and sometimes contrasting research agendas pursue different interpretations.

If one adopts a broader view of the literature and a less literal approach – in other words, if the criterion used is whether people use a notion akin to the glocal – it is clear that the general notion of the glocal is quite extensive (for such an approach, see Robertson 2013). Such an approach though tends to blend the glocal alongside some other popular terms: hybrid, syncretism, trans-cultural, mestizae and creole (for an overview, see Burke 2009: 34-65; for an example, see Ritzer 2011). Of course, the idea of fusion or cultural hybridity is among the most widely diffused notions in 21st century academia. The popularity of this idea is partly related to the very biographies of individual authors – as several intellectuals (Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy and Roland Robertson, to name just a short list of them) have incarnated such hybrid existence.

The contribution of Latin American scholarship to the revitalization of these ideas is considerable. It is from within that region that the terms transculturalism, mestizae and creole emerged and eventually transferred into the discourses of North Americans and Europeans. The idea that intercultural mixed peoples (métissage) offer the key in legitimizing Latin American identity is a notion originally put forth in 1891 by José Marti in an article entitled, “Nuestra America”. Métissage was viewed as a distinctive trait of a culture founded upon a mixture of the native population with different immigrant groups. In the 1940s Fernando Ortiz developed this notion further in order to articulate the concept of transculturalism. Calcini (1995) has furthered Ortiz’s ideas and expanded them into the idea of cultural hybridity. Eventually, the concept of transculturalism gained a foothold not only in the fields of literary studies but also in the social sciences (for examples, see Antor et al. 2010; Stockhammer 2012).

In Ortiz’s initial formulation, transculturalism entails a synthesis of two simultaneous phases: a de-culturing of the past and a métissage of the present (Cuccioletta 2001/2002). American culture is thus conceived as a new common culture based on the meeting and intermingling of different peoples and cultures. Commonly referred to in Latin American countries as creole culture, this form of hybridity has come to characterize the national cultures of several nations in that region (Cohen 2007; Burke 2009: 61-65). There are of course important vicissitudes stemming from the term creole, which has a deep historical connection to racial issues and nation-building in Latin America. As such, the term creole is perhaps too specific for generalization.

But the broader idea, that of a third hybrid culture, quickly left the confines of its original Latin American milieu and became a portable notion, especially thanks to the work of Homi Bhabba (1994). In the 21st century, glocal hybridity has been used to describe the formation of new third cultures and has become a factor influencing higher education worldwide. As Patel and Lynch (2013) noted, glocalization in higher education offers an alternative to the conventional strategy of internationalization. It embraces third culture building, thereby promoting global community building. It thus offers a strategy that encourages the enhancement of the learners’ glocal experience through a critical academic and cultural exchange of global and local socio-economic and political issues. This realization is not theoretical, as glocal students have already been identified as a target group – and universities are eager to capitalize on this new potential target market.

The above discussion has made it quite clear that, instead of conflating the glocal with other related terms (hybrid or transcultural or creole), it is far wiser to adopt a more literal approach. If one’s attention is focused on the terms glocal and glocalization and not on the aforementioned related terms, there is still an impressive list of fields of study where these terms are used. The very act of their employment is an apt demonstration that researchers have found them to be terms that are of particular relevance and utility to their own work.

These researchers come from an extensive range of fields and areas of study: the study of popular music and musical cultures and subcultures (Chang and Amam 2012; Kim and Shin 2010; Seago 2004), education (Caena 2014), social work (Hong et al. 2010), language and translation (Riemenschneider 2005; Tong and Cheung 2011), the sociology of sport (Giulianotti and Robertson 2007; Jijon 2013; Weedon 2012), literary criticism (Langwald 2011), religion (Beyer 2007; Robertson and Garrett 1991; Roudometof 2013, 2014a, 2014c), theology (Pearson 2007), geography (Short 2001; Swyngedouw 2004), environmental science (Gupta et al. 2007), urban studies (Lin and Ke 2010; Sassen 2004), European studies (Robertson 2014), global studies (Pieterse 2013), consumer culture (Lam 2010; Matusitz 2011; Ritzer 2003a, 2003b; Smith and Hu 2013), social movements’ research (Harsin 2014; Urkidi 2010; Waisanen 2013), methodology (Gobo 2011; Salazar 2010), art and culture (Cheung 2014; de Duve 2007), mass communication (Dowd and Janssen 2011; Moran 2009), international marketing (Sinclair and Wilken 2009; Sutikno and Cheng 2012), organizations (Czarniawska 2010; Drori et al. 2013a), criminology (Heeres 2011) and terrorism (Marret 2008). The above listing comprises only a partial thematic account of different areas of study and is not an attempt at an exhaustive listing of the various publications. Its goal is to provide a general idea of the wide range of topics to which the glocal has already been applied.

Clusters of Scholarship

The popularity of glocalization among diverse fields contributes to the emergence of divergent research agendas. These offer the opportunity to intersect the glocal into specific areas of scholarship. It is possible though to identify some specific clusters that feature the growing relevance of the glocal and of glocalization for the scholarly community.

First, the glocal is widely employed in the study of consumer culture, a vibrant area of inquiry with contributions from not only sociologists and anthropologists but also scholars from business and management. The notion of glocalization has been employed in the context of debates on the role, significance and impact of consumption upon cultures and societies around the globe. This debate is generally polarized between proponents and critics, and this polarization reflects at least two distinct approaches to the study of cultural economies.

On the one hand, it is possible to explore the socio-economic facets of various organizations and trace their social and cultural implications. Social scientists most often adopt this strategy in order to articulate a critique of the organizational logic of capitalist enterprises. From within these lenses a variety of terms have been developed to describe this logic: these terms range from grobalization (Ritzer 2003a) to McDonaldization (Ritzer 1993/2000; American Behavioral Scientist 2003) to Americanization (Beck et al. 2003) and Disneyization (Bryman 2004). In most cases, the analysis focuses in outlining the organizational logic of firms and tracing its repercussions for cultures and societies.

On the other hand, it is possible to explore the cultural appropriation or context-specific tailoring of various products, goods and services. In this line of analysis, the focus of analysis lies in specifying the manner in which local distinctiveness blends or intertwines with global blueprints. The emphasis is squarely on the people’s ability or the enterprise’s willingness to adapt, shift or modify their commercial products in order to make goods and services relevant to diverse cultural contexts. In this second line of interpretation, the focus lies not on the management of organizations or the cultural logic of the capitalist enterprises but, rather, on the varied, multiple and at times subversive appropriations of the same commercial object in diverse cultures. Jenkins’s (2006, 2013) notions of participatory culture and his interpretation of active audiences as textual poachers are two widely cited reference points, but in fact, they represent an entire line of research in mass communication[3].

This approach rejects the cultural doping of audiences and instead adopts de Certeau’s (1984) argument that the notion of consumption itself obscures the users’ active role – and that one needs to understand what users actually do with commercial goods. Hence, researchers focus on the meanings constructed and projected by content users – consumers are seen as prosumer-oriented audiences. Originally Toffler (1980) defined prosumers as people who produce some of the goods and services entering their own consumption – when people produce for use, production and consumption are united in the same person. When they produce for exchange, then production and consumption are separated. In several instances – ranging from music fans to hackers – people who originally began as prosumers, working in a DIY mode, ended up constructing the foundations for commercial products. The list of such names includes icons of contemporary technology, such as Steve Jobs – but also cultural icons, such as Jonny Rotten. These examples vindicate Simmel’s insight that in modern and even post-modern societies, culture becomes a source of value – which in turn is commercialized and eventually evaluated in money. Start-up companies are based on this principle, e.g., transforming passion into business. Perhaps the most widely known cases of such audiences include the varied musical scenes across the globe and the glocal youth culture; both form indispensable components of the global entertainment scene (Kjeldgaard and Askeraard 2006; Seago 2004).

Second, glocalization is used in the cross – or inter-disciplinary area of urban studies, an area that combines contributions from geography, sociology, urban planning and related fields[4]. In these fields the spatial component is an important focus of inquiry, and the micro-level forces are viewed not solely as passive recipients of large-scale macro-processes but also as active agencies.

In particular, geographers have examined the spatial dynamics of cities – and the relationship between glocalization and urban life. They are not the only ones who have highlighted the significance of the urban context for the study of the glocal. For Bauman (2013: 4) the urban space – the “middle level” or the “level of one’s own society” – operates like a laboratory “inside which future modes of human cohabitation, made indispensable by globalization and enabled to emerge by the ‘glocalization’ form it took, are designed and tested”. The urban context offers the opportunity to their dwellers to learn how to apply new modes of human cohabitation in the practice of shared life:

The word glocal implies the bridging of a hiatus from the particular to the general, a conceptual jump across a discontinuity formulated in geo-political terms: the city, the world....The glocal ethos, we might argue, adapts cosmopolitanism to the needs of our time (de Duve 2007: 683).

Cities get involved in international activities as a reaction to socio-economic processes and serve as nodal points in the new information and network economy[5]. As a result, cities can become disembedded from the national territorial context because their fates depend more on their international contacts than on their national ones. In his If Mayors Ruled the World, Benjamin Barber (2013) offers a brilliant example of glocalism applied in urban studies and public policy. He argues that, in the 21st century, nations have become increasingly dysfunctional in their efforts to restructure society and to address a range of contemporary social problems – from environmental issues to terrorism or gun control:

If mayors ruled the world, the more than 3.5 billion people (over half of the world’s population), who are urban dwellers and the many more in the exurban neighborhoods beyond could participate locally and cooperate globally at the same time – a miracle of civic “glocality” promising pragmatism instead of politics, innovations rather than ideology and solutions in place of sovereignty. (Barber 2013: 5)

Barber argues that cities have been the original locus of creativity, immigration and thus civilization – but were overtaken by states due to questions of scale, which they were unable to address. Today, though, the interconnectedness of the world means that scale becomes an insoluble obstacle to states (Barber 2013: 23). While states feel compelled to protect and safeguard their cherished sovereignty, cities, not having sovereignty, are able to apply soft power and soft governance models. “Nation-states cannot address the cross-border challenges of an interdependent world” [and as a result] “the forward to cosmopolis may demand of us a journey back to the polis” (Barber 2013: 77).

Instead of nations, it is cities that offer the most suitable terrain for global restructuring. “Glocality strengthens local citizenship and then piggybacks global citizenship on it” (Barber 2013: 23). It is not prime ministers but mayors who count; successful mayors approach problem solving pragmatically and cross over partisan party lines. Barber offers extensive documentation of the spawning network of urban municipalities that crisscross the world and connect thousands of cities into networks of cooperation.

Third, the glocal has gained the interest of management scholars through the realization that management needs to be aligned with global trends toward sustainability, ethical responsibility and local accountability. One of the first books in cross-cultural management issues containing the word “glocal” was published in Malaysia (Abdullah 1996) by a Malay corporate consultant. Her emphasis throughout the book is to find a blend between Malay cultural roots or akar and the demands of the modern business workplace. Hilb (2009) published the first international textbook focusing on glocal management of human resources[6].

Under the auspices of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRIME) network, 500 educational institutions collaborated, leading to the publication of a management textbook that aims to incorporate these dimensions into the field (Conaway and Laasch 2015). In the fields of organizations and management, the growth of research on glocalization has taken place as an extension of the world society perspective into these fields (Drori et al. 2013a, 2013b). This line of inquiry extends conventional foci of the world society perspective (such as loose coupling, incomplete diffusion and disjuncture) into the cross-cultural and international study of firms and organizations. For Drori et al. (2013b: 10), glocalization “involves translation – as in order to adjust ideas, structures and models to new and different social and cultural domains”. While the world society perspective’s notion of theorization “emphasizes top-down influence” in the process of global diffusion, “the dynamic nature of transcendental glocalization is a rebound effect [...] where locally enacted ideas and models influence the globally theorized schemes” (Drori et al. 2013b: 10).

This turn of events demonstrates the significance of trans-disciplinary cross-fertilization and illustrates the establishment of connections that prompted the initial formulation of the glocal in the early 1990s. Unlike the conventional narrative concerning the emergence of glocal, the fields of business and management were not in fact forerunners in the use of glocal in scholarship. Rather, the employment of glocalization in these fields has mirrored its growing popularity across diverse fields of study.

Three Debates

Within the contours of the material surveyed in this discussion, it is now time to turn to some of the emerging debates within glocalization scholarship. These debates reflect the growing attention that the glocal has recently received among the scholarly community and also register the interest of scholars to locate glocalization within specific schemes of interpretation or research programs. This brief primer is meant basically as a means of orientation and is certainly far from exhaustive.

First, there is a tension between the geographical and the social interpretation of glocalization. Geographers have argued that glocalization is something more than the mere juxtaposition or interplay and interpenetration of the local and the global. It involves relationships among the sub-national (or local), the national and supranational (or global). Perhaps the most straightforward conceptualization of the glocal concerns the spatial understanding of the term (Swyngedouw 1997, 2004; Swyngedouw and Kaıka 2003). Accordingly, space forms a nested scalar hierarchy running all the way from the global to the regional, national and local. This image is reminiscent of the Russian dolls (matryoshka dolls) that fit one inside the other. This conception represents a scalar understanding of the glocal: global, local and glocal are concepts that indicate the sheer scale of a specific process or social phenomenon.

Although the nested hierarchy or scalar approach to glocalization can thus offer tools for interrogating urban strategies and contentious politics of scale, it also raises important questions about space. These pertain to the broader issue of understanding glocalization as such. By far the best way to make sense of the geographers’ engagement with the glocal is to understand the central importance of the nature of space or any other spatial term (territory, place or network). Space can be interpreted quite differently depending on whether it is seen as absolute space or as relative space. Absolute space refers to units that can be measured numerically (in terms of miles, kilometers and so on). Absolute space is ontologically given – that is, it exists independently of the way it is perceived. This space is “real” in a realist sense. Absolute space is an external given that in turn has neutral discursive meaning. In contrast, relative space refers to space as it is perceived by humans. It does not correspond to a fixed unit and is not measurable; rather it is the humans’ “sense of space” that matters. Relative space varies according to the specifics of human culture, available technology and resources.

Both sociologists and anthropologists have argued that the glocal is a metaphor for a collectively imagined space – or a social space. The local and the global should not be seen as binary opposites, as the local is constructed in contradictory ways and always has been, at least partly, the product of outside influences (Appadurai 1995). Such an interpretation inherently dovetails with the notion of the glocal. Salazar (2010) suggested the notion of glocal ethnography, and Holton (2008) adopted a somewhat similar position through his use of the phrase methodological glocalism. Glocal ethnography, however, does not employ the model of nested hierarchy that is the characteristic of global ethnography; that is, it does not conceive of the global, national and local as nested concentric spaces. It is plain to see that, depending upon whether space is viewed as relative (social) or absolute (geographical), radically different interpretations of glocalization can emerge.

Second, there is debate over whether glocal studies and global studies form or should become distinct fields of study (Pieterse 2013; Roudometof 2015). In particular, Pieterse (2013) has suggested that global studies emerges as a consequence of global-level data, e.g., data that are about the world as a whole. To make the point more explicit, the various international social survey programs [EVS (European Values Study), ISSP (International Social Science Program), WVS (World Values Survey), ESS (European Social Survey)] deliver new objects of inquiry that make it possible to study social relations in a manner hitherto impossible. The emergence of such “new objects of study” (Pieterse 2013: 5) is partly the result of greater interconnectivity (greatly facilitated by ICTs) as well as multiple and increasing interactions of different actors upon each other.

Pieterse’s perspective inevitably stresses the integral notion of the global – and not the idea of globalization as a self-limiting process. This latter viewpoint has been endorsed by Robertson (2013); it is a viewpoint that adopts Turner’s (2007) “enclave society” thesis and suggests that globalization involves not only the construction of new models or units of integration but also the systematic fragmentation of pre-existing units and the construction of new units and groups that exist behind new barriers to unrestricted communication and movement. Increasingly, in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis, walls were erected to obstruct the free flows of trade, money and people, as governments adopted a selective approach concerning trade partnerships, foreign capital investment and immigration policies (Samuelson, 2013). In light of this new entrenched reality (the “new normal”), globalization is not viewed as the deliverer of a new singularity; instead, it produces a multitude of fragmentation – hence, it is in effect glocalization (see Steger 2013: 775-776). It is rather evident that this interpretation directly clashes with Pieterse’s interpretation.

Of course, commentators (Juergensmeyer 2013; Khondker 2013; Steger 2013) have suggested that conceptual and empirical opportunities exist for inserting glocalization into the practice of global studies. There is much to be gained from maintaining an inclusive strategy in global studies and avoiding further fragmentation through the creation of global studies and glocal studies. Still, as I have argued elsewhere (Roudometof 2015), one cannot exclude the possibility that one of the possible outcomes is that the entire debate on globalization, or what used to be called “globalization studies”, might eventually settle into four partly overlapping but relatively coherent networks or groups of like-minded scholars: global studies; glocal studies; transnational studies; and cosmopolitan studies (for overviews of the last two fields, see Levitt and Khagram 2007; Delanty 2012).

Third, within business studies (e.g., international management and cross-cultural marketing) there is what might be called the standardization versus heterogenization debate – although of course different words can be used to convey this general idea (for example: globalization versus localization or indigenization). This particular debate has an extensive spillover effect into debates within sociology and anthropology. In business, the origins of this debate lie with Levitt’s (1983) classic work about the globalization of markets. Levitt, who historically has been credited among business’ scholars as the very inventor of “globalization”, translated internationalization into standardization; he argued that the latter would bring forth economies of scale and make the former a lucrative business opportunity. For a period of time, it seemed that this was indeed the appropriate economic logic for TNCs (transnational companies) and MNCs (multinational companies).

However, in due course of time – through the practical confrontation with the realities of cultural differences – it became evident that such a strategy was not necessarily a uniform guide for all firms but also might not be a suitable strategy for TNCs and MNCs. Instead, firms chose to glocalize their marketing, and that has been documented through analyses of the commercial strategies of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Procter & Gamble (Sinclair and Wilken 2009), Starbucks (Maguire and Hu 2013) and Nike (Kobayashi 2012). This corporate glocalization is particularly pronounced in Asia, reflecting both the global importance of the region as well as the necessity for tailoring into specific cultural contexts. As a result, the choices among standardization versus localization or a blend between the two have all become available options that managers can choose – a choice that largely depends upon the specific situation of a particular firm, its constraints and its available options (see Mareck 2014).

A similar divide also has resurfaced within the social sciences, albeit in a different format. It concerns the well-known division between the proponents of hybridization (Pieterse 1995) or glocalization (Robertson 1995) versus the proponents of McDonaldization (Ritzer 1993/2000), grobalization (Ritzer 2003a, 2003b) or Americanization – or for that matter, any other conceivable term that registers cultural homogenization. This divide reflects contrasting scholarly orientations. Glocalization scholarship in general highlights the extent to which people are seen as active and creative agents who construct new forms of authenticity out of the commercial items that are at their disposal. In contrast, critical consumer-culture scholarship highlights the extent to which corporations, firms, nations or other large-scale organizations superimpose their will upon geographical locations, thereby turning people into servants of their will to profit and eroding the substantive foundations of cultural meaning in society. It is instructive that, building on George Romero’s sci-fi cult classic, Ritzer (2003c) has referred to McDonaldized systems as “islands of the living dead”; although there is much life on these “islands”, they also are in many senses “dead”. The zombie analogy is of course highly revealing.

It should be immediately observed that the latter line of research carries out a rather explicit critique of contemporary society and culture. It is therefore perhaps convenient – but extremely misleading – to suggest that the former research agenda is more conservative whereas the latter is more progressive. In fact though, glocalization has been evoked in a variety of contexts and situations of protest or conflict against corporate interests. Examples include analyses of social movements against gold mining and political struggles over the organization of workers in the informal economy in Latin American countries (Lindell 2009; Urkidi 2010) or anti-authoritarian movements in Serbia (Waisanen 2013) and protests in France (Harsin 2014). In a study of the emergence of local organizations and social movements in Ecuador and Peru, Bebbington (2001) argues that these are shaped by the constraints and possibilities that occur within the local movements’ relationships with wider transnational development networks. Forms of global entanglement vary greatly across sites. Because the effects of globalization on livelihoods and landscapes vary widely, Bebbington suggests historically situated studies of glocalization to capture real-life effects of globalization into specific contexts.

Furthermore, Fasenfest (2010) has highlighted the theoretical significance of the extent to which oppositional politics themselves can be “glocal”; this means that instead of the popular academic stereotype of glocalization as a gimmick employed by TNCs and MNCs (see for example Thornton 2000) people have in fact seized glocalization in order to develop suitable blueprints for popular mobilization. The Occupy Wall Street movement offers a highly relevant contemporary example; since its original 2011 launch, it has spread to over 100 US cities with actions in over 1,500 cities globally[7].

As the aforementioned examples make clear, both research agendas can be appropriated quite differently to provide a means for challenging global or transnational capitalism. However, the question should not be posed in this manner; instead, the appropriate question concerns the extent to which these agendas offer persuasive and relevant descriptions of contemporary life. Given that both of them feature prominently across the social sciences, it is important to realize that most researchers increasingly approach them strategically, whereby the methodologically relevant question is to select those aspects of their overall gaze that offer useful heuristics for the analysis of specific contexts, cases and research sites.


In this article, I have sought to present a thematic overview of the rise of glocalization across several scholarly fields of study. The central objectives are: to offer a thematic overview of the literature streams that glocalization has been employed; to highlight and describe the clusters of scholarship where glocalization represents a particularly significant topic for researchers; and finally, to outline scholarly debates concerning glocalization, its use and divergent interpretations among researchers.

Of course, it is not possible to exhaustively cover the diverse fields of study; and hence, the focus of attention was thematic, while extra attention was paid to social-scientific and business literature. It is hoped though that the inter- or trans-disciplinary character of this survey allows readers to gain a better understanding of glocalization. There are similarities and differences among disciplines and fields of study. That is normal and reflects differences in research foci. In this overview, I have noted the close similarity between the glocal and the varied terminology on cultural hybridity – but I also noted the differences among the various concepts. My choice was to adopt a literal approach, as it preserves greater specificity. Even with such scope restrictions, among diverse scholarly streams the evidence of a glocal turn is incontrovertible. This glocal turn is not accompanied by the flurry of academic attention that has been reserved for other concepts such as cosmopolitanism or globalization; but nonetheless, this relative absence of extreme popularity might be a positive factor. It allows researchers to work in more careful manner and build foundations that might last longer.

There are three clusters of scholarship in which glocalization has been the object of particular scholarly interest: the area of consumer culture (conceived as an inter-disciplinary field), the equally inter-disciplinary area of urban studies and the fields of business and management studies. In these areas, there are marked divergences in the employment of glocalization. The study of consumer culture raises questions over the meaning of the division between production and consumption, and in this regard glocalization is far more connected with perspectives that stress the pro-active role of audiences and users. In urban studies, the glocal has been identified as a particular configuration of urban space, and in certain formulations it is seen as a promising new terrain that could lead to urban rejuvenation and prosperity. In the areas of business, organization and management studies there has been a similar interest in engagement with glocalization. However, these fields are not necessarily the forerunners of glocalization as it is often naively assumed; but their engagement with glocalization is often the result of anthropological or sociological ideas that filter into their practices.

Finally, three inter- or cross-disciplinary debates were presented. Of course, these by no means exhaust the conceptual terrain. For example, glocalization has been interjected into the scholarly debate concerning the relationship between globalization and nationalism. Although traditionally nations and nationalism were seen as mere extensions of modernization, some contemporary scholarship has come to realize the dependency of nation-state formation upon broader social processes and institutions (see for example, Hutchinson 2011; Walby 2003). This theme has become more pronounced in recent discussions (see Halikiopoulou and Vasilopoulou 2011; Roudometof 2014b). The intersection of glocalization into the discourse of nationalism offers a means to further explore the cultural hybridity of nations – a theme that features prominently in Latin American scholarship (Calcini 1995; Cohen 2007). Moreover, glocalization remains an area of active research within the study of religion and theology (Pearson 2007; Roudometof 2013, 2014a, 2014c) as well as in social linguistics (Coupland 2010).

While acknowledging the existence of vibrant debates concerning glocalization among several disciplines and inter-disciplinary fields, I have sought to capitalize on just three of them in order to demonstrate the growing sophistication of scholarship in its continuing engagement with glocalization. First, in urban studies, geographers have suggested the nested hierarchy model of geographical space as a means of incorporating the idea of the glocal into their analyses. This interpretation departs significantly from the social-scientific understanding of social or relative space, whereby the glocal is produced by human action. It is necessary to point out that these different understandings of space spearhead different definitions of glocalization.

Second, in global studies, the glocal represents a new notion that, to date, represents a rather unexplored conceptual territory. To the extent that global studies privileges totalities over the glocal fragmentation of practices, blueprints and ideas, it might lead to the formation of glocal studies as a different inter-disciplinary field. Regardless of this eventuality, it is clear that glocalization has earned a place within the networks of scholars working on various facets of globalization.

Third, in the cross-disciplinary study of consumer culture, there is well-known division among proponents of homogenization versus proponents of heterogeneity. This division is observed in management and business studies, but it also has migrated into the social sciences. In this formulation, glocalization is often set against Americanization, McDonaldization or grobalization. I have argued however that, in all these disciplines, researchers increasingly realize that one-sided accounts are oversimplifying existing social complexity. As a result, these theoretical perspectives are not an issue of an “either/or” choice, but they offer analytically construed alternatives that researchers can self-reflexively select on the basis of the cases and goals they explore.



[1] Foroohar’s (2012) new rules of the post-2008 economy’s are: hometown bankers know best, manufacturing matters, blue collar jobs go high tech, closer is faster and faster is good, and local leadership must step up. The above reflect the growing significance of local knowledge for an entire array of business - from banking to old-fashioned manufacturing. This reconsideration of local ties comes as a correction to pre-crisis “globalization” excesses.

[2] Search results from February 20, 2014. The databases searched were: Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, Communication & Mass Media Complete, ERIC, GreenFILE, Humanities International Complete, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, Humanities Abstracts (H.W. Wilson), EconLit, MLA International Bibliography, Political Science Complete &, eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost).

[3] Although Jenkins’s (2006, 2013) work is mainly about the US context, in their cross-national study on the impact of mass communication within national studies, Norris and Inglehart (2009) have confirmed that the “national filter” remains an important factor shaping the impact of global cross-cultural communication.

[4] For an excellent overview of the 1990s debates in urban studies see Roman (2006), who offers lucid summaries of the perspectives developed by Neil Brenner and Erik Swyngedouw. Brenner’s (1998, 1999) interpretation is too closely tied to conventional arguments about capitalism, whereas Swyngedouw’s (2004) ideas are far more relevant.

[5] It might be suggested that this debate concerns only a handful of “global cities”. However, none other than Sassen (2011) has highlighted the extent to which glocal ties can offer valuable stimulus to Latin American urban contexts.

[6] For additional perspectives on glocalization and management, see Svensson (2001), Svensson and Anderson (2009), and the individual chapters in Drori, Höllerer & Walgenbach (2013).

[7] For an analysis, see Castells (2012). For additional and more updated information on the Occupy Wall Street movement, see their websites and


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DOI: 10.12893/gjcpi.2015.3.1