The people and cultures connected to Africa have played a key role in the development of humanity throughout the world. From the first band of people to leave the continent and begin populating the planet more than 50,000 years ago to the worldwide popularity of coffee, African people and cultures have played a key role in shaping the world that we live in today. This is important because when we address the many ways that global Africanisms are significant to people living throughout the world we can develop a greater understanding of the ways that African people and cultures are relevant to everyone. This lesson will provide a brief overview of the globalization of African Culture. While scholars and academics have yet to agree on a precise definition for the term globalization, most agree that the term refers to ever-increasing contact between people throughout the world (Held et al 2005). People often use the term ‘globalization’ when they refer to the global economic restructuring addressed in the preceding section. Although the global economy is undoubtedly a product of globalization, the phenomenon also encompasses social, cultural, ideological and biological exchanges as well. These world-wide exchanges are made possible by what David Harvey refers to as time-space compression.
In his book, The Condition of Post-Modernity (1995), Harvey explains that time-space compression is the result of technological advances in communication and transportation technologies that accelerate the rate of exchange between people across vast distances. What this means is that through technology, the amount of time it takes for people to interact across the same distance is decreased, or compressed. Faster exchange times leads to a greater amount of social interconnectedness. Greater interconnectedness accelerates the rate of cultural change because culture is dynamic; culture changes as people adapt to new circumstances.
Interaction & Exchange
Although globalization is oftentimes characterized as a 21st century phenomenon, many scholars argue that globalization began when humans initiated the first migration out of Africa more than 50,000 years ago. As people began to colonize different environments throughout the world, they developed new adaptive cultural forms which they shared with neighbors, who shared with their neighbors, and so on. In his book, Europe and the People without History (1995), Eric Wolf shows how technologies and ideas were shared throughout the early trade routes that connected civilizations and cultures long before European colonialism came to dominate the world system. As people moved and interacted along trading routes connecting Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas, they not only carried and exchanged goods and services, they also engaged in social, cultural, ideological and biological (reproduction and/or communicable diseases) exchanges.
The Network Society
Today, digital technologies have revolutionized world-wide social relations and led to the creation of a global village. In his three-part work, The Rise of the Network Society (2005), Manuel Castells outlines how key social structures and institutions in the 21st century are becoming organized around electronically processed information networks such as internet and cellular communication. These networks have substantially modified, and even undermined, existing networks for production, experience, power, and culture. The social significance of networks is dramatically portrayed in the Ericsson commercial below.
The power of networks was demonstrated by the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, during the Arab Spring uprising by protestors in North Africa who were able to connect with and garner support from a global audience. Today, the ever-increasing popularity of online dating networks which are rapidly becoming the primary platform for romantic and sexual encounters between individuals across vast distances – even those living in remote villages. Another example is the ways that exchange and barter systems that distribute tangible money resources have given way to digital financing and banking systems that are built on the exchange of intangible monetary wealth. Advances in communication and transportation networks has dramatically altered the way people interact with one another and transformed social relationships. Networks have touched virtually every aspect of social relations, as even people living in the most remote and rural areas of the world are linked into the network via satellite television networks and internet communications.
Globalization & Power
Globalized exchanges are embedded in systems of power and inequality at the local level to the global arena. In the Households and Families section in the next module, we will explore the ways that inequality inside the household can lead to unequal access to resources for certain people in the household, this includes access to communication and transportation resources. The same can be said in rural versus urban areas, or among people of different racial, ethnic, religious or national affiliations. In addition, a country’s political and economic conditions can affect citizens’ access to technology. Because of this, globalization happens unevenly and uneven globalization leads to social fracturing and even conflict.
Disjuncture & Difference
Globalization has frequently been described as a homogenizing phenomenon, a process where everyone is becoming the same. New research is showing how uneven globalization is actually contributing to the proliferation of difference among people living in the same community, even within the same household.
In his article, ‘Disjuncture and Difference’, Arjun Appadurai characterizes globalization as a system of articulations, or interactions, between global flows and local circumstances. He categorizes global flows as ‘-scapes’ organized into technoscapes (technology), finanscapes (wealth), ethnoscapes (culture), mediascapes (media), and ideascapes (ideology). These scapes are intertwined and interrelated, but they each flow across global networks in distinct and uneven ways. As the global flows come into contact with local circumstances, they articulate and generate new forms. Since local circumstances vary widely throughout the world, each articulation contributes to a more heterogeneous cultural landscape. Today, many scholars are using the term glocal or glocalization to refer to the outcome of global and local interactions.
Coffee, for example, comes from the Arabic word, Kahua, and the beverage was widely consumed in the Middle East and North East Africa for many centuries. During European expansion and colonialism in the 15th century, coffee plants were distributed to the America’s and the cultural practice of drinking coffee spread throughout the world. Yet, the beverage changed into a new cultural form, or glocalized, as it was consumed by different people in different areas. Today, there are a wide variety of coffee manifestations; café au lait, mocha, latte, espresso, cappuccino, etc. It is ironic that one of the most widely consumed cultural forms of coffee emerged from the global articulation with local circumstances in Seattle at Starbucks, several thousand miles away from its origins.
As Starbucks coffee flows through the global networks forged by the transnational corporation, it also articulates with localized circumstances and creates a new form –such as this Starbucks coffee shop in Yemen.
The same can be said for musical culture. Many students in the United States are familiar with Step dancing which became popularized by African American students at colleges and universities throughout the United States, as depicted in the feature film Stomp the Yard.
The origins of Step is rooted in the Welly Gumboot Dance in South Africa.
During the colonial period, European controllers of the mining industry forbid African workers from engaging dancing and drumming activities. In response, African miners used their bodies, and their British ‘Welly’ rubber boots, as percussion instruments and created a new cultural form of music and dance which then flowed to the United States and emerged as a different cultural form under new circumstances. Consider the different flows and local articulations that informed the development of each dance: political colonialism, industrial mining, inequality, and rubber boots articulated with localized music and dance and were carried by communication and transportation technologies to educational institutions throughout the U.S.
All of American music is comprised of a wide range of local and global articulations throughout history. Songs performed by enslaved African people interacted with European music and dance performances which gave rise to Jazz, Blues, R&B, Rock & Roll, and eventually Heavy Metal and Punk Rock.
After the Civil Rights movement in the United States, rap and hip-hop music emerged and socially critical lyrics provided an outlet for marginalized African-American youth to express the experiences associated with social and economic oppression in American society.
(Explicit Lyrics – Viewing is optional)
Advances in communication technologies carried hip-hop throughout the globe, and the musical form articulated with different local circumstances, such as the Palestinian experience in the Middle East expressed by the band Dam.
And the post-colonial experience being expressed by the fast-growing hip hop industry in Kenya where the largest recoding label, Mau Mau Records, is named after the revolutionary group that militaristically fought against colonial rule.
Africa in America
African culture is considered one of the most influential cultural forces in the United States and throughout many parts of the Americas, yet it remains one of the most looked over cultures in the US. Before the twentieth century, few academics explored the role of African culture in American culture, and apart from a small group of African-American scholars, most social researchers represented African-American culture as a failed attempt to copy European culture. In 1928, Melville Herskovits, a Jewish-American anthropologist, challenged widely held assumptions about black people in America. His books The American Negro and the The Myth of the Negro Past (1941) redefined the ways that mainstream anthropologists analyzed African-American culture. He argued that black culture in America was “not pathological,” as white anthropologists had previously represented, but he tied black culture to African culture. His work traced regional traditions in art, music, dance, and other expressions to the cultural persistence of African traditions in spite of generations enduring enslavement and racial discrimination. In the years immediately following Herskovits’s death, a wide range of civil rights activists, including The Black Panther Party, used The Myth of the Negro Past to reclaim African culturalisms and black identity in America. The film Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness presents the contributions of Melville Herskovits’ work and addresses the politics of who has the right to define someone else’s identity, and what it means when the people being defined are excluded from the conversation.
Globalization is too complex of an issue to cover in a single webpage, but by now you should have a general idea of the way that globalization processes shape the experiences of people connected to Africa and how Africanisms have informed cultural practice in different ways through time (history) and across space (geography).
- Dodson, Howard. 2003. ‘America’s Cultural Roots Traced to Africa’ National Geographic February 5, 2003.
- Terrell, Dontaira. 2015. ‘The Untold Impact of African Culture on American Culture’ Atlanta Black Star June 3, 2015.
- Gross, Rebecca. 2014. The Influence of Africa on U.S. Culture. National Endowment for the Arts. Issue 2014 No 1.
- Ohio State University Department of Animal Science African Livestock Breeds.
- Sambira, Joecelyn. 2018. United Nations. Slave Trade: How African foods influenced modern american cuisine. Africa Renewal Online.
- Zuckerman, Catherine. 2016. ‘Five African Foods you thought were American’ National Geographic September 21, 2016.
- Kperogi, Farooq. 2.13. ‘The African Origin of Common English Words’ Nigeria Village Square (see original sources in article) July 27, 2013
- Holloway, Joseph E. Africanisms in American Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005. Internet resource.
For Discussion: Research and describe an Africanism in America today. What are the historical roots of the Africanism? Did it arrive in the Americas via the Trade Triangle or through contemporary digital technologies? In what ways has the Africanism shaped American culture? Be sure to cite your references and respond to another student’s post.