The term glocalization (linguistically, the combination of global and local) is business jargon for the introduction and adaptation of a product or service within a locality or culture in which it is sold (wikipedia, 2013).
This rather simple and benign definition, however, masks the important complexity that this term has acquired when examined within different economic and political contexts. The term’s origins are attributed to Japanese economists writing in the Harvard Business Review in the late 1980s, and are a validation of the practice of expanding global enterprise by focusing on local conditions. Since then, glocalization has received widespread use by both scholars and business practitioners contributing to the multiple layers of meaning now attached to this term.
In the mid to late 1990s, glocalization was, generally speaking, adopted and employed by corporate business as a ‘common sense strategy’ to remain competitive and relevant in an increasingly global business environment. It did not take long for businesses to figure out that the opportunities for growth and expansion into global markets could quickly become a managerial and political nightmare across cultural and national lines. But importantly, the answer(s) was not a marketing strategy that relied upon the standardization of products, pricing, and promotion, but rather, one that promoted and embraced ethnic and cultural diversity within a larger corporate strategy and perspective. So the McDonald’s Corporation, for example, with worldwide local presence opts to adjust their menus, by locality, in an attempt to appeal to local palates.
Conventional wisdom on this topic, by and large, reinforces the relevance of cultural relativity when making decisions for the global marketplace. The globalization of a business marketplace is achieved with greater ease and success when local business activities present a familiar face – an optimization of both the global and the local.
Nothing too surprising thus far – global corporations appropriating local differences for the sake of increased sales and profit. The consequence of such activity is equally clear – a bleeding and blending of those differences into international products (Fasenfest, 2011). But what is less clear (and perhaps far more interesting) is the tension that exists in the relationship between global and local. Globalization has had an unexpected impact on local space. As globalization orients all of us more and more toward a global community and economy, in our daily lives, we seem to turn more willingly to the security and certainty of the local, giving rise to the oppositional politics of ‘local first’.
This means advocating for the consumption of locally produced food to support local farmers over crops shipped halfway around the world. It means looking at the local content of production in the goods we purchase, especially those that have a small ecological footprint and promote sustainability. It means drinking coffee at locally owned and operated coffee houses and passing on the many outlets of corporate coffee purveyors and so on (Fasenfest, 2011). So, as the processes of globalization deepen, the need for more direct and tangible involvement in the shaping of our communities also intensifies.
But is this necessarily a conflict of realities? Does this mean that local and global orientations cannot (and do not) coexist? And thrive? Are they not, afterall, the two faces of glocalism – both products of globalization?
We welcome your views on this topic. This is obviously not a new debate; these questions have been analyzed by many without the expectation of ever fully resolving the issues. But what is certain, perhaps, is that the presence of ever faster and ever denser streams of people, images, consumer goods, money markets, and communication networks around the world (Schaebler, 2002) will continue to impact, influence and shape our very notion of local.