Between Heritage and Markets, the Ambivalence of Cultural Globalization

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Societies are constantly reinventing their cultures and traditions. Contrary to common belief, the cultural world is thus becoming more diversified than uniform. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing concentration of cultural industries and international organizations seeking to harmonize trade rules (WTO) or to protect heritage from market forces (UNESCO). Depending on the place, society, and political regime, culture is perceived as an element of identity and national cohesion and/or state power (soft power); as an asset to be protected or, on the other hand, as a source of danger from elsewhere (withdrawal and censorship); or else as a commercial product whose commodification is to be encouraged and at the same time protected from piracy. Consumption of cultural products is becoming globalized, but this does not prevent them from coexisting, being re-appropriated, hybridized or mixed with other cultural forms and practices. The two major film-producing countries are India and Nigeria, but the United States, in third place, boasts the highest box office figures. High culture is being democratized, whether this consists of large touring exhibitions, performing arts events or access to works in libraries, archives, and museum collections via the internet. However, if they are unable to consume, travel, exchange, have access to a computer, or lack education, a majority of individuals remain excluded from the extraordinary diversity on offer.

Since 1972, the Unesco Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (ratified by 193 states) has enabled 1,073 sites of outstanding universal value to be registered on the List of World Heritage sites. In 2003, protection was extended to intangible heritage, including oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, and traditional craftsmanship, which relate to individual and collective identity as much as heritage.

UNESCO: World Heritage, 1978-2017

Source: Unesco, and

Comment: This graph shows the number of items registered by UNESCO, at the request of states, on the lists of cultural and natural heritage (1972 Convention) and of intangible cultural heritage (2003 Convention) for the purpose of protecting them. In both cases, the countries of Africa and Latin America have the lowest numbers, with slow development. Asia, on the other hand, occupies an intermediary position with a rapid increase, while North America and Europe together remain dominant (even though Asia outstrips them by a few points for intangible cultural heritage). These very substantial differences are partly explained by differences in the ability of states to identify, safeguard and protect their heritage.

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" Between Heritage and Markets, the Ambivalence of Cultural Globalization " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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