Having been born and raised in Ghana, received higher education in England, and currently working as a professor in the United States has definitely helped Kwame Anthony Appiah to receive and experience a diverse array of cultures throughout his lifetime. Appiah is, among other things, recognized as a philosopher with an impressive track record of achievement including several published books and articles under his belt. The article, “The Case of Contamination” that was published in the New York Times in 2006, elaborates the influence of globalization on the livelihood of people through the eyes of Kwame. He precisely expounds on the “contamination” of the often idealized concept of globalization by indigenous cultures. Interestingly, Appiah authors the article under the shadows of the recently approved UNESCO convention on the “protection and promotion” of cultural diversity, a document aimed at preserving native identities in the face of an allegedly standardizing western monoculture. The current paper presents an analysis of the ideology held by Appiah to critique, approve, and disapprove.
On mentioning the term “globalization”, the first thought that comes to the mind of readers is a world where people from all corners exist harmoniously to share thoughts, ideologies, products and so much more (Livingston). At the beginning of the article, Appiah introduces the audience to a conventional Wednesday festival held in Kumasi, Ghana. Initially, he allows the reader’s mind to wonder as they envision traditions held by those in attendance, a majority of who are Ghanaians. It would appear to a casual reader that the context of the text is one that existed long ago. With a vivid description of the composition of the audience, men talking on cellphones and others discussion contemporary issues HIV/AIDs, education and so forth, the audience comes to the realization that this is indeed a recent occurrence of the 21st century. He informs readers that the Ghanaians have established connections with the western world through education, intermarriage, and travels. In fact, he himself is a child born of an intermarried couple with his father been Ghanaian and his mother British, while the reigning president of Ghana studied in Oxford and is a Roman Catholic by faith. Nonetheless, he and other elite Ghanaians adhere to traditional practices as they make an effort to attend such ceremonies. In addition, he attests that foreigners are not entirely assimilated during their stay and travels. This he demonstrates with the arrival of missionaries who, in spite of converting many individuals, still retained some of their rites. This raises the question of why people in Ghana feel that their identity is threatened, yet, they have held on to traditional practices to date. It also brings to mind the issue of whether or not globalization has a positive or negative impact on the country.
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Obviously, the approval of the UNESCO convention points to the existence of purist among Ghanaians who hold that globalization does more harm than good. Such naysayers believe that with the spread of globalization, traditions and values are at threat of extinction with more people adapting to western ways and ideologies. As a radical, Appiah holds a contrary opinion asserting that globalization has positively impacted the world by facilitating the spread of different cultures and religions across the globe. Allegations of the threat to cultural diversity posed by western cultures are, to Appiah, an unfounded fear held by traditionalists. Appiah confirms that UNESCO is in full support of globalization as it names among other things freedom of thought, expression, human rights, and the free flow of ideas as some of the benefits of globalization. Such values are, however, achievable if people can view globalization positively. Universality is a phenomenon that occurs at an individual level rather than changing an entire nation, tribe, or set of traditions. With this in mind, Appiah shows that it is indeed possible to preserve traditions while still embracing globalization.
Following the above-mentioned assertions by UNESCO, Ghana is one such state that has benefitted from globalization. Appiah demonstrates this using the example of new farming techniques that have been achieved through access to diversified knowledge on the practice. Farming has, in fact, become a source of livelihood for some Ghanaians as claimed by Appiah. Besides, cocoa farmers are now able to sell their chocolate around the world due to the global economy. Indeed, he confirms that fluctuating market prices of cocoa in the global economy have considerably improved the livelihood of Ghanaian farmers (Appiah). While this is the case, he points out that the new generations now have access to new means and opportunities for earning income other than the traditional sources such as cocoa farming. Such has been achievable through the advent of technology. In this case, Appiah demonstrates that globalization has differing meanings across a group of different people. To traditional farmers, it is a source of suffering and pain as they observe their conventional way of life slowly eroding even as their children seek other forms of livelihood. Appiah, however, contends that the society cannot hold it against farmers’ children for wanting to pursue other profitable ventures for practices that do not make economic sense in the contemporary world.
Curiously, Appiah is against the safeguarding of the authentic way of living or culture. In this, he is not per se against the protection of traditional forms of art such as dancing. In fact, he holds that this form of preservation is requisite especially for future generations that will be able to learn about their origin through such. His opposition is geared towards a form of protection of culture that is disguised as artifacts preservation. For instance, he questions conservatives who argue that Ghanaians have abandoned traditional silks for western clothing. In this, Appiah urges such individuals to regard the issue from the point of affordability of western clothing as compared to conventional Ghanaian silks. In fact, what many regard as traditional Ghanaian silk, Appiah asserts that it has its origin in Dutch arriving in the country in the 19th century. Moreover, the silk that is used to manufacture Ghanaian Kente has its origin in Asia and is produced in Europe. By presenting such arguments, Appiah blatantly defends cultural progression as a positive trait and maintains that a society averse to change is dead.
In light of the article, “The Case of Contamination”, it is apparent that globalization has been a center of controversy for a long period. Thus, Appiah appeals to audiences across the globe to apply moral reasoning while debating on globalization. For instance, he argues that disagreements arising from the fear of erosion of cultural identity can be resolved by engaging multiple worldviews. I, however, agree with Appiah that protection of culture as artifacts counterproductive especially for the community involved. This is because such attempts will only create barriers towards advancement by such communities as it will ultimately isolate them from the rest of the world. Hence, society should leave it to individuals to decide on values and practices that they desire to uphold while allowing them to borrow from other cultures. Ultimately, more people will choose to embrace both, which will see to the preservation of cultures and some traditional practices.
- Appiah, Kwameh Anthony. The Case for Contamination. 1 January 2006. Newspaper Article. 14 December 2017.
- Livingston, James C. Antomy of the Sacred; An Introduction to Religion. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001. 6th.