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Globalization is a term which used to describe the slow and consisted expansion of neoliberal capitalism around the world. The term is ambiguous and controversial. Despite its multidisciplinary application or applicability, the term often fails to receive critical investigation due to the ease with which a general implied concept of modern age increase in mobility, communication and accessibility. In opposition to generalization, Robert Foster in his book “Coca-Globalization: Following Soft Drinks from New York to New Guinea”, critical examines and conceptualizes the spatial and social life of soft drinks. Robert Forster’s work is part of popular works that deal with lives of popular commodities such as salt, cod, rum, potatoes, chocolate, and cocaine among others. Through the entire book, Foster addresses the common classifications and division such as local/global, pro/anti-globalization, and heterogenization/homogenization. He further questions the thought of “weak” and “strong” globalization notions and its polarity. The supporters of strong globalization suppose that globalization is equivalent to an imperial force to foster monoculture, and crush any resistance capacity by local agents that would thwart the monoculture. Conversely, the supporters of the week version of globalization often suppose that there is a possibility of localizing global relation and commodities to adopt local meanings and attributes. However, Foster resists this notion as a simplistic classification or division and takes an anthropological view of commodities globalization. He feels that globalization must be perceived in a manner that highlights consumer’s agency while indicating that resources and social circumstances are not with the control abilities of the customers. This approach would create a methodological and theoretical boundary between structural importance of capitalism in the modern age and leeway for creative agency. This perspective facilitates the understanding of the arising commodity-anchored physical and social links between people as the world global relations increase around the world. This disregard the notion that globalization is western imperialism and a means of idealistic neoliberal universalism and pluralism.
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In this regard, Foster offers the best explanation for any person who has ever wondered how the spread of companies such as Coca-Cola and other multinationals across the world is a form of globalization. His in-depth analysis gives insights on the branding and bottling practices and policies, which were instituted by the officials at the head office in Atlanta to licenses around the globe. Foster asks an intriguing question, “How did the Coca-Cola Company attempt to localize a distinctively American drink in foreign contexts?” (Foster 34). This is a prompt to discussing the process by which Coca-Cola spread globally and Foster proceed to answer his question noting that the decentralized decision making systems in local settings is “intended to make operations more responsive to fast-changing local situations” (Foster 35).
Foster embraces the anthropological approach to globalization and it enables him to unearth a chain of social association and links, which have great temporal and spatial expanse, within which perception, ideas and believes concerning commodities and their consumption take shape. He further revels that the meaning inferred from a can of Coke is greater than “an automatic and ambiguous icon of the West, or Cultural imperialism” (Foster 10). His cross-referencing from different pieces of literature concerning the social existence of worldly things generates a base on which he examines the multiple local contexts of globally localized or “globalized” Coca-Cola, as he prefers to refer to it. Trademarks also play a significant role in globalization of commodities. Alongside value creation and branding, the three create a proper setting for contextualization of the meaning of soft drinks to different people such as people of Papua New Guinea. The meaning of these brands and trademarks, and the value they give to the consumers fuel the rate at which consumers in different contexts adopt them.
The world is a collection of systems, people, authorities and others with varied interests. Companies like Coca-Cola are also a collection of varied interests. The contexts of a mixture of interest politics play a significant role in serving this interests, thus companies are both exposes to internal and external politics. For Coca-Cola, internal politics concerning consumption were instrumental for the success of its drinks. The politics of consumption on the Atlanta boardroom generated policies which were strictly implement by each generation of CEO, manages and employees at that company for distant outlets. Forster reports that the Atlanta boardroom brought about various discourses in relation to corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship, which extend the Coca-Cola brand and trademark beyond the soft drinks. As a result, Coca-Cola participates in campaigns to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in countries such as Brazil, extend scholarships to students and fund sporting activities among other social activities. These citizenship strategies are aimed at developing trust between the parties involved.
The shareholders of the company have a significant role to play in the company’s politics of consumer citizenship. Some policies are very influential to the company. The most notable are bottle recycling polices; worker’s rights protection in bottling plants in India and Columbia, and the popular Stop Killer Coke campaign. The Stop Killer Coke campaign was a mobilization within and outside America that was meant to encourage consumers to ignore Coca-Cola products. The company’s vendors in India and Columbia had annoying labor practices, which led to a confrontation between the representatives of the company, its shareholders, educational bodies and its representatives, school purchasing officers and administers. The shareholders through activism pledge, various benefits of incremental steps are realized towards certain goals such as realization of health benefits, recycling of plastics and launching investigations. The pledges are also extended towards the improvement of transparency objectives and improvement of accountability to stakeholders. However, as Foster reports, democracy is not synonymous with the operation of large companies such as Coca-Cola, where only a handful of shareholders who have the largest blocks of shares in the company prevail over decisions, small holder are pushed to the margins and left to fight against the companies structure, which rightly undermine democracy. As stated earlier, there are always multiple inters within and outside companies that influence its performance. Outside players may view a company as being unfair, while the company may also perceive the external players as being unfair. The suspicion between a company and external parties increases with growth in the size of the company. Since a company grows globally, it moves to different areas with different groups whose interests are varied.
In chapter 7, it is pointed out the best explorers of politics, agency and products as well as change in terms of globalization under a collective notion of poring rights. Pouring rights takes into account the health issues associate with the drink, particularly, in school settings. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are on record for providing extra funding to schools around the world in return for permission to advertise their products in the schools’ premises. Initially, this was good news to cash strap schools, since they could raise more money for academic and infrastructure development projects. However, the practice brought about critical moral responsibility issues, especially toward the health of the learners. The marketing language used by companies such as Coca-Cola and others manufactures of soft drinks in the market of the sugary products is contradictory with the language used by governmental and non-governmental health organization which create messages aimed at reducing or discouraging consumption of sugar as a means of curbing the ever rising cases of diabetes and other associated health issues such as obesity and hear diseases. Foster states that consumption should not be virtuous; also he adds that “the politics of products promises to re-embed everyday economic activity with a moral framework” (Foster 225). Product politics should also be balanced between schools budgets and health concerns. Lobbyists, in different places including the companies, present a new form of capitalism and the dilemma to which Foster refers to as “civilizing capitalism.”
The notion of globalization presented by Foster, and its role in both local and global locations, bring numerous concerns, which anthropologists have become accustomed to in fieldwork environments. The expansion of multinational franchises such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the pacific societies, especially their large urban centers, is very contentious. In his book, Foster has purposefully brought together an enormous amount of documentation from local media, company records, and other statements about soft drinks. Consumer citizenship brings about controversies concerning social responsibility when establishing and marketing a product, especially across international borders. Foster presents a picture of how soft drinks became consumable in localized context like indigenous products, helping readers understand how commodities become globalized and become a part of culture without altering the cultures.
Foster’s text is a good illustration of the way ethnography of large businesses integrates into expansive analyses that bridges the gap between local and international links. Foster has presented his ideas clearly by using clear illustrations in order to show the impact of media on the globalization of the drinks and perception of consumers. Foster has also demonstrated clear interpretations of company policies and how they have impacted on the soft drink penetration in different globalized markets. Reader, irrespective of their perspectives, will be challenged to consider Coca-Cola as part of their moral responsibilities at local and global levels.