Just before the not-long-enough July 4th weekend, globalized coffeemaker Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 stores. By now, we’ve heard gleeful reactions from people who support the demise of this Walmart of coffee beans. We’ve also, of course, heard the human side to these closings: 12,000 full- and part-timers are losing their jobs (that’s 7% of Starbucks’ workforce).
I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But the Starbucks phenomenon hints at a critical issue facing countless developing communities (aka emerging markets) around the world: how to negotiate transnational and commercial development (which might bring much-needed basic services like water and electricity) with local culture (which binds people together).
Yesterday I was on a United Airlines flight, reading Paul Ricoeur’s “History and Truth”, which prompted thoughts about Starbucks:
We have the feeling that this single world civilization…exerts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural resources which have made the great civilizations of the past. This threat is expressed, among other disturbing effects, by the spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization which is the absurd counterpart of elementary culture. Everywhere throughout the world, one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda…
And as I’m reading this, I ask for a cup of coffee and what do I get?
One could make an attempt to scream.
Caffeinated, back to Ricoeur:
In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the raison d’etre of a nation?…
It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization.
Looping back to Starbucks’ store closings, though, I’m a bit more optimistic. Sometimes modern civilization just cannot sustain and absorb the shock of local culture.
Hey, some people just DON’T want to unite with the same mass-produced cups of $5 coffee anywhere and everywhere. It’s a start.