South Korea and the Rise of Globalization

Hat Stand and Globalization

The South Korean hat stand has been impacted by globalization over time in multiple ways. First, it has introduced larger corporations like Wal-Mart and Tesco into Asian markets. Second, it has created new demand for global goods and for Western items especially. Thirdly, through digitalization and the rise of the Internet, it has encroached on the meaningfulness of the street stall retailer — i.e., the hat stand vendor — and his ability to offer a novel product that cannot be obtained anywhere else.


First, globalization has impacted the hat stand over time because it has introduced larger competitors into the region — giant wholesalers whose aim is to offer consumers goods at discounted prices. Wal-Mart and Tesco both entered into South Korea with this objective.[footnoteRef:1] And while only Tesco succeeded over time (Wal-Mart failed to connect with the values of the local population),[footnoteRef:2] the fact that these giant corporations were now offering goods in Korea meant that street retail vendors, such as the hat stand seller, were increasingly marginalized. The hat stand is a sign of an Old World merchant offering a novelty product that is Western in conception (all of the hats are of a Western style). This signifies that the merchant is responding to demand brought about through trends effected via globalization. And though the product may not always have been like this for the merchant, globalization has placed new pressures and new demands on the street vendor and turned him into a novelty stall appealing to street traffic, knowing full well that there is a much larger store nearby that is offering many more products and attracting many more consumers. [1: Franco Gandolfi, Pavel Strach, “Retail Internationalization: Gaining Insights from the Wal-Mart Experience in South Korea,” Review of International Comparative Management, vol. 10, no. 1 (2009), 187.] [2: Neil Coe, Yong-Sook Lee, “We’ve learnt to be local: the deepening territorial embeddedness of Samsung-Tesco in South Korea,” Journal of Economic Geography, vol. 13, no. 2 (2013), 327.]


Second, globalization has led to new demand for Western goods. The hat stand reflects this change: the various hats and styles show new trends in dress over the years — and even the stand itself is a reflection of demand for a product that is not organically Asian or Korean. While the stand itself was most likely there before globalization introduced demand for more Western items, it was more than likely offering something custom-made in Korea that appealed to traditional Korean tastes. Today’s hat stand is a sign of the impact that the West has had on Korea via globalization: it has altered consumer tastes and changed what the vendor can offer them to attract business.


Third, globalization has increased in the Digital Era via the rise of the Internet, which virtually every shopper with a smart phone can access anywhere at all times. Now, the hat stall is no longer just competing with other street vendors (as well as the Tesco down the road) but also with vendors all over the world. Globalization has increased the scale of competition for the hat vendor and made him seem even more insignificant in the grand scale of things. The hat stall has an anachronistic look to it — as though it were from another era, superimposed on the present commercial make-up of the South Korean marketplace. It sits in front of new, modern stores like the Western Dunkin’ Donuts that have places to sit. What once was a local, traditional way to appeal to consumers in the country is now viewed almost as something foreign in its own land: it does not fit in with the larger, looming corporate structures that rise up overhead, dwarfing the hat stand and indicating its dwarfishness in the new, 21st century, where the global, multinational, corporate world reigns supreme.


The impacts of these changes brought about by globalization on the local people are complex: on the one hand, there is a greater demand for products that come from foreign lands; on the other hand, there is an opportunity for the country to take part in exporting its own products. Then there is also the issue of the local people losing their own cultural identity over time as they become more and more Westernized. At the same time, there exists that drive among the local people to re-assert their own local cultures and traditions in the face of globalization. So there is a complex mixture of reactions and changes within the local people as a result of the rise of globalization and its impact on the region.


As Hagen Koo points out — and as the picture of the hat stand aptly shows — “social inequality has emerged in the context of globalization and is closely related to the economic, cultural, and ideological changes brought about by this macro-global force.”[footnoteRef:3] The changes wrought by globalization foster conditions in which inequalities prevail. This is evident with the hat stand, which is a poor, simple stand on the street. Behind it is the grand Dunkin’ Donuts shop — bright, lit with electric lights, air-conditioned and full of sugary snacks. There is no comparison: the shop is more attractive and more likely to be profitable than the hat stand. The multinational corporation is richer than the street vendor. That is one effect of globalization: the local people are made to feel the effects of social inequality more strongly than ever before. This impacts their psyche and the way in which they view themselves. It impacts their cultural identity — with some wanting to fall in line between the global powers, the global culture and its values; others want to retain their own local beliefs and customs because they see the old ways vanishing and they do not want their way of life to be lost. In the process, a hybridization of local culture is created: the global culture and the local Korean culture merge into a hybrid culture — something that is new and never before seen in the country.[footnoteRef:4] Subtly, the people are transformed as a result: they are brought to embrace the new culture that is globalism because some of the trappings of the old, local culture are invested in it. But underneath it is a new culture that supports the aims of globalism. [3: Hagen Koo, “The Changing Faces of Inequality in South Korea in the Age of Globalization,” Korean Studies, vol. 31 (2007), 1.] [4: Woongjae Ryoo, “Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave,” Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 19, no. 2 (2009), 137.]


As a result, the local people are obliged to adjust to this hybridization, which is evident in the picture — the merging of the old with the new. The old is represented by the hat stand (which in and of itself symbolizes the take-over of the Western intrusion into the Korean way of life with its Western-style hats for sale). The new is represented by the fast food outlets that populate the background — the Dunkin’ Donuts store that offers the corporate-backed pastries so beloved in the West. Globalism has changed the landscape of the people and compelled them to accept a new horizon, one in which their old way of life is reduced to a small, side-of-the-road attraction (the hat stand) while the new powers of the West stand up tall, victorious-like, exulting in their dominance of a new market. The people are left to choose how they will engage with this new environment. If the picture is any indication, the Koreans may simply continue to trudge along on their path, ignoring the rise of the globalist powers to their right and left, as they attempt to live their lives simply, humbly and in conformity with the values they were taught.




Coe, Neil; Yong-Sook Lee, “We’ve learnt to be local: the deepening territorial


embeddedness of Samsung-Tesco in South Korea,” Journal of Economic Geography, vol. 13, no. 2 (2013), 327-345.


Gandolfi, Franco; Pavel Strach, “Retail Internationalization: Gaining Insights from the Wal-Mart Experience in South Korea,” Review of International Comparative Management, vol. 10, no. 1 (2009), 187-198.


Koo, Hagen. “The Changing Faces of Inequality in South Korea in the Age of Globalization,” Korean Studies, vol. 31 (2007), 1-9.


Ryoo, Woongjae. “Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave,” Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 19, no. 2 (2009): 137-153.

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