The Multiculturalism Of Lebanon: Cultural Studies Essay
Lebanon is a country with a long history which made it what it is today, a multicultural country. In a book called ‘Geopolitique du conflit libanais’ by Georges Corm, written in French, the Lebanese situation and how it got to the state it is now culturally is explained. This book starts off by saying that everywhere in the world, be it Paris, London or Geneva, the Lebanese is used to be seen in the refined, cosmopolitan world of high finance, international negotiation, and real estate promotion. The author says about the Lebanese, quoting, “on a trop coutume de le voir, pignon sur rue” (Corm, 1986: 5) which literally means we are extremely used to seeing him, gable on street, the Lebanese.
To be able to understand the multiculturalism of the individual carrying the Lebanese nationality, it is primordial to understand major highlights of this country’s history. Corm (1986: 6) highlights the impact several historical moments had on Lebanon and the development of its culture.
As is known to all, Lebanon was under French mandate for a very long time. However, before the French occupation, in the previous century, Lebanon had been occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This Ottoman Empire occupation led Napoleon the Third to send an expedition in order to protect the Christians of Lebanon against the ferocity of Ottoman soldiery (Corm, 1986: 10).
In 1975, a civil war exploded in Lebanon. Many times, foreign and powerful countries intervened. In 1976, France, ancient occupational force, mentioned the possibility of bringing in Lebanon French troops (army) (Corm, 1986: 9). In 1978, soldiers belonging to the United Nations came to establish their troops in Lebanon. Moreover, in 1981, the United Nations of America also intervened in this civil conflict. Lebanon being a country based on “confessionalism” (divided into religious groups) (Corm, 1986: 6), the conflict became vaster when there was a separation between the Lebanese populations due to religion. The Christian Maronites asked for the French intervention, while the Druzes asked for British intervention (Corm, 1986: 210).
From all of the above, we can see that countries encompassing many different and diverse cultures intervened in Lebanon imposing their language (that is, French and English), and their principles. For example, Lebanese children attending French schools were forbidden the practice of Arabic language within the school walls.
In a way, this is the basis of what gave the Lebanese individual the easiness to adapt. The Lebanese got this acceptance of adaptation when he immigrated to other foreign destinations where life promised to be better.
Corm (1986: 20) describes a typical Lebanese person as a citizen of the Lebanese capital, Beirut city of “patricians”, “merchants”, “artisans”, and “jurists” ready to serve any new “conqueror”. Whether the conqueror was Egyptian, Iranian, Byzantine, French, American or British, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to a Lebanese person was that business was stable and always on the run (Corm, 1986: 29).
Because of the influence of the West in a country considered as being Oriental, Lebanon was thereof called this junction between the Orient and the Occident (Corm, 1986: 15).
1.2 The area of study:
Culture can be defined as “a body of learned behavior, a collection of beliefs, habits and traditions, shared by a group of people and successively learned by people who enter the society” (Joynt and Warner, 1996: 33). “Society in this context can apply to any level of culture, like nation, organization or profession. While in most instances, a person’s nationality is a sufficient indicator of their culture (where the culture is the norm of that nationality), many societies now contain a variety of ethnic groups and individuals may easily be influenced by cultures other than their apparent nationality” (Joynt and Warner, 1996: 33). A specific ethnic group can be characterized by its “language, politics, attitudes, economy, religion, values, customs, education, etc…” (Joynt and Warner, 1996: 34).
A specific ethnic group can also be called a ‘Diaspora’. Many definitions were given as to the word Diaspora. Generally, Diasporas are “communities that define themselves by reference to a distant homeland from which they once originated” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 1). When an ethnic group or a group belonging to a specific “ethnicity, culture, religion, national identity and sometimes race” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 3) are dispersed (that is, dislocated and then relocated voluntarily or not) around the globe, this is what can be called a ‘Diaspora’. Coles and Timothy (2004: 4) mention Sheffer’s notion of a modern Diaspora as “residing and acting in host countries while still maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin”. They therefore have “collective memories” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 5) of their traditional country, and they face the same situation as their “co-ethnic members” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 5). Diasporas are also divided into two distinct categories. The first category consists of “victim Diasporas who have had a traumatic displacement from their territory” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 6), and the second is the “labour Diaspora which is scattering in pursuit of work” (Coles and Timothy, 2004: 6).
This brings up the cultural aspect of this study. Coles and Timothy (2004: 7) state that “Diasporic communities move between regions and do not occupy a single cultural space, which leads to hyphenated communities which constitute the semantic coupling of the homeland and the host state”.
This affects the process of adaptation, assimilation or internalization of a host country’s culture (Joynt and Warner, 1996: 166).
The field of consumer behavior “is the study of the processes involved when individuals or groups select, purchase, use or dispose of products, services, ideas or experience, to satisfy needs and desires” (Solomon, Barmossy, Askegaard and Hogg, 2006: 6). In addition, “people can express their self and their cultural and religious belonging through consumption patterns” and sometimes there are cultural clashes (Solomon, Barmossy, Askegaard and Hogg, 2006: 6). This is what links culture and the behavior of Diasporas in host countries to the field of consumer behavior.
Accordingly, Nguyen and Polonsky (2003: 1561) say that “the number of migrants and migrant communities in first world countries has increased significantly” and that the constant “process of acculturation and motivations” (Nguyen and Polonsky, 2003: 1561) is important in consumption “because migrants frequently want to maintain links to their home country” (Nguyen and Polonsky, 2003: 1561).
This study aims at understanding more clearly the consumer behavior concerning the members of a Diaspora community.
In relation to this, the fact that consumer behavior also depends on the type of product consumed has to be taken into consideration.
Research suggests that “many different social situations have different norms of ethnic behavior (e.g. type and amount of food and drink considered appropriate), suggesting that the relationship between ethnicity and behavior is affected by the type of product being considered” (Stayman and Deshpande, 1989: 363). Food and commodities products are more cultural. Therefore, to study culture affecting “consumption motives” (Henry, 1976: 123), “a product class for which specific value orientations can be reasonably expected to affect choice significantly” (Henry, 1976: 123) must be selected in a study. Thus, food is chosen in this research for the study of the behavior of Diaspora consumers because “food is more than a means of nourishment and sustenance; it is also a key cultural expression”, it “can provide us with a taste of home and serve to reaffirm ties to their culture of origin” (Penalosa, 1994: 41). Sometimes members of a Diaspora can “reject some of the consumption patterns” (Penalosa, 1994: 42) that are characteristic of the host country.
Furthermore, the product’s brand and the image that the brand gives to the consumer are also important to consider as “cultural values penetrate the creation and perception of commercial symbols” (Aaker, Benet-Martinez and Garolera, 2001: 494).
To summarize, the cultural function of consumption means that the cultural context should, among other things, be taken into consideration when studying the meaning of objects for consumers and the use they will make of those objects (Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988: 533). There are “country differences that can be used to interpret cultural differences in norms, attitudes, behavioral patterns, and important macro socioeconomic variables” (Aaker, Benet-Martinez and Garolera, 2001: 499). Examples of country differences are “conservatism versus autonomism” and “hierarchy/mastery versus egalitarian commitment/ harmony that relate to self-enhancement versus self-transcendence” (Aaker, Benet-Martinez and Garolera, 2001: 504). These are typical differences between Lebanese and French cultures (Orient versus West).
In this study, a questionnaire was distributed online to members of the Lebanese Diaspora in Paris, and semi-structured in-depth interviews were carried out with Lebanese people who had lived or are currently living in Paris. Subsequently, the data collected from the questionnaire was tested on SPSS 15 and a factor analysis was run. As for the interviews, major themes were identified as well as interpreted.
Many limitations stood in the way of this study. To list a few, time constraints did not allow enough questionnaires to be collected thus making the statistical analyses less credible. In addition, English was the language used in the questionnaire while the Lebanese in Paris are mainly francophone, and the interviews were carried out in French thus not translating exactly the emotions and the real meaning of the interviewee’s words.
1.3 Objectives and Research questions of the study:
Following the aim and context of the study, research questions and objectives were derived.
This study will aim to examine the socio-cultural aspect of consumer research while focusing on one durable good. Hence, this study focuses on food as it is the most culturally influenced product and as its value orientations affect choice significantly. The last objective aims to show that consumers have purchasing habits and patterns that allow them to express their cultural identity by investigating the attitude and consumption habits of Diaspora consumers when it comes to food.
The research questions derived from these objectives and that guided this study are the following:
Are Diaspora consumers influenced by the host country’s brands and the way they are marketed?
Do Diaspora consumers try to influence other consumers who come from different cultural backgrounds? (relating to the socialization aspect)
Which identity do they try to construct while living in a foreign country?
Do they preserve their cultural identity or seek a new or different one?
And if the latter is true, why?
1.4 Structure of the study:
In the first chapter, the general literature concerning consumer behaviour in a cultural and ethnic context will be reviewed. Following from this, the details of the method used will be specified. Third, the results of the research carried out will be presented and discussed as well as interpreted, before concluding with the limitations of this study as well as its implications for further research.
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