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Culturalimperialism:anapproachtomaindiscoursesandcriticisms

Author:MScMaykelPerez Statusofthisdocument Lastrevision:May2006 Type:Workingdraft. ThisessaywasproducedasaModuleSeminarrequestedbytheLondon MetropolitanUniversityaspartofthecoreexaminationsleadingtotheawardofa MastersdegreeinInformationServicesManagement.Theagreedmarkforthis moduleonInternationalCommunicationPolicieswas78. Itisadraftdocumentandmaybeupdatedasawholeoritsindividualsections, replaced,orobsoletedbyotherdocumentsatanytime.Itisinappropriatetocite thisdocumentasotherthanworkinprogress. Allcomments,suggestions,critics,orrecommendationsarewelcomeandshouldbe directedtotheauthor.

Abstract TheconceptofCulturalImperialismisexploredandthemaindiscoursesinwhich thisnotionisdeployed.Theessaybrieflyexaminesthecurrencyofdebateson culturalimperialisminthecontextofcontemporarytheoriesofglobalisationand highlightsthequestionsrosewithinthisdebatesthatstillconstituteaconcernin theSocialSciences. TableofContent Introduction CulturalImperialismasMediaImperialism CulturalImperialismasdiscourseofnationality CulturalImperialismasacritiquetoglobalcapitalism CulturalImperialismasacritiquetomodernity TheCulturalImperialismdebate:currencyandlags AsaConclusion:acriticaleyeonthecriticsofculturalimperialism References Introduction Thefirsttroublethatariseswhendiscussingculturalimperialismresidesinthe issueofhowtograspsuchacomplexphenomenon,thebroadrangeofissuesat stakecontainedwithinthephrase,andthevarietyofthemes,thesis,theories,and scopesthatencompasses. Afirstplausiblestrategytocopewiththisdefinitionalproblemmaybeattempting tosituateculturalimperialismsoriginwithinitshistoricalandacademiccontexts. CulturalImperialismemergedinthenineteensixties,aftertheWorldWarIIand theeconomicexpansionofcorecapitalistsocietiesmainlytheUnitedStatesover LatinAmerica,decolonisationprocessesworldwide,andintenseconcentrationsof multinationalcapitalamongotherfeaturesofthecapitalistsystemwhichnature andeffectsbegantobeappraisedinallthespheresoftheacademicandpolitical

arenas.Theresultingdebatesondomination,dependencyandcontrolgained expressionnotonlyineconomicandpoliticalterms.Scholarsandanalystsbeganto realisetheinstrumentalpowerofcommunicationandinformationplayedinthe expansionofthecapitalistworldsystem,aswellasitsculturaleffectsontheThird Worldnations.AccordingtoRantenen(2005:74)thefieldofinternational communicationswithinMediaandCommunicationSchoolswasamongthefirstto pickupthedebate,developingthreetheoreticalmodels:communicationand development,culturalpluralismandculturalimperialism. Thelastone,culturalimperialism,believedthattheinternationalflowsof communicationtechnologyandthemediaflowsofculturalproducts,developedin accordancewithandfacilitatedtheaimsandobjectivesofthecorenations/political economicformationsofthecapitalistsystem,andwereembodimentsoftheir ideologicalfeatures(Schiller,1976:6).Theirinstrumentalroleresidedinbringing allculturesintotheambitofthecapitalistculture(i.e.consumerism, commodificationofallexperience)reproducingpatternsofcolonisationinthe sphereofculture,inaprocessofhomogenisationthatposedafundamentalthreat toindigene(national,regional,supranational)cultures,thusenhancingthe dependencyofdevelopingcountriesandcuttingtheirpatternsofcultural reproduction.Culturalimperialism,then,engagedwiththecriticalanalysisof culturaldominationbetweencoreandperipherycentresofculturalproduction. Someauthorshaveattemptedtopresentroundedupdefinitions.Thisisthecaseof Schiller(1976:9)whoattemptstotametheconceptbyrestrainingittotheambit ofthecriticalanalysisofthesources,characterandcontentofcommunication streamsbetweenandwithinnations,seeingthemasvehiclesofculturaldomination inthecontextofthecapitalistworldsystem.However,eventhoughcultural dominationandthecapitalistworldsystemarecentralthemesincultural imperialism,awholerangeofworksdealingwithbothbroaderandnarrower phenomenaalsocategoriseasculturalimperialismtheories,suchasthose discussingthebroadersocioculturalcontextofmodernityortheratherspecific problemsregardingmediaimperialism.Thisproblemofdefinitionisbeingpointed outbyMattelart,whostatesthatculturalimperialismisagenericconceptthat referstoabroadrangeofsimilarphenomena.Thisismainlywhyotherauthors avoidprescriptivedefinitionsandoptforamorecomplexviewofcultural imperialism.Tomlinson,forexample,considersthattheconceptofcultural imperialismmostbeassembledoutofitsdiscourse(1991:3).Intheattemptto grasptheessentialsofculturalimperialism,wewillbrieflyexplainhisapproach. Accordingtothisauthor,therearefourpossiblewaystospeakofcultural imperialism: asmediaimperialism asadiscourseofnationality asthecritiqueofglobalcapitalism asthecritiqueofmodernity Culturalimperialismasmediaimperialism Whetherculturalimperialismcanbeequatedtomediaimperialismornotisa conflictivematter.Itistruethatwithinculturalimperialismtheories,theMedia playsamayorroleashomogenisingagentitispossiblyitsmostinfluentialsingle component(Rantenen,2005:75)However,someauthorsconsiderthatMedia Imperialismreferstoamuchmorespecificrangeofphenomenaanddefineitas theprocesswherebytheownership,structure,distributionorcontentofMediain anyonecountryaresinglyortogethersubjecttosubstantialexternalpressures frommediainterestsofanyothercountryorcountrieswithoutreciprocationof influencebythecountrysoaffected(BoydBarrett,1998:117)

Mediaimperialismaddressesmainlytwoformsofdomination:politicaleconomic dominationderivedfromtheinstitutionalstructureoftheglobalmedia(i.e.market dominanceofWesternNewsAgencies)andculturaldomination.Criticismsfocuson thelastformofdominationsinceitisassumedthatimportedculturalgoodshavea selfevidentculturaleffect.Theypresupposethemediaeffectsontheaudience withoutreallyengagingwiththestudyofthoseeffects.Thiscoreassumptionis challengedbyseveralstudiesthatassignamoreactiveroletotheaudienceof Mediamessagesandtalkoftheresemantisationorindigenisationofthecultural products.(Mattelart,1991:17)Probablytheparadigmaticworkthatbestrepresent thisviewisHowtoreadDonaldDuck,fromDorfmanandMattelart(1985) Culturalimperialismasadiscourseofnationality Culturalimperialismisalsoassociatedwithnationalistdiscourses.General hegemonicculturalformations(i.e.Westernmodernity),particularnationalcultures (i.e.theAmericanculture)orpoliticaleconomicformations(transnational capitalism)areseeingasathreattoindigenouscultures(Tomlinson,1991:175). Theeffectofanyoftheaforementionedagentsofculturaldominationis representedasaninvadingforcethelanguageofculturalimperialismisarather martialonethatdrawsintoitsambitauthenticcultures,absorbingthemor limitingtheirautonomy.Theunderlyingclaimsofculturalauthenticityandcultural autonomyhavebeenfocusofnumerousattacksbythecriticsofcultural imperialism.Theseassumptionsimplyaratherstaticviewofculture,aromantic, folkloricdepictionofnationalcultures(MartinBarbero,1993:112) Culturalimperialismasthecritiqueofglobalcapitalism Withinthisdiscourse,thecentralissueofculturaldominationisreducedto questionsofownership,controlandtransferofculturalgoodswithintheglobal capitalistsystem.Theprocessesofculturalimperialismareseenashavinga functionalroletoplayinthespreadofcapitalismasaneconomicsystemandaset ofclassrelations(Tomlinson,1991:25).Insteadoffocusingonparticularcore nationssuchastheUnitedStatesasrepresentativeofacentreofcultural productionthatirradiatesdownwardstoperipheralcultures,thisformofcultural imperialismtheoryaddressestheissueofculturaldominationwithinthebroader contextofthecapitalistworldsystem.Itiswithinthecontextofthisdiscoursethat thedefinitionofculturalimperialismpresentedbySchillerfitsbetter: Theconceptofculturalimperialismtodaybestdescribesthesumoftheprocesses bywhichasocietyisbroughtintothemodernworldsystemandhowitsdominating stratumisattracted,pressured,forced,andsometimesbribedintoshapingsocial institutionstocorrespondto,orevenpromote,thevaluesandstructuresofthe dominatingcentreofthesystem(Schiller,1976:9) Culturalimperialismasaprocessistheresultoftheglobaldominanceofcapitalist culture,sincecapitalismdoesnotonlyreferstoamodeofproduction,butalso impliesaculturaltotalityoftechnicaleconomic,political,sociorelational, experiencialandsymbolicmoments,alessonlearnedfromMarx(Tomlinson,1991: 26).Themainclaimwithinthisdiscourseisthatcapitalismisahomogenising culturalforcethatrespondstotheimperativesofmultinationalcapitalism.The spreadofcapitalismimpliesthespreadofacultureofconsumerism,the commodificationofallexperience. Culturalimperialismasthecritiqueofmodernity

Inchasingtherootsandeffectsofculturalimperialism,someauthorshave engagedinthecritiqueofmodernityanditsdiscontents.Theseauthorsassociate culturaldominationtoanumberofinterrelatedfactors,includingcapitalismasaset ofproductiveandconsumeristpracticeswhichincludetheculturalsphere,butalso otherglobaldominantdeterminantswhicharesaidtodefinemodernity:urbanism, masscommunications,technicalscientificrationalistdominantideology,asystem of(mainly)secularnationstates,aparticularwayoforganisingsocialspaceand experience,andcertainsubjectiveexistentialmodeofindividualselfawareness (Tomlinson,1991:27).Inasense,thisapproachattemptstoovercomethe limitationsoftheeconomicreductionism,takingthedebatetoamorecomplex stratum.However,italsoleadstothedespolitizationofthedebateincontrastwith thepreviousdiscoursewerecapitalistrelationsofproductionareplacedatthe centreoftheissueofculturaldomination.

Theculturalimperialismdebate:currencyandlags Themostrevitalisingdiscussionsregardingculturalimperialismnowadaysoccur withinthecontextofcontemporarytheoriesofglobalisation.Itiswithinthatfield wereculturalimperialismhavefounditsmostincisivecriticsandperpetuators.For some,globalisationissimplytheglobalworkingthroughofaprocessofglobal dominationinwhichtheWest(orAmerica,ortransnationalcapitalism)drawsall culturesintoitsambit,thusthecriticalfocusandissuesraisedbycultural imperialismstand.Tomlinsoncitesanumberofauthorsforwhichglobalisationis anaspectofthehierarchicalnatureofimperialism,thatistheincreasing hegemonyofparticularcentralcultures,thediffusionofAmericanvalues,consumer goodsandlifestyles(Tomlinson,1997:174).Forothers,culturalimperialism bringstheglobalisationprocessintoanimmediatecriticalfocuswhichispremature, missestheproperobjectofcritiqueanddonotaccountforanumberofphenomena thathavebecomeapparentonlyrecentlythroughtheprocessesofglobalisation, thusrenderingtheculturalimperialismdiscoursesoutdatedormeritingrevision (idem). Withintheglobalisationframeworkandbeyondcertainassumptionsand concernstraditionallyassociatedtoculturalimperialismfindecointheworksof contemporaryculturalcritics,suchasStuartHall,culturalpolicyissuesdemonstrate howseriouslysomenationalgovernmentscontinuetotakethethreatofcultural imperialism(theCubanculturalpoliciescanserveasagoodexample)anda numberofconcernsfirstidentifiedanddiscussedwithinthescopeofcultural imperialism stillemergeasissuesofcentralconcerntoanyoneviewingthe globalisationprocesseswithacriticaleye(take,forexample,theprocessesof concentrationandmergerintomultinationalconglomeratesthatcontinuetohappen inthecommunicationsandinformationsectore.g.TimesWarnerAOLGoogle lettingthescenarioofinternationalcommunicationsinthehandsofafewplayers). Thereistheissue,ofcourse,oftheubiquityofWesternAmerican,Western Europeanculturalgoods.Iftheexaminationofthecentresofculturalproduction focusesonthevisualandgraphicarts,theideaoftheculturalAmericanisation becomesapersuasiveone.Whenfocusedontheseempiricalfacts,theprocessesof globalisationthatmanyauthorsambiguouslyrefertoasacomplexwebof interconnectionsstartstomakesense,sinceitmakesvisibletheconcentricnature ofthatweb,withpointsoforiginandconcentrationofpowerlocatedatthecentre (werecorenations,centresofculturalproductionormultinationalcorporations concentratedpowermayberepresented) Thequestioniswhetherallcultures belongtothiswebor,onthecontrary,areboundandenmeshedbythisweb, preciselyoneofthecentralissuesinculturalimperialism.ForGiddens,forexample, culturalglobalisationisactionatdistance(Giddens,1990:19),thatis,social

influencesoperatinglocallyareconfiguredandshapedfromquitedistantplaces, andstilltheyarethelocusoflivedexperience. Anotherfactorthatkeepsculturalimperialismintheresearchagendaofcultural criticsandtheoristsofglobalisationistheunevenpowergeometryoftheworld system.Thirdworld/firstworld,core/periphery,North/Southdichotomiesstillstand astherepresentationofthepowerrelationsincludingculturalpowerbetween thesepoles.AsTomlinsonacknowledges,theanalysisofculturalglobalisation needstobeginwithacritiqueofthecapacityandthetendencyoftheWesthasto imposeitsversionsofrealityontherestoftheworld(Tomlinson,1997:178) Anothergoodreasontokeepculturalimperialisminmindistheinextricable interrelationofglobalisationandtheexpansionofcapitalism.Thecultural implicationsofthisexpansionhavebeingpointedoutbytheoristsofcultural imperialism:incorporationintoconsumercultureandculturalhomogenisation (Schiller,1975).Underthisscope,globalisationrespondstotheexpansionary imperativesofthecapitalistproductionprocessandmarket(Tomlinson,1997:179) Inspiteofsuchstrongargumentsinfavourofculturalimperialism,anumberof authorshighlightthatitsdiscoursesaretoorigidandneedrevisioninthelightof th culturalphenomenawhichemergedorbecamemoreapparentinthelate20 century.Forexample,therathermonolithicrepresentationofculturalproduction centres(i.e.theUnitedStates)andaperipheralstratumofculturalconsumers obscuresthesignificanceofgeolinguisticfactorsandspecificculturalreferencesin theconsumptionofculturalproducts.ThedominanceofTVcorporationssuchas GloboinBrasilorTelevisainMexicooverdomesticandinternationalmarketswhich sharelanguageandspecificculturalreferencesaretakenasexamplesofsuccessful peripheralculturalproductioncentres. Anotherkeycriticismfocusontherepresentationoftheaudience/consumersof culturalproductsaspassive,unreflectiverecipientsofalienculturalgoods,andthe associatedrepresentationofculturalprocessesasaunidirectionalflowofpower. (Tomlinson,1997:181)Thereceptionofculturalproductsincontemporarytheory isrepresentedastheoppositionalinterplaybetweenlocalinvolvementsand globalisingtendencies(Giddens,1990:242)Thedialecticinteractionbetween externalculturalinfluenceandlocalculturalpracticehavebeenexposedbyLatin Americanauthorsaswell(GarciaCancliniandMartinBarberoamongthemostwell renown)MartinBarbero,forexample,expressesthatWhatiscentraltothe experienceofculturalmodernityinLatinAmericaisthewayinwhichthesteady, predictabletempoofhomogenisingdevelopmentisupsetbythecountertempoof profounddifferencesandculturaldiscontinuities(MartinBarbero,1993:149)In thiscase,thelanguageofculturalimpositionthatdistinguishesculturalimperialism isbeingreplacedbyevidencesofcomplexprocessesofresemantisation, indigenisation,transculturationorhybridisationoccurringinthereceptionof culturalproducts. Thereisanotherphenomenonthatclearlychallengestheunidirectionalmodelof culturalinfluenceandthenotionsofculturalauthenticityandautonomywhichare centraltoculturalimperialismdiscourses:theincreasingdevelopmentofdiasporic cultures.Underthecircumstancesofmulticulturalsocieties,theideaofanauthentic cultureasaninternallycohesiveandautonomousspacebecomesuntenable (Rosaldo,1989citedbyTomlinson,1997:183).Inthiscontexttherigidconception ofauthenticculturesunderthreatlendsspurioussupporttotheenemiesof multiculturalism.AccordingtoTomlinson,thehybridcultureresultingfrom migrationsdoesnotonlyaffectmigrants,butalsothehostcultures.One expressionoftheprocessofculturalmixingonthecoreculturescanbefoundinthe commodificationoftheexoticandtheethnicinWesternSocietiesinfood,fashion,

andsoon.BritainLondoninparticularmayprovideverygoodexamplesofthis mixture,withcurryamongthenationalfavouritesandabraded,workingclass clothingforsaleatTopShopastheultimatefashion. Asaconclusion:acriticaleyeonthecriticsofculturalimperialism Anexaminationofhowthesocialphenomenahighlightedbythevariousdiscourses ofculturalimperialismhaveevolvedthroughtimemaycertainlyleadtothe conclusionthatsomeofitstheoreticalassumptionsneedreformulation.Those discourses,asevidencedintheessay,arepresentedinaratherabsolute,rigidway. However,recognisingthetheoreticallimitationsofculturalimperialismshouldnot leadtoanuncritical,passivestage.Forastart,someoftheclaimsofthecriticsof culturalimperialismraisequestions.Canwereallytalkofthepluralisationof culturalproductioncentresasopposedtothecore/peripherydichotomyestablished byculturalimperialism?Whataboutthecontinuousprocessesofconcentrationof powerwithinthecommunicationsector?Howdoclaimsofpluralismwork,for example,fortherecentmergebetweenthegiantsoftelecommunicationsAOL, TimesWarnerandGoogle? Tomlinsonseesinthecommodificationoftheexoticandtheethnicanindicativeof somesortofinvertedculturalinfluence.Isthatso,ortheconfirmationthatall culturalexpressionsaredrawnintothelogicofthecapitalistculture,basedonthe commodificationofallexperiences? Howaboutthestructuralinequalitiesintermsofcommunicationinfrastructure betweencoreandperipheralnations:thefact,forinstance,thattherearemore telephonelinesinHonkKongthanintheentireAfricancontinent? Thelistofquestionscouldbeextendedsignificantly.However,thebottomlineis clear:aslongasthepoliticaleconomicbasesofthedebateinitiatedbycultural imperialismstand,thereismuchtodiscussandresolve,eventhoughtheoretical precisionsarewelcomed.

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