Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Long Conversation

In class last week Professor Hayden joked about his annoyance when someone responded to his blog post a year after he posted it. This got me thinking about how modern communication technology enables us to have these conversations, which last over time and over space. Gone are the days when a ‘lengthy conversation’ is long in the sense that you are in one place talking with one person for a long time. Today it could mean long in the sense that you are speaking to someone a long distance away from you, or long in the sense that a long period of time passes between exchanges.  Although it may be extremely annoying to receive a response a whole year later, I think it is the ability to have a ‘long conversation’ – over space and over time – that reflects the power of communication technology as it exists today to transcend the limitations of time and space.  So, to relate this idea back to the subject matter at hand, what does this mean in relation international communication and globalization?

In his essay Globalization, Supranational Institutions, and Media, John Sinclair states that, “…much globalization theory emphasizes the evident triumph over time and space that has been brought about by converging media and communication technologies in the global era.” (Sinclair 67). He talks of several theorists who have developed concepts surrounding this idea – to name a few, Robert Robertson’s idea of ‘the compression of the world’, Anthony Giddens ‘time-space distanciation’, and Harvey’s ‘time-space compression’. Sinclair explains the core similarity in these theories in that, “... they all have identified the control of space and time as the defining abstract principle behind globalization.”
So, globalization is characterized by the control of space and time. Sinclair further states that “The media are central to this control…” (67) because of (1) the ability of technology to transcend time and space and (2) allowing individuals access to global networks via this technology – global networks which can control space and time because of the ability of the technology to transcend space and time. These global networks- Facebook, blogs, and other social media networking programs - are transformations of Benedict Arnold’s notion of the ‘imagined community’. A key facet of the imagined community is that you will likely never meet the members of your community face-to-face, and therefore your fellowship exists above and beyond space. Accordingly modern communication technology creates an exaggerated version of the traditional imagined community existing above the notion of space, which has the effect of transforming traditional social functions, such as the conversation. Sinclair touches on this idea when he talks about Joshua Meyrowitz’s idea of the “consequent ‘disembodiment’ and spatial displacement of mediated social relations and behavior” (67) due to global communication technologies’ transcendence of space and time. In other words, because communication technology has the power to overcome the limitations of space and time, this power can change social interactions because they, in turn, are no longer tied to space or time.

The idea of a traditional face-to -face conversation is inherently linked to time based on the space over which the conversation is taking place. You cannot have a face-to-face conversation when the other person responds a year later. However, time in a conversation does not matter with modern communication technology because space does not matter. One can have a 'long' conversation, or an instantaneous conversation with a person thousands of miles away, which seems to be a contradiction of the relationship between time and space in its traditional sense as well.  Karl Marx was ahead of his time in many ways; maybe the modern conversation is what he was referring to when he spoke of the ‘annihilation of time by space’.

“One Race, One Language, One Culture”

An important part of one’s cultural identity is his national culture. In a multicultural country like the US, with multiple diasporic groups, what does it mean to be American today? “Intense migration movements have undermined national movements and national visions of “one race, one language, one culture” that shaped modern identities. The global multiplication of “portable nationalities” and continuous flows of diasporic media have undermined nation-states’ projects that aimed to achieve a perfect alignment of politics and culture(Silvio Waisbord, “Media and the Reinvention of the Nation” SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, p.388) What it means to be American is changing, and national culture is shifting along with it, as well.

This week’s readings focused on the way media lends itself to supporting the national culture and how Diasporas are impacting the media. I would like to focus on the burgeoning Hispanic population in the US and Univision, the largest Spanish-network in the US. Last week in Miami, Univision showed us how the media can contribute to nation building and actually question national culture by reshaping political discourse.

Univision’s media kit available on its website states that it is “the home for Hispanic families living the American dream”, and “the place where Latinos connect with their culture”.  Univision (and other organizations such as The National Association of Black and Hispanic Journalists and the NAACP) had made it very clear that they disapproved of the Presidential Debate Commission’s not having moderators representing minority groups during the presidential debates. John Sinclair states that “nation-states are much less culturally homogenous than they once were…This situation has led to the concept of national culture falling into disrepute, as national culture now is criticized as the preferred culture of the dominant strata, not the nation as a whole.”(“Globalization, Supranational Institutions, and Media” SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, p.72)Univision argued that the issues most important to minorities would not be addressed.

After reaching out to both presidential candidates, Univision hosted the first Spanish-language forum with President Obama and GOP candidate Romney on two separate nights last week at the University of Miami.  The fact that both presidential candidates agreed to participate speaks volumes about the nature and significance of the rapidly growing Latino community. Two Hispanic anchors mediated the political forum and questions were taken from audience members as well as Facebook participants since the event was streamed live on the Univision Facebook page. Both presidential candidates were pressed on their immigration and education policies, among other topics. The success of this event could mean that the Univision may add more public affairs content to its programming, or that the Presidential Debate Commission will consider a moderator that is more representative of America’s diversity. In regards to the study of international communication, Karim H. Karim says that we “cannot disregard the growing strength of diasporic information flows and their impact of the system of nation-states. “ Perhaps we should focus less on the America that was, and more on the America that is: multiple races, multiple languages, multiple cultures. 

Little Monster Village

Ever since Lady Gaga stepped into the entertainment scene she has been a world wind of controversy. Her expletive lyrics, brazen fashion and feverous support for the issues most have been afraid to support have served as the impetus of her cult like following.  Her strong following has allowed Gaga to construct her own social networking site LittleMonsters.com. The site itself was built by Backplane an organization which claims, “Fills a gap in the current social spectrum by empowering sharing and conversation that is effortless but not automatic”.  Gaga’s imagined community aligns itself with Benedict Anderson notion of imagined community, “as overcoming distance of Space newspaper and effects of the division of time”. Gaga’s reach has extended across oceans, disseminated it’s self through every medium of media and over the years remains relevant factor within the entertainment industry. Gaga and her “Little Monsters” is testament as to how an imagined community can be a powerful player in shaping national conversations and defining national identity.

In his article on “Viewing the ‘National’ in ‘International Communication’: Through the Lens of Diaspora” , Karim H. Karim speaks of imagined communities and their abilities to create “a common socio-political consciousness”, even though those individuals had not ever met (394).  Gaga and her Little Monsters has been an paradigm of the power imagined communities can have towards focusing conversations and raising consciousness. Lady Gaga is a powerful actor in the cause towards tolerance and marriage equality, in the United States. The spark of consciousness among the American people and across the world in part has proliferated because of Gaga and her “Little Monsters”. Her community’s stance over marriage equality has sprung the issue to the forefront of current national conversations; a conversation that attempts to redefine the identity of what it means exactly to be an American and a free individual. 

Lady Gagas work building a safe community where disparate groups can come together and embrace their difference she has single handedly challenged the perception of what is normal.
 Lady Gaga’s  success through  is her acceptance of  “weird” , shows the power of imagined communities and their abilities to redefine the identities and serve as a major player in the national conversations that take place.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm a citizen of the world, on Facebook. Aren't you, too?

In his chapter on “Media and the Reinvention of the Nation,” Silvio Waisbord defines cosmopolitanism as a belief in the “need to go beyond the lottery of birth that underlies national identities, so as to strengthen a universalist, humanitarian consciousness” (385). This modern understanding of cosmopolitanism is rooted in early twentieth century dialogue and correspondence between Rabindranath Tagore and W.B. Yeats, two extraordinary poets and thinkers who were both winners of the Nobel Prize in literature (in 1913 and 1923, respectively). Both were borne out of disparate parts of the British colonial empire; Tagore in India and Yeats in Ireland. Both were also self-identified staunch nationalists, believers in loyalty to their nations, but also to the global community of mankind.

Prior to Tagore and Yeats, cosmopolitanism was widely understood to be an eighteenth-century ideal that called for minimizing national differences in favor of “one uniform enlightened culture” (“Overcoming the “Contagion of Mimicry,” Louise Blakeney Williams, 70). In deemphasizing national culture, this construction of cosmopolitanism supported a universal set of values shared across all upper-middle and elite classes around the world.

Enter Tagore and Yeats, who questioned the inherent value of nation-states and their binary cultures. (You’re either part of a national culture and identity or you’re not.) Tagore and Yeats responded to prior visions of cosmopolitanism by articulating their own vision of a “rooted” cosmopolitanism. This is the same cosmopolitanism that we referenced in our contemporary discussions last week. As Williams notes:
[Tagore and Yeats] think that individuals can be nationalists by retaining their national identities and primary loyalty to one nation, while at the same time being “respectful of cultural diversity, interested in dialogue across cultures, and committed to forms of cultural hybridization.
In other words, a modern-day cosmopolitan respects a nation-state’s legacy traditions, values, and history while also embracing curiosity and openness to universal values espoused by all other nation-states.

Over 2,000 years have passed since the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic first declared that he was a cosmopolite, or, a “citizen of the world.” Back in 1999, John Tomlinson made the argument that cosmopolitanism cannot be true group identity because modern media does not support it. Instead, news and information are written and understood in reference to the nation-state.

However, in this age of rapid-fire social media—where the individual is seemingly empowered to dialogue across cultures on Facebook and through programs such as Peace Corps and participate in cultural hybridization through the consumption of globalized products and information—are we all still just Americans, Canadians, and Chinese? Or are we global citizens? Or somewhere in between, then, vacillating between our nationalist enclave and what Karim Karim describes as “a zone of intense, cutting-edge creativity born out of the existential angst of the migrant who is neither here or there” (Re-viewing the ‘National’ in International Communication, 400).  

Perhaps in this digital communication age flush with communication, a certain number of us in middle-class households with access to information and international consumption and/or travel opportunities are all occupying Homi Bhabba’s “third space.” 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Look Out Below: Globalization the Artistic Way

                         Sting's "Desert Rose", feat. Cheb Mami

In 1999, Sting's song "Desert Rose" hit the airwaves, and a lot of people were puzzled; there was a voice other than Sting's on the track, but who was it?. Well, that voice was Cheb Mami, the Algerian-born, Paris-based singer. As part of the Algerian diaspora community in France, Mami found his style of music -- a blend of traditional raï with other styles of "Western" music, such as blues and funk. Some of his songs have French titles, like "Le Raï C'est Chic" from 2001, and have a British back up singer (Sting) while the lyrics are sung in Arabic. Arguably, this blending of cultural influences into a production of both media and culture is a quintessential example of globalization in action.

                        Cheb Mami's "Le Raï C'est Chic", feat. Sting

Regarding these two songs, there would be some that would argue that Mami has fallen victim to the "Americanization of the world and the disappearance of cultural diversity", that his being a part of Sting's song is just a continuation a Western-dominated media that in colonialist fashion pays homage to the high art of the "native", and that his own cultural roots have been soiled with Western styles (Silvio Waisbord, "Media and the Reinvention of the Nation, SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, 379). And still there would be others that would celebrate these two musicians, declaring these songs as proof that globalization has "[eliminated] old barriers" and "[contributed] to cultural diversity" in the age of vast media networks (Waisbord, 379).

While I have a tendency to agree with the cultural diversity theory in this particular case, it has often bothered me that globalization theory seems polarized. It is either good or bad, a celebration of diversity or a creation of monoculture. Does this dichotomy accurately cover the effects of globalization, particularly in the music industry? Is the access to different styles of music creating one type of song, or is reshaping the songs we thought were static representations of cultural identity?

John Sinclair offers Golding's theory of "syndicalization of experience" as an alternative to the dichotomy of globalization ("Globalization, Supranational Institutions, and Media", SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, 73). In essence, Golding argues that a global culture based on the shared experience of consumerism is being created, and that it is not acting as a "force of homogenization". While this view does break away from the idea of "omnipotence of external powers" that pervades cultural imperialist theory, it does not, however account for cultural plurality. Looking at cultural media as an economic product is valid; it is produced, marketed, and traded like any commodity. But just because you have access to the product doesn't mean you will buy into even part of it. So how can those in international communication hope to look at the complex blending of musical styles without leaving out some aspect of its formation and popular distribution?

Enter Karim H. Karim's use of Falk's idea of "globalization from below" to describe the use of media by diaspora ("Reviewing the 'National' in 'International Communication', International Communication Reader, 403). As Karim argues it, diaspora are using forms of media outside mainstream communication to reform their identity apart from a physical locale and outside a cultural majority. He further states that these people are creating a "coexistence of cultural frameworks that are supported by artistic production"(403). The "artistic expression" part is important to me, because the language puts things like music, studio art, and stories outside of mainstream communication forms. I believe that is a misconception held by a world obsessed with technology; music in particular is one of the oldest universal expressions of human emotion and thought. Despite this, artistic production has been pushed aside for TV and film, and is now seen as an alternative method to creating cross-cultural identities.

Could music be used in the same way to form a global identity? Further research is needed to find out. But a good place to start is by NOT thinking of globalization in antithetical terms and as created from supranational forces that trickle down to the masses.  Instead look at "globalization from above and below". Not only does it include the economic and political institutions that shape our culture, but it also includes the movements of people, like artists. Globalization cannot be talked of in terms of black and white; there are no clear-cut effects and no absolute boundaries that continue to exist between cultures. And it is artists from below who have the power to bring together what is seemingly disparate -- such as Akon and Bollywood -- and make sense of cultural identity in world that is continually fragmenting and putting itself back together under the pressure of globalization from above.

                                "Chammak Challo" from Ra.One
                          Playback Singers: Akon and Hamsika Iyer

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Haiti and Dependency Theory

While discussing Thussu’s “Approaches to Theorizing International Communication”, someone in class asked for a real-life, concrete example of the theories he covered. I too was curious, and then I realized there was an example right in our backyard, in the Caribbean country of Haiti. Haiti has deep-rooted political, economical, and developmental issues that I will briefly examine through the lens of dependency theory, cultural imperialism, and structural imperialism.

Central to dependency theory is the idea that transnational corporations in the North control every aspect of global markets, strengthening the dominance of developed nations and contributing to the growing inequality between the North and the South; Thussu refers to this as a “neocolonial relationship”.  Haiti’s long history of poverty, political instability, developmental challenges, and dependency on countries of the North can be traced back to when it was under the colonial ruling of France. After gaining its independence from France over 200 years ago, it became dependent on the US; today, it still relies heavily on foreign aid. Cultural aspects of dependency theory lead us to Herbert Schiller’s cultural imperialism and the flow of western content to the developing world. “Commercial interests, highly influenced by Western military and political interests, of transnational corporations undermine the cultural autonomy of the South and created dependency on communication and media in developing countries.” Haiti has a staggeringly high percentage of imported goods from foreign countries, especially from the US, which prevent domestic markets, and self-sustenance, from ever maturing.  Many of these imports, by extension, promote a “foreign” lifestyle, which Schiller would argue undermines the country’s traditional values. What would happen to Haiti if economic ties between those foreign nations were severed?

One critique of cultural imperialism is its lack of consideration for the role of national elites in maintaining the “development of underdevelopment”.  Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung proposed structural imperialism as a response. Political and economic domination is structured so that “there exists in the countries of the South a dominant elite whose interests coincide with the interests of the elite in the developed world. This 'core' not only provides a bridgehead by which the centre nation can maintain its economic and political domination over the periphery nation, but is also supported by the centre in maintaining dominance over its own internal periphery”. When reflecting on Haiti’s issues, one must surely consider the elites who, through violent and dishonest means, have gained political power and oppressed the population in pursuit of their own interests, usually monetary gains, or working alongside the US government to fulfill its own interest, for example, in Haiti’s strategic geographical location.  Corrupt governments, especially the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier, remained in power for as long as they did by controlling/restricting the flow of information throughout the country, reinforcing their power and influence. Galtung maintains that these “unrepresentative elites” benefit from the “dependency syndrome”.
This is by no means an exhaustive look into the multidimensional problems of Haiti. 

Habermas’ Public Sphere

When we discussed Jorgen Habermas’ notion of the public sphere in class last week, I immediately thought of a scene from the Spanish film ‘La Colmena’ (‘The Beehive’) by director Mario Camus. The movie, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Camilo Jose Cela, is an illustration of the poverty and desperation of post-civil war Madrid, Spain in 1943, during the height of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. In this scene, several characters met in the local café, which they did regularly, to discuss and debate their opinions of the social and political issues of the time, of which there were plenty. After our in class discussion I thought, is this really an illustration of the notion of the public sphere?

The World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (‘CommGAP’) states that the notion of the public sphere “…has always been closely tied to historical circumstances and to technical developments.” The communication technology that was available in Spain during the 1940’s was very limited, especially considering that mass communication was heavily censored by the government. Meeting in a café was where debate about public issues was possible at that time. Of course, there were also major limitations in terms of who has access to these debates. However, I think it is a close approximation to the notion based on the technological, governmental and other restrictions of the time.

For me, more questions arise when we talk about the public sphere of the 21st century. Is there a functioning public sphere in the 21st century? One may think that the creation of the internet would provide the ideal public sphere. However, as Prof. Hayden mentioned in class, this is not actually the case. In theory the Internet may look like it would be the ideal public sphere, but it essentially creates a contradictory effect.

To explore this idea, I looked further at Habermas’ notion of the public sphere. In its most basic sense it is, quite evidently, somewhere between the private sphere (the individual, the home) and the government. This ‘somewhere in between’ is meant to critique the government, keeping them honest so to speak, and is concerned with the public good. Everyone has access to it, and it is unaffected by the biases of the individual or the authority of the government. Doesn’t the internet qualify?

Taking a closer look, there are limitations and weaknesses to the internet which may be reasons why it does not constitute a functioning public sphere. First, not everyone has free access to the internet, and some do not have means to access it at all. Therefore, because it is not freely inclusive of every individual, it violates the first condition of Habermas’ public sphere. Second, many countries place censorship restrictions on internet content. Internet use can be monitored, restricted, or blocked based on where it is being accessed from. So it is not, as Habermas theorized, free from government influence. Next, it would have to provide an environment free of individual agenda and debates would focus solely on the public good. Unfortunately, the internet is not a neutral space. There are many examples of individuals’ biased opinions on the internet. Sometimes when people have too much room for freedom of opinion, they take it too far as we have seen in recent international events, which can be offensive and dangerous, and in opposition of the public good. This is certainly not within the notion of the public sphere.

The World Bank CommGAP states that the public sphere “…is “defined in relation to the mass media, because the mass media permit the circulation of opinion and offer the conditions in which the forum can function.”6“. Although the internet has many shortfalls in terms of being a functioning public sphere, it cannot be denied that it is a form of mass media which creates a network where people can openly communicate, debate and share information across space and borders.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


In the readings this week, the authors explored the history of international communication, and specifically the development of new technologies through which we communicate across space. As these technologies were developed, advanced and used for international communication, they gained significant power and influence on cultures, governments and global politics.

The readings talk in depth about major technological innovations such as the printing press, telegraph, radio and television, which are indisputably the dominant means of international communication. However, the readings only briefly mention photographic technology as a media of international communication. In my opinion, photography, and the subsequently developed field of photojournalism, is an equally important technology that has also had a powerful impact on global communication.

“The photograph has affected the way many cultures throughout the world understand and learn about their world.” – From A Brief History of Photojournalism by Dillon Westbrook
As the reading point out, one of the influencing factors for the development of communication technologies has been the need for the dissemination of news, domestically and especially internationally. In Armand Mattelart’s discussion of the development of innovative media for news distribution he mentioned briefly the use of photography, talking specifically about its use to communicate the news during times of war. Mattelart’s brief discussion of photography is interesting, as it contrasts two distinct scenarios:
1. “The British photographer Roger Fenton was authorized to take pictures on the condition that his lens carefully avoid capturing the horrors of the war. “So as not to frighten the families of soldiers” was the reason given by general staff. The result was 360 plates in which the war appeared as a picnic.”
2. “Less than ten years later, photographer Matthew Brady brought back from the Civil War thousands of daguerreotypes that were not subjected to advance censorship: scorched earth, burned-down houses, families in distress, corpses…”
This discussion caught my attention in particular. Another aspect of international communication that the readings touched upon and that was discussed in class was the use of different communication methods for propaganda. Mattelart’s contrast of these two distinct images of war via the same medium of communication is interesting and an illustration of how this technology can be used for propaganda. In one example, the photographer was censored in advance, thereby manipulating the technology, in order to depict the war in a certain light and to communicate a specific message, which was not necessarily a candid message. IN contrast, Matthew Brady communicated a different message, telling a frightening and more accurate, story of the war through his photography. In further researching Matthew Brady, I learned that he is known to some as the father of photojournalism. His great contribution was reporting the story of the American Civil War through his photographs. His main goal, as he has stated was to communicate the true story.

"My greatest aim has been to advance the art of photography and to make it what I think I have, a great and truthful medium of history."

- Mathew B. Brady

The idea of photojournalism as propaganda is important as well. As was the case with the technologies discussed in the readings and in class, once it was realized that this technology could be manipulated to serve an agenda, governing bodies reacted to photojournalism as a powerful means of communication. This reaction can be seen through censorship policies and limitations on freedom of journalism.  The use of images as propaganda is not a new concept, but the use of photography to create messages and report stories is an innovation. When you look at a photograph, you are looking at a real image of something that really happened; are you therefore more likely to believe what you see? If you believe it, are you then buying into the opinion of the photographer, seeing what they want you to see?  Then, is photojournalism a more effective means of propaganda? A photojournalist is a reporter, and reporters have angles.  Maybe in some cases seeing shouldn’t necessarily equal believing.

I would argue that today, photojournalism is one of the most widely used methods of international communication. We can see the use of photojournalism everywhere; few printed news stories are not accompanied by a photograph to complete the relating of the story. With the advent of the internet and now digital photography, the messages contained within photographic images are spread faster than ever across any distance of space. Perhaps in later editions of their books Mattelart, Thussu and Hanson will include photojournalism in their analysis of the history of international communication.

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg to…

Surely, Johann Gutenberg couldn’t have imagined the impact the printing press with movable type would have in the field of communication. It’s interesting to see how one innovation opens the door to new forms of communication – even faster, more convenient, more accessible information – and compare the pre and post Gutenberg era. Prior to the printing press, religious establishments determined what kinds of information were distributed to the public, monopolizing the European book production. Elizabeth Hanson ( in The Information Revolution and World Politics) states the printing press had the power to weaken that monopoly and “challenge authority and influence public opinion”.

Fast-forward to today, where the dissemination of information has shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up approach, largely due to social media platforms. Information is no longer available to only those that are able to consume it, but to those that consume and shape it. With social media, anyone can create information, where it can then be reshaped and edited by others (through comments, ratings, re-posts, etc.), creating a sort of collective intelligence without the intervention of institutions (publishing houses, traditional media, etc.). There is a direct flow of information, with far less regulation than tradition media, as individuals conduct their own “investigative journalism”, simply equipped with a smartphone.

The printing press advanced our ability to share ideas; technology took it further so that it expands boundaries of space and time, completely changing the way we interact with one another. I anticipate where this growing desire for transparency in our prevalent institutions will lead us, as the power structure shifts, and technology intersects international communication.