Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Globalization manifested from Communication

In order to measure the impact of globalization, it is important to recognize key technological developments, which have contributed to it (Hansen).  These technological innovations (i.e. internet, television, telephone, radio, satellite, etc.) have created global communication networks that have transcended national borders since the beginning of the 20th century.

Looking at the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) element, which has led to the continuing revolution of globalization through communication as Hansen states in The Information Revolution and World Politics, many innovative and technological developments have created new opportunities globally.  One of the first instances of the largest transnational forms of communication took place during the 1960s, with the launch of the first satellites.  Satellite technology, paved the way in establishing 'global communication networks' between developed and developing countries.  For example, arising technological advancements transmitted information and telephone services wirelessly across the globe, even to remote areas.

Creating an invisible web of connectivity, satellite technology greatly assisted in globalizing communication.  Prior to the early 1990s, ICTs were majorly used by many Western nation-states. However, in last few decades ICTs and the international distribution of cultural production (i.e. movies/ cinema studios) has grown and expanded across the globe.  Additionally, global media news today, is now broadcasted and shared, both domestically and internationally, with media outlets transmitting news and information in real-time, via internet (websites & social media sites), television, newspaper, radio, etc.

It is certainly true the world has become more interconnected within the past century.  The web of globalization and spread/ creation of new ICTs can no longer be mapped.  Manifested through the advancement of communication, globalization or transnationalism has snowballed and taken on a life of its own.  Global, national, domestic, societal, and personal connections are now more interconnected because of the development of ICTs.  In future decades, our connectivity will only further increase, which will become an important element for building a more globalized world, and society.

Views Behind a Nation

       Benedict Anderson posits that the “contemporary national imagination” began in the 19th century with the novel. Readers who were geographically apart could relate to one another, developing a common socio-political consciousness. This idea of a shared worldview has been spread through mass media systems that have “emphasized the concept of the nation-state as the primary and natural form of polity” (Karim, Reviewing the “National” in “International Communication” Through the Lens of Diaspora). Through this enforcement, a nation “becomes a naturalized political, geographic and ethno-cultural entity which is distinct from all other nations in the imagination of not only its own residents but those of others”.  However, with the advent of new media and communications between countries, the nation-state can no longer enforce a single imagination onto its people in the same manner.
            In the 20th century, multiculturalism has emerged to redefine the nation “as moving from comprising an ethnically pluralist populace to one united with core civic values” (Karim). These values have been enforced in the same way as during the time of colonialism. Silvio Waisbord explains that we are all swimming in a symbolic environment in the U.S. with constant reminders of our national identity, terming it “banal nationalism” in Media and the Reinvention of a Nation. The media, educational systems, and daily life routines of all citizens are saturated with American values. This explains the civic core values that are enforced to everyone in a nation, a patriotism that unites them all.
            Those who are not originally born into the imagined community of a particular nation do not assimilate as such. Karim explains how many Diaspora, with their strong ties to their homelands, experience nationalism as a separate idea than patriotism. While nationalism has been seen in a negative light with bigotry and fascism, expressing pride for one’s homeland can also be done without enforcing it upon others. This act of pride has affected assimilation of Diaspora into the United States. New technologies allow them to have constant communication with those at home so they can “exchange symbolic goods and services” (Karim). With this combination of both nationalism in terms of connection to the homeland and patriotism as enforced through banal nationalism, the Diaspora have a new cultural identity in the U.S.
            A different framework to consider is Stuart Hall’s explanation of the Caribbean in Karim’s article, how its population is made up of immigrants from different parts of the world. He “emphasizes that the heterogeneity expressed here speaks not only against colonialism’s hierarchical and essentialist human geography but also stands in contrast to that notion of Diaspora which necessarily includes a return to the ‘original’ homeland” (Karim 24). It is interesting to see how nationalism and patriotism are expressed in nations with different ratios of immigrants to natives.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does war make us better communicators in a weird way?

            Governments for hundreds of years now have sponsored advancements in modern communications technology, memorably with the advent of submarine cables to aid communications between colonizers and the colonized. Wars, namely, have spurred such growth in the communications sector; increased methods of precise coordination are necessary both to monitor one’s enemy and also to guide one’s own military. This begs the question: are wars necessary for advancements in technology, particular for communication?
            It would seem so: the launch of the Russian space satellite Sputnik in 1957 spurred an influx of government spending in science and math programs across the United States in a (successful) effort to catch up. This spaceship, which brought about the fear of Russian capability to send a ballistic missile from space to any point within the United States (Hanson) allowed for technological advances leading to President Kennedy’s sponsorship of a global satellite system. What do we get from this? TV, for one. What was originally a government endeavor has now been increased communication ability for even the poorest in the world.
            What’s more, everyday people use computers (originally used for military calculations) and the Internet (originally used to transfer governmental data that could withstand a nuclear attack). Both the Internet and TV have contributed to a more global economy and, even with just advertising in mind, have increased the amount of participation of the bourgeoisie in what was once restricted to governmental affairs. The following website has an interesting debate on whether or not wars are the mother of invention or if invention is the mother of war:


Soul Searching: Media's Identity Crisis

Explaining the “Crisis of the ‘National’ Media”, Silvio Waisbord argues that “the idea of ‘national media’ needs to be revised.” What particularly caught my attention is his excerpt on the growing challenge of distinguishing the national identity of media content:

 “There is no longer, if there ever was, a direct relationship between the citizenship of cultural workers and the national identity of media content. Defining the cultural citizenship of certain media content has become increasingly difficult when a multinational workforce produces, for example, a vast array of Hollywood movies and European coproductions, recordings of rai music in Paris studios or Pan-American salsa in New York and Miami, and news in CNN and BBC newsrooms. The national identity of content is hard to pin down and cannot be predicted from the citizenship of cultural workers or the location of production.”

While I certainly agree with most of Waisbord’s argument, at the same time I can’t help but question whether it really is the case—at least to the degree of declaring that “There is no longer, if there ever was” a relation between the nationality of the cultural workers and the identity of the resulting media content. This brings to mind the schools of globalization theorists Sinclair mentions. Just as they are divided in their interpretations of globalization’s effects as the homegenization vs. heterogenization of the international community, could it not be argued that the transnational collaboration that marks the 21st century media production process is not as significant in blurring the content’s national identity as Waisbord makes it out to be? Maybe national identities of media content are accentuated regardless of the behind-the-scenes transnational collaboration.

Sure, a K-pop girl group’s latest hit may have been composed by a Korean songwriter, recorded in a studio in Tokyo and choreographed by New York’s best. But when these girls visit Paris for a long-awaited concert, everyone in the audience knows that the song belongs in K-pop kingdom. Is not the national identity of the song made clear simply by the recognition that the band is from Korea, the song is sung in Korean and the singers on stage look very much Korean? Of course, all of this may be inapplicable to those who are unfamiliar with the Korean band or language. But to the relevant populations who are actively consuming this form of media content, I wonder if Waisbord’s argument holds water. Even if the national identity of a media content is rendered unclear, it is less due to the transnational process by which it was created and more a result of incorrect or insufficient information and interest.

In this regard, the national identity of the artist may hold significant influence over the perceived national identity of the media content. Crudely put, nine Asian girls singing in Korean is more likely to hammer home the point that the song is Korean than 9 blondes doing the same. But appearances can be deceiving. Among the 9, two or three are U.S. citizens and in other cases, a seemingly Korean band member is actually Chinese or Thai. Indeed the borderless collaboration in media that Waisbord raises seems to carry over to the national identities of the artists themselves.

Take Wang Leehom, a New York born and raised Chinese-American singer who is a mega star in Taiwan and China. He barely uttered a few greetings in Mandarin when he first began his career in Taiwan. Now he’s spending months venturing out into the remote mountains of China in search of obscure Chinese musical instruments that are in risk of being forgotten. He incorporates them into his songs in hopes of instilling a love for Chinese heritage among younger generations. Perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that this New Yorker sang ‘Beijing, Beijing, I Love Beijing’ to mark the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic games. Karim Karim seems to be on to something—“Diasporics have strong or weak identifications with various global ethnicities; these allegiances may grow or diminish according to the passage of time or the unfolding of events in one’s individual or communal life.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nationalism Portrayal in the Media

The system of nation-states exists by mutual recognition among states (Karim).  The idea of the nation, as well as nations themselves  is a fairly recent phenomenon in human history.  Communication, and continued linkages between people from different regions has played a major role in the development of an international system; and the emergence of globalization.

In harnessing communication to suit the needs of pre-modern societies, the idea of national cultures (Waisbord) occurred.  In looking at the effect of nationalism and  development of nation-states today, there is a communal set of shared practices, values, and rituals.  These nationalistic traits are continuously portrayed in the media, as a form of influence and promotion.  In essence, the media  nurtures a sense of collectivity and community linked to nationhood (Morley, 2000). 

This can be seen around the world in how the national media outlets (e.g. CNN, ABC, NBC, etc.) provide a shared media experience on the present 2012 presidential elections, but depart on views  when discussing the two presidential candidate parties, by portraying a sense of inclusion and exclusion when highlighting differences between both two candidates.  

For defining national-cultures, a continuum of commonness and difference is needed.  This is because nation-states  have a future as long as human beings require a basis to establish unity and difference from each other; and a group identity based on inclusion and exclusion (S. Hall, 1996).  Based off of this argument brought forth by Waisbord, nationalism portrayal in the media establishes various forms of cultural differences.

Whether positive or negative, these cultural differences portrayed within the global media, can induce and perpetuate long term cultural transformations.  While there is 

"no persuasive evidence" (Waisbord), global exposure can assist in not only helping to shape a national culture, but promote its growth as was seen in the development of global media events, such as international sport tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, and the Olympic games.  For both of these events, the selected host countries receive much global media attention, which highlight the nation and its uniqueness. 

 The global media portrayal of the nationalistic characteristics of a state, which express a  community linked to nationhood (Morley, 2000) is often times viewed positively.  However, this is not always true if national culture differences of a nation-state, are viewed negatively, which remains presently the case of Iran and North Korea (deemed the 'axis of evil' powers by Former Pres. Bush). 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Caught in the Web: Power and Counterpower in the Network Society

Acclaimed Chinese director Chen Kaige’s new film, ‘Caught in the Web’, screened a few days ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film raises the issue of the controversial web investigations voluntarily carried out by the Chinese public via the tools provided them by the information highway despite obvious limitations enforced by their government. I have not yet watched ‘Caught in the Web.’ But as its ominous name suggests (and according to the NYT’s take on it), Chen illustrates the dark side of a populace frenzied to action within what Manuel Castells would deem a manifestation of the network society.

The New York Times gives a summary of the film:

ONLOOKERS first stared in consternation. Then they began to hurl insults at the attractive young woman refusing to give her seat to the elderly man next to her. Ignoring him, Ye Lanqiu stared out the bus window though near-opaque sunglasses. Then she smartly patted her knee, inviting him to perch on her lap.
A couple of days later the episode, caught on film, had gone viral. China’s netizens had rallied together to identify and punish her. Yet another online “human flesh search” had set off frenzied action.

The term, “human flesh search” is a literal translation of its original Chinese phrasing. They are “collective and unofficial investigations” that “harness voluntary Web surfers to track down identities, contact details and personal history” (NYT). Chen Kaige’s heroine in the film is the victim of precisely such a search, and the director comments that to him the phenomenon bears reminders of the Cultural Revolution.

In Communication Power, Castells defines the network society as “the social structure that characterizes society in the early twenty-first century, a social structure constructed around (but not determined by) digital networks of communication.” Indeed various foriegn news services and social networks have been blocked in China. Nevertheless, the network society very much exists in the country, as evidenced by the online mobilization and collaboration of countless everyday Chinese on conducting human flesh searches.

Although Chen Kaige’s film only highlights the negative effects of these searches, according to the New York Times these online investigations "have been lauded in some cases for their capacity to expose corruption among local officials when the government does not take action, and national newspapers are prevented by censorship from doing so.” This exemplifies Castells’ logic about power and counterpower in the network society. He asserts that “resistance to power is achieved through the same two mechanisms that constitute power in the network society: the programs of the networks and the switches between networks.” Recognizing the critical role of communication in establishing, maintaining and exerting power, the Chinese government is infamous for its control of the in-country media environment, including Internet searches. In a recent example, it blocked searches for “back injury” in reaction to the rumors that circulated surrounding Xi Jinping’s absence from the public eye. Ironically, it is precisely through Internet searches and other forms of communication that the Chinese government seeks to regulate that the Chinese public is empowered to engage in “countervailing processes that resist established domination on behalf of the interests, values, and projects that are excluded or under-represented in the programs and composition of the networks” (Castells). After all, human flesh searches are employed by everyday citizens who are “motivated by a sense of social and moral outrage” (NYT) to expose “truths” like the extravagant lifestyles of the government elite and their family members, shedding light on facts and opinions obviously left out from the dominant state-controlled media.

Chen Kaige’s take on human flesh searches in ‘Caught in the Web’ appears to be quite negative, aligned with the perspective of the Chinese government. Some say this may have been to avoid the film from being banned, as many of Chen’s previous films have been. Ironically, despite the government-approved content of ‘Caught in the Web’, the film itself serves as a medium that sparks debate about the effectiveness of attempting to control communication while also drawing attention to the very issues Beijing would be keen on avoiding. On a final note, the impact of a viral video in stirring a populace to violent action against another party illustrated in ‘Caught in the Web’ is eerily timely in light of recent developments in the Arab world and the video that triggered it. What insight, if any, can Chen's new film offer? I'll have to embark on quite a web search myself to uncover showtimes and find out.

European Borders and Nation Building

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The above video (or link to video) provides a glimpse of European borders from AD 1000 until present day. After the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, European leaders cemented borders and territorialized their nations by recognizing exclusive control over the people within measured borders. This European idea has since been diffused throughout the world with colonization, and the idea has persisted throughout time and, as Waisbord notes, the questions isn’t whether or not the nation-state will continue to exist but how the nation will continue to exist. As seen by the video above, the West has a preference for distinctively drawn lines designating what is French or what is Austrian, English, Spanish, et cetera. We have seen how this nation-building technique worked after decolonization in the Middle East, and with the introduction to the modern world of mass diasporas (largely, according to Karim, due to colonization) borders and drawn lines matter less and less to those professing nationalities in direct opposition to the nations in which they live.
            Waisbord argues throughout his piece Media and the Reinvention of the Nation that early, Western nation building and the media that helped construct the nation-state largely served bourgeois elite in creating a standardized, mass market for an ideal capitalist society. Certain cultural behaviors must be taken into consideration in order to guarantee a successful capitalist society, and obviously all cultures possess these values. The idea of a borders and nation-states, then, might not be the best solution for every society across the world. What works in Europe does not necessarily translate in the rest of the world, and today with diaspora communities the West is seeing “pay back,” as Karim phrases, by the colonized inside the nation-states of those who were once colonizers. Diaspora communities do not need borders and drawn lines to feel a common identity, especially with the (mostly Western) advent of increased communications: radio and Internet, for example. This, as hypothesized by both Karim and Waisbord, prove challenging for the future management of the traditional, Western-ideal nation-state.  

Public Diplomacy = Interconnectedness

        “Public diplomacy complements and reinforces traditional diplomacy by communicating directly with foreign publics through a wide range of international information, educational and cultural exchange activities”, states the opening paragraph of the United States Information Agency’s brochure. Formed in 1953 and shut down 50 years later, the USIA was a foreign affairs agency that conducted public diplomacy for the U.S. government.  The end of the USIA has negatively affected how diplomacy is carried out overseas.
            This is the conclusion I came to while listening to the panel at American University last week on the new book, The Last Three Feet: Case Studies in Public Diplomacy, edited by William Kiehl. Members of the Public Diplomacy Council who contributed to the book spoke about the field of Public Diplomacy (PD) and how the U.S. government would benefit from restructuring its PD efforts. One of these efforts is promoting cultural awareness and understanding. Two examples were used to describe this – the Shanghai World’s Fair Expo and “American spaces” abroad in the form of libraries.
            Beatrice Camp, Consul General in Shanghai in 2010, managed the Expo and explained how the Chinese spent a decade creating the “biggest Expo in the world”, only to result in the U.S. Congress not wanting to put money into attending. If Hillary Clinton hadn’t thought otherwise and raised public money for the U.S. to attend, America would have been indebted to China for not supporting their effort, stated Michael Anderson. As the former public affairs officer in Indonesia, he also talked about how libraries used to be built worldwide, calling them “American spaces”, which held information on American culture. When these diminished along with the USIA, I’m assuming people in other countries could only learn about American culture through the news and word of mouth within their communities.
            Despite the lack of support for the Expo and canceling the USIA, the U.S. has promoted cultural understanding much more than in the past. Thussu explains the main theories behind International Communications in Approaches to Theorizing International Communication, the framework for what PD, international education, and other related fields have grown from. His discussions of the modernization and dependency paradigms, which emerged during the Industrial Revolution in Europe, show that we have come a long way in our PD efforts.
            The modernization paradigm asserts how the mass media “modernizes” countries, influencing them away from their traditional lifestyles and values. The dependency paradigm is similar, stating how developing nations are subordinate to and dependent on the developed, dominant nations. The dominant influence the subordinate by projecting their values and political structures onto them.  Both of these paradigms conclude that cultural understanding does not take place; cultures are either intensely promoted or diminished, not exchanged. This was the case when the world was split between the First and Third Worlds.
            Although the West does exert dominance on the world today, the onset of globalization has brought an increased acceptance of traditional, non-Western values. Cross-cultural understanding has increased with easier communication between cultures and transportation. Csaba Chikes, a retired senior Foreign Service officer in the USIA, talked about how even Ambassadors who attend Q&As with students in other countries make a difference. Having important U.S. government officials presenting to youth abroad shows respect and openness to understanding, just as attending (and therefore supporting) the Shanghai Expo presented the U.S. story and spirit to the Chinese. The USIA shutting down may have caused PD to backtrack a bit, but bringing realizations such as those in The Last Three Feet to light will keep the world in a new paradigm of interconnectedness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The International Communication Mystery

“International communication” can be elusive. Creative interpretations of what it is and who it involves are diverse and many. Some see it as another word for international relations, others imagine media professionals producing multinational advertising campaigns.

As someone who will be graduating with a Master’s degree in precisely “international communication”, this ambiguity has bothered me more than once. At the core of the problem was that I myself, proclaimed practitioner-in-training and student scholar of the field, am often at a loss of words when it comes to spontaneously and concisely describing “international communication.” Thankful for an aptly-named core requirement, an introductory glimpse into the scholarly literature providing a context for the field of international communication is where I begin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, scholars of the field also seem divided in their approach and definition of international communication. In his 2005 speech at Aoyama Gakuin University, Professor Gary Weaver takes on a more personal approach, shaping the field of international communication through a lens of cross-cultural understanding and interaction. It can at once be an academic field based on social and anthropological research, as well as a brutally practical field upon which lives and dollars are saved and lost. For Daya Thussu in “The Historical Context of International Communication”, the field is marked by the transfer of information--advances in communication technology and the power politics that surround it.

From wartime propaganda and broadcasting journalism to the complexities of cultural sensitivity training and educational exchanges, it is indeed true that the field we label as “international communication” encompasses a great deal. What remains constant in this diverse and difficult-to-define field are two simple facts: it cannot be stopped and cannot be missed. It cannot be stopped in that international communication as the transfer of information across national boundaries will continue to exist, evolving with the technologies and mediums that emerge with each generation. It cannot be missed in that communicating internationally is becoming increasingly interlinked to interests from the individual to global levels, and cross-cultural competency is no longer a pleasant option, but a critical requirement.

Ritualistic Communication in Developing States

Thussu in Approaches to Theorizing International Communication lists several theories in approaching the topic of development in the third world, such as the Modernization and Dependency paradigms. Through the modernization paradigm, first world nations use media as a “mobility multiplier” (Thussu, 43) in order to diffuse information from the first world to the third world. He mentions that those espousing this approach try to transform thinking in underdeveloped nations from a culture of fatalism and fear of change to one of personal and national goal setting, or in other words, risk taking. A culture that is not risk averse is, of course, great for capitalism.
This top down approach brings back the memory of Lawrence Harrison’s efforts to show that Western, Protestant work ethic contributed to the success of a society, and that if a less developed country wished to succeed it would need to have a change in its values and beliefs. While infusing Western cultural values in the Eastern hemisphere in order to secure development mainly for the sake of the West might be a good short term strategy, modernizations theorists’ “assumption that the modern and the traditional lifestyles were mutually exclusive, and their dismissive view of culture…” can clearly end badly. Nationalism usually takes over, i.e. the nationalization of Iran’s oil to which the US responded with a CIA-backed coup. Look at where Iran is today.
Carey also touches on third world interpretations of communication in Communication as Culture, calling “ritualistic communication” of fatalist nature, “directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the at of imparting information but …shared beliefs,” (Carey, 18). Whereas transmission communication is meant to disseminate ideas and spread knowledge, ritualistic communication acted as a means of preaching. It seems implied by Thussu, however, that the West’s use of transmission communication is used to spread the knowledge via “free press” in order to expand capitalist markets for the West. Regardless, evidence of ritualistic communication can be seen across the world in nation states that actively fight against Western influence. Propaganda in the Middle East in particular against the US and Israel, whatever the level of validity of their arguments, aims not to force people to question but to reaffirm beliefs that the outside is the aggressor. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

From Propaganda to Cultural Awareness: My Intro. to International Communications

            As an emerging scholar diving into the field of International Communications, I wasn’t sure where I could start in developing my own views of such a dynamic field.
However, reading Dr. Gary R. Weaver’s The Evolution of International Communication as a Field of Study transformed my apprehensiveness into realization. What resonated with me most was his stating, “While some of us are international relations scholars, others are political scientists, socio-linguists, or communications experts”. This field relates to everyone.
He goes on to explain how the field evolved for him.  Dr. Weaver realized in the 1960s that International Relations was too expansive to explain the many changes going on at the time. At the root of the Korean and Vietnam wars was culture, a subject people didn’t fully take account of in the field. World War I and II could be explained by International Relations theories on European states being in conflict, but these theories alone couldn’t explain every aspect of the era.
Thussu is another International Communications scholar. He explains the prevalence of propaganda in part of The Historical Context of International Communication. Thussu’s point emerges from his explanation on how propaganda at this time, during the Cold War, was extensively broadcast via the radio. Aiming at the Third World, the Soviet Union strove for communism promotion and the West wanted raw materials and emerging product markets. By the end of it, the rapidly developing part of the Third World spoke up and “demanded the international communication issues be seen in terms of North-South rather than East-West categories”. They wanted to be split based on similar development levels, not advancement of Western and Soviet interests.
It’s interesting to look back on these forms of propaganda and compare them to what goes on today. Propaganda is still used in the U.S. that does not recognize culture as Dr. Weaver realized in the ‘60s. The public constantly watches NBC, Fox News, and reality TV shows significantly more than BBC or NPR. It can be argued that BBC and NPR are not culturally sensitive either, or that NBC and Fox can be at most times, but in the end the media is being used to advance some U.S. interest; culturally sensitive media is not a priority.
Nevertheless, with the onset of globalization especially taking effect now, propaganda is slowly dying as the primary form of media in the world today. The Internet has an especially large role in shaping this point. With Twitter and Reddit, blogs and instant contacts overseas, people are becoming more in-tune with the world around them. Weaver closes his article with the point that international education, sending Americans overseas, is the easiest step the nation can take now. “If people are well educated… they will demand that the news media cover more factual information about the rest of the world”.
            I came to realize at the end of the article that it isn’t just scholars who utilize International Communications daily, but anyone who surfs the web, overhears a conversation, tries a new type of food, or even just flips on the television in the morning is exposed to it. I agree with Dr. Weaver that everyone should realize how important communicating effectively in this globalized world has come to be – and the first step is through education.