What the hell is media and globalization?

Following a series of development: the end of the Cold War, the growing prominence of neoliberal economic policies, and the diffusion of ICTs, the international environment has changed and the term globalization has been used to describe an array of processes and effects spurred by these changes. According to Rantanen, one of the fundamental issues involved with studying this area is a problem with the definition of globalization we choose, for when we look at different definitions of globalization we already see consequences. As a result, it is difficult to separate the consequence and the cause of globalization from one another.

Process of Globalization

Even though Rantanen feels that it is difficult to separate process from effects in the study of globalization, I am going to do so anyway and refer to Tomlinson’s definition of globalization. Tomlinson (1999: 2) defines globalization as complex connectivity referring to the rapidly developing and ever more complex network of interconnections and interdependencies that characterize modern social life. Obviously, global connectivity is mediated by information technology (Rantanen). As a consequence of the marriage between post-industrialization and globalization, each new form of technology, be it mobile phones or the internet, is forecast to intensify the experience of globalization (Castells, 1998).

Globalization is Imbalanced

Most discourse on globalization acknowledges that it is an ‘uneven’ process. In Tomlinson’s words, “its effects and consequences are not uniformly experienced everywhere in the world.” As Doreen Massey puts it, there is a ‘power geometry’ of globalization in which ‘some people are more in charge of than others; some initiate flows and movement, other’s don’t; some are more on the receiving-end of it than others; some are effectively imprisoned by it.” Appadurai also acknowledges that in most situations, there is going to be an imbalance of power when dealing with two nations.

According to Rantanen, we can think about consequences of globalization as a duality, as homogenization and heterogenization. Homogenization refers to all those processes by which peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society (Albrow, 1990). Heterogenization, on the other hand, sees the effects of globalization as a complex set of interacting and often countervailing human, material, and symbolic flows that lead to diverse, heterogeneous cultural positionings and practices which persistently and variously modify established sectors of social, political, and cultural power (Lull, 1995).

Globalization as Homogenization

The homogenization school is influenced by theories such as media/cultural imperialism, americanization/ westernization, influence, core-periphery, one-way street, dependency, and political economy.

Contributions to Homogenization

  • Boyd-Barrett (1997:119) writes that the country which is affected by media influence either adopts this influence as a deliberate commercial or political strategy, or simply absorbs this influence unreflectively as the result of the contract.
  • Herbert Schiller (1976): ‘The concept of cultural imperialism today best describes the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how is dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the value and structures of the dominating center of the system.’
  • Dorfman & Mattelart (1971): How To Read Donald Duck. Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic.
  • Hamelink: Cultural Syncronization
    • One conclusion still seems unanimously shared: the impressive variety of the world’s cultural systems is waning due to a process of cultural syncronization that is without any historic precedent.
    • Never before has the process of cultural influence proceeded so subtly, without any blood being shed and with the receiving culture thinking it had sought such cultural influence.
      • In a Mexican village the traditional ritual dance precedes a soccer match, but the performance features gigantic Coca-Cola bottle.
      • In Singapore, a band dressed in traditional Malay costume offer a heartbreaking imitation of Fat Domino.
      • In Saudi Arabia, the television station performs only one local cultural function–the call for the Moslem prayer.
      • Five times a day, North American cops and robbers yield to the traditional muezzin. In its gigantic advertising campaign, IBM assures Navajo Indians that their cultural identity can be effectively protected if they use IBM typewriters equipped with the Navajo alphabet.

Criticisms of Homogenization

According to Golding and Harris (1997: 5), Media Imperialism “overstates external determinants and undervalues the internal dynamics, not least those of resistance, within dependent societies. Secondly, it conflates economic power and cultural effects. Thirdly, there is an assumption that audiences are passive, and that local and oppositional creativity is of little significance. Finally, there is an often patronizing assumption that what is at risk is the ‘authentic’ and organic culture of the developing world under the onslaught of something synthetic and inauthentic coming from the West.

Tomlinson (1991) offers some critique of cultural imperialism based on several key points.

  • Cultural imperialism as the spread of modernity.
  • Based on false cultural consciousness.
  • Why should we deny to the developing world the consumerism we accept?
  • How can a culture be autonomous or impose itself upon others?
  • Cultures are not bounded entities but consist of changing practices and meanings.
  • At which level are we to locate the national culture which is allegedly under threat from cultural imperialism (whose culture: government’s or the dominant ethnic group’s)
  • Which set of values within that ethnic group are the authentic ones?
  • Even a given ethnic group will be divided along lines of class and gender
  • Capitalist modernity is technologically and economically powerful but culturally weak.

According to Lull (2000), “Globalization does not mean that some universal, technology-based super-society covers the globe and destroys local social systems and cultures. Despite technology’s awesome reach, we have not, and will not, become one people.” He uses the following examples to support his argument:

  • A Peruvian band playing traditional Andes folk music at a tourist restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, suddenly breaks into the English band Queen’s “We will rock you” to the delight of German and Canadian girls in the audience.
  • The Milan collection of lamps sold in the United States are made in Taiwan and distributed by a French wholesaler.
  • More than 400 million people worldwide, in countries including Russia, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, and Switzerland, regularly watch TV soap operas that originate in Spanish-language nations.
  • German pop music band travels to the United States where they perform solely for Vietnamese-American immigrants who use the music to unite their community.

Globalization as Heterogenization

On the flip side, the heterogenization school has been influenced by anthropology, field work, cultural studies, reception studies, active audience, and second generation globalization theorists. Some of the key theorists include Appadurai, Featherstone, Garcia Canclini, Hannerz, Lull, Pieterse, Robertson, and Tomlinson.

Contributions to Heterogenization

  • Indigenization – Appadurai (1990): Claims of creeping global homogenization invariably subspeciate into either an argument about Americanization, or an argument about commoditization, and very often these two arguments are very closely linked. What these arguments fail to consider is that at least as rapidly as forces from the various metropolises are brought into new societies, they tend to become indigenized in one way or another: this is true of music and housing styles as much as it is true of science and terrorism, spectacles and constitutions.
  • Creolization: Hannerz (1991): Creole cultures are not instant products of the present but have had some time to develop and draw themselves together to at least some degree of coherence; generations have already been born into them, but have also kept working on them. Looking forward, the creolization scenario is open-ended.
  • Hybridization – The fusing, mixing, intermingling, combining, fusion, mélange of cultural forms
  • Transculturation – Lull (2000): A process whereby cultural forms literally move through time and space where they interact with other cultural forms and settings, influence each other, produce new forms, and change cultural settings. This produces cultural hybrids-the fusing of cultural forms.
  • Glocalization – Robertson: ‘third way’ neither homogenization nor heterogenization neither global nor local rather simultaneous, mutually implicative, complimentary, interpenetrative.

Examples of Globalization

  • In 2003, 25,000 US tax returns were done in India. By 2004, the number was 100,000.
  • There are currently about 245,000 Indians who work in call centers.
  • Total exports from American based companies to India have grown from $2.5 billion in 1990 to $5 billion in 2003.
  • At Yale, the ’85 class had 836 total international students. By 2003, this number had risen to 1,775.
  • The National Science Board (NSB) has reported that 18-24 year old Americans with science degrees has fallen from #3 (3 decades ago) to #17 currently.
  • According to the NCB, the percentage of American papers published in the top physics journal, Physical Review, has fallen from 61 percent to 29 percent since 1983.
  • From 1980 to 2003, Japan’s share of world industrial patents rose from 12 percent to 21 percent while the US’ share has fallen from 60% to 52%.
  • Research conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy shows that 60 percent of the nation’s top science students and 65 percent of the top math students are children of recent immigrants.


Appadurai, A. (1990) ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’, pp. 1-23 in Public Culture, Vol.2, No 3. A shorter version is published in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.7, No 2-3, June 1990.

Boyd-Barrett, O. (1977) ‘Media imperialism: towards an international framework for the analysis of media systems’, pp. 116-135 in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds) Mass Communication and Society. London: Edward Arnold.

Boyd-Barrett, O. (1998) ‘Media imperialism reformulated’, pp. 157-176 in D.K. Thussu (ed) Electronic Empires. Global Media and Local Resistance. London: Edward Arnold.

Garcia Canclini, N. (1995) Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for entering and leaving modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

Hall, S. (1991) ‘The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity,’ pp. 19-40 in A. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System. London: Macmillan

Hamelink, C. (1983) Cultural Autonomy in Global Communications. New York: Herman, E. and McChesney, R.W. (1997) The Global Media. The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism. London: Cassell, Chapter 2.

Lull, J. (2000) Media, Communication, Culture: A global approach. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Morley, D. & Robins, K. (1995) Spaces of identity. Global media, electronic landscapes and cultural boundaries. London: Routledge.

Pieterse, J.N. (1995) ‘Globalization as Hybridization’, pp. 3-67 in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson (eds.) Global Modernities. London: Sage.

Rantanen, T. (2005) The Media and Globalization. London: Sage.