To what extent are local and national identities fractured by new extra-territorial exchanges?
During the 1970s the term interdependence emerged as a definitional parameter for global developments. In the 1980s, this term was usurped by a new understanding of global processes; globalisation. The increasingly interconnected nature of global functions in the early stages of globalisation was essentially personified by developments in the economic realm (Tomlinson, 2001). The insatiable march of capitalism has therefore entirely transcended the auspices of the nation state, invariably driven by technological developments in communication. Just has the intrinsic nature and impact of economic globalisation became realised in academic and political circles, wider effects of increased interconnection became increasingly apparent. As such, it is now fully recognised that the impact and effect of globalisation has moved far beyond the narrow economic confines in which it once resided.
Above all, globalisation has exerted a protracted and severe impact upon cultural formations and identities (Hartley, 2002). Therefore, the study of globalisation has become an interdisciplinary endeavour more than any other field of examination. If one is to fully appreciate and account for the impact globalisation has had on culture and identity, interdisciplinary approaches are essential. In such regard, significant sociological and anthropological academic output has been dedicated to the assessment of the effect globalisation has on identity and culture. However, given that the media acts as the essential tool by which extra territorial exchanges take place, the assessment of media role is pivotal to gaining a fuller understanding of the globalisation phenomenon. Thus, such is the ultimate focus of this work.
Therefore, this work will assess and examine the degree to which new extra territorial exchanges have fractured local and national identities. As hinted above, media concepts such as space are essential to such investigation. Moreover, it will be shown that the increasing prevalence of new media technology has allowed for globalised culture to impact significantly upon regional and national identities and cultural formations. Essentially driven by free market capitalism, the relative westernisation of global culture has meant that national and regional identities have suffered systemic attack. Not only does the media act as the essential conduit through which such impact takes place, assessment and investigation of media issues clearly highlights the degree to which technological development on the global stage has directly led to the fragmentation and marginalisation of national cultures and identities. However, the extent and reach of globalisation must still be questioned.
Theoretical perspectives represent a pertinent place to being this investigation. A plethora of such perspectives have been proffered in an attempt to account for the cultural impact of globalisation. Foremost among these is the variant of Marxist capitalist criticism as personified by the writings of Schiller (Crane et al, 2002). Schiller’s analysis tends to rest on the degree to which globalisation insatiably envelopes smaller less economically robust countries through aggressive capitalist development. However, he also pays significant attention to the fact that corporate development in capitalism is bolstered by an ideological base which directs the domination of global culture (Crane et al, 2002). As such, using Schiller’s Marxist assessment it is possible to see how dominant cultural ideologies come to impact not only upon the formation of culture and identity in less economically advanced societies, but also on global cultural tendencies.
The common conception within the globalisation debate is the vast increase in extra territorial exchanges has allowed for the relative ascendency of American culture on the global stage. Propelled by the aggressively successful engines of free market capitalism, it is often suggested that American led globalisation presents a fundamental concerted attack against indigenous identities and cultures. Tomlinson (1999) has explored this idea to a graduated degree with the overall conclusion being that globalisation has done much to destroy cultural tendencies and norms in various national settings through increased communicative relations and extra territorial exchanges. The essential basis on which such changes have occurred is the propagation of American cultural tendencies on the global stage and a subsequent loss of diversity at the local and national level of cultural formation. Quite pertinently, Tomlinson (1999) points out that some national identities have dealt better with this transformation than others. For example, he dedicates significant time to assessing the degree to which extra territorial communications have altered the nature of culture and identity in Britain since the 1980s. However, given the intrinsic similarities between American and British cultural tendencies, the impact of this change has not been felt as acutely as elsewhere. A pertinent example of where such impact has been acutely felt is in India. The degree to which Americanisation has affected traditional Indian culture; particularly in urban areas is certainly protracted (Harvey, 2002). The merging Indian market has been a most fruitful economic environment for western business and naturally, such developments have been reliant on the expansion of American style media formats. Therefore, media and communication exchanges which occurs will beyond the auspices of the nation state have impacted heavily on the ever growing Indian urban middle classes. The degree to which such the preservation of culture and identity in India is deemed as a vital issue of concern is personified by government action in the media realm. Proactive legislative action such as the 1997 Broadcasting Bill have therefore been the hallmark of Indian attempts to preserve cultural identification in national media outlets (Harvey, 2002).
The above discussion has highlighted the continuing academic debate which claims increasing Americanisation to be the greatest threat and indicator to growing marginalisation and fragmentation of national culture and identity. The basic premise of this outlook thus suggests that national cultures and identities suffer from endemic fracture as a consequence of increased globalisation and the extra territorial exchanges which direct it. However, the continuing debate about cultural globalisation contains a number of theoretical perspectives which question the wisdom of the approach outlined above. Foremost among these is cultural flows model.
Sometimes termed the network model, the cultural flows approach to cultural globalisation suggests that the impact of apparent Americanisation in extra territorial exchanges has been overstated. Although media based forces act as the conduit through which cultural transmission takes place, the features of such transmission speaks of hybridisation than it does of homogenisation (Canclinio & Chiappari, 2005). In this regard, Pieterse (1994) has proposed a convincing argument which suggests that cultural formation through extra territorial exchanges cannot simply be reduced to the flow of western culture to the rest of the world. To suggest that such is the case is to drastically underestimate the impact of non western cultures on the global setting. Moreover, it can certainly be argued that regional interactions sometimes impact on the national cultural scene as much as global developments (Pieterse, 1994).
The above two theoretical approaches to the question of cultural globalisation differ in the manner in which they conceptualise extra territorial exchanges and the characteristics which should be ascribed to such developments. However, whether one determines that Americanisation is a global reality, or whether hybridisation best accounts for global cultural developments, the ultimate conclusion with regards to national and regional structures remains unchanged. Above all, both assessments conclude that the MediaSpace of individual cultural settings as been impacted upon by territorial exchanges which occur beyond the realm of the national or regional actors (Couldry & McCarthy, 2004). Therefore, although they differ fundamentally on the characteristics of global developments, both understandings concur with the assessment that local and national identities have been fractured by extra territorial exchanges. Indeed, such conclusions represent the majority view in academic discourse. Ultimately, whatever features one chooses to ascribe to global transformations in culture, it appears universal that such developments impact significantly and, generally negatively upon local and national culture and identity. However although such conclusions are certainly attractive in terms of analytical support, opposite sentiments have been proffered.
As hinted above, effectively proffering detailed assertions which claim national cultures have been unaffected by extra territorial exchanges is somewhat arduous. However, one school of academic thought has attempted to highlight the degree to which national cultures and identities have proved to be robust in response to the global cultural incursion. Commentators who subscribe to reception theory argue that different national and local cultures respond in different ways to the same global media outputs (Crane et al, 2002) Therefore, such cultures are not viewed as being passive in relation to extra territorial exchanges but rather active interpreters of global news and entertainment (Crane et al, 2002). As different national and local cultures exhibit varyingly different identification, then the reaction such cultures will have towards global media offerings will similarly differ. This approach is firmly grounded in empiricism. For example, Liebes and Katz (1994) outlined that various different cultural responses were found when the American television series Dallas was transmitted on the global stage. Moreover, the study found that different ethnic groups within individual nations (most notably Israel) responded in different ways to the TV show on the basis of cultural and ethnic divergences (Liebes & Katz, 1994)).
As such, it is possible to see that in certain respects, the impact of extra territorial exchanges on national and local cultures is the subject of vehement debate in academic discourse. However, although the approach undertaken by reception theorists does indeed highlight the degree to which fragmentation occurs at the local level in response to global media outputs, this does little do alter the widely accepted assumption that extra territorial exchanges have significantly impacted upon cultural formations of identity at the local and national level. As such, whether one contends with the idea of Americanisation or with concepts of hybridisation, the overall conclusion is that national and local cultural formations are suffering from systemic attack from global media based forces. Thus, at the national level protracted impact has been felt and indeed, as Tomlinson (1999; p. 5) has suggested, the globalisation of media based on increased extra territorial exchanges is “obliterating the differences between locality defined cultures”.
In order to exemplify and support the conclusion that extra territorial exchanges are fundamentally altering the nature of national and local cultural formation, it is necessary to look in greater detail at the responses of national government forces to global media developments. Indeed, the examination of such actions at the national and local level personifies the degree to which extra territorial exchanges are indeed impacting significantly.
The actions of the Indian government as outlined above with regards to preserving cultural identity in national and local media production are far from being unique. Indeed, there exist a plethora of examples which point to national political forces attempting to redress the imbalance between indigenous media output and that which impacts from the global arena (Castells, 2007). With regards to Britain, Harvey (2002) has offered detailed assessment as to how local media outlets are being systemically squeezed out by powerful multinational media conglomerates. She thus argues that national media policy acts as the essential tool by which the interaction between free market media development and the preservation of national and local culture takes place. Such assessment of the British scene is provided with credence from a number of empirical studies. For example, Norris (2002) has suggested that multinational media organisations have caused a general progression in Britain which has been personified by concentration of ownership and reduced diversity. Moreover, although some local based media outlets such as the London Evening Standard newspaper have responded vigorously to the challenge of global media actors, such examples represent the minority. Thus, on the whole it can be said that local British media has suffered from the intrusion of more powerful global actors. The measure to which such processes have occurred is exemplified by the British governments’ passing of the Communications Act 2003, which aimed to preserve a legal position for community based radio (Rantanen, 2005). However, the degree to which such actions will protect other local media functions remains unclear.
Therefore, it is certainly possible to see that extra territorial exchanges have come to impact considerably upon the formation of media processes in national and local settings. Thus, given that the media acts as the essential conduit through which culture and identity is formed in globalised processes, it would be fair to conclude that the development of extra territorial exchanges has substantially altered the nature of time and space in regional settings (Lull, 2000). However, although this conclusion represents the generally accepted view of current developments, one issue of concern nonetheless remains. Although cultural globalisation is inevitably occurring, actually how ‘global’ in nature is it? This question has plagued the academic fraternity for some years and therefore requires examination. Indeed, if we are to assume that extra territorial exchanges are impacting upon cultural formation, then it would certainly be prudent to investigate the degree to which such exchanges are actually taking place.
Accurately determining the scope of cultural globalisation essential rests on effectively outlining the degree to which media interactions have impacted in different parts of the world. Although the spread of the English language along with various other cultural phenomena distinctive to western society has been evident in all areas of the globe, it is important to highlights the degree to which significant divergence exists in the scope and reach of globalised media processes (Lull, 2000). For example, in pure practical terms, the technological foundations on which media conglomerates rely for the propagation global cultural forms differs substantially depending on the region in question. Thus, New York has more telephones than the whole of sub Saharan Africa combined, yet the population levels are 7.3 million and 650 million respectfully (Carruthers, 2001). Therefore, merely in terms of fairly simple communicative technology much of the world’s population remains untouched. Carruthers (2001) has suggested that as much as 85% of the global population does not own a telephone. As such, she asserts that given that as much as one third of the population of poor countries is illiterate, “the wired world looks decidedly less global” (Carruthers, 2001; p. 214). As such, it is certainly possible to contend that as the reach of globalisation varies substantially depending on the geographical area in question, then the degree to which extra territorial exchanges impact upon culture is equally variable. Naturally, in developed and developing countries the impact of extra territorial exchanges on national and local cultural formations has been clearly witnessed. However, this does not account for the global picture as a whole. Above all, it must be noted that the scope and impact of globalisation is often limited, particularly with regards to the poorest and least developed regions of the globe (Lull, 2000).
In conclusion, this work has aimed to examine and assess the degree to which extra territorial exchanges have fractured national and local identity and culture. Above all, it is clear that the emergence of globally orientated media has had a considerable impact upon certain geographical regions. As such, whether Americanisation or hybridisation has been the hallmark of extra territorial exchanges, this does little alter the fact that local and national cultural formations have been impacted upon by global media processes. However, the final discussion above highlights a pertinent point of issue for the current investigation and also for the globalisation debate in general. Above all, it is vital not to overstate the impact globalisation has had on much of the world. As such, to suggest that the strong cultural identities often found in underdeveloped countries have been affected substantially by extra territorial exchanges is somewhat irksome. However, given that market led capitalist functions represent the foundation on which globalisation rests, it is questionable as to how long such diverse cultural and ethnic societies will remain untouched by the ongoing processes of globalisation.
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