Too many (all?) global media and culture theories ignore the unique position of the United States

Dal Jong Yin’s “Hierarchy in Globalization Trends.” The model is quite useful. However, I believe it needs to be adjusted to account for the unique situation/positionality of the United States.

I am currently reading, and reviewing, a well-done text book, Globalization and Media in the Digital Platform Age, written by Simon Fraser scholar Dal Yong Jin. Jin, unlike many global media and communication scholars, has not been fully seduced by the cultural globalization, hybridization and glocalization perspectives whose adherents have dominated global media and communication studies for more than two decades — is this the longest ever dialectical swing away from one pole (cultural imperialism) to the other (cultural globalization), I sometimes wonder? 😉

Jin develops a solid middle ground between cultural imperialism and cultural globalization in this textbook, published in 2019. That is, he is careful to acknowledge that the reality of hybridization, which sees cultures inevitably mixed in cultural products and objects, does not erase substantial differences in cultural and political economic power. Jin also smartly acknowledges the fact that everything is indeed a hybrid, to one extent or another,  does not prevent hegemonic forces of globalization from co-opting and (ab)using hybridization and glocalization to suit their own globalizing (cultural) interests.

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Deconstructing cultural globalization and its valorization of individual agency

So, my work very much tilts toward the cultural imperialism side of a continuum of cultural imperialism vs. cultural globalization in the field of global media and communication studies. That is, I do not see individuals as having all that much power in terms of the age-old structure-agency debate.

I believe that we are primarily structured by forces outside of ourselves — long-running historical forces such as politics, ideology, culture, religion, socially-proscribed gender roles, etc. — primarily shape us and largely direct what sorts of “choices” we do (not) have.

I am especially very much opposed to the claim made by libertarian theorists that we do things own our “own.” We NEVER do anything completely on our own. NEVER!

What do I mean by this?

What I mean is that the entire history of the universe, the earth, and most importantly, the entire history of humanity — meaning the history of all human beings who have ever lived — precedes us. All of those human beings collectively, across time, through their also historically and socially situated being and actions created the social conditions and structures in which we today live as “individuals.” Continue reading “Deconstructing cultural globalization and its valorization of individual agency”

ACIC and Dominant Group Studies and Dominant Cultural Group Theory

Dominant Group Studies (DGS) and Dominant Cultural Group Theory propose that we focus critical and empirical attention on the ways in which Dominant Cultural Groups (DCGs), most notably, culturally and linguistically and educationally and racially privileged Americans, are both especially insular and also comparatively arrogant vis-a-vis their own dominant culture and relatively ignorant vis-a-vis the culture of so-called “others.” [Image Credit:]
American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC) also draws upon a new theory I am developing called Dominant Cultural Group Theory (DCGT). I situate this theory within the broader domain of what I call Dominant Group Studies (DGS).

I am not the first to have put forward a proposal for Dominant Group Theory, though, to the best of my knowledge, I am the first to call for a field of study called Dominant Group Studies. Within the fields of media and communication studies and theory, Razzante & Orbe (2018) have recently begun to develop a Dominant Group Theory (DGT). Razzante and Orbe (2018) focus on how “dominant group members communicate with co-cultural group members within oppressive structures,” and therefore zero in primarily on communication with not much focus on culture and language. In contrast, I am much more interested in, and DCGT is much more focused on, the dynamics of power vis-à-vis the production and consumption of popular culture and the specific role that language, e.g. English as a nationally and globally dominant language for particular dominant groups inside the United States, play in terms of the (lack of) empowerment and ability of non-dominant groups to alter dominant groups’ comparative stranglehold on (global) cultural production and consumption.

Razzante’s and Orbe’s (2018) “five premises” of DGT are useful in terms of articulating a critical version of Dominant Cultural Group Theory (DCGT), which at heart, is a normative critical theory. These five premises are:

  1. In each society, a hierarchy exists that privileges certain groups of people: in the United States these groups include cisgender men, European Americans, Christians, heterosexuals, the able-bodied, native English speakers (emphasis = my own), and those from the middle and upper classes;
  2. Others—trans persons, women, people of color, Muslims, LGBT persons, people with disabilities, non-native English speakers, and those from a lower class—are marginalized as co-cultural group members;
  3. Although representing a widely diverse array of lived experiences, dominant group members will share a similar societal position that provides them with societal advantages compared to their co-cultural group counterparts;
  4. While dominant group members share an advantaged position in society, their lived experiences—like their co-cultural counterparts—reflect a diversity of perspectives that resist essentialist understanding; and
  5. On the basis of varying levels of privilege, dominant group members occupy positions of power that are used in their negotiation of traditionally dominant communication systems.

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Building a Theory of American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC)

A snapshot of the Top 10 Weekly Streamed Songs on Spotify for the week of Sept. 10, 2020 shows that all 10 songs in the United States are in English. In Germany, three of the top 10 songs are sung in English. This comparative snapshot repeats itself repeatedly, with American Spotify charts rarely seeing songs sung in languages other than English break into the Top 10, except for, occasionally, songs sung in Spanish or hybrid English-Spanish songs. German-language, or Japanese-language, or French-language songs, etc. never make their way into the American Spotify Top 10, in large part due to American Cultural Insularity (ACIC) in the center.

American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC) describes a tendency among American cultural consumers, especially those who hail from dominant and also mostly English-monolingual groups, to consume Anglo-American cultural products over “other” cultural products, sometimes to the apparent near exclusion of non-Anglo-American cultural products. This tendency is particularly apparent in terms of “language-heavy” objects such as popular music.

Broadly speaking, according to the ACIC model, American cultural consumers are more likely than consumers in any other national context to exhibit the greatest levels of cultural self-orientation, especially toward language intensive cultural products. ACIC focuses on the unique cultural situation of Americans, especially that of Americans who are essentially monolingual in English. It also seeks to theorize beyond the U.S. to consumers situated in national contexts farther from the center whose cultural consumption patterns often tend to orient more toward the center than toward products produced in, and coming from, less culturally and less linguistically central countries, for example, from China or Russia.

The primary impetus behind the ACIC, and, more generally, Cultural Insularity in the Center (CIC) models is the belief that not enough emphasis is being placed on the unique situation of American consumers vis-Ă -vis a global cultural and linguistic configuration of power often dominated by Anglo-American cultural products (Kuisel, 2003; Ritzer & Stilman, 2003) and Anglo-American English (Crystal, 2001; Phillipson, 2008). Indeed, as Cleveland et. al (2016) have noted, a clear inward pointing cultural consumption orientation among large numbers of Americans has remained mostly under-explored and under-interrogated among social scientific researchers.

Generally lost in the debate within international communication and global media and cultural studies surrounding whether cultural producers in countries such as the U.S. or cultural consumers in less central cultural hold more power are the ways in which consumers in the U.S. tend to be located very differently vis-Ă -vis “global culture” and global cultural flows. American consumers’ situation is a direct result of American cultural products’ comparative, and continuing, global domination (Crane, 2016; Moody, 2017; Nayan & Natividad, 2017; Wise, 2010) which is also frequently intricately bound up with global Anglo-American linguistic hegemony (Mirrlees, 2013; Phillipson, 2008). This creates for Anglo-American consumers a clear and pronounced cultural insularity in the center. Within the U.S., this insularity is likely to be most pronounced among Americans who embody dominant cultural and linguistic status, meaning, in particular, among white middle class English-language monolinguals. Continue reading “Building a Theory of American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC)”

Cultural imperialism, cultural globalization and cultural hegemony

While American popular culture is not the only culture to have global sway, no other culture has, comparatively speaking, as wide, broad, or deep a reach as American culture. Different cultural consumers in different countries respond to, and “read” American culture differently, and it is one of a range of cultural choices for consumers globally. However, it is still the most predominant “dish” on the global smorgasbord, as cultural theorist Richard Kuisel has noted.

I place a theory of American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC) in relation to larger theoretical models/debates with international communication and global media studies. Two general models describing the global cultural system — cultural imperialism and cultural globalization — have dominated scholarship within global media and international communication studies, with a third model, to which I ascribe, cultural hegemony, also significant.

Generally, debates between scholars who lean more toward a cultural imperialism perspective (e.g., Golding, 1977; Mattelart, 1979; Schiller 1976) and those who tilt more towards a cultural globalization perspective (e.g., Alim 2010; Cheshire & Moser 1994; Katz & Liebes 1987; Kirmse 2010; Thussu 1998, 2006) tend to imply that either the global cultural system is largely characterized by a top-down and/or center-out relationship or that it is primarily marked by localization, hybridization, cultural resistance and “counter flows” back to the top/center.

Cultural imperialism refers to a global situation in which powerful culture industries and actors located almost exclusively in the West and, in particular, in the United States, dominate other local, national and regional cultures and actors. This domination is understood as being largely the outcome of fundamental historical inequalities that have resulted in the bulk of political and economic power being concentrated in the West and, especially, in the United States. A number of different scholars have been associated with the development of the notion of cultural imperialism, among them Schiller (1976, 1991), Mattelart (1979), and Golding (1977), with Schiller widely viewed as the most influential of these. Many contemporary scholars (Boyd-Barrett, 2016; Sparks, 2007, etc.)  continue to take up Schiller’s perspective, and despite what some academics have claimed, I strongly believe that it is clear that cultural imperialism still has relevance within the fields of media, cultural and global communication studies.

In contrast to cultural imperialism, which encourages scholars to concentrate on cultural domination and cultural producers as well as on the power of the latter to impose their ideology on others, cultural globalization encourages researchers to focus on cultural resistance and cultural consumers as well as on the power of people, both on individual and collective levels, to read, appropriate, and use cultural products in creative fashion. In the tensions between cultural imperialist-inflected and cultural globalization-inflected scholarship, we see disagreement about what level of analysis to focus on, with scholarship rooted in a cultural imperialism approach generally concerned primarily with macro-level (global/national) cultural production and distribution questions and issues and scholarship grounded in a cultural globalization approach tending to focus more on micro-level (local) questions surrounding cultural consumption. Continue reading “Cultural imperialism, cultural globalization and cultural hegemony”