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”