Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fault in Sparks' approach

In his article “What’s wrong with globalization?” Colin Sparks ticks off what he claims are the central tenants of Globalization theory in international communications. For each of the four main tenants, he deconstructs what is inapplicable to the modern system. In his second point, his lens of analysis is faulty.
Sparks’ argues that if globalization is to be a working paradigm, “the international circulation of media products, are today central to the functioning of the global world in the ways that the exchange of raw materials and manufactured commodities were central to earlier epochs.” (Sparks, 136) Media products would be today what coal and steel were to the industrial revolution. According to his analysis, in order for this to be true, media companies would make up a bigger segment of the economy than those of his ‘old industry.’ In this light, media companies do not succeed. Oil and automobile companies beat out the largest of the international media corporations in terms of gross income, net assets, market capitalization, and number of employees. It is here that Sparks makes a mistake. Rather than the size of these corporations, we should examine the level to which the products of media corporations are pervasive and necessary to the functioning of companies of the old industry.
Unquestionably, advances in information and communication technologies have revolutionized the way the modern world does business. Standardization throughout the world of software types allows corporations to do business within themselves and with others internationally at a much higher degree in the last twenty years. Good examples are Windows, Adobe .pdf format, Quicken, and Microsoft Office. The internet has allowed for huge advances for companies—exchanges not only in email but file and data sharing have changed the speed of business and deterratorialized the chain of command. Mobile devices, digital drafting software, online storefronts…the list goes on. But fundamentally, the ways business is conducted globally has changed. And advances in ICTs have made this change possible.
Perhaps Sparks should have considered media & communications the same way he would look at the role of how advances in shipping and transportation of goods underscore the ability for other types of industries to globalize. Goods and people are easily moved around the world thanks to advances in airplanes and Boeing comes in at number three on his chart. But trains, ships, and the trucking industries are also more efficient and essential today but not on his scale. Neither are companies like UPS and FedEx, who have changed the ways big and particularly smaller business, are able to function. Their gross income may not be as big but one cannot remove them without affecting the output of the traditional industries. It is the same with information and media companies. They are pervasive throughout other business and inseparable to their success in the modern world.
Sparks uses the wrong lens to examine the globalization of the media sector. He tries to examine it in terms of income and output rather than the degree to which ICTs are intrinsic to the functioning of other forms of industries. Much like advances in shipping and transport underlie and support the old industries, globalized corporations rely on the media and communications sector in a degree that supports globalization theory of international communications.

Globalization, Identity, and Cross-Cultural Communication

This week, we talked about how globalization applies to the field of International Communication. As IC students, what should we take from the globalization discussion? What are the implications for a future career in the field of IC? One important thing to remember is that local sensitivities must be taken into account; that some messages will resonate globally, while others will not.

Increased interconnectedness also intensifies the challenges that occur when people from different cultures interact at the interpersonal, national, and international levels. While the importance of effective cross-cultural communication has existed as long as people from different cultures have come together, globalization and technological developments have facilitated and increased the frequency of these interactions. Study abroad programs, corporations, and government agencies, frequently provide some kind of cross-cultural training to people being sent overseas, to help facilitate communication and decrease misunderstanding. Not only does effective training allow for greater cooperation and increase the chance of a successful outcome, but it is cost-effective. Cross-cultural communication is also a domestic necessity, as people move across borders and the world becomes more diverse.

Another factor to consider is how globalization is impacting individual identity. John Sinclair describes an individual in the globalized world as a “deterritorialized, decentered subject of postmodernism” (“Globalization, Supranational Institutions, and Media,” p. 74). Globalization has increased the complexity of individual identity, as people are more likely to form multiple levels of identity rather than one simple, constant identity tied to the nation-state. Yet as Silvio Waisbord argues, “neither subnational (local) nor supranational (regional and cosmopolitan) formations and identities offer alternative identities to minimize, let alone eliminate, nationalistic feelings” (“Media and the Reinvention of the Nation,” p. 375). In other words, though globalization has resulted in multiple levels of identity, national affiliation remains the most significant. But in terms of cross-cultural communication, one should be aware of how these multiple identities and affiliations may differ from the dominant national culture.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cultural Globalism: Does It Really Exist??

In the article Global Media and Communication, Sparks argues that when it comes to entertainment programming, cultural aspects are not deterritorialized; that a center exists which creates and distributes while it is up to the periphery to adapt and modify according to what their consumers want. He uses Winnie the Pooh as an example, describing how the UK cartoon was basically Americanized and commercialized once it was bought by Disney and then became a global cultural commodity.

In class someone used McDonald's as an example of how things that are seen as culturally American are modified to fit other cultures. They noted that the McDonald's menu in different countries reflects that culture's eating habits --vegetarian and kosher options, different portion sizes, etc. Even with Chinese food being the number one eaten food in America, it's not REALLY the food they actually eat in China, but an adapted version. While the class was discussing this idea as an example of cultural globalization, I thought of it another way... is it really considered cultural globalization if every culture continues to modify everything to what best fits their culture?

Another example discussed in class were the Korean soap operas. While they are widely watched and enjoyed in other Asian countries, they are also making an appearance in the United States. But I would say that they would only be watched here because of their likeness to how we view life, drama and romance. It seems to me that we only really open up to foreign media, food, dress, etc. when it resembles that of our own culture.

The question then becomes, is this an example of cultural globalization because it is a type of hybridization of cultures? Or are we really only embracing the things with which only we can identify with? In my opinion, real cultural globalization will be when we can go to the theater and watch a Nollywood or Bollywood film and understand it from the other culture's viewpoint without having to modify or adapt the film's ideals to fit those of our own.

Sparks, Colin. What's Wrong with Globalization? Global Media and Communication 2007; 3; 133.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Many of the current theorists in the rise of nationalism point to media as an intrinsic part of maintaining a sense of nationalism. Mass media helps to sustain nationalistic feelings, both in its more aggressive forms (ex: wartime propaganda on both sides during World War II) and its more banal, everyday forms like the national flag, maps of the country, etc. If it can be the basis for a show on comedy central—The Colbert Report---our sense of nationalism in the media must be alive and well in America.
But what does this look like in a country like Syria? NPR recently did a special on the emergence of private radio in Syria. The introduction gives a great sense of the challenges in creating nationalism today:
“The cradle of civilization, the ancient Middle East is young, very young.
About two-thirds of the population is under 30 years old and this Arab
youth bulge is growing up in a different world from their parents'
generation. New technologies are accelerating change, Facebook and
Twitter connect young Arabs to the wider world, and smartphones and
webcams keep them up to date.”(NPR, 2010)

The laws recently changed in Syria, signaling a shift from only government-controlled radio stations to opening up airwaves to private radio stations. It is the sign of changing times in the country, especially in an authoritarian state, making the government-controlled media less relevant to its young citizens. Another quote from the interview says,
“AMOS: The competition is information streaming into the country -televised,
twitted and text. Young Syrians are more informed than ever before.
They can ignore old-style government media, which is little more
than propaganda.

Mr. HARLING: I'm not sure who really watches the Syrian media or reads
the Syrian news anymore.” (NPR, 2010)

So what is the government doing to reinforce the sense of nationalism and loyalty in the country? Well, according to my own friend who traveled there and to bloggers on and private blog sites, the answer is fairly straightforward: put the face of President Bashar Al Assad everywhere—buildings, windows, even graffiti on cars.

Andrew Lee Butters on Time’s Middle East Blog writes, “And why does President Assad have his picture on every government building?” Another, non-journalist blogger writes, “…President Assad, whose slightly geeky features are plastered everywhere…” The smiling face of the president around every corner is a not so subtle call to nationalistic feelings. And the changing nature of today’s media may require this sort of daily reminder to its citizens to maintain control.
Symbols & images are powerful…and useful. The face of Assad on facades of all kinds was sort of a mystery to tourists, but in the context of nationalism & the media, it is just another tool to remind his citizens of where & who they are. And maybe of who’s watching as well.

Deborah Amos, “New Media Strain Government Tolerance in Syria”

Ronan Guilfoyle,

Andrew Lee Butters, “Elections in Syria: Not Looking So Hot.”

David Shillcutt & his photos from travels while teaching in Yemen

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Flag: Sacred Symbol of Nationalism

I read an article on CNN about Mexico's disgust at a cartoon drawn by artist Daryl Cagle depicting their beloved flag in a way that emphasized the problems with violence in the country. The flag which contains a perched eagle eating a snake, was drawn instead with an eagle "riddled with bullet holes in a pool of blood." Many Mexican readers were appalled at this portrayal of their flag and one commented that "It is a shame that a patriotic symbol like our flag, which is so beautiful to me, can be mocked by a stupid cartoonist." The author of this editorial article, who is also a Mexican-American, goes on to say that Mexicans should not have been offended by this cartoon; that instead, they should focus on defeating the drug traffickers, kidnappers and corrupt politicians instead of worrying about fighting the Americans and letting nationalism get the best of them.

While I understand the point he is making; that a cartoon should be the least of Mexico's worries, I can't help but imagine how the same scenario would play out had it been a Mexican cartoonist who portrayed the American flag in a not so positive light. Honestly I feel like Americans would have the same reaction; they would be offended... the flag is one symbol that embodies everything our country stands for. We grow up pledging allegiance to the FLAG, not the United States of America, we learn about the meaning of its stars and stripes, we have Flag Day as a holiday... Americans LOVE their flag!

The use and respect of flags has long been a symbol of nationalism in every country, and those who view it as a disease hindering the progression of cosmopolitanism all tend to agree that getting rid of symbols such as the flag, would be the first step in defeating nationalism. While I do not agree that these symbols should be done away with, or even that nationalism is a bad thing; it is quite apparent that such a symbol is understood to be full of meaning and important to its nation. I don't think that anyone should be surprised at Mexico's response to a cartoon that depicts its flag with a shot up eagle laying in blood... had a non-American depicted an American flag in a way to show us our flaws, we would be just as offended.


Communication, Diaspora, and Boat People SOS (BPSOS)

This week, we discussed nations, nationalism, and the public sphere. Karim H. Karim's "Re-viewing the 'National' in 'International Communication': Through the Lens of Diaspora" mentions that nations do not necessarily end at state borders, as people and especially information become increasingly mobile (deterritorialization). The concept of "nation" is changing and is no longer dependent on location. Diasporas, or "transnations" (Appadurai), make use of global communication networks to span across borders. 

Many diasporas use their own media to reterritorialize and connect with members of their community. Karim discusses the internet in terms of communication among individuals, in more of a non-linear, non-hierarchical, chat-room format, which is somewhat limited by varying degrees of access. But many diasporic organizations are making extensive use of the internet to organize, coordinate activities, and advocate action on issues of interest to the community.


Boat People SOS (BPSOS) is one such diasporic organization. It serves to connect Vietnamese-American communities, provide services and distribute information to community members and recent immigrants, and advocate for human rights in Vietnam. BPSOS is the largest Vietnamese-American community organization, with 11 branches and 18 offices throughout the country. (There are also four international offices in Southeast Asia that deal mainly with human trafficking prevention and refugee protection.)

The organization's network is also used to gain support in times of crisis and to mobilize funds and volunteers. Recently BPSOS created an Oil Spill Response Fund to aid Vietnamese communities in the Gulf, as many in the region work in the fishing industry. And as we discussed in class, diasporas can influence the political agenda of the home state, and BPSOS assembles and distributes information to members of Congress, U.S. agencies, and human rights organizations. It also attends Congressional hearings and briefs government officials on issues relating to Vietnam.

It appears that the internet has played a key role in the expansion of BPSOS, which has grown from a small rescue and advocacy organization in the 1980s to a large network of offices throughout the country beginning in the late 1990s. The organization's website links to community media (news, radio, and television), provides options for donating to various community initiatives, and information on how to become involved in the organization. Vietnamese-Americans can subscribe to BPSOS updates, work, volunteer, intern, donate, and participate in campaigns. They can also connect via social media networks on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Craigslist & the Public Sphere

Today on the Washington Post website, a shining example of the complexities of communications in modern times is the subject of one of the leading articles. Craigslist, the online classifieds site, has been in an ongoing debate over its adult services section after receiving criticism from human rights groups that sparked hearing and debates in federal and local governments, even meeting with White House officials. The site, critics say, provided opportunities for sex crimes, women and child trafficking. William Powell, who is director of customer service and law enforcement relations, argues that Craigslist was helping to combat this type of exploitation by monitoring the site and working with law enforcement agencies. Now, he argues, these types of ads will find other, less cooperative sites instead. As of September 3, the adult services section was permanently taken down. [1]

The debate around Craigslist’s ads area provides good framework for testing out some of the international communications theories in the readings.

For better or worse, Craigslist and particularly this segment of the services it provides, are an example of life in Castells’ Information Age. Life with modern technology has opened up new electronic meeting spaces. It’s brought with it new ways for people to interact-- and ushered in the good with the bad. International crime is much easier with tools like these. The anonymity likely lowers hesitations from new customers who would not take part in these activities if they were to be sought out face-to-face. The method of interaction affects the outcome.

It is also a good lens to examine globalization and global civil society. While the Craigslist debate has been limited to the United States, human trafficking, especially child trafficking can easily become an international issue, as victims are often brought across borders with language barriers and no families locally. The way the federal hearings started is what suggests that Habermas’ public sphere may be at work[2]. Pressure on Craigslist started from human rights groups—Non-governmental actors—who then put pressure on the federal government to act on the situation. It’s a different dynamic than top-down regulation starting at the government level. The awareness around the issue of child prostitution and human trafficking has been brought in the spotlight by mostly NGO’s, active members in the global civil society.

Craigslist and other sites like it (Facebook, Twitter) are interesting new fronts in international communications and the problems that come with. And also, a way to get rid of an old rug.

[1] Cecilia Kang “Craigslist says it shut down U.S. adult services ads for good”

[2] Daya Kishan Thussu International Communication 2nd Edition: Continuity and Change. 2006.Hachette Livre, London.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kidnapped Journalist Freed after Tweeting from Guard’s Phone

Kosuke Tsuneoka, a freelance Japanese journalist, was freed Saturday after five months of captivity in northern Afghanistan. He had been held hostage in Kunduz province by fighters loyal to Hizb-i-Islami, though they identified themselves as Taliban to the Japanese government.

Tsuneoka gained access to Twitter after one of his guards asked him to configure his new mobile phone for internet use. After showing the guard how to access Al-Jazeera’s website as requested, the journalist insisted upon showing Twitter to his captors. While explaining the functions of the site, Tsuneoka tweeted two messages: "i am still alive, but in jail" and "here is archi in kunduz. in the jail of commander lativ." The guards had no knowledge of English, so the journalist was able to release these messages without arousing suspicion.

Tsuneoka was freed a couple days later, though he attributes this in part to his being Muslim, having converted in 2000. The Japanese government claims that it never paid any ransom to Tsuneoka’s kidnappers. It is possible that the journalist's clever use of social media played a significant role in his release.

This situation illustrates the technological divide and the uneven usage of social media across the world. The guard’s phone was a Nokia N70, which is advanced in comparison to the mobile phones typically used in Afghanistan. Tsuneoka was able to recognize this disparity and use it to his advantage because he comes from a more technologically developed society. Martyn Williams reports that the guard had heard of the internet, but did not fully understand what it was, and so asked Tsuneoka to explain it to him. (According to a 2008 World Bank estimate, only 1.72% of the Afghan population had access to the internet.)

In class, we've discussed the power of communication in terms of "monopolies of knowledge" (Innis), but this has referred to the knowledge elite within a society. We have also mentioned the significance of communication technologies to the management of and dominance over empires and colonies. With Tsuneoka and the guard, we see how differences in technological knowledge can play out on an interpersonal level.

Additional information:

Disney and Media Imperialism

As I read Thussu's chapter on theories of international communication, I nodded my head in agreement as paradigms such as modernization and dependency theories were discussed... and THEN... I came across the words "Disney comics" under the heading of structural imperialism and my mouth dropped in shock. Surely my beloved Disney movies were simple innocent family films and not examples of media imperialism, promoting capitalist values through film...

According to Lee Artz, "Disney's animated features simultaneously soften and distribute messages of class hierarchy and anti-social hyper-individualism." He analyzes the films and makes observations about everything from the movie's environments and backgrounds to the characters himself. It appears that the 'good guys' are usually designed with more European features and are more bright and curvy; on the other hand, the 'bad guys' tend to be drawn darker and with sharper angles. Immediately I thought about all of the 'ethnic' Disney characters and realized that this was even true of them... Pocohontas and Aladdin were drawn to look European with a darker shade of skin even though they were Native American and Middle Eastern, while the bad guys such as Jafar and the Hun in Mulan were drawn to look more like the nationalities they were supposed to represent. Artz even notes that the voices of these characters allow us to relate them to people... for example, Mufasa sounded noble and had a slight British accent; while the hyenas he says sounded like "steretypical Black and Latino youth."

Artz agrees that Disney films are guilty of supporting capitalist globalization, marketing their films all over the world in a multitude of languages and editing content that may not be seen as favorable to particular cultures where they are sold. Apparently Disney films fit the "three requirements of effective propoganda" because his vision will be seen, understood and remembered. According to Lee Artz, the messages of Disney films are not encouraging to democratic societies, but instead has envoked criticisms for being racist, anti-feminist, and for promoting ideas of "cultural privilege, social inequality and human alienation." He goes on to analayze a select group of Disney films and portrays how the plots are more than what they seem and points out how the themes of the naturalization of hierarchy, the defense of elite coercion and power, the promotion of hyper-individualism and the denigration of democratic solidarity are present.

But was it Walt Disney's vision to "deregulate and privatize world culture" through these films, or are they just simply a product of his own culture and ideals meant to simply tell stories about overcoming obstacles and defeating the bad guy in order to be successful and achieve one's goals?? I am not so sure that Disney intended to directly portray such capitalist themes to his audience; however, a closer look at things he has said and written would better allow me to make that call.


Artz, Lee. "Animating Hierarchy: Disney and the Globalization of Capitalism." Global Media Journal 1.1 (2002). Web. 10 Sept. 2010

Thussu, Daya. International Communication: Continuity and Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Communication and Social and Political Change

In the previous post, Alexia discussed how the printing press gave power to the people by allowing them to communicate and disseminate information. Previously, the Catholic Church had almost total control over book production, with information made available in Latin to the literate elite. The rise of the printing press disrupted this information network and soon a variety of reading materials became available, spreading scientific and religious ideas that contrasted with those of the Catholic Church. This aided the Protestant Reformation as pamphlets and vernacular translations of the Bible became available.

Printed communication later became instrumental in the establishment of empires, giving power to the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French as they regulated and controlled economic and political aspects of their colonies.

Yet as Hanson points out, “from its crude beginning the press was an arena of political conflict, revealing its power to challenge authority and influence public opinion” (16). Printed pamphlets would later play a role in both the French and American revolutions.

And just as the distribution of print materials played a key role in religious and political movements in the West, the use of radio eventually allowed for a greater dissemination of dissenting views in developing countries, as information could quickly reach illiterate publics. Radio, developed in 1902, was dominated by the developed world, putting less-developed countries at a disadvantage. This new technology was employed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union for its power to influence domestic and international public opinion, beliefs, and values (Thussu 15). But the power of radio was also recognized by anticolonial movements such as the Front National de Libération in Algeria. The Voice of Algeria allowed the FNL to gather support against the French authorities (Thussu 24-25).

Today, the internet is allowing for a faster, more personal way of distributing information. The Twitter Revolution in Iran is one example of how citizen journalism affects international opinion. But as we discussed in class, there are limits to the power of technology to influence social and political change. In Iran, the World Bank estimates that only 32% of the population has access to the internet, though usage is increasing (2008). If only a third of the population uses this technology, then the information distributed via Twitter and other sources is not reaching the majority of the Iranian public.


Hanson, Elizabeth C. The Information Revolution and World Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Thussu, Daya. International Communication: Continuity and Change. New York: Oxford University Press,2006.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Print Capitalism: Giving Power to the People

Until reading the history of international communication, I had never quite linked the word communication with power. Living in a society where it seems that the majority of people have cell phones and Internet access, I can honestly say I take the commodity of communication for granted. However, until the invention of the movable type printing press, the common people had no motivation or opportunity to unify and gain power due to lack of a means of communication.

The transformations associated with the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century by Johann Gutenberg were the most eye opening for me as an example of the determinist theory in action. This technology led to social change and gave power to the people. Benedict Anderson coined the term print capitalism to describe this commercialization of print language. As a result of the availability of thousands of printed books in major European languages, literacy among the people rose while dissolving the use of vernacular speech. This also took some power from the Catholic church by allowing for the Bible to be printed in languages other than Latin. No longer were the people dependent upon priests and nobles to tell them what the scriptures contained.

Print capitalism in this scenario has now allowed for populations to feel like a community, realizing their worth and disseminating information and ideas among each other; all of which leads to nationalism and the building of nation-states.

What's interesting is that while print capitalism gives power to groups of people who ultimately become strong nations, these nations in-turn now have the opportunity to exercise political dominance over others -the rise of colonization and imperialism around the world. These nations built from once oppressed peoples are now strengthening their political, economic and military power by oppressing other less technologically advanced societies around the world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Interdependence, the EU & the Rise of the Telegraph

A fascinating part of reading the historical context of International Communications was the idea that agreements surrounding communications were the first examples of international cooperation & supranational governance. It’s especially interesting in the context of a traditional study of the emergence of the European Union where communication networks are rarely discussed.

The expansion of the telegraph across national borders and even oceans in the mid 1800’s led to the need for regulation and cooperation on an international level. The International Telegraph Union of 1865, signed by 22 countries, marked the first time states had worked together. But this Union is often left out of discussions about the European Union.

Many scholars tend to date the origins of the EU in the post World War II era. Neill Nugent’s The Government and Politics of the European Union starts its timeline in 1947 with common customs tariffs and the 1951 formation of European Coal and Steel Community, which placed French and German coal and steel production under “common authority.” (Nugent, 2003) But the roots of this sort of interdependence can be seen much earlier in history with the Telegraph Union.

Another textbook on the formation of the EU does discuss communications in the section on the necessary foundations for interdependence:

“Another essential requirement for successful amalgamation was the presence of unbroken links of social communication between the political units concerned, and between the politically relevant strata within them. By such unbroken links we mean social groups and institutions which provide effective channels of communication” (Nelsen & Stubb, 2003)

Although they discuss communications between countries as a necessity factor for interdependence to develop, communications is portrayed as a means to an end rather than a player. But all three authors (Thussu, Mattelart, & Hanson) from the readings paint communications as a driving force in itself toward supranational government. In looking at IC theory, EU theory seems to have an elephant in the room.

In all, it’s interesting that the telegraph itself was such a driving force in the spread of empires & nations but would lead, centuries later, to a compromise of the power of modern nation-states.


Nelsen, B. F., & Stubb, A. (2003). The European Union Readings on the Theory and Practice of European Integration. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Nugent, N. (2003). The Government and Politics of the European Union. Durham: Duke University Press.