Information and Media Imperialism

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ARTICLE

New imperialism
Information and media imperialism?
n

Christian Fuchs
University of Salzburg, Austria

ABSTRACT

This article explores whether contemporary society can be characterized as demonstrating a new form of the Marxist notion of imperialism and as informational/ media imperialism. In an attempt to answer this question, I employ Vladimir Lenin’s analysis of imperialism. Paying particular attention to the relevance of media and information, I test Lenin’s theories against macroeconomic statistical analysis of existing data. My analysis is structured according to Lenin’s five characteristics of imperialism: (1) the role of economic concentration; (2) the dominance of finance capital; (3) the importance of capital export; (4) the spatial stratification of the world as result of corporate dominance; and (5) the political dimension of the spatial stratification of the world. The results demonstrate that Lenin’s theories should be reloaded for contemporary media and communication studies. KEY WORDS

communication n globalization n Lenin n media n new imperialism

1 Introduction In recent years, the notions of imperialism and capitalist empire have gained importance in critical globalization studies. This discourse forms the background and context for this paper. In the 20th century, the notion of imperialism has been primarily advanced by Marxist theorists, such as the classical theories of imperialism (Nikolai Bukharin, Karl Kautsky, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, etc.). Within this context, this paper deals with the question: Is the new imperialism an informational imperialism? My goal is to make a contribution to the new imperialism debate from an information-, media- and communication-studies perspective. The notion of imperialism employed is Lenin’s classical one, so the task becomes to analyse the role of the media in a contemporary reactualization of Lenin’s notion of imperialism. The main section of the paper is structured according to the Global Media and Communication [1742-7665(2010)6:1] Volume 6(1): 33–60 Copyright © 2010 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC: http://gmc.sagepub.com)/10.1177/1742766510362018

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Global Media and Communication 6(1)

sequence of the five characteristics of imperialism employed by Lenin (1917). Each of these sections discusses the question if a specific quality of imperialism is topical. The interest in Lenin’s theory is analytical and grounded in the recently emerging academic debate on the role of Lenin’s theory today (cf. e.g. Budgen et al., 2007; Lih, 2005; Žižek 2004a). Contemporary theories of imperialism, empire and global capitalism can be categorized on a continuum that describes the degree of novelty of imperialism. At one end of the continuum there are authors who argue that imperialism no longer exists today and that a post-imperialistic empire has emerged. The stress is on discontinuity (e.g. Hardt and Negri, 2000, 2004; Negri, 2008; Panitch and Gindin, 2004, 2005; Robinson, 2004, 2007; for a discussion of Hardt and Negri see Buchanan and Pahuja, 2004; Callinicos, 2003b, 2007: 345; Laffey and Weldes, 2004; Žižek, 2004b). At the other end of the continuum there are authors who argue that contemporary capitalism is just as imperialistic as imperialism 100 years ago or that it has formed a new imperialism. The stress is on continuity (Callinicos, 2003a, 2003b, 2005, 2007; Harvey, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007; Wood, 2003; Zeller, 2004a, 2000b). A middle ground is the assumption that imperialism has re-emerged and been qualitatively transformed, that through capitalist development and crisis new qualities of capitalism have emerged and others been preserved, and that the new qualities on the one hand constitute a return to capitalist imperialism, but that on the other hand there are aspects of imperialism today that are different from the imperialism that Lenin, Luxemburg, Kautsky and Bukharin...
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