Cultural Imperialism

Topics: Identity, Sociology, Culture Pages: 5 (1976 words) Published: April 18, 2014
Assignment One
6. How and why is the argument of cultural imperialism unanswerable? In order to answer the question of such a complex issue, I wish to delve into the ambivalent relationship between traditionalism and modernisation as more cultures are forced to interact with one another, focusing primarily on the personal level, that of self identity, and the roles particular individuals play when constantly bombarded by modern media from around the world. Taking these factors into account as well as drawing from my own examples, I hope to be able to come to a conclusion as to why various instances of cultural imperialism are difficult, if not impossible, to accurately confirm. As a starting point, I feel it necessary to identify the meaning behind the phrase ‘cultural imperialism’ and how it relates to the media industry. When you break the phrase ‘cultural imperialism’ down to its separate components, the word ‘imperial’, taken from the Latin word imperium (Oxford Dictionaries, 2012), denotes something with an immensity of scale and sheer dominance akin to that of an empire. In that sense, ‘imperialism’ is the process such an empire goes through in order to attain and maintain that dominance and influence. In a premodern era, this was more readily achieved through physical, more overt means, such as the use of military force and colonisation. Since the advent of new technologies and the emergence of media as a prevailing world industry, the nations that benefitted most from their past colonial exploits, mainly the ‘West’, had the economic power and widespread influence to be able to broadcast their cultural ideals and values onto other, less prominent nations with the help of radio, television, film, the press and the internet. This is when the term ‘cultural imperialism’ came into the public consciousness; and it was through media that allowed these superpowers, particularly the United States, to broaden their spheres of influence further than ever before. However, this also had the consequence of creating a melting pot of diverse, often opposing, cultures into a single space, where the “foreign culture… [uses its] political and economic power to exalt and spread… [its] values and habits… at the expense of… [the] native culture.” (Bullock and Stallybrass, 1977, cited in Tomlinson, 1991, p.3) This implies that in every instance of cultural imperialism, people are dominated by a single ‘superior’ cultural ideology, whilst the ‘inferior’ ones (if there are any) are diminished or even cancelled out completely to make room for it, thus, paving the way for an easier-to-manipulate, homogenised society. While this may be true of some instances, I hypothesise that, in one form or another; there will always be instances when some choose to actively reject the supposed ‘superior’ influence. For instance, when looking at this subject from a religious perspective, there are bound to be differences of opinion, particularly when that religion is forcibly encountered with the imposing figure of Western modernity. As Sabry identifies in his research on the attitude of Muslims to an increasingly Westernised Morocco, “For most of them, Western modernity is… a kind of sickness, a threat to Islam and its culture, and so a threat to the Moroccan’s consciousness, culture, and identity.” (2010, p.134-135) This outlines the ever-present struggle one has in maintaining one’s sense of self-identity in a world of increasingly homogenised cultures, for it is “the tension between universality and difference”, as Calhoun (1995, p.16) puts it that places the argument of cultural imperialism into question.

Another concern about the argument of cultural imperialism is that it attempts to describe a complex subject, of which there are many instances, in an overly simplistic manner, often leading many theorists to question its evidential validity. As Tomlinson states, “‘cultural imperialism’ is a generic concept, it refers to a range of broadly similar...


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Sabry, T., (2010). Cultural Encounters in the Arab World: On Media, the Modern and the Everyday. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
Tomlinson, J., (1991). Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. London: Continuum.
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