Principles Of International Relations Cultural Imperialism Cultural Studies Essay

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Today the world stands at an extremely crucial phase where interdependence is evident at every step and in every field. Never more than today has the humanity shared the feeling that the Earth is one and indivisible and that all people of the planet belong to the same system. Notwithstanding the varied divergent viewpoints and cultural traditions, we have become a part of an integrated natural system which binds us in every sense of the term. Be it an integrated cultural system or a unified economic system which has led to the extraordinary intensification of communications resulting in the most advanced forms of Western technology being transferred to the remotest villages on the planet.

However, this growing interdependence or mutual supportiveness among the countries of the global system has not always dispensed positive results. The increased cohesiveness not only means sharing of ideas, viewpoints and opinions but also portrays a threat to the creation and development of new and fresh concepts which may not be accepted by all the parties. This has given rise to frequent occurrence of domination and subjugation of different countries in order to fulfill their own vested and selfish interests.

Imperialism has always been understood as the dominant behavior of the developed countries over the developing ones. It can be economic, political or social but in today's globalized world, the 'Cultural' facet of imperialism is slowly raising its ugly head.

What we are going to discuss here will slowly elaborate and unfold the true notion and evolution of domination by some countries in today's well-knit world. CULTURE forms an important component of today's modern society and it has been slowly eroded and degraded by different activities by human beings. "Cultural Imperialism", the topic of my term paper is essentially a critical discourse which operates by representing the cultures whose autonomy it defends on its own (dominant) Western cultural terms. It is a discourse caught up in ironies that flow from its position of discursive power.

We will broadly discuss the meaning and origin of the concept of Cultural Imperialism from varied perspectives. Then we would focus our attention on the different facets of Cultural Imperialism and how it has affected the modern world and finally we will draw a conclusion as to what the future holds in store for this type of Imperialism.


The term 'cultural imperialism' does not have a particularly long history. It seems to have emerged, along with many other terms of radical criticism, in the 1960s and has endured to become a part of the general intellectual currency of the second half of the twentieth century. There is no shortage of attempted definitions of the term and yet, as one well-known writer on the subject has admitted that "It is always with a certain apprehension that the problem of imperialism is approached and especially what is known as cultural imperialism. This generic concept has too often been used with ill-defined meaning", says Armand Mattelart. Part of the problem, as Mattelart implies, is that 'cultural imperialism' is a generic concept as it refers to a range of broadly similar phenomena. Because of this it is unlikely that any single definition could grasp every sense in which the term is used.

According to Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi, the notion of 'cultural imperialism' became one of the staple catch-phrases of the field of international communications. Yet, from the very beginning, the concept was broad and ill-defined operating as evocative metaphor rather than precise construct, and has gradually lost much of its critical bite and historic validity.

Herbert Schiller's early definition of cultural imperialism was highly inclusive: 'the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes even bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centre of the system' (Schiller, 1976:9)

Similarly, while C. J. Hamelink acknowledged that 'throughout history' cultures have influenced one another', he actually tends to dismiss the cultural impact of colonialism by saying that 'in European colonial history . . . the distance between the exclusively Western culture and the indigenous culture is kept as wide as possible'.(Hamelink, 1983:4) The process of 'cultural imperialism' or 'cultural synchronization' as Hamelink preferred to call it, 'implies that a particular type of cultural development in the metropolitan country is persuasively communicated to the receiving countries. Cultural synchronization implies that the traffic of cultural products goes massively in one direction and has basically a synchronic mode'. (Hamelink 1983:5)

According to John Tomlinson, the concept of cultural imperialism is one which must be assembled out of its discourse. This concept brings together two words which are themselves extremely complex and problematic, in an attempt to provide a covering concept for a very broad range of issues. This complexity is somewhat masked by the term's superficial appeal. The problem with this sort of working definition is not simply that it is partial, but that it can impose its own directions and limits on analysis from the outset. So working from this sort of perspective, we may be inclined to think of Cultural Imperialism as essentially about the exalting and spreading of values and habits- a practice in which economic power plays an instrumental role. But as the dictionary entry from which this definition is taken goes on to acknowledge, much of the writing on cultural imperialism assigns a more central role to economic practices. Often the implication is that these are what are really at stake and that cultural factors are instrumental in maintaining political-economic dominance.

Martin Baker states that there are hardly any definitions of 'cultural imperialism'. It seems to mean that the process of imperialist control is aided and abetted by importing supportive forms of culture.

This definition contrast- economic power in the service of cultural domination and vice versa- signals much deeper intellectual and political divisions. To produce a non-controversial definition- one that could accommodate at least this difference in perspective- would be extremely difficult. This is because the divisions here derive from differing understandings of the constituent parts of the term. So, briefly, setting out to define 'cultural imperialism' non-controversially would require a broadly accepted view of both 'culture' and 'imperialism'. To appreciate the difficulties involved here, we may turn our attention to Raymond Williams' short essays on these constituent terms in his book Keywords.

Williams notes in particular two strands in the development of the term imperialism: one in which the term refers primarily to a political system and one to an economic system. He suggests that it is this difference in emphasis- the first growing out of nineteenth-century English usage in reference to colonial rule, the second having its roots in early twentieth-century Marxist analysis of the stages of development of modern capitalism- which accounts for an abiding ambiguity in the use of the term. He says that the term imperialism is like any word which refers to fundamental social and political conflicts which cannot be reduced, semantically, to a single proper meaning. Its important historical and contemporary variations of meaning point to real processes which have to be studied in their own terms. Imperialism, what W. B. Gallie once called 'essentially contested concepts', cannot be taken in isolation from the discursive context and the 'real processes' to which this relates.

This is even more evident in the case of 'culture' which Williams warns, is 'one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.' The complexity involved is evidenced in the huge variety of attempted definitions that exist. This would suggest that either there is a considerable amount of confusion here, or that 'culture' is so large and all- embracing a concept that it can accommodate all these definitions: they all grasp some aspect of a complex whole. British anthropologist, E. B. Tylor stated that 'Culture is . . . that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society'.

This sense of 'culture' as a 'complex whole' is obviously attractive in that it reflects a perception that human life is experienced as a 'totality': there ought, therefore, to be some way of describing this totality of lived experience. 'Culture' thus provides an organizing concept for descriptions of 'the way of life' of a collectivity.

An outcome of a conference of various delegates at UNESCO clearly admits: 'In the view of other delegates culture permeated the whole social fabric and its role was so pre-eminent and determining that it might indeed be confused with life itself.' To make sense of 'life itself' people inevitably analyze the complex whole into areas and elements which seem to be somehow distinct. 'Culture' is almost always marked off against other areas of social life. In the case of the concept of cultural imperialism, culture is used in distinction from the political and economic spheres of life which are the concern of 'imperialism' in its more general sense.

What we need to understand here is not what culture is, but how people use the term in contemporary discourses. This is precisely the approach Raymond Williams takes when he identifies three 'broad active categories of modern usage'. 1) As a description of 'a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development'; 2) As indicative of 'a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group or humanity in general'; 3) As a reference to 'the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity'. In the discourse of Cultural Imperialism it is the second and third of these usages which are dominant.

The sense of a 'particular way of life' is clearly the Tylorian concept of the complex whole; but here the important word is 'particular'. As Williams points out, this pluralizing of the concept of culture was a decisive development in the career of the concept. To speak of 'culture' in the plural is to dispute the idea that there is one 'correct' pattern of human development- as is implicit, say, in the Eurocentric notion of 'civilization'. The pluralism introduced by the sense of 'a culture' as a distinct way of life of a collectivity is of major importance in modern (Western) thought. It implies a sense of the sovereignty of particular cultures: the idea that 'how life is lived' is a judgment to be made by the particular collectivity that possesses this culture and by no one else. This idea is a very strong one in modern liberal thought generally, and it is fundamental to the notion of cultural imperialism. Much of the opposition to cultural imperialism is implicitly founded in the liberal values of respect for the plurality of 'ways of living.'

Williams' third 'active usage' also helps us to grasp an important aspect of the discourse of cultural imperialism. As he says the sense of the 'works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity' is probably the most widespread everyday understanding: for most people culture means, 'music, literature, painting and film.' This usage cuts down the 'complex whole' to more manageable proportions. Now when people speak of cultural imperialism they often employ a form of this third usage. But it is a form which expands the sense from the slightly 'high-cultural' tone of 'intellectual and artistic practices' to include 'popular culture' and entertainment and importantly, the mass media. As Williams recognizes elsewhere, this wider sense- which actually represents a certain confluence between usage (2) and (3) - is common in contemporary cultural studies, where culture is seen as the 'signifying practices' of a society, 'from language through the arts and philosophy to journalism, fashion and advertising'.

This sense of culture as essentially a signifying system has inclined much of the discourse of cultural imperialism towards a focus on the mass media, which are generally seen as the most important set of signifying practices in modern societies. Indeed, as we will discuss later on, cultural imperialism for some theorists translates into 'media imperialism'. To fully grasp the implications of cultural imperialism, we have to see other mundane practices as 'cultural' ones. What is required right now is a sense between the all embracing 'complex whole' and the more restricted 'semiotic' sense of 'signifying practices'. What we are after is a general sense of culture as the context within which people give meanings to their actions and experiences and make sense of their lives. This aspect of 'how life is lived' is (in certain ways) distinguishable from those practices by which people manage to satisfy their material needs- which we might call, broadly, economic practices. What is important here is that form of domination existing in the modern world, not just in the political and economic spheres but also over all those practices by which collectivities make sense of their lives. Williams points out that "It is clear that, within a discipline conceptual usage has to be clarified. But in general it is the range and overlap of meanings that is significant. The complex of senses indicates a complex argument about the relations between general human development and a particular way of life, and between both and the works and practices of art and intelligence."

Now it is just this complex of senses, and the arguments it signals, which is an issue in the 'cultural' component of the hybrid term 'cultural imperialism'. We are dealing here with a term which is not restricted to the technical vocabulary of an academic discipline, but that appears across a range of discourses-academic, polemical, literary bureaucratic and so on. The concept of cultural imperialism has complex ramifications at an abstract level, largely owing to the complexities and controversies surrounding its constituent terms. It is necessary to take a look at the way this term has been utilized in a variety of discursive contexts: to proceed via conceptual syntheses rather than analysis.


The thirteenth century Sufi teacher, Rumi told the tale of a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant by touch alone. One felt the trunk and described it a rope; another felt the leg and described it as a tree while a third felt the ear and described it as a fan. The point of the story was to show how unenlightened may miss the truth of the whole: the elephant as coherent reality. Tunstall points out that, "the Cultural Imperialism thesis claims authentic, traditional and local cultures in many parts of the world is being battered out of existence by the indiscriminate dumping of large quantities of slick commercial and media products mainly from the United States."

To state a 'thesis' is to imply that someone, somewhere has formulated and articulated it. It is different from simply defining a phenomenon. To talk of a 'thesis' entails the idea of an explicit or implicit speaker. The literature on cultural imperialism is full of this sort of reference. The major implication is to give what is said about cultural imperialism a sort of artificial coherence. It is to imply that it is a coherent body of ideas shared by a group of theoretically specifiable speakers. When Marxist critics use the term they are speaking in a very different way from when a liberal critics use the term or a national representative in UNESCO.

A better way of thinking about cultural imperialism is to think of it as a variety of different articulations when they have certain features in common, but may also be tension with each other, or even mutually contradictory. One way of putting this is to speak of the discourse of cultural imperialism. To speak of a discourse rather than a thesis is to recognize the multiplicity of voices in this area and the inherently 'unruly' nature of these articulations.

Michael Focault writes, "in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality."

One of the points that Foucault wants to make is that discourse is in principle boundless- it 'proliferates to infinity.' Anything can be said, but societies regulate this anarchic proliferation with various practices of containment. Then there is the principle of author. Foucault means by the author-principle not simply the real individual who wrote a particular text, but 'a principle of grouping of discourses, conceived as a unity and origin of their meanings, as the focus of their coherence.' Discourses must be treated as discontinuous practices, which cross over each other, are sometimes juxtaposed with one another, but can just as well exclude or be unaware of each other. We must not take what is said to 'totalize' into a single coherent whole. The blind men, we should recognize, may have been wise not to assume the existence of the elephant.


John Tomlinson developed a most insightful critique, on the basis of which we can identify at least four different discourses of cultural imperialism. His categories are the media, national domination, the global dominance of capitalism, and the critique of modernity.

Media imperialism is the oldest and by far most widely debated category. Most importantly, it relates to current political issues. The study of media imperialism originated in Latin America among students of communication research. In the 1950s and 1960s, Latin American economists interpreted their countries' economic relations to Europe and the United States by developing a theory of dependency. Chilean communication scholars quickly appropriated that concept when, at the time of the 1970 election that brought Salvador Allende to power, they began to admonish the United States for its involvement in Latin American affairs. One of the most dramatic and widely read essays written by these scholars came from Armand Mattelart, a professor of mass communications and ideology at the University of Chile, and Ariel Dorfman, a literary critic and novelist. In Para leer al pato Donald ("How to Read Donald Duck," 1971), they held that in an effort to protect U.S. economic interests in Chile, the Central Intelligence Agency financed and fostered an arsenal of psychological warfare devices to indoctrinate the minds of the Chilean people, including Disney cartoons and other consumer products. They denounced Hollywood's distorted version of reality and cautioned Latin Americans against U.S. propaganda. The danger of Walt Disney, Mattelart and Dorfman believed, consisted of the manner in which the United States "forces us Latin Americans to see ourselves as they see us." The authors stated that the Chilean people would eventually free their own culture and kick out the Disney duck: "Feathers plucked and well-roasted….Donald, Go Home!" Published shortly before the Chilean revolution, this essay appealed to readers far beyond the borders of Chile; Para leer al pato Donald went through more than fifteen editions and was translated into several languages.

American scholars quickly borrowed the concept of media imperialism. The Watergate scandal propelled suspicions of a conspiracy between the government and the media and of abuses of executive power. In a variety of studies, the communication scientist Herbert I. Schiller retraced a powerful connection between the domestic business, military, and governmental power structure on the one hand and, on the other, the "mind managers"-that is, the leaders of the U.S. communications industry-who in his view had conspired to manipulate minds at home and abroad. As Schiller saw it, nineteenth-century Anglo-American geopolitical imperialism had been replaced in the twentieth century by an aggressive industrial-electronics complex "working to extend the American socioeconomic system spatially and ideologically" across the globe. "What does it matter," Schiller asked in 1976, "if a national movement has struggled for years to achieve liberation if that condition … is undercut by values and aspirations derived from the apparently vanquished dominator?"

A second group of critics understood cultural imperialism as the domination of one country by another. To no small degree, this discourse grew out of the growing concern of the United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the protection of national cultures, as well as the rising interest in the study of nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s, as represented by Benedict Anderson and others. In this interpretation, "culture" suggests a natural and static heritage of traditions that are akin to a certain country. It also serves as a tool of social control as important as controlling material resources. Hence, cultural imperialism implies the efforts of one country to undermine another country's cultural heritage by imposing its own. Frank Ninkovich's analysis of the State Department's efforts to establish an art program between 1938 and 1947 showed that during World War II, policymakers attempted to use artifacts of American culture, notably paintings, to promote "a sense of common values among nations of varied traditions." Just as free trade would have a liberalizing effect by contributing to other nations' economic well-being, art would create a common sense of culture. Simply put, if everyone agreed that American culture qualified artistically and aesthetically and also politically as a universal way of life and taste, it would indeed increase foreign acceptance of American values and American politics.

A third group of scholars interpreted cultural imperialism as the expansion and sometimes global dominance of U.S. consumer capitalism. Historians like Ralph Willet identified imperialist motivations within the American business community and government. Carrying this argument even further, others, such as Emily S. Rosenberg, claimed that in the twentieth century U.S. foreign policymakers had purposely begun to spread American culture, information, and the concept of a free and open economy in order to expand the national market abroad. Here, culture identifies capitalism in its most materialist form, encompassing goods and ideas associated with such goods, both of which foster homogenization. Culture is thus turned into an instrument to fuse different societies into one international economic system. E. Richard Brown (1982) denounced U.S. medical and health education programs sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation in pre-1949 China. They were a "Trojan horse," guided "in their conception and development by imperialist objectives." These programs, Brown held, "were more concerned with building an elite professional stratum to carry out cultural and technological transformation than with meeting the health needs of each country." The programs facilitated American control of foreign markets and raw materials.

The most persisting and intellectually challenging criticism of U.S. cultural imperialism, however, originated among a fourth group of scholars who redefined the debate into a critique of modernity. The arguments of Jürgen Habermas, Marshall Berman, and others followed the outline of the Frankfurt School, which had originally launched the postwar investigation of cultural imperialism. Building on the writings of Marcuse and others, they depicted cultural imperialism as the imposition of modernity. They studied how the primary agents of modernity, such as the media, bureaucracy, science, and other social and economic institutions of the West, transferred the "lived culture" of capitalism to non-Western cultures. These scholars admitted that members of a recipient society had choices but that these choices were conditioned and manipulated by the modern capitalist environment in which these societies existed. Culture and modernity thus became a global prison.

In the eyes of Habermas and others, "modernity" represents the "main cultural direction of global development." Culture entails capitalism but also mass culture, urbanism, a "technical-scientific-rationalist dominant ideology," nation-states and a certain one-dimensional self-consciousness. The domination of these all contribute to the core meaning of Western "imperialism."

The critics of modernity were the first group that focused their analyses not on the question of agency but on the process of manipulation itself. They expanded the study from "American" to "Western" cultural imperialism that left out no field, no people, and no culture. While this perspective retained the term "imperialism," it also served as a forerunner for later trends in the debate over cultural transfer by moving the emphasis from the question of guilt to the actual process of cultural imposition. Because of its innovative approach, much of the critique of modernity has remained fashionable after most other critiques of cultural imperialism have ceased to influence the debate.


Students who are interested in the concept of cultural imperialism should be aware of the unresolved theoretical and methodological problems within the debate. A number of scholars have claimed that the cultural imperialists "have shown remarkable provincialism, forgetting the existence of empires before that of the United States." Since the sixteenth century, European governments have developed a variety of cultural exchange programs, although they may not always have hoped to expand their empire by exporting their culture. The British in India and the Middle East, the Germans in Africa, and the French in Indochina all imposed their own culture abroad as a powerful tool to strengthen trade, commerce, and political influence and recruit intellectual elites for their own purposes. The historian Lewis Pyenson has shown that between 1900 and 1930, "technological imperialism"-the attempt on the part of state officials to employ scientific learning to form an international network of communication and prestige abroad-skillfully complemented German expansion in China, Argentina, and the South Pacific. In addition, new studies on U.S. policies in Asia and Europe have demonstrated that American policymakers did not hesitate to sacrifice economic (and ideological) objectives in order to realize geopolitical interests.

Individual case studies on private interest groups, such as philanthropic foundations, the American Library Association, and the press corps, show that often neither policymakers nor businessmen, but rather nongovernmental American organizations, were among the most active advocates of American culture and values abroad. The State Department as well as Congress were often reluctant to develop a full-fledged policy of cultural diplomacy. Often, these institutions were omitted from the process altogether.

Yet by far the most emphatic attacks against the critics of cultural imperialism came from Tomlinson, Frederick Buell, and others, who reproached authors such as Schiller for falling into the very trap they originally wished to avoid. Tomlinson stated that their rhetoric "repeats the gendering of imperialist rhetoric by continuing to style the First World as male and aggressive and the Third as female and submissive." In doing so, Schiller and others had assumed an imperialist perspective that viewed the Third World as made up of fragile and helpless cultures while at the same time serving the interests of Western modernity. It was said that the critics of cultural imperialism employed a theory suffering from a vague language of domination, colonialism, coercion, and imposition. Thus, ironically, the critics of cultural imperialism were made to seem the worst cultural imperialists.

Cultural imperialism, according to John Tomlinson, consists of the spread of modernity. It is a process of cultural loss and not of cultural expansion. There never were groups of conspirators who attempted to spread any particular culture. Instead, global technological and economic progress and integration reduced the importance of national culture. Therefore, it is misleading to put the blame for a global development on any one culture. The notion of imperialism-that is, purposeful cultural conquest-is irrelevant; instead, all countries, regardless of whether they are located in the northern or southern hemisphere, are victims of a worldwide cultural change.

Since the mid-1980s, scholars have paid closer attention to both global and local aspects of the American and Western cultural transfer. Sociologists, anthropologists, and historians have stressed the peculiarity of individual cultures in the context of a nonbipolar world. Under the influence of resurfacing nationalism the world over, one group of scholars has studied the periphery in greater detail, producing analyses of individual communities that came in contact with American (or Western) culture after World War II. Inspired by the growing debate on globalization, a second group has opted for precisely the opposite approach. Instead of unilateral imperialism, it has developed a concept of global modernization.

Scholars of local responses to American culture have investigated individual case studies, weighing resistance against acceptance. Borrowed from both psychology and literary criticism, response theory addresses the preconceptions influencing the reactions of human beings exposed to an external impression such as a text, a sound, or a visual perception. Response theory moves the focus of research from the question of agency to the question of audience and reaction. Instead of looking at broadcasters and producers, these scholars investigate, for example, the audience of television shows like Dynasty.

Inspired by the public debate abroad over the impact of U.S. cultural imperialism, since about the mid-1980s response theory has affected nearly all studies of cultural transfer in history, sociology, and cultural studies. For example, Culture and International Relations (1990), edited by Jongsuk Chay, studies particular aspects of culture such as literature, music, religion, or television programs to calibrate the effects of American culture abroad. The authors' findings vary in their assessment of the impact of American culture, but they agree that indigenous people never simply accepted consumer goods from the United States. Reinhold Wagnleitner, for example, argued that Austrian youth revised the original meanings of jeans, Coca-Cola, and rock and roll into something new that accorded with their own needs; those consumer products offered not only comfort but also freedom from social constraints as well.

A number of scholars delineated a profound appeal of Western culture to non-Western countries, but challenged the assumption that U.S. policymakers and businessmen sought to manipulate certain target groups. Other studies focusing on the effects of cultural imperialism underlined the difference between foreign people and foreign governments. James Ettema, D. Charles Whitney, and others suggested in their studies of the media that audiences make conscious choices concerning what they listen to, read, and watch. Studies of underground movements in China and Eastern Europe in 1989 also demonstrate that in many cases, Western television programs inspired audiences to start a revolution against their own political leaders.

Another group of scholars concluded that audiences not only simply accepted the fruits of Western cultural imperialism but developed a strong resistance to American products and culture. Scholars of Islamic societies have consistently emphasized the stark opposition of orthodox Muslims to Western influences. Individual studies in cinematography, drama, literature, and cultural studies in Latin America, Asia, and Africa demonstrate that, notwithstanding the influence of Western goods, since the mid-1970s local audiences began to reject individual aspects of Western culture.

In many cases, a more detailed analysis of the origins of local resistance shows that peculiar local conditions informed it more than an outright condemnation of American culture. Under the intriguing title Seducing the French (1993), Richard F. Kuisel investigated economic missions, foreign investment, and U.S. consumer products in postwar France. He emphasizes that French opposition to U.S. culture "was (and is) about both America and France," because it intensified French fears of losing their cultural identity. Kuisel concedes that the French underwent a process of Americanization. But at the same time, they succeeded in defending their "Frenchness." French consumers found some American products appealing but they also continued to cherish and idealize French national identity, notably the idea of a superior French high culture.

Likewise, the average German citizen traditionally tended (and tends) to adhere to a more exclusive image of culture than his or her American counterpart. German Kultur traditionally stressed high culture and was closely linked to the enhancement of Bildung. It was ethnically bound, deeply rooted in German history, and-particularly in the case of the arts, music, and performance-dependent on state funding. After World War II, West Germans did not view the intrusion of American popular culture as cultural imperialism. To them, American culture remained always incompatible with Kultur. In other words, adoption of cultural artifacts does not necessarily translate into cultural and political adaptation.

The response theorists concluded that the model of a unilateral attempt to force consumer products and ideas on foreign nations is fundamentally flawed: resistance and cultural identity played a powerful role in the perception of American culture abroad. U.S. officials, in turn, were uncertain of the scope and nature of cultural exports. Their actions, furthermore, were quite comparable to the efforts of cultural diplomats of other countries. As Will Hermes concluded in the periodical Utne Reader, "American pop culture isn't conquering the world." Perhaps, he wondered, American cultural imperialism is "just part of the mix."

Informed by the poststructuralist approach, scholars from a variety of disciplines suggested in the late twentieth century that the term "cultural imperialism" be replaced with another term that seeks to circumvent the simplistic active-passive, dominator-victim dualism. For example, musicologists and anthropologists developed a variety of concepts seeking to broaden our understanding of global music interaction. Their suggestions, including "artistic sharing" and "transculturation," could easily be translated into other fields as well.

"Cultural transmission," for example, became one of the most appealing "post-imperialist" interpretations. The notion stemmed from the vocabulary of psychology, where it alluded to the interaction between cultural and genetic influences on human behavior. One of the most important historical accounts is a collection of essays, Cultural Transmissions and Receptions: American Mass Culture in Europe (1993). The contributors addressed diverse issues such as rock music in Italy and the reception of Disneyland in France. Cultural Transmissions describes the various avenues of acceptance, rejection, and alteration that audiences may choose when confronted with American culture.

Spurred by the vision of a "global village," another group of scholars has advanced a theory of "globalization." That term alludes to the compression of the world as well as to humans' increasing perception of the earth as an organic whole. Many understand this phenomenon simply as an economic development. Yet globalization is multidisciplinary in its causes and its effects. Its vague meaning allows researchers to interpret the term broadly; thus, it includes many features of modernization, including the spread of Western capitalism, technology, and scientific rationality.

Once again, the theme-globalization-was not at all new. Modern ideas on the interconnectedness of the world could be found as early as the writings of turn-of-the-twentieth-century German sociologists. Max Weber, for example, offered various conceptual frameworks of universalism beyond political borders. In "Soziologie des Raumes" (The sociology of space, 1903), philosopher-sociologist Georg Simmel argued that a national border is not a geographical fact with sociological consequences but a sociological fact that then takes a geographical shape.

This theme received renewed attention in the late 1980s when sociologists came to believe that socioeconomic relations everywhere were undergoing a profound change that resembled the Industrial Revolution in scope. No longer could cultures and societies be analyzed in the framework of the nation-state, these scholars believed. They argued that, first, any society is in a constant exchange with other societies; that, second, most countries consist of a multitude of cultures; and that, third, cultures do not necessarily reflect the borders of a nation-state. Sociologist Roland Robertson, one of the most prominent advocates of a global theory, proposed that a new concept replace the prevalent social scientific system of mapping the globe into three different worlds after the end of colonialism in the 1960s. Instead of a tripartite worldview, he outlined a vision of the globe as a more organic, interconnected, single network.

Inspired by this argument, students of cultural transfer moved their research away from its anti-American focus and toward a more global level, with no one identifiable enemy. Scholars replaced the concept of U.S. cultural domination with the study of Western cultural influence, but they disagreed over the relationship between manipulation and globalization. A few, like Orlando Patterson, still maintained that the modern process of worldwide cultural interaction could be interpreted as a clandestine American push for global uniformity. Others, however, like Peter Beyer, believed that globalization comes "quite as much at the 'expense' of" Western as of non-Western cultures, since both are part of a dramatic change.

Scholars such as Karen Fog Olwig employed the global approach to reflect on the tension between local and supranational cultural and political developments. Some of these analyses presented a despairingly bleak picture of the future cultural world order. Samuel Huntington, for example, invoked the specter of a "clash of civilizations," a World War III, where Western and Eastern societies would battle not for political and ideological reasons but as a consequence of cultural conflicts. Huntington argued that in the future people would identify themselves by reference to their faith, food, and local traditions instead of ideas and national political systems.

Charles Bright and Michael Geyer's 1987 account painted a more optimistic picture. They interpret the shift from Westernization to globalization as the fusion of tradition and modernity: "This is not Spengler's Decline of the West, but the beginning of a global reordering in which the West seeks its place in a world order it must now share with radically different societies. It is the beginning of a truly global politics." John Urry and Scott Lasch (1987) even theorized that the globalization of economic, political, and social relationships indicates the "end of organized capitalism." In a completely interconnected global economy, no one country will be able to control the market. Frederick Buell claimed in his book National Culture and the New Global System (1994) that for almost every academic discipline the "world of hybrid cultural production" was becoming the rule.

Interestingly, major critics of U.S. cultural imperialism, too, revised their earlier reproaches along these lines. Herbert I. Schiller, for example, reframed his argument in terms of world-systems theory. In an article published in 1991, he portrayed an expansive, transnational corporate authority that has replaced an autonomous United States in influencing all economic and cultural activity. Literary critic Edward Said, who analyzed the image of Orientalism in Western society, argued in Orientalism (1978) that the West culturally dominated the Orient by creating an artificial cultural vision of the latter "as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience." His later study, Culture and Imperialism (1993), detailed how Western authors and audiences developed a literary perspective on imperial geography distinguishing between "us" (the West) and "them" (the Third World). "Western imperialism and Third World nationalism feed off each other," Said summed up, "but even at their worst they are neither monolithic nor deterministic."

It would be misleading to abandon the notion of cultural imperialism and replace it with another, equally exclusive term. Scholars who are interested in the study of cultural transfer need to understand that culture, just like power, may be used to attain any number of objectives and to pursue any number of policies. Therefore, cultural imperialism is as suitable or unsuitable a designation as any other one. In the end, each term provides only one perspective on the chaos of cultural interaction. To understand and partake in the research in this field is to realize that there is no central paradigm. Instead, scholars must borrow insights from all three discourses retraced above. Originally begun as an almost public debate among politicians, journalists, and scholars, the discussion focused on the political advantage of cultural diplomacy and called for the dissemination abroad of more information on the United States and on American cultural artifacts. In the 1960s and 1970s, the topic became part of the nascent discussion of U.S. imperialism, which stressed the economic and psychological implications of culture; there was too much American culture abroad, scholars implied. But under the impact of worldwide resistance against American cultural imperialism and the influence of post structuralism in the late 1980s, leading scholars in the field reconsidered their findings or developed new approaches. As the twentieth century ended, many no longer viewed the spread of American and Western culture exclusively as unilateral "imperialism" but as an ongoing process of negotiation among regional, ethnic, and national groups.


At least four points of the debate on American cultural transfer abroad and on the question of where students of cultural transfer should turn next merit scholarly attention. First, the Internet revolution represents one of many events pointing to both globalization and multiculturalism, implying that Americans may no longer be able to agree on the substance and meaning of their culture, let alone agree sufficiently to export the idea of an American culture. In a way, this discord echoes the original conviction that Americans have no culture worthy to export.

Second, at the same time, the American public has once again begun to fret over the portrayal of American culture abroad, thus reinventing the discussion of the 1950s. On 8 June 1997, the New York Times Magazine published a special issue titled "How the World Sees Us." International observers reluctantly admitted the preponderance of American power and culture. But they also stressed their respective countries' resistance. "American movies have achieved the impossible," exclaimed playwright Edvard Radzinsky in one article. "Russians are so sick of them that they have started watching films from the days of Socialist Realism." And American commentators concurred. "Some of America's cultural exports are so awful that you begin to suspect that we're using the rest of the world as a vast toxic waste dump," editor Michiko Kakutani said.

Third, the center of the debate is changing rapidly. Until recently, the discussion centered on the nation-state, with a few significant exceptions. After the end of the Cold War, however, scholars paid more attention to the individual entrepreneur. The debate, that is, shifted from a nation-centered critique to the study of the impact of private business. This change of argument not only obliterated national boundaries but, equally important, transferred the object under investigation from politics to capitalism.

Fourth, until the late twentieth century the debate in the United States centered almost exclusively on that century. With only a few exceptions, discussants seemed to agree that the transfer of American culture had no history before the formal establishment of a program and then an agency that was in charge of projecting U.S. culture abroad. Yet sociologists tell us that bureaucratic formations follow rather than outline the way of a political trend or need. By shifting the notion of cultural transfer from formal government programs to nongovernmental encounters, scholars have increasingly realized that cultural transmission has existed everywhere and much earlier in time. Indeed, cultural transmission often preceded formal diplomatic ties. Although their findings were for many years ignored in the debates over cultural transfer, students of American history have for decades been investigating nineteenth-century ambassadors of American culture abroad. They have looked at missionaries in China, soldiers in Cuba, and the encounter between American settlers and Indian nations. They have investigated actors, as in the examination of the exodus and exchange of private groups including political émigrés, businessmen, and artists. They have also studied ideas and products as transmitted, for example, by scientists, poets, tourists, and museum curators. Their findings underline the general point that there was quite a lot of cultural transfer prior to World War I.

Thus Cultural Imperialism is an important concept in the books of Principles of International Relations. With globalization occupying an essential place, Cultural Imperialism is slowly manifesting and growing its wings far off.