Archive for September, 2011

09/30/2011

Never thought of myself as post-modern!

Our discussion about the nature of globalization was eye-opening in a couple of ways I didn’t expect.   Let’s talk a little bit about postmodernism to begin.  I’ve heard the term bandied about before but I never knew exactly what it meant. Thankfully, John Sinclair provided a clear and thorough description of postmodernism in his piece.  Sinclair said postmodern theory conceives of an individual subject as being  “composed not of one single and relatively constant identity but, rather, of multiple identities that become mobilized within different cultural discourses (74).”

In the case of my family, I think post-modern is a pretty apt description.  Both of my parents are from Nigeria, and they came to the U.S. for university.  I was born here…right here in Washington, DC in fact so I’m what some call a “first-generation” American.  I had the good fortune to live in Nigeria for a year when I was around 10-years old, but besides studying abroad for a semester, the rest of my time has been spent in this country.  Our discussion of globalization and nationalism over the past couple of weeks inspired some self-reflection….

The culture and traditions of the US very much inform who I am.  Nevertheless, my Nigerian heritage is also a significant part of what makes me who I am today, despite having spent only a fraction of my life there.  This feeling runs counter to the critics of globalization who worry about cultural imperialism.  Identity really isn’t a zero-sum game – my identifying strongly with my Nigerian heritage doesn’t make me feel any less American or vice-versa.  I assume my parents feel the same way.   They became naturalized U.S. citizens a long time ago, but I’m sure they don’t fee any less Nigerian.  They still speak the language (I don’t…unfortunately), cook the food, and occasionally make return-trips to see family.  So, I guess that makes us post-modern?  I am looking forward to telling my mother that she is post-modern – I’m sure she’ll get a kick out of it 🙂

 

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09/30/2011

Globalization Theory: The Playoffs

“One  man’s imagined community is another man’s political  prison”  (Appadurai, 295). Especially if he’s a woman…
By Ben Heine

Today, we cover just a little more on the nation-state in reference to globalization theory and the “who’s” and “what’s” of globalization theory.

What is globalization? For a word so regularly tossed around, I was surprised to learn that no common definition exists among globalization scholars. Instead, the lens of each scholarly viewing gives some insight into what the concept could mean. As a novice to international communication theory, I thought I would simplify the globalization movement through sports metaphors.

The Teams (schools of thought):

Hyperglobalizers – These are the pro-globalization advocates who support a more economically centric definition surrounding evolution of the international communication movement.

Ex: Thomas Friedman, Kenichi Ohmae

Skeptics – These are the watchdogs of globalization, pointing to the downsides or less-than-transformative experiences that globalization extracts for some. They do not say globalization is inherently wrong, but that it is more problematic than hyperglobalizers would theorize.

Ex: Colin Sparks

Transformationalists – These are breaking the status quo and calling globalization a NEW phenomenon that calls for a new taxonomy altogether. Globalization to these scholars is not simply economic growth—the social and cultural structures and influences are equally as important and affected.

Ex: Arjun Appadurai, John Sinclair, Jacqueline Gibbons

The Key Players:

Arjun Appadurai argues globalization has transformative significance and understands the globalization phenomenon through “scapes” of the world that lead to a more heterogeneous world (ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, etc). Appadurai’s theory suggests a level of flow and intersection of developing global trends and a transcendence of space. Globalization presents new opportunities for conflict as well as domination.

Appadurai alley-oops to Manuel Castells, who similarly focuses on space and flows and conceives globalization as an overlapping set of flows where the space of flows determines prosperity, power, agency and ability to act.

Karl Marx shaped many interpretations of media flows and cultural imperialism. Marx provided a vocabulary for the discipline of economics and labor in relation to capital. His ideology was part of superstructure of capitalist relations that also came with rise of political values and has merit in the ongoing academic debate concerning globalization. Are we all just puppets to the cheap thrills of capitalism?

Sinclair points out that not all consequences of globalization are about the economy, while Colin Sparks disagrees, saying that the economic impetus for globalization became increasingly obvious when shifting from national to international world.

David Held describes globalization as a series of developments or processes that have increasing extensiveness and intensity of flows of information. Over time, he says, what we’re passing between us in these relations picks up velocity with an increased degree of impact to the previous three developments.

Roland Robertson says we know the world now and that we are part of it and Doreen Massey says power geometry, or time-space compression of globalization, is still powerful and dominating despite the “rising tide lifting all boats.”

Put these players on a court together and we would certainly have a “good game.” Whatever your view of globalization, we must recognize its importance to how it affects the changing nation state power structure and those at the top and bottom of the economic and social sphere.

09/29/2011

Gardening and the Global Economy

Sparks pointed out that over a quarter of the world’s population lives without electricity today. Thus, at least 1.25 billion people in the world are without internet. How can we account for these large disparities in the global economy?
Of all the theorists of globalization, Arjun Appadurai rocks my world. In his work explaining, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”, he takes a more holistic approach in accounting for the wide fault lines that exist between nations and their experience of globalization’s effects.

This disjuncture is deeper understood in viewing the relationship between Appadurai’s, “five dimensions of global cultural flow: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes. It is no surprise that he uses the suffix ‘scape’ to point to the fluid and ever-evolving qualities of these complex and diverse landscapes. The constitutional make up of these scapes and the way in which they function in relation to one another, determines the power and effect of globalization in a given nation.
I am a big fan of gardening. Reading Appadurai’s theory and all his scape talk made my mind drift to the field. What determines what can grow, where and how much of it? THE SOIL. If we understand each nation’s scape as a different type of soil–with diverse nutrient content, moisture content, surrounding land characteristics, etc– and consequently, it’s strengths and weaknesses for growing certain types of crops, we can better understand the disjunctive and differences in the global culture economy.
So, what is the “nutrient content” and “moisture make-up” of a country that determines what will grow and what will wither? Both local factors and global systems are taken into account in Appadurai’s scapes description as, “deeply perspectival constructs, inflected very much by the historical, linguistic and political situatedness of different sorts of actors: nation-states, multinationals, Diaspora communities, sub-national groupings and movements [religious, political and economic] and even face-to face groups, such as villages, neighborhoods and families.”
All of these factors need to be assessed as a horticulturist would measure his/her soil: scientifically, yet with a dirty hand in his/her specimen. That’s to say, in order to tackle these disparities, say, for example, bringing electricity (and the internet) to all corners of the earth, it takes a body that is approaching the nations’ scapes both scientifically and as a subjective participant; one who uses the scientific method to control for variables, yet is immersed in the culture to know it’s beliefs, values and ideas that are the life-force to the nation’s citizens.  Although this form of analysis demands more work, effort and time to understand each nation’s complex DNA, it seems the only way to promote growth from the root up.

Check out, ASHOKA: http://www.ashoka.org/about.
It is a social entrepreneurship organization doing just the work of a horticulturist described above: overcoming differences in global economy through proper diagnosis, innovation technology and sustained development of social changes by working directly with the individuals, groups and infrastructures that constitute the nation.

09/28/2011

What is USA’s culture?

Have you ever seen the movie, “Brave Heart” with Mel Gibson in it? Do you remember the scene where Mel Gibson aka William Wallace screams, “Freedom,” before charging into war? After discussing about patriotism in class last week, it made think about our culture here in the United States of America. Do we even have a culture? Sure, we have some people who are proud US Citizens. They might paint their faces red, white, and blue on our 4th of July celebration or post out a big US flag in their front yard. There are some people here who can be very patriotic. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would label myself as a very patriotic person because I am a very proud citizen and I would sacrifice my life for my country, but when I get asked “what is your culture?” That is what pretty much backfires my vision of being very patriotic if I am not sure what my country’s culture is? For the past few years, USA has been getting a lot of diverse citizens. We have people coming in from all over the world. We have people being married to other people from different countries and being brought here to become citizens. We have different languages. We have different ethnicity and race. We have different beliefs. Most of all, we have different cultures. We do have some other people who have moved from a different country, but still practice their cultures and beliefs. Only in USA, you would see a Chinese person being married to an African American. Only in USA, you would see a Muslim temple next to a Catholic church. Only in USA, you would have restaurants of all kinds aka Indian food, Chinese food, African food, Thai food, and so forth. Our primary language is English, but in some parts like the small towns in Arizona, everything written down would be in Spanish. We are truly indeed a salad bar of the world. We have all kinds of people and cultures here. We still practice the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance (or in some schools). We have baseball games with hot dog stands. We have big houses with big lawns. But are these our culture? The reason why I question this is because two of my friends went to South Africa for a Deaf conference. They met many other Deaf people there from different countries. During the two weeks stay, each day was contributed to a country’s celebration of culture. The Chinese delegates on their day of celebration dressed in their kimonos, brought dragon puppets, a gong, and served rice with chicken. The Indian delegates on their day of celebration dressed in saris, put on beautiful jewelry, created henna tattoos, and served rice with curry. The Kenyan delegates on their day of celebration dressed in their tribal clothes, brought spears and chant songs, a drum, and served Ugali with Sukama. Now, when it was the USA delegates, my two friends were not even sure what to represent other than red, white, and blue. They thought of serving hamburgers, but does that represent our culture? Then they thought of signing the national anthem, but it was not enough.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that what defines USA culture since we are the salad of everything? I am still patriotic. I am still a proud citizen. But, I want to know what exactly IS USA ‘s culture?

09/24/2011

Scary Mother Earth…

Afghanistan

 

This is a scary world we live in, right? Or so we think. If you look up at any news website like http://www.cnn.com or http://www.foxnews.com or even http://www.aol.com, I can promise you that you would see different kind of news ranging from people dying to tips for fashion. It is amazing to see how much the information from the news can shape our minds. I do notice that the news has a major influence on what people think today. For example, the news would expose information about how dangerous a certain area is like Kenya. The news would mention that people are dying and there are countless diseases there. I am sure that people are dying and I am sure there are countless diseases, but there is also a good side to Kenya as well. Because of that kind of exposure, I know a lot of people who are afraid to travel to Kenya because of what the “news” said. Take my parents for instance. When I was selected to go to Kenya, Africa to represent the Global Deaf Ambassador organization, my parents did not want me to go. They were afraid that I would either die or get one of the diseases there. It is generally known that you are supposed to be cautious at all time no matter where you are. So, I told my parents that I would be cautious at Kenya, but I am not going to be paranoid. I went there and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Now, I live in the Northeastern area of DC. I have a few friends who live in the Georgetown area. They keep telling me that I should move out or relocate where I live because its dangerous. I asked them where did they hear about this, they said the “news.” There it is again. This brings me to my point about the mean world theory. It is a result of the cultivation theory. People are afraid to go to certain places because of what the media exposes their information about. Some people do not want to go to Aruba because they are afraid of disappearing like Natalie Holloway. Some people refuse to go to Mexico because they think the whole country is filled with drug lords. Some people are afraid to travel to Alaska because they think they would get eaten by a Polar Bear. It does not matter where you are, but every where is dangerous. Many people think Europe is always a safe place. They don’t realize that France, targeting Paris, France aka the city of love, is famous for pick pocketing. So watch your purses/wallets! However, because the news does not expose about that information much, people assume that it is a completely danger free zone. The mean world theory happens every day. It influences the way we act, the way we think, in our daily lives. We don’t take that street because the last time we heard, a person died there. We don’t eat that restaurant because the last time we heard, someone choked to death there. We grow our fear just because of what “someone else” says (the news). Yes, it is good to be aware of what is going on rather than assuming that we have a perfect world, but it is also good to weigh out which you think is the best information to keep in mind. Some of the information are over exaggerated. It got exaggerated too much to the point where a few people will never travel because of that. When I read the news, I always keep in mind that there is no safe place on earth. That helps me to reduce my fear of some certain places. I just gain my consciousness of my surroundings instead of being paranoid.

 

Would you do the same thing?

09/24/2011

Still Conflicted about Nationalism/Patriotism

Our discussion this week about what nationalism is was very interesting!   It made me think about where patriotism ends and nationalism begins…or maybe patriotism is just a symptom/expression of nationalism?  The discussion made me also think about how nationalistic/patriotic I am (it’s complicated…).  Finally, this week’s readings and discussion made me realize that nationalism is a political, social, and cultural force has a symbiotic relation with media and communications.

To a lay person (which I would have considered myself before I too this class) I think nationalism and communication are probably interchangeable terms.  From our discussion today, I gather that patriotism is a related sort of feeling without some of the negative connotations that nationalism might have.  I’m still a little bit unclear….hopefully I am not the only one.   Even Waisbord says that “nationalism means different things to different people.  One nation’s intolerant chauvinism is the flip-side of another nation’s patriotic sense of difference and community.”

In terms of how nationalistic/patriotic I feel…it depends on the circumstances.  Like Michelle Obama, I was really proud of American after how well Barack Obama did throughout the 2008 election especially when it was clear that he would be the end up winning the presidency.  I wouldn’t have phrased my feelings the way Michelle did (poor thing got in so much trouble!) since I can thinks of moments where I’ve been proud of America before I ever heard of a Barack Obama.  Nevertheless, I identify with her general sentiment of feeling a kind of pride that was new.  It is extraordinary that the U.S. is the first (maybe?) Western countries that has selected someone a minority to be the chief executive.  As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a wonderful reminder that the U.S. is a upwardly mobile society whre some luck, a good education, and a whole bunch of other stuff you can change your circumstance.

Finally, this week was a great lesson about how integral a role the  media plays in how nationalism is perceived.  I think the relationship between media and nationalism is manifested in the concepts of “imagined communities” and the “public sphere.”  Once again, these are things I’ve thought about before this class but our discussion and the readings made things more clear.

09/23/2011

Does media isolate?

I was thinking about Media and how we had been discussing diasporas in class and how minorities are more connected to their homelands.  While living in Budapest  I had access to very little information about what was going on in the U.S.   In order to have television you had to sign a two year contract with a cable company, so most people who were there temporarily did not have television.  In addition there was really only one English news source in Budapest and it was relatively difficult to get your hands on.  Of course you could check american websites and things but there was a definite sense of seclusion.  For me what made it so strong was the fact that there were all of these media sources, and yet it was still so challenging to find out news, let alone actually communicate with people from home.  A phone call was incredibly expensive and one of the only places any of the American students had internet was at campus or in this little Mexican restaurant we all used to hang out in.

The point being is that I think that having all of this technology and knowing that its there and yet still feeling disconnected is more disheartening than if it wasn’t there at all.  It makes you feel more estranged, like you’re the only one in the world that can’t get in touch with people  “back home”.   It also made me realize how much we rely on other people and physical cues to keep us “up to date”.  Weather its overhearing someones conversation or catching the headlines of someones newspaper on the metro.  Suddenly not being able to understand these things, and then having little access to other sources, can make one feel completely out of touch.

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09/23/2011

The Decline of the Nation State? What’s Next?

British International Development Minister visits Liberia

Human constructs may be manufactured but can carry very real power and influence. The evolution of the nation state gradually redefines borders and areas of governance. From philosopher and writer Ernest Renan’s description of this “daily plebiscite” in 1882 to what we recognize as nation states today, these constructs require a certain importance and buy-in by the greater people or it well ceases to exist.

In class, we raised several challenging questions: Does a nation state cease to exist simply when those enforcing its existence cease to recognize it any longer? As the rise of globalization presents challenges at the international level, has the nation state lost the support and confidence of the people?

Castells attributed media in part for de-linking people and the nation state in the current crisis of legitimacy that exists. As media originally communicated the design and implementation of the nation state, it also aided the vast global expansion in communication between nations. As our society becomes more global in nature, the problems become more complex.

With greater communication and interconnectedness, we also face issues that often involve several nation states, or that one nation cannot control. For example, the economic turmoil that currently affects the U.S. is equally present in Europe and many other parts of the world. After September 11, the U.S. buckled down on its security measures and implemented the Patriot Act in an effort to control any attempted acts of terror. And the demand for cyber-related professionals continues to grow as cyber security threatens network availability and sensitive data. None of these issues exist in a vacuum. None of them affect only the U.S.

So if the nation state can’t possibly address many of our national security issues alone, what kind of a construct can? And further, for the growing number of citizens that don’t think the nation state represents them anymore, does this mean a new, more representative construct is needed?

Academically or idealistically, we might entertain an argument for global governance or even global citizenship. But the reality of tribalism, religious conflict, and other traditions that naturally separate out different tribal groups pose a real difficulty in terms of governance and power struggle. Perhaps a greater consideration is how we can come to live in a society that benefits from greater cooperation and harmony without reliance on the nation state governing body, but the implications may be unrealistic at this point in time.

09/23/2011

Media: a nation’s most powerful weapon in the political battlefield?

Uncharacteristically, I’ve procrastinated my blog entry for this week on a topic that happens to be one of my favorite: nationalism and national identity. It isn’t just a busy academic and professional schedule that left me surfing around the IC blog page; but rather, nationalism and cultural identity are topics that can only be addressed by digging up the existential bones that constitute these matters. In this week’s readings, the author whose argument best reflects my own viewpoints on nationalism and national identity is Karim’s article, “Through the Lens of Diaspora”.

Karim provides a lens through which one can view the nation and find answers to the pressing existential question of national identity. How does a nation come to be? According to Karim, “Every nation is imaginary, willed into existence by belief and action and [maintained through a mobilization of the masses to believe in the authenticity of a nation’s symbols through educational and mass communication systems]”(394). Wow. Am I just a philosophical nerd or is anyone else impressed by this powerful idea? Could it be true that our concept of countries’ borders and citizenship are merely a product of marketing on the world stage?
In viewing current affairs through this lens, one cannot help but think of the greatest, present day battle for national identity and petition for legitimacy world-wide: the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Both nations’ struggle for state-hood prove Karim’s argument of the “imagined community” to be extremely potent and reaffirm the role that mass media plays in marketing the respective countries’ shared values, ideas, practices and norms to the rest of the world. Palestinians and Israelis alike, both believe in their nation and their cause with equal force. The nations’ citizens and Diaspora communities are equally sold on the authenticity of their state. Using Karim’s perspective, one can understand why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been at a bloody stalemate after more than a decade, without comprehending the multiple layers of complexities that muddle and make up the region’s history.

So here’s the gnawing question: If both nations WILL their nation into existence with equal intensity, what is it that will determine whose petition for state-hood is recognized as globally legitimate?

If you ask Karim and Waisboard, I think they’d suggest that how these nations’ have utilized and continue to harness their educational and mass communication mediums determine not only their global legitimacy, but national authenticity as well. Personally, I am neutral to both the Palestinian and Israeli views and only wish to find a solution that will put this matter to rest peacefully and humanly. However, one cannot help but note  that Israel has had the upper-hand on the world stage, dictating the terms of negotiation and receiving constant American  and European support for their cause since the late 40’s, early 50’s. How?

Waisboard might argue that Israel’s communication network has been stronger both historically and presently, in promoting and reinforcing nationalism among it’s citizens. According to him, nations are “culturally coordinated communities” that[ are created, maintained and transformed by the media]. (377) Under this notion, Israel is extremely powerful on a national level due to it’s ability to harness media to institute historical, linguistic, cultural and religious symbols that are then broadcast to both the national and international audience, including diaspora communities living abroad. As a result of the nation’s expansive reach, using it’s communication network to create and reinforce nationalism within it’s own borders, while effectively rallying for solidarity among it’s Diaspora populations, Israel has enjoyed an advantageous position in the battle for legitimacy.

To me, it is clear: all is fair in love and war; and quality communication networks are a nation’s most advantageous weapon in both of those realms.

09/18/2011

Who isn’t prejudiced?

I received one of the many chain emails I get from family and friends periodically.  For some reason they are usually either geared at making you happy or at pointing out the shortcoming of some group.  I usually look all of these various emails up on snopes.com out of curiosity.  I think that chain mail is one of the more interesting forms of media and culture.   Upon reading said email the first thing I thought of was the Communications Flow and Flowmations chapter that we read.  While it never discussed chain mail (not to be confused with a medieval form of armor) I feel that its descriptions of the way people interpret messages and information is quite accurate to this situation.  As media forms, like pictures are transmitted their meaning can easily become altered.  When reading the email keep this in mind “any idea that moves through space also undergoes a transformation”

Here is the chain e-mail I recieved:

George Washington statue is hidden at the MLK rally
in Columbia, SC.
The annual MLK observance at the state house in Columbia
SC had an interesting twist this year. The event is held on
the north side steps of the statehouse.
Prominent at that location is a large bronze statue of
George Washington.
This year, the NAACP constructed a “box” to conceal the
father of our country from view so that participants would
not be ‘offended’ by his presence.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this picture of
the MLK Day rally in Columbia, South Carolina.
This rally was sponsored by the NAACP and they said that
they covered the statue because they “didn’t want to
offend anyone”. Really? George Washington is the father
of this nation. How is he offensive to anyone?
Can you imagine what would happen if we covered the
statue of Dr. Martin L. King on President’s Day? or is only
the statue of a ‘white guy’ offensive ??
Of course, this display of anti-Americanism wasn’t covered
at all by the national media (surprise, surprise !!), and the
local paper in Columbia only ran a short piece on it. It has
been covered a little by the blog-world but I think the word
needs to get out to the general public that this is what the
NAACP is all about…militant and (most definately) racist.

Here is what was later written about this event by the NAACP:

“A three-sides structure that covered the front and sides of the statue was intended to display a rally graphic and serve as a photo-and-television backdrop for the events speakers.  However the graphic was not finished before the rally and could not be put into place.”

With the media and many of its stories I often find it difficult to tell where the truth actually lies.  I feel as though the images we see have been distorted by transformed by so many different peoples perspectives and agendas that by the time we actually hear a story, the reality of it is often distorted beyond recognition.  While I must admit that this picture looks pretty bad, its difficult for one to determine what kind of ‘reality’ it is showing.  Was the picture taken specifically for the purpose of angering people?  Did the organization realize what they were doing?  Was their later statement just a cover-up?  If the board wasn’t going to be used as a backdrop why did they leave it up?  Or was there really something on the other side that we couldn’t see from the angle of the camera?

Most interesting to me is that this all came about last January, and nearly a year later this e-mail has become a kind of folklore and continues to be transmitted.