Archive for ‘Culture’


Boren Fellows: The New Faces of Public Diplomacy?

Our group presented our paper: Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding through International Exchange Programs this week to highlight the role and/or effects of international exchange and cross-cultural educational research in efforts of public diplomacy. We focused on the Fulbright (a tool of fostering international goodwill), Peace Corps (international service), and the Boren Fellowship. I wanted to focus on Boren for the sake of this blog entry.

Boren, unlike the other two, is overtly tied to U.S. national security goals, making it a unique tool used by the government to achieve these goals. This fellowship goes to mostly graduate students to enable their international research related to national security interests with the explicit mandate that they return to work for the U.S. Government. The National Security Education Program funds the program, mostly from the Department of Defense.

The reality is that restrictive laws on public diplomacy (through the Smith-Mundt Act) have forced the U.S. to get creative with public diplomacy. International exchange programs like this are an effective alternative to an imposing military presence or DOD-led public diplomacy initiative. Because of this, the U.S. has expanded traditional definitions of national security outside of a security-military-only focus and this scholarship also goes to those doing international development or priority-language projects. Whether intentional or not, these student recipients are like citizen ambassadors, going out into the field and creating connections with those in other countries that help them understand Americans better and vice versa. In some ways, they add to this concept of “branding” the nation as well, and raise questions of an accurate depiction of Americans versus the U.S. Government’s agenda for the American image.

Either way, international scholarships are a great way to get some of the brightest, highly educated students engaged with international issues. This both prepares future leaders in American government to understand the issues of the day, as well as brings expertise to these intelligence positions for their government service requirement. In the future, public diplomacy will undoubtedly rely more upon this soft power approach—not undoing the need for traditional hard power, but creating a more effective balance to create a better image and reputation for the U.S.


Why the Government Should Hire Me (Us)

Communications scholars continue to debate the influence of social media on political change, activism, and other social phenomena that seem to have some undetermined corollary effect on how society functions. Researchers analyze Twitter feeds to determine where collective activism and communication is taking place. Governments have a stake in the trend, whether their intentions are to encourage thriving democratic movements or to shut them down.

One thing is true: The government especially need people who can locate paths of information. They are trying to use open source data mining tools to piece together information for conversations in the future. Whether this is through traditional forms of communication or new media-shaped political debates about the Arab Spring, the government needs graduates from good communications programs to fill voids in international relations and public diplomacy who are cued into contemporary studies on new media, media ownership, and communication. We are systems people. We want to know why things work the way they do beyond the typical discussions in the public forum. In the complex web of public-private interests, where are the choke points?

Social media through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other significant feeds spreads ideas across international borders. But the means of analyzing this information is still a bit hazy. Open source data means no personal identification, which can be beneficial for international advocates for human rights, but difficult for data mining. Knowing what communication paths to trust and identify is also one of the roles of a communications scholar. As government plays a crucial role in world affairs, it seems timely and relevant that it would start looking to graduate students that understand how to use new media in the context of culture, world affairs, and public diplomacy.


Predestination or Free Will…for Networks?

John Calvin & David Grewel: Like-minds?

Religious theorists have asked this question for centuries about the spiritual realm and now network theorists are joining the mix in regard to the nature of the global and social Network system. Have networks always existed (Latour) or do networks formed in the information age now define its current social structure (Castells)?

The understanding of networks directly affects how we interpret globalization, domination, inequality, and how free we are to “choose” to adopt certain dominant global norms. David Grewel argues in his piece Network Power and Globalization that networks seem free also have elements of buried force that explain how the “dynamic operating in globalization nevertheless reflects a kind of domination” (89). Grewel does not disregard the importance of economic dependency or military control in indirect control, but categorizes globalization as empire.

We establish this dichotomy of choice and powerful influence through norms that ultimately contruct “network power.” Grewel defines this as “a group of people united in a particular way that makes them capable of mutual recognition and exchange” (91). Network power requires critical mass and effectively eliminates other choices as it reaches critical mass. In other words, the more people jumping onto one network, the fewer people are likely to remain in alternative networks. Network power chooses the network “market winners” in a way. Grewel perceives this as created fewer choices for free will to be exerted because they existed before a dominant network took power. He does not seem to address the possibility that new competitive networks could enter the market and provide better alternatives to the dominant ones, likely because the dominant networks are tied up in an array of bureaucratic policies. Grewel uses the WTO as an example of a “priviledged point of access” (91) and argues that Nation-States that want to stay competitive must effectively adopt WTO policy (in full) to compete.

While this is done through formal consent and signing of treaties, the WTO requires countries to accept its terms in full. Part of the reason is to ensure compliance and create necessary boundaries for fair trade. But it leaves no room for alternative styles of trade and eliminates certain sectors like agriculture (94). Now that the WTO governs nearly all international trade law, what choice does a country have if it wants to trade internationally but to accept provisions of the WTO?

Grewel points to the costs that new standards require, as well as the frequent perceived cultural loss by changing from standards that play an “important role in people’s identities or culture,” such as linguistics (96). These changes greatly affect minority cultures and marginalized populations that do not have equal access to adapting to these changes.

Grewel then opens the door for a compromise through oppenness, compatibility, and malleability (97). While the analysis provides more space for entrants to adopt culturally-sensitive standards through the WTO that are more compatible with their current standards, Grewel does not set out a solution for dealing with human rights policy in these trade agreements. While revision should be easy to do in any network system as a way to respond to outcomes, network power (the dominant) should also be careful not to allow nations to opt-out of imperative human rights requirements, which underline the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.

This article and other network scholars consider language and metrics as the biggest challenge in network power. As networks dominate through globalization, they fear these losses as also a loss of choice and liberty. But networks must invite diverse opinions without compromising on fundamental rights. In other words, Grewel’s opt-out system may be the optimal solution for cultural protection in a network power system, but Nation States should be called to account in an international system not to opt-out of recognizing and honoring the fundamental human rights of their citizens.


Global Culture or national culture

By Denise Phelps


This week I really found Sinclairs readings on global culture very interesting.  His ideas about the national becoming  internationalized and his belief in a shift from cultural imperialism to global culture, really resonated with me. In many respects I see what he means, but I also question in what respects this is shaped by capitalist economics.  I see international bodies like UNESCO and powerful countries like the U.S. using their influence to promote a ‘global culture’ but it is one that is shaped more in their benefit than in others.  I’m  not saying that the good intentions are’nt there, but I would question weather the matter in which  global culture is promoted is done in a way that really allows for it to be multi directional.  My interpretation is that global culture is only being promoted as a front for Western culture.

I don’t think there is much doubt that the time-space dynamic is changing the social, cultural and political spheres in which we live.   We are now able to travel all over the world in a few hours, and people the world over are interacting and influencing one another in ways unimaginable only a generation ago.  Just today I had  Turkish, Thai and then some Sushi.  However, I think what is most relevant is a countries ability to not just receive others information, culture, and ideas but also to export their own.   Everyone knows American music, and American movies, and can name 15 of their favorite American actors, but American’s access to the foreign is much more limited.  There are many arguments for why this is, ranging  from: we are ethnocentric, to America is a big country we have enough going on that we don’t need to pay attention to anyone else.   Regardless of how many immigrants we have or how many different languages are spoken in a given city, our overall awareness of what other people are doing and experiencing: their music, movies, newspapers, is much more limited.   When I returned from being abroad I craved movies and music from Eastern Europe.  I wanted to get my hands on some of my favorites and I wanted to explore new ones.  I couldn’t find hardly anything.  Even with companies like Netflix, having huge databases, their foreign section is incredibly limited.  Sure you can find the odd French film, or German drama.  But even ones that are already made with English subtitles or dubbing can’t be found here.  What about places like Finland, and Ukraine, or Portugal?  Isn’t there something that they have to offer our “global culture”?  And why if it really is global do we not know anything about them, or even have access to the media they create?

I’m sure you’re thinking, there’s the internet you can find anything on the internet.   I would argue that the idea of a ‘global culture’ isn’t about searching things out on the internet.  It is about exposure to different cultures and ideas without initially seeking them out.  In order for there to be a global culture, there needs to be equal amounts of exposure all over the world not just in countries that consume American media.

Is this lack of multi-directional information flow due to an unabalanced and American biased “global culture”, or is it meerly a product of supply and demand?  Do not many Americans want to have access to these things?  Do people living half way across the world really want to see all of these Hollywood movies?  Or are we just exporting our American consumerism as “global culture”  because it’s more digestible?  Everyone else consumes our goods and media, and culture.  But really how much of theirs do we consume in turn?

In answer to my own questions I think that one of the reasons why we don’t have access to many of these foreign media types is because there isn’t a demand.  But the demand isn’t there because the exposure isn’t there to create the demand.  I think there is potential for a real ‘global culture’  but it would require certain countries like the U.S.  letting go of some of their nationalism and being willing to consume media from other places.


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.


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.


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 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.


Media Defining and Reflecting Culture

Waisbord’s “Media and the Reinvention of the Nation” drew the interesting parallel of media as a set of institutions involved in “the creation, maintenance, and transformation of cultural membership.” Whether nations were formed form centralized political power or a series of decentralized factors at certain historical junctures, media has had a distinct role to play in both reflecting and defining nationalism through culture.

I wanted to share some of my favorite American culture-shaping media, hoping it will instill a bit of nostalgia as much as inform those who were not a part of my generation.

Media Marking/Informing my Child and Teen Year Culture, Semblance of Nationalism:

  1. Nintendo
  2. Barbie
  3. Disney
  4. Walter Kronkite? Andy Rooney?
  5. Presidencies: George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton
  6. MTV: TRL, ABC (TGI Fridays!)
  7. Quality Films: Life is Beautiful; Shawshank Redemption; 10 Things I Hate About You
  8. Terrible, but cultural: Dude, Where’s my Car? Clerks
  9. Country, Pop, Rap Music
  10. Church of God
  11. Seinfeld, Boy Meets World
  12. Guess

Media Marking/Informing my Adult Years:

  1. Angry Birds, Wii
  2. Canon Rebel T2i
  3. Pixar, Foxlight Pictures
  4. Internet News: Daily Show, Colbert Report, Drudge, CNN, NYT, Etc
  5. Presidents: George W Bush, Barack Obama
  6. Bravo, Fox, NBC: SNL
  7. Quality Films: King’s Speech, Lord of the Rings, Anchorman
  8. Terrible, but Cultural: Superbad
  9. Pop, Indie, Country Music
  10. Emerging Church
  11. Glee, Law & Order SVU, Community
  12. Anthropologie