What Are the Notions of Cultural Imperialism?
Cultural imperialism is a multi-faceted concept, a collection of possible causes with a common effect – the tendency towards homogenization of cultures - What Are the Notions of Cultural Imperialism? introduction. This essay will explore the arguments behind the possible causes, specifically, the notions of forced acculturation as opposed to the voluntary embrace of Western culture. It will refer to theories of post-colonialism and cultural hegemony.
First, it’s necessary to try to define the term imperialism. Lenin held that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, an unavoidable consequence of the financial might and monopolisation by the western world: “Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is threefold: imperialism is monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism.
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The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. ” (Lenin, 1916, p1). He argued that imperialism was the evolution from competitive capitalism into monopolistic/oligopolistic capitalism as corporations merged and outgrew their domestic markets, spreading across the globe in search of new markets and territories to exploit.
Lenin defined his theory of capitalism in five points: “… 1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; 2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital,” of a financial oligarchy; 3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; 4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist combines which share the world among themselves, and 5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.
Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”. Thus, he argued for the inevitability of economic globalization, and saw that weaker nations were powerless to control their own economic (and political) functions, against the will of the more powerful nation. Cultural imperialism could be said to rest on this economic foundation. It can be described as the exertion of a more powerful nation’s culture upon a weaker one, predicated on the fact of economic domination.
This may lead to the erosion and, sometimes, destruction of the indigenous culture of the weaker nation. “Once upon a time, before the era of globalization, there existed local, autonomous, distinct and well-defined, robust and culturally sustaining connections between geographical place and cultural experience. These connections constituted one’s – and one’s community’s – ‘cultural identity’. This identity was something people simply ‘had’ as an undisturbed existential possession, an inheritance, a benefit of traditional long dwelling, of continuity with the past. Identity, then, like language, was not just a description of cultural belonging; it was a sort of collective treasure of local communities.
But it was also discovered to be something fragile that needed protecting and preserving, that could be lost. Into this world of manifold, discrete, but to various degrees vulnerable, cultural identities there suddenly burst “(Tomlinson. J, 1999, p. 269). It becomes clear that discussing cultural imperialism is impossible not only without taking into account economics, but also the use of force. If we consider the USA (and in smaller part the UK) in recent decades invading nations with the aim of installing democracy, we can see that forced acculturation is an almost inevitable result of military occupation. But can voluntary acculturation exist without the preliminary use of force?
There is the strong possibility that countries not directly colonized might take on Western culture, accepting it by proxy due to the westernization of their neighbors. But it is a complex relationship between military force and culture. The British Empire, for example, was expanded almost always by the use of force, but preceding the troops Christian missionaries had often already begun a cultural process of weening the ‘natives’ off their own religions and preparing the way, perhaps unwittingly, for political and military domination. Once the colonies were firmly established, the customs, religion and education of the ruling British was imposed upon the indigenous population, but it was not simply a top down process, as locals had been co-opted already. Commonwealth nations, formerly the countries of
the Empire, still speak English, play cricket, drink tea and follow British customs as a direct result of the Empire and British colonization. Christianity was a requirement for the “savages” as was speaking English, being taught as British children were and made to dress, eat and act in keeping with British values. In a post-colonial world, the imposition of Britishness clearly had strong residual effects on the populations of these countries and contributed to their continued “Westernization” in the contemporary period. But independence has been achieved for many countries now for well over 50 years, and if western influence is still pervasive in these post-colonial countries, the question arises as to why.
One of the central debates is whether nations and populations are still being coerced into accepting a culture that is not their own, or whether they have embraced aspects of Western culture to some extent voluntarily, The view that it is voluntary usually cites mass cultural phenomena such as Hollywood movies and televised sport as causes (Tomlinson, 2008). One argument regards the bombardment of advertising, designed to fuel consumerism in the West, as having simply “rubbed off” onto others around the world, as a by-product (Martin, Campbell, Fabos, 2001). Others regard it as natural that richer and more developed countries necessarily have better funded entertainment industries and, as a corollary, slicker and more polished culture.
A positive view of this is that the best of the developed nations’ cultural offerings are exported around the globe, but this immediately leads to further questions as to how far cultural hegemony and the domination over the indigenous media by western owned corporations is responsible for the attractiveness of western culture, or whether there is some intrinsic quality of that culture which makes it so desirable. Some would argue that regardless of the cause, the effects should be curtailed, “… contain the impulse towards hegemony, every kind of hegemony, economic, military, linguistic, religious and cultural. Any ecologist will tell you how dangerous and fragile a monoculture is. A hegemonic world is like having a government without a healthy opposition. It becomes a kind of dictatorship. It’s like putting a plastic bag over the world, and preventing it from breathing. Eventually, it will be torn open” (Roy, 2001, p. 19).
Whether actively sought or passively accepted, the effects of western brands such as Coca Cola, or the UK’s Premier League football, which is the most watched sporting league across the globe, are that many people in Africa and elsewhere disregard or even reject their own culture as inferior, a signifier of under-development and backwardness. This an issue increasingly debated amongst African academics. “Millions have been transformed overnight from their tribal way of life to membership of a code of international behavior championed by the western ideology of freedom and equality. All over the continent most youths are on the move; they are going somewhere without being sure of the direction.
The first point of call is in the area of language – no doubt, English and French languages are now global dialect – but the modern African youth take pride in speaking these languages to the detriment of their local dialects. They look at anybody who speaks these local languages as primitive, barbaric and uncultured. ” (Uwakwe, 2011). Beyond language and fashion – the primary subject matter in the majority of these debates on the Westernization of African, some would argue that the very culture itself is being eroded. Joseph Ki-Zerbo states that: “Our cultures are being reduced little by little to nothing. These technologies have no passport and no visa, but they are affecting us and shaping us” (Ki-Zerbo, 1989).
One complicating factor here is the fact that the fear of cultural encroachment is shared not only by the less developed countries but even by some of the big powers themselves, such as France, which zealously guards its language, its food, and its traditions, against the powerful Anglophone culture of the USA, with the Academie Francaise prohibiting the word ‘hamburger’ in 1996 and insisting on ‘patte de boeuf’. More recently, they have also moved to ban the use of email for ‘courriel’ and networking for ‘Travail en reseau’ (Samuel, 2011). Other, less affluent nations, are impotent to the threat of what the French call “creeping English” however.
Without the funds to set up and run an Academy devoted to their language and its preservation, Western words, much like Western culture, continue to infiltrate their day to day lives. Cultural imperialism thrives in the world today through the process of hegemony, which in turn produces a thirst for western values of the elite of less-developed countries, benefiting from the economic power of the imperialist nations. However, more recently, this process has become further complicated by the rejection of western values and culture by some populations, most notably expressed in the form of radical Islamism. In a world in which the expression of class politics has been stalled, anti-imperialist content has had to find a different route, a new way of coming into focus.
The ‘War on Terror’ might be seen as the Empire fighting back against its detractors, who try to impose by counter-force the values of the hegemonised. References Amin, S – “Imperialism and Globalization”, Monthly Review, Vol. 53. Ki-Zerbo. J (December 1989) – “UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol 1” –University of California Press Lenin – (October, 1916) – “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism” – Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata No. 2 Martin. C, Campbell. R, Fabos. B (23. 02. 2011) – “Media & Culture : An introduction to Mass Communication “–Bedford / St. Martin’s Roy. A (2001) – “War is Peace” – The Spokesman issue 73 – Russell Press ltd. Samuel. H (11. 10.
2011) – “France’s Academie francaise battles to protect language from English” [Online] – http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8820304/Frances-Academie-francaise-battles-to-protect-language-from-English. html – The Telegraph Tomlinson. J (01. 08. 2008) – “Cultural Imperialism: A critical introduction” – ACLS Humanities E-Book Tomlinson. J (15. 07. 1999)– “Globalization and Culture”– University of Chicago Press Uwakwe. R (15. 05. 2011) – “Correspondence: Let the world see Africa’s rich cultural heritage” [Online] http://www. yourcommonwealth. org/2011/05/15/correspondence-let-the-world-see-africas-rich-cultural-heritage/