Sept 9 (belated post)

Here is my reflection for this week’s readings– which, as I was still learning how to use the blog, got lost somewhere. Although I did email it to Prof Dong, I wanted to share. Cheers!



-I am interested in debating the issue of how the influence of modern media on international development and the devising of an international communication strategy are viewed today. The author (Thussu) claimed this relationship is still an “open question”, and one I think would be very interesting to discuss!

-Regarding the concept of how the level of media development can be an indicator of societal development, I would like to comment that this is really a very complex issue because the way in which these two variables are measured are subjective. What is development for some is not viewed in the same way by others, and so on. Also, because the particular context of a country or culture is not always taken into account when attempting to draw a roadmap of its development, (remember how Thussu mentioned that GNP was not enough to draw conclusions on this matter), I wonder about other possible ways in which the level of media development as related to societal development could be measured. Furthermore, how can one evaluate emerging economies and their media development if they don’t have the same competitive technologies that allow for media innovation in their countries?

The Arab Spring, for example, has shown us that even though citizens make use of information technologies to get ahead on the war, political and economical stability (and, therefore, cultural stability as well) are still a long way from becoming real.

-Finally, regarding the concept of altering media and information flows, I would like to comment on the experience of my country. Ecuador has just approved (without debate, only through voting in the National Assembly, where the government party holds majority votes), an extremely controversial Communication law which initially gained support on the ground of restructuring the media and its information flows so they would directly benefit those historically set apart from having access to or being represented by traditional media outlets. However, the excuse of wanting to democratize the media was itself a display of how power politics will manipulate people through propaganda and effective messages that appeal to the “have nots”. As it has turned out, the Government was able to get away with misleading people on their intentions on the communication arena, and is now the leading actor in the media spectrum. Whereas it used to criticize media monopolization by private parties, it has now sought to monopolize as many public information outlets as possible, serving as official mouthpieces of the official party. In this sense, I would like to point out that, whether under the grounds of a “free flow” or a “modernizing” theory, governments will still trick people into believing the way they establish certain media rules are meant to benefit them, when in truth citizens will continue to “depend” and be subjugated to the power of the governments in turn and the elites that they create once in control. Reality, on the pretense of democratizing media, does not change. The only thing that changes is that power shifts from the hands of a group to another.

Reflections: Approaches to IC Theory

by Brinsly

In Approaches to Theorizing International Communication by Thussu, Galthung’s theory on Structural Imperialism was illuminating in its explanation of developed “center” states and underdeveloped “periphery” states. Galtung presents logical arguments of the inclination of elitist “centers” in both developed and underdeveloped countries to establish for joint benefit. As power emanates from the center in both countries so also those information flows. The center of the periphery countries in this case could be opinion leaders and early adopters. The communication break among periphery nations was explained by “feudal” interaction. It would appear that in this sort of arrangement, the peripheries receives just what it obtains from the center.

Thussu argued that “although the media in the West was free from direct government control, they nevertheless act as agents to legitimize the dominant ideology.” He had argued along these lines in the previous chapter. This idea seems to reinforce Galthung’s argument of structural imperialism. If information flows from the “core center” to the “center of the periphery”, it would be information that reflected the views of the dominant core.

Thussu presents Habermas’s concept of the public sphere which traced a space of open debate by bourgeois, independent of business and state interests gradually transformed into a place of power displays and mass media that did not really serve the public interests.

However, the mass media does serve as a tool of modernization with the advancement of technology, information digitization and increased global interconnectivity.

Week #2 Reading Reflection

I appreciated learning about the writings of pioneering theories of Antonio Gramsci,  his influence on the field of international communication and reflecting on how the impact of his hegemony theory continues to resonate today and is applicable to 21st century theories. How can one interpret his concept of “consent” – as an act of free will or, in a way, as subtle coercion? In further exploring the connection between the consensus and coercion, where can we draw the line? Though Western societies would think themselves to be far removed from a coercive approach to mass communication, in actuality what is the level of manipulation?

Stuart Hall’s model of “encoding-decoding media discourse” is quite compelling. It may be more challenging to apply this theory to other media besides the news but it is intriguing nevertheless. The differences between conservative and liberal media outlets come to mind and how they employ their own distinct tactics to encode and decode – and if it’s always possible to recognize these tactics. But though Hall’s theory was groundbreaking, it’s still worth noting that the research mostly focused on British society, which is a reminder of how cultural theories can be limited by national identity.

I was struck by how, as the concepts of globalization and the modernization theory have spread since the 20th century and continued since then, they are still hindered by a narrow Western-centric, Eurocentric perspective. It’s not surprising that the cultural imperialism label is hard to shake. Thussu’s mention of how Islamic cultures have succeeded in blending traditional cultures and modern communication is just one fitting example. How will the West (or can they) execute a revamped and culturally-appropriate version of the modernization theory?

Theorizing IC -&- Stability, Transitions, and the Market for Loyalties

So, why should we study International Communication?  Why do we need to think about what drives the images we see, words, slogans, and ideas bombarding us daily?

If those ideas shift our thinking and our approach to life – shift what we value and spend time and resources on – especially if that shift happens unconsciously without our signing-up for it, the study of communication at all levels, personal to local to international is of vital importance.

Last week’s study of the historical context of communication and its development proved that communication changes the way each of us thinks and behaves – and in this way, changes who we are. This was noticed and investigated in a large way after WWII.  So what is the theory of communication?  There is none.  Rather, there isn’t just one, or even several that make any effort to agree or work closely together.  Something apparently lacking in our field in a general way is an academic attempt to relate / combine the theories in a unifying way, that would help us see the significance of the many dimensions of life affected by the ways businesses, governments, political parties, and entertainers and other public professionals communicate with us.  Even in Professor Eric Novotny’s Strategic Communication course being offered this semester, the list of IC academic theories is different.  The only overlap exists where another academic wrote a book and gave the theory a name.  There is plenty of overlap between theories to construct some relation; between rhetorical theory and critical theory, or between semiotic theory and cultural theory.  But these serve as a perfect example to the confusion in the field, because Thussu did not address “rhetoric theory,” or “semiotic theory” as such.  He also brought forth theories Novotny did not address such as “hegemony,” “structural imperialism,” nor Habermasian’s posit on the “Bourgeoisie public sphere.”  As Thussu’s list of IC theories was later quoted by Price, perhaps Thussu is the industry cannon – it would be useful to have some relation in this area.

Critical theory especially was addressed by all the readings this week, and I argue that its claim is oversimplified in stating that there are massive conspiracies going on, orchestrating influence campaigns to trigger the general population to buy a certain thing, that leads to another thing, that leads to a fundamental ideology, that leads to the support of a way of life which makes the “power agents” more powerful, rich, and set as legitimate leaders in a status quo.  An example would be that an ‘energy’ company which gains most of its profits in oil buys an entertainment company like Disney.  Disney in turn, refuses to run any kind of entertainment that might harm the oil company or profits, won’t show similar media produced by others on its television station, runs ads for the energy company outright or which more subtly influence people towards carbon-based energy ([queue music] ‘here’s our oil company volunteers washing all the little animals caught in the oil spill, gee, we sure do care about the environment and all the little ducks and penguins!’), runs other ads and stories promoting industries which support the oil business (like cars, cruises, travel to worldwide Disney locations), both Disney and the energy company gain a boatload of money from all this, which they wisely spend on lobbying (influencing) Congress to pass or squash various laws and regulations which may or may not be in their interest, they also contribute to the campaign spending of the politicians, earning the right to ask for favors.

Sound like a conspiracy?  These conspiracies are definitely a reality.  But to simply say that this is happening, everyone is either evil or a pawn and we should all stick out fingers in our ears and “kill our TVs” is neither helpful nor constructive, apart from the whistle-blowing itself.  I submit that most of the time, the Western and specifically U.S. system of political democracy, economic capitalism, media ‘independence’ from the state – which made it dependent on advertising in the past – and the constitutional ideal of all peoples’ right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” cause Adam Smiths “invisible hand” effect to guide communication campaigns.  The individual  ‘goal’ that many powerful actors aim for in their communication pursuits dovetail with the aims and goals of other powerful agents and actors.  Because they end up at the same place, and because their goals prove mutually-beneficial, does not mean that they planned it that way to subversively dupe the consumer from the outset.  It is logical that large corporations and other actors would arrive at similar goals – they are all being headed by people from similar ideological beliefs and cultural drives.   Of course, the conspiracy is happening some of the time as well, so we must credit critical theory for bringing this line of questioning to our attention.

Reflection on Week-2 readings


This week reading on Daya Thussu’s article Approaches to theorizing international communication offers a collection of theories on Communication and Media that are developed over the course of history and some of their critics with reasoning for disapproval.

It is notable that except the earliest theories of International Communications that offers the analogy of communication systems with human biology, all other theories – free flow of information, modernizations theory, and dependency theory, imperialism theory (Cultural and Structural), hegemony theory, critical theory, theory of information and globalization, are all associated with politics and social conditions, first Cold War era political landscape, then unipolar world ruled by United States, then widening social gap in Third World countries and finally the dawn of digital age.

I found that theories for free flow of information and modernizations looks the modern communications and media system positively and are contrast with dependency and imperialism theories.

First of all, Denial Lerner, the political science professor at MIT, theorize that the increased urbanization would led to greater literacy, that led to more media exposure and that led wider economics and political participation. He proposed that more exposure to modern media would help the ‘transitional’ States to ‘modernized’ age while assuming all traditional society would aspire modern and new way of life.

In modernization theory, the theorist Wilbur Schranmm praises the mass media as ‘bridge to a wider world’ transferring new ideas and models from North to South, and within the South, from urban to rural. He aspires the idea of effective use of modern media and communication tools will propagate the development, modernization and Western values to replace the traditional fundamental values in developing countries. Clearly, he was overoptimistic on the benefits of mass media and assumed that media will always be neutral without being intervened by politics, businesses and the ruling elites. Moreover, he didn’t think other way around of fundamentalists using media and communication tools to distribute anti-Western and anti-modernization materials to counter the US and Western media.

The striking example for above short coming were shown during Iranian revolution (page 45: Daya Thussu): despite the prominence of radio listening culture, Iran moved backward to nationalizations of oil industry, the overthrown of democratic government and the rise of fundamentalism in 1950s.

It is interesting to see both acceptances and disapproval on dependency theory. As a contributor of that theory, Herbert Schiller states the cultural imperialism theory that the pursuit of Western transnational corporations undermines the cultural autonomy of countries in the South and creates the dependency on communication and media. The supporters of dependency theory applauded it because as US and Western countries are major user of communications services they will earn the most benefits by extending its communications and media networks. In his seminal work, Mass Communications and American Empire (1969/1992), Schiller claimed that US has exaggerated the perceived threat from Soviet Union to develop the most advanced communications technologies and extend its control on the flow of information on global scale.

For its critics of dependency theory, they pointed out the absence of clear definition of ‘imperialism’ and lacking of empirical data to prove the argument. In additions, there are factors as media’s polysemic contents and being open to several interpretations resists the ‘totalistic’ cultural imperialism. It is also arguable that the effects of US media dissemination on Third world countries cannot be measured in only one aspect since the regional and intra national diversity of race, religion, language, gender and class would perceived them differently.  Here shown the uniqueness of communication as Social Sciences subject in which theories cannot be drawn accurately and true for cases like in Applied Sciences subjects.

While many sociologists, particularly from developing countries, support the theory of cultural imperialism which indict that the Western nations control the flow of information of the world and reap the benefits from Third World countries, they fails to consider an important aspect: the role of elite in their own countries. I like to applause Norwegian sociologists Johan Galtung who offers another aspects of imperialism as structural, in which elites of both core states and periphery states share harmony of interests and interacts each other to benefits from the controlling the flow of information but, on the other hand, the solidarity of the rim or downtrodden classes between the core and peripheral states is nonexistence.

Meanwhile, in Monroe Price’s “Stability, Transitions, and the Market for Loyalties” from Media and Sovereignty, he proposed “market for loyalties” approach to discuss the advance of media sovereignty and transnational alliances for globalized scale. This reading reflects another pressing issue in today’s media industry: lacking a world body that regulates the world media system.

  • So here is my question: do we need a global level organization for media and journalism area that can regulate (not censorship) and help find a compromise in media issues? I imagine the establishment of a department under the United Nations solely for media industry for coordination and regulation, just as World Health Organization regulates the ethics, monitor the compliance and promote the career role for medical practitioners.
  • In concerned with Galtung’s theory on Structural Imperialism, I wonder why there is no interaction between grass root level classes of core states and peripheral. I think the communication and solidarity between these two groups would revolutionize the communication system and uproot the control of information and exploitation by ruling elites.
  • Again I am fascinated how the development of theories in Social Science (particularly International Communications) is relevant with practical situation in real world, since there are so many exceptions and contradictory cases. In my opinions, the Communication and Media is one area where many theories fail. For best example, the success of John Steward’s Daily Show and its influence on young people in America although it is obviously not ethical and should not be succeed in view of journalism.

Reflection on 9/9 Readings

This week’s reading was particularly interesting to me because I am very interested in studying the dichotomy of Western and Eastern thinking. Here are my reflections:

1. In my opinion, the theories presented in the reading for this week all pointed to one overlying theme: West vs. East. It’s interesting to see how over the years, not much has changed in terms of the influence of globalization or Westernization. However, I believe that this dynamic will change in the next couple of years. Seeing how Western thought has become so pervasive, especially in regards to telecommunication and media, has really made me wonder if this is the main reason why countries in the East feel that the US always feels a need to intrude in their affairs and how this translated into anti-Western sentiments. I can only imagine the anger and frustration members of the older population feel when they see Western ideas and influences seeping into every area of their lives.

2. The ‘free flow of information’ has always been celebrated in America, and sure, it has helped us grow both economically and politically, but is it starting to work against us? With the growth of social media and the idea of being able to be in several places at once, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before what we created proliferates out of control and destroys us. How can we stop this from happening?

3. The fact that the percentage of Americans who carry passports is strikingly low (something like 21%? I read this somewhere, but forgot where…) somewhat demonstrates how a majority of us are very ignorant and oblivious to what happens outside of our nation. I think the ideas of cultural and structural imperialism definitely ring true as well. For years we have been at the forefront both economically and politically but at the same time we have become stagnant because we take things for granted. In the meantime, countries such as China and South Korea have been gaining momentum and growing in many aspects. This could be due to capitalism and Western influence. But when the West falls, what will be left? Who will be the ones to give us a hand?

-Jocelyn Yeh

Sept. 9th Reflection

1. This is more of a random observation than a question: dependency theory struck me as interesting as I thought of Liberation theology, another neo-Marxist, anti global power structure theory that also emerged in Latin America during the 60’s and 70’s.   In short, Liberation theology was a political movement in Catholic theology where poor people interpreted Jesus’s teachings as unjust economic, social, and political conditions happening to them currently.  I don’t know if it was as much of a response to TNCs as it was to the idea that they (poor people) could do something about their government themselves, that they didn’t need the US’s help, the power lied with the poor.  It is interesting to me that both a theory of the TNCs using aid and development to strengthen their dominance and encourage dependence occurred at the same time that this about the poor, often rural, people being able to affect political change, and organize, developed in the same general area during the same general time.

2.  I really struggled with the Price reading.  I’m having a hard time conceptualizing his basic idea of a ‘market for loyalties.’  How I understand it thus far is that elites, forming a group that bands together for mutually beneficial purposes, uses their access to government to regulate communication in a way that preserves their power.  Is that the gist?   I’ve gotten a bit lost in the discussion of media globalization, national identity, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3. Thought:  I found it interesting that Thussu talked about Johan Galtung and Jurgen Habermass. I am in IPCR, but streaming my concentration in IC.  In IPCR we celebrate many of Habermass and Galtung’s theories.  To arrow this post, in IPCR we often talk of Galtung’s theory of structural violence (the violence that a society’s structure systematically prevents individuals from reaching their potential). Thussu applies Galtung’s theory to transmission of news so that people in the periphery receive global news that is filtered through the developed media at the core.  I wonder how elites use structural imperialism to impose structural violence?  One IPCR example of communication in conflict that is often used are the communications mechanisms that made the Rwandan Genocide possible.  In this instance, Rwanda’s Hutu elites systematically employed the communications sector to spread their message.  In cases such as this, I can certainly see how any peripheral message can be spun through the core elite’s ideas, but structural imperialism is about elites having more inline with each other and using their relations with the periphery for keeping themselves in power.  What, then, did those elites have in common with other elites at the time that found genocide abhorrent?  I can see how that could apply with some elites, such as DRC’s (then Zaire’s) president Mobutu Sese Seko, but what about other elites such as then U.S. Clinton (and G.H.W.  Bush in the years before)?  What I guess I’m asking is I can see how communication, filtered through the center, can be used to keep people in power, but how do elites use it to strengthen their ties to each other?