Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

 Commentary on the question

This seems to be a good question – there are some obvious links between new media and global popular culture, and two obvious points can be made – contrasting the neophiliac perspective with the cultural imperialist perspective.

Neophiliacs tend to emphasise the positive ways in which new media, such as social media sites, are creating a global popular culture. In short, neophiliacs believe new media is creating a global popular culture characterised by more choice and individual freedom of expression than ever before in human history.

Sites such as Facebook allow people to connect with others who share similar interests, instantaneously, in any part of the world, and thus there are now thousands of new ‘global tribes’ – groups of people with shared interest, connect globally through social media.

New Media has led to a more diverse global popular culture – as groups who have been historically invisible and marginalised due to lack of access to the mainstream media have proved to be very active in their use of new media – there are many disable and LGBT bloggers and vloggers for example. In fact it might even be the case that the greater diversity and choice offered through new media has led to broader representation of minority groups in mainstream popular culture forms such as films and television.

It is also possible that new media is leading to a new consensus of acceptance of diversity and equality, as minorities who are oppressed in one country feel a sense of solidarity with those who are not oppressed in other countries, which puts pressure on oppressive governments to become more liberal. For example, it is harder for some less developed countries to keep homosexuality illegal, or to oppress women, when social media connections constantly remind people that such things are not acceptable in (typically) more developed countries.

Cultural Pessimists on the other hand argue that New Media is largely responsible for creating a narrow and homogeneous global popular culture which transmits the dominant ideology and distracts people from important political issues with a diet of trivia.

Cultural pessimists argue that the New Media are primarily own by four large media conglomerates – namely Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon – ownership is concentrated in the hands of these four companies and they use their platforms primarily to make a profit by selling advertising space – thus global popular culture mainly exists and is transmitted to sell advertising space and keep consumer culture going.

Constant advertising results in a very distracting experience for users as they are constantly bombarded with media messages telling them to buy things they don’t need, which creates false needs and keeps people confused and anxious, especially if they don’t have the money to buy the things they are told they should have.

Global popular culture is also quite narrow – consisting of ‘approved cultural products’ such as music and films which for the most part do not challenge the dominant ideology – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have even DE platformed some radical commentators from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum, for example.

Finally,  cultural pessimists argue that new media creates a fragmented, divided and polarised global popular culture as we are increasingly fed news from those we follow, rather than those we might disagree with, which creates bubbles or echo-chambers, which makes us less tolerant of those with different points of view.

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The neophiliac perspective on new media

Neophiliacs argue that the internet and social media have been beneficial to society and individuals. New Media have created more opportunities for individuals to find information, offered individuals greater choice and freedom, provided new ways for people to interact with each other, and ultimately resulted in more people challenging the powerful and economic growth.

This post has been written for A-level sociology students studying the media option, AQA specification, and contrasts directly with the cultural pessimist view of new media.

neophiliac new media

 

Easier access to more information and advice

The internet makes it very easy to access a wide variety of information about almost anything, often for free. Some of the more obvious examples here include Wikipedia and instructional videos on YouTube and various blogs where many experts will provide their expertise for free.

24 hour news coverage from a variety of sources and the option to switch on instant notifications also makes it very easy to stay in touch with what’s occurring in the world.

Increasingly it is possible to ‘hack’ an education online, as many colleges and universities post up their learning materials for free (often lectures on YouTube) and there are various blogs around in which people have put together syllabuses which link to free information.

The internet also makes it easier for people to seek advice confidential advice and support for sensitive issues such as mental health issues, abuse and addiction.

Greater individual freedom and choice

Social media allow people the chance to construct new online identities and give them greater freedom to express themselves than ever before. Online, individuals can experiment with new identities in the comfort of anonymity and expand their personal boundaries.

Social media and blogs have proven to be an accessible way for marginalised or disadvantaged peoples to find a voice – there are many active LGBT and disabled bloggers for example.

New social networks and global connections

The internet has blurred the boundaries between the local and the global, resulting in the emergence of a ‘new global village’, with more daily communicative interactions occurring now than ever in human history.

The global internet makes it easier for individuals to make new global connections that wouldn’t be possible just at the local level or through traditional (one-way) media – as a result of social media sites like Facebook there are now thousands of new ‘tribes’ with millions of people interacting on a daily basis.

Social media apps also make it easier for families and friends to stay in touch anywhere in the world, and while nothing new, this opens up the possibility for people to move to other places yet still stay connected.

Challenging power and revitalising democracy

The internet allows people to access a wide variety of political opinions and commentary and to easily ‘fact check’ what politicians are saying, making it easier to hold those with political power to account.

There are thousands of blogs which voice radical political opinions which challenge the dominant mainstream neoliberal voice in the mainstream news.

The internet has also provided a platform for many social movements and allowed them to expand the reach of their voice and activism. Extinction Rebellion is one of the best recent examples of this, with many of their protests being organised via social media.

All of these points apply equally as well to holding Corporate as well as political power to account.

The growth of E-commerce 

The internet has made it very easy to buy all sorts of goods and services, and for very cheap prices if you shop via the largest sites such as Amazon.

Comparison sites allow people to easily compare the costs of utilities and other services, and to easily switch to the best deal, which is empowering for consumers.

Finally, the internet has also allowed thousands of people to set up or enhance their business – by selling goods and services online.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

A useful Documentary illustrating Globalization – Mediterranean with Simon Reeve

This is a great resource for teaching some of the content of the global development module within A-level sociology. 

I caught the final episode of the BBC’s Mediterranean with Simon Reeve on Sunday night, and I ended up watching the whole thing! It may only be in the Med, which is relatively local to the UK, but nonetheless this final episode is so useful for illustrating many aspects of globalisation.

mediterranean globalisation.PNG

In retrospect I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at this: the Med is the boarder between Europe, the Middle East and Africa after all, so it spans three very different regions in the world.

The documentary series is available on iplayer for the next 8 months, so you can use it for teaching globalisation for almost the entire 2019-20 academic year.

I can’t speak for other three episodes, but the final one alone covers the following, mainly focusing on migration and environmental problems in the Med.

  • How over-fishing has led to the declining viability of fishing for a living in Tunisia and how this is making fishermen turn to people smuggling (destination Europe) instead.
  • The brutality of detainment centres in Tunisia – in which illegal migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa are kept and effectively work as slaves.
  • The hundreds of square miles of plastic covered farms in Southern Spain which grow year round salad veg, much of which we eat in the UK.
  • The plight of the workers (often illegal migrants) who work in said salad farms.
  • The fact that much of the plastic waste from said farms ends up in tiny shreds in the Med and in our food chain.

Simon Reeves also visits Monaco, the world’s most expensive place, and comments that it’s a sunny place for shady people. He doesn’t seem too impressed by this tax haven for the undeserving privileged having spent the previous month touring around some of the less advantaged places in neighbouring countries.

Anyway, it’s a great documentary: very sociological!

 

Huge increase in Chinese students studying at UK universities – a funny kind of ‘globalisation’

The U.K. now issues more than 100 000 student visas per year to Chinese students studying at British universities, with the numbers of Chinese students studying in the UK increasing at about 5% a year since at least 2013-14

Chinese students are by far the largest non-European student group living temporarily in the UK for 3 years or so while they pursue their degree courses. The next largest university feeder country outside of Europe is India, but only 20 000 student visas are issued to Indian students per year.

Moreover, if you look at the stats below, taken from the Higher Education Student Statistics Authority (nice ring to it that!) you can see that Chinese students are the only group from outside Europe who are coming into the UK in increasing numbers. Every other country is sending very similar numbers now compared to 2013-14.

Now to my mind this seems to be more a trend towards increasing bilateralism between China and UK universities, and if anything evidence of stagnant or even a decline in the ‘globalisation of British Higher Education’.

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education module, especially useful as some quite nuanced evidence against the globalisation of education (IF like me you don’t think just two countries enhancing links between them is globalisation)

Problems of researching globalisation

Globalisation refers to the increasing interconnectedness of different regions across the world. Globalisation is one of the core themes within AQA A-level sociology, while research methods is a compulsory element.

It follows that the exam board could legitimately ask a question about the problems of researching globalisation. This post is just a few thoughts on how you might answer an exam question, which would probably be in the form of a 10 mark ‘Outline and explain two problems’ type question.

problems researching globalisation.png

Two problems of researching globalisation

The first problem is that globalisastion is a difficult concept to define and operationalise. Sociologists disagree over what aspects are the most significant and worthy of study – economic, cultural and political globalisation are all possibilities. There is also disagreement over whether it’s a one way or two way process and whether it necessarily means the decline of the nation state.

This partly stems from the fact that it’s such an enormous process, reaching across the whole world,

Even within one aspect of globalisation such as economic globalisation there are so many things that we could look at to study – such as TNCs, GDP, the international division .of labour, free-trade policies, the WTO and so on, that it’s difficult to decide what to select as an indicator of globalisation.

These differences of opinion over what aspects of globalisation to focus on means that everyone ends up defining globalisastion differently and researching different things.

This means it’s hard to make sense of all the research on globlisation, hard to make comparisons, and hard to escape from the biases of the people who have selected different things to focus on.

As a result, new researchers can pretty much find justification for researching anything in relation to this topic, which can make the study of globalisation a bit ‘postmodern’ and lacking objectivity, direction, clarity and certainty.

A second problem is that it’s difficult to get data from every country, let alone every region in the world. There might be lots of official statistics collected in developed countries, but this is not the case in less developed countries.

In poorer regions of the world, there might not even be reliable information on birth and death statistics, making it difficult to keep track of even the most basic information. Another example is that school enrolment stats in many regions of Africa are notoriously invalid as an indicator of how many children attend school – they may enrol, but many fail to attended afterwards, meaning such stats could not be used to measure the quality of education globally.

Stats might also be collected in different ways – categories of crime might be different in different countries, or not even recorded in the case of lawless states. Governments are also well known for under-reporting war-deaths, especially civilian casualties, meaning it’s a problem to measure trends in global peacefulness.

If you’re doing qualitative research to make global comparisons, some countries might be hard to access because of conflicts, or simply time it would take to adjust to local cultures and languages and it would be difficult to do research in several countries at once within an appropriate time frame.

This could be overcome by employing teams of researchers in different countries, but this would mean more expense, be difficult to co-ordinate and you’d have to make sure everyone is researching in a similar way, which, given the problems with defining globalisation, could also be a tough call.

The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

 

The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Thousands of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered in London last week to stage the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.

Extinction Rebellion is an apolitical network whose main aim is to persuade governments to take urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Their main tactic is peaceful, non-violent direct action.

They have three main demands:

  1. Tell the truth – Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now – Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics – Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Tactics over the last week in London have included a range of disparate disruptive actions such as blockading bridges, people gluing themselves to selected targets and die ins, all of this in addition to their being larger ‘people’s assemblies’ at various famous landmarks in the capital, with the usual debates, street theatrics, music, and cook-ins.

 

The cost to the economy is estimated to be millions of pounds, and the number of people arrested stands at over 1000, but with not one single police officer was injured during the last week’s peaceful protests.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The best fit is in with ‘globalisation and green criminology’.

Easy to understand is the fact that this is a global movement, so it’s a great example of ‘political globalisation’. NB – you may have missed this in the news, because as far as I can tell the movement started in the UK and London is by far the largest event.

In terms of green criminology – some actions of some of the protestors are illegal – criminal damage and public order offences for example, but they would claim that the ‘real criminals’ are governments around the world for failing to act on climate change.

There’s lots of other links to, but I’ll let you find them!

Globalisation and the Family

One of the more difficult topics on the families and households specification is how globalisation influences family life. Below are some examples. I’ve also tried to take these examples from different areas of the families and households specification (e.g. marriage, childhood etc.)

Whether you regard the points below as positive or negative is open to interpretation!

Some positive/ neutral consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Global optimists argue that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing trade which in turn has resulted in huge economic growth and rising prosperity, correlated with declining birth rates and family size.
  • Immigrant families to the UK have on average higher birth rates than non-immigrant families. A positive effect of this is that it reduces the dependency ratio, however a claimed negative consequence is an increased strain on public services, mainly schools.
  • Increasing migration to the U.K = increasing cultural diversity and diversity of family structures.  After several generations, more ethnic diversity.
  • Increased migration means more families are stretched across national borders and have family members living abroad, which in turn reinforces globalisation as more families maintain contacts through media and physical visits.
  • Cultural globalisation means more people create friendship groups based on shared interests online. Many people regard these friendship networks as ‘family’, if we follow analysis from the Personal life perspective.
  • There seems to be a globalisation of ‘single person households’. There seems to be a global trend of increasing numbers of people choosing to live alone (not necessarily not being in relationships.

Some negative consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Part of globalisation is people displacement following conflict, which sometimes results in the breaking up of families, U.K. policy has focused (to an extent) on taking in orphan refugee children, meaning more ‘global step/ foster families’.
  • Globalisation = increasing inequality in family life and increasing cost of living for the poor. Property price speculation has driven up prices in London meaning the basic costs of maintaining a family household had doubled in the last 30 years relative to inflation, this helps explain why so many young adults today ‘choose’ to live with their parents.
  • Globalisation = more diversity, choice, uncertainty, resulting in decline of people committing to long term relationships and more ‘pure relationships’. (Giddens)
  • Globalisation = more media flows – children more active users of media, more exposed to global media events can have negative effects:
      • More difficult for parents to prevent radicalisation (e.g. Shameena Begum)
      • More exposure to global media events (mass shootings in USA, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war and conflicts) children are more risk conscious – anxious kids, more mental health issues. (More ‘toxic childhood’)
      • Parents are more paranoid, more restrictive parenting, less outdoor

Amazon’s 0.05% U.K. Tax Rate

Amazon is in the news this morning, for paying only £67 million in tax on £7 billion revenue over 20 years. That £67 million is less than Marks and Spencer paid in tax last year alone, besides a much lower revenue

If you look at Amazon’s effective UK tax rate last year, it works out at 0.05%. It does this by basically basing its main sales operations in countries with a low tax rate… it basically ‘sells’ products to it’s UK subsidiary for next to (or probably 0) profit which then ‘sells these on’ for no profit to actual UK customers, hence very low tax.

Amazon is basically scamming the global tax system.

All of the big four global tech companies are notorious for avoiding tax, but Amazon is by far the worst…In terms of tax paid as a proportion of sales and profits,  Amazon is the worst offender of the ‘big four’ tech companies.

In fact, Google is the only company whose paid taxes you can actually see with the naked eye, when shown to scale against the sales of the three companies! (Link to Tableau doc here):

Amazon tax.png

Amazon paid even less tax than Facebook last year £4.5m on annual UK sales of £8.7bn and pre-tax profits of £72 million.

Google has the best tax record – it paid £49.3m in UK taxes last year, on UK sales of £5.7bn, on pre-tax profits £ 202.4 million.

I’m not going to comment on Apple here, because I think its figures might be distorted by its paying historical taxes in the last tax year which it failed to pay in recent years, following a recent HMRC investigation.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This example goes to prove the power of Transnational Corporations compared to Nation States. Where money is concerned, large global companies can easily avoid national taxes. This form of economic globalisation seems to suggest the decline of the nation . state!

Combatting this would take global co-operation, but it would require the vast majority of companies to agree… all it takes is .a handful of ‘rouge tax havens’ and any co-operation falls apart! It’s one of the many challenges in a global age!

Sources

The Guardian – Facebook’s UK tax bill rises to £15.8m – but it is still just 1% of sales

The Guardian – Amazon halved corporation tax bill despite UK profits tripling

BBC – Google’s tax bill rises to £50m

Would would falling back on WTO rules mean for Britain?

If the UK leaves the EU with ‘no deal’, it will fall back on World Trade Organisation Rules, but what does this mean?

The WTO and Free Trade 

The WTO was founded in 1995 and sets the rule book by which global trade takes place.

One of the main things it has done over the past two decades is to reduce tariffs (basically taxes) levied by governments on imports and exports, and to promote a free-trade agenda.

In 1947, the average external tariff charged by GATT (the predecessor of the WTO) signatories was 22%, which was a massive disincentive to trade, by 1999 it was down to 5%, and today the weighted average tariff charged by the US and EU is 1.6%.

Over the same period, there has been a massive increase in world trade: In the 1950s international trade accounted for 8% of the world economy, today it accounts for 30% of a much bigger global economy.

The Limitations of the WTO

Recently, the WTO’s trade liberalisation has stalled, and most of the progress countries have made in reducing barriers to trade have been through regional and bilateral trade agreements. The European Union is a principle example of this: UK companies pay no tariffs on exports to Europe or imports from Europe, which makes trade easy.

If we were to fall back on WTO trade rules, there are some economic areas which still have very high tariffs – cars and car parts would face a 10% tariff every time they crossed a boarder (making BMWs a LOT more expensive! given international supply chains) and agricultural tariffs stand at 35%.

The latest Treasury forecast predicts that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller in 15 years if we exited the EU under WTO rules.

Isn’t this just all part of ‘project fear’?

Of course Brexiteers argue that we could forge new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements once we leave the EU, but most estimates suggest that a no deal WTO fall-back Brexit would be detrimental to the UK economy.

However, what all of the above suggests is maybe that ‘globalisation’ isn’t so good for world trade anymore…. maybe it’s too difficult to sort out genuinely mutually beneficial trade agreements between all 160 odd member states of the WTO.

Instead it seems that regional agreements are much more important for economic growth – it makes sense that it’s easier to get a deal between a dozen local countries rather than ten times that number after all.

To my mind it seems unlikely that we’re going to be able to negotiate dozens of little deals with specific countries that outweigh the benefits of being part of a massive trading block like the EU!

Sources:

The Week, 26 January.