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The cultural pessimist view of the new media

Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.

Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.

cultural pessimist new media

More information is not necessarily a good thing

There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.

Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.

More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)

information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.

Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.

Domination by media conglomerates

Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.

There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.

So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!

Echo Chambers

Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.

As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.

Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.

Reinforcing Elite Power

Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.

Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.

The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.

Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever

Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.

Increasing consumption and commercialisation

The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.

Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.

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

 

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Are developed nations in decline?

Developing Countries Optimism

I found this fascinating Infographic in a recent report by the Resolution Foundation – which shows how people in rich countries tend to be pessimistic about their children’s futures, while people in poor countries tend to be optimistic.

These are only indications of how people feel, and feelings don’t necessarily reflect the actual prospects for children having a better life, but they do capture something of the ‘public mood’ or maybe even the ‘collective conscience’ in these countries, or do they?

Three related questions you might like to think about are:

  1. How valid are these data? Are people in France really THAT pessimistic? And are people in China really that optimistic?
  2. If you believe these stats to be valid, then why the differences? (Are we witnessing the rise of the developing nations and the decline of the developed world?)
  3. Are people in poor countries right to be optimistic, and are people in rich countries right to be Pessimistic>?
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Responses to Globalization

Seabrook (1) argues there are three principle responses to globalization:

Fatalism

A fatalistic response, which states that the world is simply powerless to resist globalization. Seabrook argues that most leaders of the developed world take the position that globalization is inevitable and irreversible. He suggests these leaders are experiencing an ‘impotence of convenience’ – their confessed powerlessness disguises the fact that the forces of globalization economically advantage their countries and their economic elites.

Reasserting Local Identity

Some cultures may attempt to resist globalization by reasserting local identity. This may involve deliberately highlighting and celebrating local folklore and languages. For example the French government have banned words such as ‘email’, ‘takeaway’ and now ‘hashtag’ and imposed a ‘culture tax’ on cinemas showing non-French films. Another aspect of this trend is ‘commodification’ in which local populations package and sell aspects of their local traditional cultures – for example members of the Masai tribe in Kenya perform for tourists, after carefully removing their trainers and watches to make the whole thing more authentic.

Violent Resistance 

A final response is the emergence of violent resistance, mostly in the developing world, as some peoples interpret globalization as an assault on their identity. Seabrook argues that this is how we should understand terrorism – not as a response to poverty, but as a response to the ‘supposed miracle working, wealth-creating propensities of globalism’ as some religious and ethnic groups resist globalization because their interpret the West as having declared an ideological war on local cultures.

Sources used to write this post

(1) Chapman et al (2016)

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Globalisation – Key Concepts and Definitions

Communism – an economic system in which the means of production are owned in common and wealth distributed according to need.

Cosmopolitanism – where people or societies are tolerant of other people’s or societies’ ways of life and values; this is one of the positive consequences of globalisation as people increasingly come into contact with other ways of life and make an effort to enter into dialogue with diverse cultures and find ways to ‘live together’. Related concepts include reflexivity and detraditionalisation. The opposite of cosmopolitanism is fundamentalism.

Cultural Globalisation – the movement of ideas, attitudes, meanings, values and cultural products across national borders.

Deregulation – removing restrictions on businesses, for example reducing health and safety regulations.

De-traditionalisation – where people have increasing choice about whether to stick to traditional ways of life; traditions become less stable as people increasingly question their traditional beliefs about religion, marriage, and gender roles and so on.

Economic Globalisation – the global expansion of international capitalism, free markets and the increase in international trade.

Fatalism (Fatalistic Response to Globalisation) – the view that the world is powerless to resist globalisation.

Global Commodity Chains – where networks of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services becomes increasingly stretched across the globe. The making of the physical products tends to be done in poorer countries, whereas the branding and marketing, tend to be done in the richer countries.

Global Risk Consciousness – where people in different countries are increasingly aware of and affected by international threats such as terrorism, nuclear war and global warming. There are two elements to risk consciousness (it pulls in two directions) – one is that we are more fearful and wish to ‘retreat’ from such problems and the other is that we are increasingly brought together in our attempts to overcome such threats.

Globalisation – the increasing interconnectedness and inter-dependency of the world’s nations and their people into a single global, economic, political and global system.

Glocalisation – where people in developing countries select aspects of western culture and adapt them to their particular needs – associated with Transformationalism and critical of the pessimist theory that globalisation results in Americanisation.

Golden Straightjacket – Thomas Friedman’s term for the neoliberal policies countries must adopt if they are to experience economic growth and prosperity.

Ha-Joon Chang – a global pessimist who believes neoliberal policies primarily benefits wealthy countries and harm developing countries; referred to the WTO, World Bank and IMF as the ‘unholy trinity’.

Homogenisation – things becoming increasingly the same; in global terms, the erosion of local cultures and the emergence of one global mono-culture.

Hybridised Global Identities – where identities are increasingly a result of picking and mixing from different cultural traditions around the globe; implies more individual freedom to choose identity and greater diversity; associated with transformationalist theories of globalisation.

Hyper-Globalism – believe that globalisation is happening and that local cultures are being eroded primarily because of the expansion of international capitalism and the emergence of a homogenous global culture; believe that globalisation is a positive process characterised by economic growth, increasing prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Imperialism – where one dominant country takes over and controls another country or countries.

Jeremy Seabrook – a pessimist globalist who believes that globalisation is a ‘declaration of war’ upon local cultures as the expansion of western culture around the world destroys local cultures and reduces cultural diversity.

McWorld – refers specifically to the spread of McDonalds’ restaurants throughout the world; and more generally to the process of Mcdonaldisation which underpins this – i.e. the increasing standardisation of corporate products and the emergence of a global, Americanised monoculture.

Neoliberalism – a set of right wing economic policies which reduce the power of governments and give more freedom to private enterprise – the three main neoliberal policies are deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation.

Political Globalisation – the process where the sovereignty of nation states is reduced due to the increasing power of International Institutions, such as the United Nations.

Post Industrial Economy – an economy in which the service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing of physical products. In such an economy more people will be employed in sectors such as leisure, education, business/ finance, and creative industries rather than in manufacturing.

Postmodernity – a globalised society with the following characteristics: a technologically advanced, mainly post-industrial service sector economy, high levels of consumption, lots of individual freedom to shape identities through consumption, and correspondingly high levels of cultural diversity; media-saturation and hyperreality; high levels of insecurity and uncertainty.

Privatisation – the transfer of publicly (state) owned enterprises to private sector companies.

Social Movements – groups of people and/ or organisations who aim to help oppressed groups overcome oppression or change society in some way, believed to be beneficial. Global social movements involve co-operation of people across national borders, and their aims may sometimes clash with those of some national governments.

Thomas Freidman – an optimist globalist who believes that the world wide adoption of neoliberal policies by governments have resulted in economic globalisation, more trade between nations and increasing prosperity for all.

Time-Space Compression – where the world ‘feels smaller’ as we are able to communicate with people in faraway places more instantaneously.

Transformationalism – a theory which holds that globalisation is a complex process involving a number of different two-way exchanges between global institutions and local cultures; it can be reversed and controlled.

United Nations – an international organization formed in 1945 to increase political and economic cooperation among member countries. The organization works on economic and social development programs, improving human rights and reducing global conflicts (source: Investovepida).

Weightless Economy – refers to information based/ electronic products such as computer software, films and music, and information and financial services rather than actual tangible, physical goods such as food, clothing or cars. Such products can be produced, bought and sold much more rapidly than traditional, physical products, and thus trade in them is much more rapid, hence the term ‘weightless economy’.

Related Posts 

Factors Contributing to Globalisation (Giddens)

What is Cultural Globalisation?

What is Economic Globalisation?

What is Political Globalisation?

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The Pessimist View of Globalization

Pessimist globalists argue that globalization is a form of Western, American Imperialism. They see globalization as a process in which Western institutions and ideas are imposed on the rest of the world. Transnational Corporations are the backbone of this new global order and these are the institutions that benefit from especially economic globalization. Two examples of pessimist globalists are Ha-Joon Chang and Jeremy Seabrook.

Global Pessimism

Chang argues that neoliberals paint a false picture of the benefits of economic globalization through the spread of neoliberal economic policy, suggesting that neo-liberal policies actually benefit rich countries and corporations more than poor countries. Neoliberal policies simply make it easier for western companies to move into a poorer country, take over local businesses, extract natural resources, pay local people low wages, and leave behind a trail of pollution because there are fewer national regulations which prevent them from doing so.

Chang refers to the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO as the ‘Unholy Alliance’ and claims they exist to force developing countries down the free-trade road. For example, the IMF and the World Bank will only lend money to developing countries on the condition that they adopt free-trade policies. Change points out that, as a result, the neoliberal world economy is dominated by the developed-world – rich countries conduct 70% of world trade for example, while Sub-Saharan Africa still (even in 2017) accounts for much less than 10% of global trade.

Seabrook argues that, by definition, globalization makes all other cultures local, and, by implication, inferior. He suggests that globalization implies a superior, civilised mode of living – it implicitly promises that it is the sole pathway to universal prosperity and security – consequently diminishing and marginalisation local cultures. Seabrook suggests that globalization sweeps aside the multiple meanings human societies and cultures have derived from their environments. He argues that integration into a single global economy is a ‘declaration of cultural war’ upon other cultures and societies and that it often results in profound and painful social and religious disruption.

Pessimists are further concerned about the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, powerful media corporations. Media conglomerates, mainly American (such as Disney, Microsoft, Time Warner and AOL) and Japanese (Sony) have achieved near monopolistic control of newspapers, film, advertising and satellites. It is suggested that media moguls are able to influence business, international agencies and governments and, consequently, to threaten democracy and freedom of expression.

It is also argued that such companies are likely to disseminate primarily Western mainly American, forms of culture. For example, most films releases by these organisations are produced in Hollywood and of a formulaic (predictable) plot. There have been concerns that these Western forms of culture reflect a cultural imperialism that results in the marginalisation of local culture.

Steven argues that ‘for the past century, US political and economic influence has been aided immensely by US film and music. Where the marines, missionaries and bureaucrats failed, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and the Beach Boys have succeeded effortlessly in attracting the world to the American Way’.

Finally, mass advertising of Western cultural icons like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola has resulted in their logos becoming powerful symbols to people in the developing world (especially children) of the need to adopt western consumerist lifestyles in order to modernise.

Cultural globalization may therefor eventually undermine and even destroy rich local cultures and identities. Barber and Schulz (1995) fear the globalized world is turning into a monoculture, or McWorld in which cultures and consumption will be standardised, while other commentators have expressed concern about the coca-colonisation of the developing world.

Supporting Evidence for the pessimist view of globalization

global pessimism

1. Increased trade has had unequal benefits. Mainly Europe and America, lately Asia have benefited, but most of Sub Saharan Africa is largely left behind.

  • The graph outlining economic growth since 1800 in different continents on page 1 of the intro to GD document illustrates this point very well..
  • For a good example of the pessimist view of globalisation read KT’s summary of ‘liquid times’ by Zygmunt Bauman – You only need read the sections entitled ‘surplus people’ and ‘the experience of inequality’. I suggest you read selectively and look for three examples that illustrate Bauman’s point: ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’. 

2. TNCs pollute, extract resources from and exploit cheap labour in the developing world. E.G.s include Shell in Nigeria, Coke in India and of course the Bhopal incident in India.

Also see the following video sources (you can search for both on estream)

  • The Age of Stupid (section on Shell in Nigeria)
  • Crude – The Real Cost of Oil (outlines Chevron’s pollution of the Amazon

3. Culture may be increasing global, but this mainly means Americanisation according to Pessimists. This takes the form of Cocacolonisation, and Dysnification – where American forms of popular culture and the shallow materialism this promotes erode local traditions. Another aspect of this is Mcdonaldisation

  • this and this suggest possibly suggest one of the downsides of the spread of consumer culture…
  • This illustrates the threat of Americanisation and Cocacolonisation very well – how some French people view Coca Cola as undermining their national identity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxjMqrZ6psw
  • This site does a very good job of explaning what Mcdonaldisation is – http://www.mcdonaldization.com/

4.    Sport may be increasingly globalised, but just as with trade there are winners and losers, especially where the Olympics are concerned… 

5. Rather than the spread of democracy, it is more accurate to talk of the spread of U.S Military power, as outline by John Pilger in the War on Democracy, and the fact that the U.S. spends almost $700 billion on its military every year.

  • The second half of John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’ outlines America’s military involvement in more than 50 countries since World War 2 – Evidence suggests that the USA uses military force to get rid of democratically elected leaders that are not pro-U.S.

6. The spread of global media really means the spread of massive media firms such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, with programmes such as Fox News presenting a pro-American view of the world. Also think of popular culture – X factor, and Hollywood and global advertising. The pessimist view on such aspects of the global media is that they lead to increasing cultural homogenisation.

7. Zygmunt Bauman argues that global cities are best described as ‘fortress cities’ – especially in the developing world cities are places of huge inequalities where the rich hide themselves away in exclusive gated communities and the poor are left to the slums.

Not exactly a global village?
Not exactly a global village?

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts 

Jeremy Seabrook: Three Responses to Globalization

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

Sources Used to Write this Post:

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology for AQA.