Gobalisation and Culture

Continental Shift: Globalisation and Culture. Edited by Elizabeth Jacka. Local Consumption Publications, Sydney,1992

This book contains the major papers delivered at the Continental Shift Conference at the (Sydney) University of Technology in August 1991.  One approaches a book on cultural studies or the media with trepidation, keeping a strong drink and The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills at hand.  Three decades ago Mills launched a superb critique of sterile verbal exercises which he labeled 'grand theory', a critique which has assumed fresh relevance with the rise of the structuralists and post-structuralists.   The verbal jungles created by Morris, Frow and Wark in this collection cry out for slashing and burning by a contemporary Mills.  It is a sad irony that issues of universal importance such as the global reach of the mass media are treated with language and concepts which are accessible only to an elite.

Fortunately some of the contributors are concerned with things that are actually happening on the ground: Louise C Johnson on patterns of employment in the textile factories of Geelong, Tom O'Regan on Hollywood's penetration of international markets, John Sinclair on the myth of cultural imperialism and Toni Mitchell on some patterns and trends in popular music around the world.  Johnson correctly notes 'the need to go beyond gross theoretical generalisations' though her own analysis is unhappily couched in the dead language of Marxism.  Among other things she describes the perverse outcomes of policies designed to improve the lot of women - the protective legislation of last century and equal pay initiatives more recently, each of which cost many female jobs. 

A major issue in the field is whether moves towards global free trade will undermine the vigour of local and regional cultures.  And if so, should nation states respond by various forms of cultural protection?  Mario Vargas Llosa, for one, sees no conflict between internationalism and regionalism, while he sees national chauvinism as the root of many evils.  He considers that local and regional identities are the only honourable ones, and  they will flourish as internationalism proceeds (CIS Policy, Winter 1993).  This view finds  support from Sinclair and O'Regan.  O'Regan's study reveals that Hollywood is waning as a force in the Asian and South American markets, while Brazil and Mexico are emerging as major production centres for Latin America and southern Europe. 

If the term "globalisation" means the emergence of a single American dominated international system spanning the globe, then these examples point almost to its opposite'. (page 85).

In a similarly iconoclastic vein Sinclair demolishes some aspects of the 'dependency' theory of underdevelopment in the Third World.   The colonies were mostly a drain on their masters but Sinclair notes that the theory of colonial exploitation still has some currency, notably among UNESCO protagonists of a 'New World Information and Communication Order'.  He draws upon the experience of Televisia in Mexico and TV Globo in Brazil to show, like O'Regan, that Third World entrepreneurs can match and even beat the West in some major niches of the global marketplace.

The superb appendix on intellectual crafsmanship in The Sociological Imagination urged the need to repeatedly clarify and renew the relationship between problems, methods and theories.  Many of the authors in this collection need to do just that.  Sinclair and O'Regan have the balance about right but some of the papers are all theory, wanting an anchorage in concrete problems and others contain information in search of a theory.   No doubt the uneven nature of the work is a fair reflection of the field at large and so this collection is a useful window on work in progress.

Further reading.

Vargas LLosa on the positive side of globalization.

the Rathouse