Ellen A. Wartella, Alexis R. Lauricella, Leanne Beaudoin-Ryan, and Drew P. Cingel
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Children are and have been active media users for decades. Historically, the focus on children and media issues have centered on the concerns and consequences of media use, generally around violence. In the last 40 years, we have seen a shift to study children and media from a more holistic approach, to understand both the positive and negative relationships between children and media use. Further, the recognition of the very important developmental differences that exist between children of different ages and the use of grand developmental theories, including those by Piaget and Vygotsky, have supported the field’s understanding of the unique ways in which children use media and the effects it has on their lives. Three important constructs related to a more complete understanding of children’s media use are the ABCs (attention, behavior, and comprehension). The first construct, attention, focuses on the way in which children’s attention to screen media develops, how factors related to parents and children can direct or influence attention to media, and how media may distract attention. The second construct is the behavioral effect of media use, including the relationship between media use and aggressive behavior, but importantly, the positive effect of prosocial media on children’s behavior and moral development. Finally, the third construct is the important and dynamic relationship between media and comprehension and learning. Taken together, these constructs describe a wide range of experiences that occur within children’s media use.
Matthew W. Savage, Sarah E. Jones, Jenna E. Reno, and Shari Veil
University students, faculty, and staff are among those most vulnerable to cybersecurity risks due to their reliance on modern technologies, the nature of their online activities, and the open infrastructure of institutional networks. Furthermore, cyberbullying has emerged as a public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which first warned of electronic aggression in 2008, or any type of harassment or bullying that occurs via email, chat, instant messaging, websites, blogs, or text messaging. Roberto and Eden emphasized the communicative nature of cyberbullying, defining it as the “deliberate and repeated misuse of communication technology by an individual or group to threaten or harm others” in 2010 (p. 201). In response to serious cybersecurity concerns and growing evidence of cyberbullying behavior, the national Stop.Think.Connect. (STC) campaign was developed to educate Americans on cybersecurity risks and equip citizens with tools for safe, respectful, and appropriate online behavior; however, it lacks targeted messaging for those on university campuses. Formative research is needed to ascertain the specific cybersecurity risks and challenges identified by those living and working on large university campuses. Research by Noar in 2006 demonstrates that formative evaluation leads to more successful campaigns. The process involves learning about target populations, discovering communicative determinants of behavior change, and testing message concepts. To that end, this case study is a first step in targeting STC campaign messages to university students, faculty, and staff. Specifically, we sought to identify the distinct cybersecurity needs faced by university students and personnel, their perceptions of the saliency of the problem, and potential motives for increasing their cybersecurity-enhancing behaviors. These activities are needed to implement the campaign on college campuses and to increase the likelihood of any future outcome evaluation efforts that yield evidence of campaign effectiveness. Currently, we are unaware of any outcome evaluation.
Focus group methodology was conducted to examine the target audiences’ knowledge, interests, needs, and attitudes regarding the management of cybersecurity threats. Additionally, practical recommendations for enhancing STC campaign implementation on university campuses were ascertained. Results emphasized key ways to improve the theoretical underpinnings of the campaign using the Integrated Behavioral Model (IBM). We identified how determinants of behavior change can be utilized to strengthen campaign messaging. Students displayed laissez-faire attitudes toward cybersecurity, while faculty and staff attitudes demonstrated a much higher level of concern. Social norms for personal cybersecurity action taking were notably low among students as well as faculty and staff. Students displayed limited personal agency in regards to enacting cybersecurity measures, while faculty and staff had greater knowledge of steps they could take, but little faith that these actions would be efficacious. Finally, thematic recommendations for implementing an effective cybersecurity campaign on a university campus were identified.
Kathryn Greene, Smita C. Banerjee, Anne E. Ray, and Michael L. Hecht
Results of national epidemiologic surveys indicate that substance use rates among adolescents remain relatively steady or even show slight declines; however, some substance use rates, such as electronic cigarettes, are actually rising. Thus, the need for efficacious drug prevention efforts in the United States remains high. Active Involvement (AI) interventions are a promising avenue for preventing and reducing adolescent substance use, and they create opportunities for adolescents to experience a core feature of engagement that is common to these interventions, such as producing videos, posters, or radio ads; or generating themes and images for messages such as posters.
Existing interventions grounded in theories of Active Involvement include programs delivered face-to-face and via e-learning platforms. Narrative Engagement Theory and the Theory of Active Involvement guide the components of change in AI interventions. Youth develop message content during participation in Active Involvement interventions. Advanced analytic models can be applied to address new research questions related to the measure of components of AI interventions.
Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno
Advertising as a field and industry often has a contentious relationship with both health communication and public health due to legitimate concerns about how advertising for certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco, could contribute to less-healthy decisions and behaviors. While acknowledging such concerns, advertisers and their approach to solving communication problems could also provide valuable lessons to those working in health communication. Indeed, advertising agencies are designed to develop creative and effective messages that change consumer behavior—and health communication practitioners and scholars aim to change population-level behavior as well. The perspective and approach of the account planner in the advertising agency—a role whose chief responsibility is to bring the consumer perspective into every step of the advertising development process and inspire effective and creative campaigns—would be particularly valuable to those working in health communication. It was account planning work that shifted traditional milk advertising from promoting it as a healthy drink to the iconic “got milk?” campaign, which positioned milk as a complement that makes other food better—an approach that drove positive sales after years of declining milk consumption. Yet many who work in health communication and public health often know little of how advertising agencies work or their internal processes that might be productively adopted. This lack of understanding can also lead to misperceptions of advertisers’ work and intentions. As an example, one might assume dense medical language in prescription drug advertising is intended to add unnecessary complexity to the advertisements and obscure side effects; instead, advertising professionals who work on prescription drug advertising have often been trained on clear communication—but cannot fully utilize that training because of regulations that require medically accurate terminology that might not be comprehensible to most viewers. Improved understanding of how advertisers can act as agents of change, and increased dialogue between the fields of advertising and health communication, could contribute to improved health communication research, practice, and policy.
News aggregation—or the process of taking news from published sources, reshaping it, and republishing it in an abbreviated form within a single place—has become one of the most prominent journalistic practices in the current digital news environment. It has long been an important part of journalism, predating reporting as a form of newsgathering and distribution. But it has often been a poorly, or at best incompletely, understood practice. Aggregation was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries through copying and republishing of newspaper articles in ways that sometimes showed little regard for copyright or individual authorship. But in recent decades, more sophisticated forms of aggregation have proliferated, both automated and manual, and on virtually every digital platform on which news is disseminated. Aggregation draws from the norms and values of both modern professional journalism and Internet culture and writing. That amalgam of standards and practices shapes aggregation as a hybrid practice that is built on professional journalism yet marginal within it.
News aggregators’ economic effect on the online news marketplace has been intensely debated, but research has shown them to be generally helpful to the news sites they aggregate from, expanding the news ecosystem and sending readers through hyperlinks. Their legal legitimacy has also come under scrutiny, though they have encountered significantly more restrictions in Europe than in the United States or elsewhere. Professionally, aggregation is built on the practices of reporting and relies on reporting as both the predominant source of its information and the blueprint for its methods of verification. But its defining characteristic is its secondary status relative to reporting, which shapes its methods of gathering evidence as well as its professional identity and values. Overall, news aggregation plays a growing role in the contemporary news environment, though its influence is complex, multifaceted, and ambiguous.
Communication research has recently had an influx of groundbreaking findings based on big data. Examples include not only analyses of Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook, but also of search engine and smartphone uses. These can be put together under the label “digital media.” This article reviews some of the main findings of this research, emphasizing how big data findings contribute to existing theories and findings in communication research, which have so far been lacking. To do this, an analytical framework will be developed concerning the sources of digital data and how they relate to the pertinent media. This framework shows how data sources support making statements about the relation between digital media and social change. It is also possible to distinguish between a number of subfields that big data studies contribute to, including political communication, social network analysis, and mobile communication.
One of the major challenges is that most of this research does not fall into the two main traditions in the study of communication, mass and interpersonal communication. This is readily apparent for media like Twitter and Facebook, where messages are often distributed in groups rather than broadcast or shared between only two people. This challenge also applies, for example, to the use of search engines, where the technology can tailor results to particular users or groups (this has been labeled the “filter bubble” effect). The framework is used to locate and integrate big data findings in the landscape of communication research, and thus to provide a guide to this emerging area.
Bradford William Hesse
The presence of large-scale data systems can be felt, consciously or not, in almost every facet of modern life, whether through the simple act of selecting travel options online, purchasing products from online retailers, or navigating through the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood using global positioning system (GPS) mapping. These systems operate through the momentum of big data, a term introduced by data scientists to describe a data-rich environment enabled by a superconvergence of advanced computer-processing speeds and storage capacities; advanced connectivity between people and devices through the Internet; the ubiquity of smart, mobile devices and wireless sensors; and the creation of accelerated data flows among systems in the global economy. Some researchers have suggested that big data represents the so-called fourth paradigm in science, wherein the first paradigm was marked by the evolution of the experimental method, the second was brought about by the maturation of theory, the third was marked by an evolution of statistical methodology as enabled by computational technology, while the fourth extended the benefits of the first three, but also enabled the application of novel machine-learning approaches to an evidence stream that exists in high volume, high velocity, high variety, and differing levels of veracity.
In public health and medicine, the emergence of big data capabilities has followed naturally from the expansion of data streams from genome sequencing, protein identification, environmental surveillance, and passive patient sensing. In 2001, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics published a road map for connecting these evidence streams to each other through a national health information infrastructure. Since then, the road map has spurred national investments in electronic health records (EHRs) and motivated the integration of public surveillance data into analytic platforms for health situational awareness. More recently, the boom in consumer-oriented mobile applications and wireless medical sensing devices has opened up the possibility for mining new data flows directly from altruistic patients. In the broader public communication sphere, the ability to mine the digital traces of conversation on social media presents an opportunity to apply advanced machine learning algorithms as a way of tracking the diffusion of risk communication messages. In addition to utilizing big data for improving the scientific knowledge base in risk communication, there will be a need for health communication scientists and practitioners to work as part of interdisciplinary teams to improve the interfaces to these data for professionals and the public. Too much data, presented in disorganized ways, can lead to what some have referred to as “data smog.” Much work will be needed for understanding how to turn big data into knowledge, and just as important, how to turn data-informed knowledge into action.
The emergence of citizen journalism has prompted the journalism field and scholars to readdress what constitutes journalism and who is a journalist. Citizen journalists have disrupted news-media ecosystems by challenging the veracity and representativeness of information flowing from mainstream news-media newsrooms. However, the controversy related to the desired level of citizen involvement in the news process is a historical debate that began before the citizen-journalism phenomenon. As early as the 1920s, journalist and political commentator Walter Lippman and American philosopher John Dewey debated the role of journalism in democracy, including the extent that the public should participate in the news-gathering and production processes.
This questioning of citizen involvement in news reemerged as an issue with the citizen journalism phenomenon around the late 1990s. People with no news-media organizational ties have taken advantage of the convenience and low cost of social computing technologies by publishing their own stories and content. These people are referred to as citizen journalists. Scholars have assessed the quality and credibility of citizen-journalism content, finding that citizen journalists have performed well on several standards of traditional news-content quality. Levels of quality differ dependent upon citizen journalists’ goals and motivations, such as serving the public interest, increasing self-status, or expressing their creative selves.
As it is an emerging area of study, unarticulated theoretical boundaries of citizen journalism exist. Citizen-journalism publications emphasize community over conflict, advocacy over objectivity, and interpretation over fact-based reporting. In general, citizen journalists have historically acted when existing news-media journalists were not fully meeting their community’s informational needs. Scholars, however, vary in how they label citizen journalists and how they conceptually and empirically define citizen journalism. For example, researchers have shifted their definitional focus on citizen journalists from one of active agents of democratic change to people who create a piece of news content. The mapping of the citizen-journalism literature revealed four types of citizen journalists based on their levels of editorial control and contribution type: (1) participatory, (2) para, (3) news-media watchdog, and (4) community. Taken together, these concepts describe the breadth of citizen-journalist types. For those of us interested in journalism studies, a more targeted approach in the field of citizen journalism can help us build community around scholarship, understand citizen journalists’ contributions to society and practice, and create a more a stable foundation of knowledge concerning people who create and comment on news content.
Janice L. Krieger and Jordan M. Neil
Strategic communication is an essential component in the science and practice of recruiting participants to clinical research studies. Unfortunately, many clinical research studies do not consider the role of communication in the recruitment process until efforts to enroll patients in a timely manner have failed. The field of communication is rich with theory and research that can inform the development of an effective recruitment plan from the inception of a clinical research study through informed consent. The recruitment context is distinct from many other health contexts in that there is often not a behavioral response that can be universally promoted to patients. The appropriateness of a clinical research study for an individual is based on a number of medical, psychological, and contextual factors, making it impossible to recommend that everyone who is eligible for a clinical research study enroll. Instead, clinical research study recruitment efforts must utilize strategic communication principles to ensure that messages promote awareness of clinical research, maximize personal relevance, minimize information overload, and facilitate informed choice. This can be accomplished through careful consideration of various aspects of the communication context described in this chapter, including audience segmentation, message content, message channels, and formative, process, and outcome evaluation, as well as the enrollment encounter.
Andrew M. Ledbetter
Owing to advances in communication technology, the human race now possesses more opportunities to interact with interpersonal partners than ever before. Particularly in recent decades, such technology has become increasingly faster, mobile, and powerful. Although tablets, smartphones, and social media are relatively new, the impetus behind their development is old, as throughout history humans have developed mechanisms for communicating ideas that transcend inherent temporal and spatial limitations of face-to-face communication. In the ancient past, humans developed writing and the alphabet to preserve knowledge across time, with the later development of the printing press further facilitating the mass distribution of written ideas. Later, the telegraph was arguably the first technology to separate communication from transportation, and the telephone enabled people at a distance to hear the warmth and intimacy of the human voice. The development of the Internet consolidates and advances these technologies by facilitating pictorial and video interactions, and the mobility provided by cell phones and other technologies makes the potential for communication with interpersonal partners nearly ubiquitous. As such, these technologies reconfigure perception of time and space, creating the sense of a smaller world where people can begin and manage interpersonal relationships across geographic distance.
These developments in communication technology influence interpersonal processes in at least four ways. First, they introduce media choice as a salient question in interpersonal relationships. As recently as the late 20th century, people faced relatively few options for communicating with interpersonal partners; by the early years of the 21st century, people possessed a sometimes bewildering array of channel choices. Moreover, these choices matter because of the relational messages they send; for example, choosing to end a romantic relationship over the phone may communicate more sensitivity than choosing to do so via text messaging, or publicly on social media. Second, communication technology affords new opportunities to begin relationships and, through structural features of the media, shape how those meetings occur. The online dating industry generates over $1 billion in profit, with most Americans agreeing it is a good way to meet romantic partners; friendships also form online around shared interests and through connections on social media. Third, communication technology alters the practices people use to maintain interpersonal relationships. In addition to placing traditional forms of relational maintenance in more public spaces, social media facilitates passive browsing as a strategy for keeping up with interpersonal partners. Moreover, mobile technology affords partners increased geographic and temporal flexibility when keeping contact with partners, yet simultaneously, it may produce feelings of over-connectedness that hamper the desire for personal autonomy. Fourth, communication technology makes interpersonal networks more visibly manifest and preserves their continuity over time. This may provide an ongoing convoy of social support and, through increased efficiency, augment the size and diversity of social networks.
In recent years, organizations have greatly increased their use of communication technologies to support knowledge management initiatives. These technologies, commonly referred to as knowledge management systems, are adopted in the hope that they will bolster organizations’ access to, and utilization of, knowledge resources. Yet the relationship between communication technology and knowledge management is complicated by ambiguity regarding whether knowledge can be validly captured, stored, and transmitted in an explicit form (as an object) or only exists in applications (as an action). Many scholars argue that reliance on communication technologies for knowledge management aids the ability of organizations to process information, but it has limited benefits for helping individuals gain situated knowledge regarding how best to accomplish work. An alternative view explores the potential of communication technologies to facilitate interaction among knowledgeable actors, which can support ongoing organizational learning. In practice, the use of communication technologies enacts a duality whereby knowledge operates both as an object that organizations and individuals have, and as an applied action that is used to solve situated problems. Numerous theoretical frameworks have been applied to study the relationship between communication technologies and knowledge management, with three of the most prominent being public goods theory, communities of practice, and transactive memory systems theory. Extant research recognizes the diverse ways that communication technologies can support knowledge management practices aimed at either improving the utilization of information in organizations or bolstering opportunities for interpersonal knowledge sharing. Regardless of the position taken regarding the most appropriate and effective ways that communication technology can support knowledge management, organizations hoping to implement knowledge management systems face numerous challenges related to spurring the creation of organizational knowledge, motivating individuals to share knowledge, transferring knowledge among groups, and storing knowledge to allow future retrieval. Furthermore, the breadth and diversity of communication technologies used for knowledge management will continue to expand as organizations explore the potential applications of social media technologies and seek to gain value from increases in available data regarding individuals’ communication and behaviors.
A community of practice (CoP) situated in a health and risk context is an approach to collaboration among members that promotes learning and development. In a CoP, individuals come together virtually or physically and coalesce around a common purpose. CoPs are defined by knowledge, rather than task, and encourage novices and experienced practitioners to work together to co-create and embed sustainable outputs that impact on theory and practice development. As a result, CoPs provide an innovative approach to incorporating evidence-based research associated with health and risk into systems and organizations aligned with public well-being.
CoPs provide a framework for constructing authentic and collaborative learning. Jeanne Lave and Etienne Wenger are credited with the original description of a CoP as an approach to learning that encompasses elements of identity, situation, and active participation. CoPs blend a constructivist view of learning, where meaningful experience is set in the context of “self” and the relationship of “self” with the wider professional community. The result is an integrated approach to learning and development achieved through a combination of social engagement and collaborative working in an authentic practice environment. CoPs therefore provide a strategic approach to acknowledging cultural differences related to translating health and risk theory into practice.
In health and risk settings, CoPs situate and blend theory and practice to create a portal for practitioners to generate, shape, test, and evaluate new ideas and innovations. Membership of a CoP supports the development of professional identity within a wider professional sphere and may support community members to attain long range goals.
Juliette De Maeyer
A content management system (CMS) is a computer program used by news organizations or individuals to create, edit, organize, and publish journalistic content. The origins of modern-day CMSs date back to the process of newsroom computerization that started in the 1960s and to technological developments in web publishing in the 1990s. The latter have led to the creation of software that allows nontechnical users to easily publish content on the Web (blogging software and social media platforms). Consequently, the development of CMSs can be understood as a process of remediation, that is, the operation through which “new” media incorporate “old” media in a series of refashionings: modern-day CMSs still bear some traces of previous technological systems, as exemplified by the protean existence of the slug, a term that originated in the hot-type era and has carried into today’s digital software terminology. Journalism research has generally studied CMSs as being part of the technical infrastructure of media, through a socio-material approach. In that regard, digital technology is a black box wherein lurks the many tensions inherent to contemporary newsmaking. Opportunities to study such (invisible) infrastructure therefore arise whenever it dysfunctions, and research has focused on the various problems, obstacles, and impediments brought about by CMSs in newswork. More specifically, studying the CMS draws attention to issues related to the institutionalization of journalistic workflows (that become ossified in digital technologies), newsroom technologies constituting a complex system, the evolution of professional roles and hierarchies (and consequent power relations), as well as the agency and relative autonomy of software.
Ivar John Erdal
Since the mid-1990s, media organizations all over the world have experienced a series of significant changes related to technological developments, from the organizational level down to the single journalist. Ownership in the media sector has developed toward increased concentration, mergers, and cross-media ownership. At the same time, digitization of media production has facilitated changes in both the organization and the everyday practice of journalism. Converged multimedia news organizations have emerged, as companies increasingly implement some form of cross-media cooperation or synergy between previously separate journalists, newsrooms, and departments. These changes have raised a number of questions about the relationship between organizational strategies, new technology, and everyday newsroom practice. In the literature on convergence journalism, these questions have been studied from different perspectives. Adopting a meta-perspective, it is possible to sort the literature into two broad categories. The first group consists of research mainly occupied with convergence in journalism. These are typically studies of organizational changes and changes in professional practice, for example increased cooperation between print and online newsrooms, or the role of online journalism in broadcasting organizations. The second group contains research primarily concerning convergence of journalism. This is mainly studies concerned with changes in journalistic texts. Some examples of this are repurposing television news for online publication, increased use of multimedia, and genre development within online journalism. It has to be noted that the two angles are closely connected and also share an interest in the role of technological development and the relationship between changing technologies, work practices, and journalistic output.
Adrienne Shaw, Katherine Sender, and Patrick Murphy
Critical audience studies is the branch of media research primarily concerned with what people do with the media they consume, rather than on the supposedly negative effects of media on people. Critical audience studies has long drawn on “ethnographic ways of seeing” to investigate the everyday uses of media in myriad contexts. This area of audience research has had to define who and what constitutes “an audience,” where audiences are located, and how best to understand how people’s lives intersect with media. Changes in media production and distribution technologies have meant that texts are increasingly consumed in transnational and transplatform ways. These changes have disrupted historical distinctions between producers and audiences. Critical cultural approaches should be considered from a largely qualitative perspective and look at feminist and global reception studies as foundational to the understandings of what audiences might be and how to study them. Taking video game players as a boundary example, we need to reconsider how contemporary media forms and genres, modes of engagement, and niche and geographically dispersed media publics affect audiences and audience research: what, or who, is an audience, how can we understand it, and through what methods might we research it now?
Internet freedom is a process. Internet freedom takes place through a myriad of practices, such as technology development, media production, and policy work, through which various actors, existing within historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts, continuously seek to determine its meaning. Some of these practices take place within traditional Internet governance structures, yet others take place outside of these. Crypto-discourse refers to a partially fixed instance of the process in which actors seek to construct the meaning of Internet freedom that mainly takes place outside of traditional Internet governance structures.
Crypto-discourse describes a process in which specific communities of crypto-advocates (groups of cryptographers, hackers, online privacy advocates, and technology journalists) attempt to define Internet freedom through community practices such as technological development and descriptive portrayals of encryption within interconnected communities that seek to develop and define encryption software, as well as through the dissemination of these developments and portrayals within and outside of these communities. The discursive work of the cypherpunks, interrelated discourse communities, and related technology journalism is at the core of crypto-discourse. Through crypto-discourse, crypto-advocates employ encryption software as an arena of negotiation. The representation of encryption software serves as a battlefield in a larger discursive struggle to define the meaning of Internet freedom.
Crypto-discourse illustrates how social practices have normative implications for Internet governance debates regarding Internet freedom and in particular expectations for state authorities to uphold online rights. The relationship between freedom and the state that these crypto-advocates articulate as a response to specific events excludes other possible positive notions of Internet freedom in which the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of online rights.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan
Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.
Central to many definitions of the term “cultural imperialism” is the idea of the culture of one powerful civilization, country, or institution having great unreciprocated influence on that of another, less powerful, entity to a degree that one may speak of a measure of cultural “domination.” Cultural imperialism has sometimes been described as a theory, especially where scholars build a case that the cultural influence of the stronger entity has had a pervasive, pernicious impact on the weaker.
The term evolved from 1960s neo-Marxist discourses within cultural, media, and postcolonial studies that contextualized the post–World War II “independence” wave of new nations emerging from colonial servitude. It was propelled by the writings of nationalist revolutionaries, revolutionary theorists, and their sympathizers of the 1950s and 1960s, but it has sweeping relevance across human history. The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller. The concept was adopted and endorsed in the 1970s by both UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Following Oliver Boyd-Barrett, the concept may denote a field of study embracing all relationships between phenomena defined as “cultural” and as “imperialism.” These encompass cultural changes that are (1) enforced on a weaker entity and (2) occur within both stronger and weaker entities through contact, contest, and resistance, including (3) assimilation of social practices encountered by the stronger in the weaker entity, and (4) original hybrids manifesting cultural traces of both stronger and weaker entities.
The concepts of cultural and media imperialism were much critiqued during the 1980s and 1990s, and many scholars preferred alternative concepts such as globalization and cultural globalization to analyze issues of intercultural contact, whether asymmetrical or otherwise. John Tomlinson critiqued the concept, identified four different discourses of cultural imperialism, and argued in favor of its substitution with the term “globalization.” Mirrlees has placed Tomlinson’s work in context by describing the dialectical—parallel but mutually aware—development of both a cultural imperialism and a cultural globalization paradigm. Both are influential in the 21st century.
“Imperialism” commonly references relations of conquest, dominance, and hegemony between civilizations, nations, and communities. “Cultural imperialism” relates primarily to the cultural manifestations of such relations. Culture and empire relate in many different ways, fueling different theories that often play on dichotomous discourses, including territorial/non-territorial, totalistic/partial, benign/malign, ephemeral/perpetual, superficial/essential, voluntary/involuntary, intended/unintended, welcome/unwelcome, forceful/peaceful, noticed/unnoticed, linear/interactive, homogeneous/heterogeneous, and acceded/resisted.
The concept has affinities with hegemony, the idea that stability in conditions of social inequality is achieved not mainly by force but by securing the consent of the masses (starting with co-option of their indigenous leaders)—through persuasion and propaganda—to the elite’s view of the world. This process is commensurate with forms of democracy that provide the appearance but not the reality of choice and control. Fissures within the ranks of the elites and within the masses create spaces for resistance and change.
Culture encompasses the totality of social practices of a given community. Social practices are manifest within social institutions such as family, education, healthcare, worship, labor, recreation, language, communication, and decision-making, as well as their corresponding domains. Any of these can undergo change following a society’s encounter with exogenous influences—most dramatically so when stronger powers impose changes through top-down strategies of command and influence.
Analysis of cultural imperialism often incorporates notions of media imperialism with reference to (1) print, electronic, and digital media—their industrialization, production, distribution, content, and capital accumulation; (2) cultural meanings that media evoke among receivers and audience cultures; (3) audience and media interactions in representations of topics, people, and ideas; and (4) relationships between media corporations and other centers of power in the reproduction and shaping of social systems.
Media are logically subsumed as important components of cultural imperialism. Yet the significance of media can be understated. The concept of mediatization denotes that “knowledge” of social practices draws heavily on media representations. Social practices that are experienced as direct may themselves be formed through exposure to media representations or performed for media.
Discourses of cultural imperialism speak to major current controversies, including: cultural suppression and genocide; ideas of “globalization”; influential economic models of “capitalism” and “neoliberalism”; ideologies that are embedded in the global spread of concepts such as “modern,” “progressive,” “growth,” “development,” “consumerism,” “free market,” “freedom,” “democracy,” “social Darwinism” and “soft power”; cultural specificity of criteria and procedures for establishing “truth”; instrumentalization for the purposes of cultural conquest of academic disciplines such as psychoanalysis, economics, social anthropology, or marketing, or environmental crises, especially as linked to western ideologies that underwrite humanity’s “right” to dominate nature.
Intermediary liability is at the center of the debate over free expression, free speech, and an open Internet. The underlying policies form network regulation that governs the extent that websites, search engines, and Internet service providers that host user content are legally responsible for what their users post or upload. Levels of intermediary liability are commonly categorized as providing broad immunity, limited liability, or strict liability. In the United States, intermediaries are given broad immunity through Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. In practice, this means that search engines cannot be held liable for the speech of individuals appearing in search results, or a news site is not responsible for what people are typing in its comment section. Immunity is important to the existence of free expression because it ensures that intermediaries do not have incentives to censor content out of fear of the law. The millions of users continuously generating content through Facebook and YouTube, for instance, would not be able to do so if those intermediaries were fearful of legal consequences due to the actions of any given user.
Globalization should be understood as a new economic, political, and cultural dynamic in what is now a global space. It is diagnosed based on a description of the different phases in its development, as an abstract, modern narrative reinforced by cyberculture, the information and communications technologies (ICTs) culture that emerged in the 1970s. Communications media have enabled the constraints and limits of space and time to be overcome, expanding human agency and connecting people and objects. Globalization is linked to the development of cyberculture precisely because this increases the number of different types of connections between people, products, and information all around the planet. It is constructed abstractly, as it does not pay the price of the connections and connectors that locate social relations. At the same time as it helps to create the fiction of “global globalization,” cyberculture reveals mediators that always connect objects, processes, people, and places, making a “localized globalization” visible. Rather than being merely deterritorializing, globalization produces connections and situations with the aid of connectors. Like every sociotechnical network, it is involved in the creation of new spatialities. The narrative of globalization ignores the connectors and overlooks the notion of territory, asserting the global nature of globalization when in fact it is the result of concrete mediations performed locally, produced by a specific and material network. It is important to politicize globalization. This requires “relocalization” of the global, that is, identifying specific, material situations. Having an appreciation of this dependence leads us to very concrete political attitudes. Attention is drawn to the need to give visibility to the mediators that anchor experiences, gainsaying the generic nature of globalization and allowing it to be politicized.