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Article

Becoming Chinese: Sinicization, Nation, and Race in Xinjiang, China  

David O'Brien and Melissa Shani Brown

“Chineseness” is often depicted in public discourses within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as an identity that blurs together varied notions of shared cultural heritage, as well as common descent, within discourses of a unified national identity. This combines what might be called “ethnicity” (as cultural heritage), “race” (as common descent, physical or intrinsic characteristics), and “nation” (as territory and political state) in complex ways. And yet, a standard position within Chinese discourses (and often replicated in non-Chinese scholarship) is that historically informing the present, Chinese notions of “ethnic difference” are based on differences in “culture,” thus precluding “racism.” This characterization in part derives from the narrative that Chinese history was an ongoing process of “sinicization”—namely “backwards,” “barbarian” ethnic groups eagerly assimilated into the “more advanced” Han “civilization,” thus becoming “Chinese.” However, there are numerous scholarly challenges to this narrative as historically inaccurate or overly simplistic, as well as challenges to the positioning of this narrative as not “racist.” The idea that an emphasis on civilization versus barbarism is “cultural” and not “racial” delimits racism to a narrow definition focusing on “biophysical” difference. However, wider scholarship on race and racism highlights that the latter rests on diverse articulations of hierarchical difference; this includes and mobilizes cultural difference as an active part of racist discourses predicated on the acceptance of ideas of the “inferiority” versus “superiority” of peoples, as well as notions of “purity” within discourses of homogeneous imagined communities. Increasingly, “being Chinese” is being conceptualized in PRC official rhetoric as a culturally, and racially, homogeneous identity. That is, not only is Han culture being positioned as emblematic of “Chinese culture” generally but also it is being asserted that all ethnic groups are descended from the Han and are thus genetically bound by “Chinese bloodlines.” Such discourses have repercussions for ethnic minority groups within China—most clearly at the moment for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities who are positioned as “infected” by “foreign influences,” namely their religion. This is particularly clear in the contemporary sinicization campaign in Xinjiang (XUAR: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), a region in northwest China that has gained increasing international attention due to the government’s use of “re-education” camps in a program it argues is designed to eliminate terrorism. The accompanying sinicization campaign involves a combination of propaganda emphasizing “Chinese socialist characteristics” and “core values” that should be adopted, an emphasis in the media on Uyghurs engaging in Han cultural practices as a demonstration of their loyalty to the state, as well as the removal of many visible signs of Chinese Islamic history and Uyghur culture. The turn toward politically policing culture is hardly new in China; however, the increasing emphasis on racial notions of identity—foregrounding physical appearance, genetics, lineage, and metaphors of “bloodlines”—is an attempt to turn a national identity into a “natural” one, something that raises urgent questions with regard to how China deals with the diversity of its population and the stakes in being, or becoming, “Chinese.”

Article

Bella Figura: Understanding Italian Communication in Local and Transatlantic Contexts  

Denise Scannell Guida

Bella figura—beautiful figure—is an idiomatic expression used to reflect every part of Italian life. The phrase appears in travel books and in transnational business guides to describe Italian customs, in sociological research to describe the national characteristics of Italians, and in popular culture to depict thematic constructs and stereotypes, such as the Mafia, romance, and la dolce vita. Scholarly research on bella figura indicates its significance in Italian civilization, yet it remains one of the most elusive concepts to translate. Among the various interpretations and references from foreigners and Italians there is not a single definition that captures the complexity of bella figura as a cultural phenomenon. There is also little explanation of the term, its usage, or its effects on Italians who have migrated to other countries. Gadamerian hermeneutics offers an explanation for how bella figura functions as a frame of reference for understanding Italian culture and identity, which does not disappear or fuse when Italians interact with people from different countries but instead takes on an interpretive dimension that is continually integrating new information into the subconscious structures of the mind. In sum, bella figura is a sense-making process, and requires a pragmatic know-how of Italian communication (verbal and nonverbal). From this perspective, bella figura is prestructure by which Italians and some Italian migrants understand and interpret their linguistically mediated and historical world. This distinction changes the concept bella figura from a simple facade to a dynamic interplay among ever-changing interpretations and symbolic interactions. The exploration of bella figura is relevant to understanding Italian communication on both local and transnational levels.

Article

Globalization of Formal Debate Training, Civil Society, and Democratic Institutions  

David Worth

Despite myriad sponsoring organizations and formats around the world, student debates at multiple educational levels share some fundamental characteristics. A better understanding of these characteristics can illuminate the activity and the cultural and civilizational assumptions that constitute debate, as well as debate’s relationship to democratic thinking. Debate pedagogy exists as a part of forensics, an Aristotelian term for speech and debate. While oral disputation has classical roots, contemporary debate assumed a more recognizable form with European and British practices in the modern era. Debate then grew tremendously in the United States. Argument models, competition structures, and assumed fundamentals of the activity developed in the 20th century in the United States have been extended into the global debate community. The 2020 World University Debating Championship featured in-person debates between 1,177 students from 243 universities in 50 countries. Formal debates between college students from competing schools is promoted as a tool for critical thinking instruction and empowerment. Generally, this instruction is carried out by advisers, coaches, faculty, alumni, and volunteers. In some cases, debate aids self-education: Students run their own debate teams, using the structure to supplement their normal curricular education. College debate is intrinsically international. Debaters often travel internationally to compete. The events are international in scope and the issues debated are international by nature. Debates that focus on current events or perennial philosophical questions cannot avoid international elements and implications. Economics, interconnected international politics, international media, social media, and other forces ensure that debates cross borders conceptually if not physically, and even critique of borders has been a feature of intercollegiate debate for many years.

Article

Globalizing and Changing Culture  

Hans J. Ladegaard

Although there is no exact definition of globalization, and relatively little empirical evidence on how it affects people’s lives, most scholars argue that it reflects an increasingly mobile and interconnected world. People travel for pleasure or work, or they migrate to other parts of the world. They also communicate with linguistic and cultural others, either face-to-face or via modern communication technologies, which requires them to use a global lingua franca (English). This leads to greater interdependence and a sense of sharedness, but also to more intergroup conflicts. Thus, the world has become more interconnected, but also more fragmented, and social and economic inequality both within and across nation-states has become more visible. The importance of culture as an analytical concept in (intercultural) communication research is another pertinent topic in the literature. Some scholars have argued that culture has lost its potency as a meaningful analytical concept and therefore should no longer take center stage in communication research. Others claim that culture will always be salient and influence behavior. How and to what extent globalization changes culture has also been discussed extensively in recent years. Some scholars argue that globalization leads to sameness and uniformity, and ultimately to the end of the nation-state. Others disagree and posit that globalization leads to a strengthening of the nation-state and of the cultural values we associate with it. A meaningful way to test theoretical assumptions about globalization and culture is to analyze communication and work practices in global organizations. Research from these contexts suggests that globalization has not led to cultural assimilation and uniformity. Employees in the global workplace and student sojourners use national stereotypes as a frame of reference when they communicate with cultural others, and they demonstrate high awareness of cultural differences and how they impact their communication, study, and work practices. Recent research on cultural change and globalization has included a critical dimension that questions a world order where the increase in power and cultural and economic wealth in developed countries happens at the expense of poor people with no voice and little visibility living in developing countries. Critical (intercultural) communication research considers these imbalances and also provides a critique of Anglocentric research paradigms, which do not include the cultural and linguistic experiences of non-Western cultural others.

Article

Global Jihad and International Media Use  

el-Sayed el-Aswad, M. Joseph Sirgy, Richard J. Estes, and Don R. Rahtz

Globalization and international media are potent contributors to the rise of the Islamist global jihad. Widespread digital communication technologies that connect people all over the world are a substantial component of globalization. Over the past three decades, “virtual jihad” has emerged as a potent disseminator of radical religious-political ideologies, instilling fear and fostering instability worldwide. Western and global media, while often misrepresenting Islam and Muslims, have played a significant role in disseminating jihadist ideologies. The involvement of global jihadists (mujāhidīn) across myriad media outlets and platforms has allowed them to promote their agenda around the world. Using the Internet and media outlets, global jihadists are able to attract and recruit people to their ranks in an accelerated manner. Jihadists have engaged in media activities that have empowered and expanded the global jihad movement, even in the face of increased mitigation efforts.

Article

The Politics of Translation and Interpretation in International Communication  

Elaine Hsieh

Traditionally, translators and interpreters are viewed as neutral intermediaries who facilitate communication between people who do not share the same language. However, because cultural consciousness is embedded in language, translation and interpretation do not simply transfer information from one language to another but are political acts that can define, shape, and resist norms and values of both the source and target cultures. The production of translation and interpretation cannot be separated from the analysis of knowledge, reasoning, and cultural consciousness—along with the tensions inherent in the (re)production of power and cultural hierarchies. There are four themes when exploring the politics and political nature of translation and interpreting as communicative activity: (a) the historical roles of translations and interpreters, (b) translation as a change agent, (c) language access as justice, and (d) technology as a solution to language barriers. Translators traditionally claim an invisible, passive, conduit role to legitimize their work. It is assumed that the translator role is akin to a bureaucratic function. Translators may not alter the contents of business conversations and contracts, diplomatic exchanges, literature, or religious texts. Nevertheless, researchers have found that translation is not only a product of cross-cultural interactions but also a process that cannot avoid changing the language, ideology, and knowledge of both the source culture and the target culture. Language itself harbors biases and perspectives. Also, translators’ strategies of foreignizing or domesticating translation can be the result of purposeful decisions, aiming to shape the cultural consciousness of the target culture. Early studies of the impact of translation centered on the use of translation in enforcing and imposing the hierarchical superiority and worldviews of the dominant culture of the colonizers, including proselytizing activities. Recent studies, however, have also argued that translations can be a form of resistance and activism. For example, the translation movement in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century was an important factor in Ireland’s independence. Because translation and interpretation are essential in shaping realities and defining identities in international communication, language access is viewed as the prerequisite to ensure a fair trial and due process in international courts. The history of the “language battle” in the Paris Peace Conference and the subsequent development of simultaneous interpreting demonstrate that interpreters are not passive participants but active collaborators, working with other participants to meet the objectives of both ideological and communicative activities. Finally, technology allows individuals, and not just nations or large institutions, to afford and have access to professional translation and interpretation services for the first time in history. The rise of machine translation and machine learning has transformed the landscape and possibilities of translation and interpreting activities. Technology has the potential to influence not only translation and interpretation but also the larger human/cultural consciousnesses in international communication. The perspective or worldview embedded in a language can be enshrined in artificial intelligence and machine programming.