Style is in the traditional canon of rhetoric and means the manipulation of language for rhetorical effect. Historically, eras that emphasized style in rhetoric also tended to regard rhetoric as of secondary importance in public discourse, as the window dressing for logic and more substantive modes of invention. When we think of style more broadly as the use of gesture, clothing, decoration, objects, grooming—in short, of style in the more colloquial sense of “he’s got style”—then we see a wider and more important role for style as a major form of rhetoric. Today, the need of global capitalism to sustain artificially high levels of consumption is largely achieved through a rhetoric of style. The public must be persuaded to churn its clothing, decoration, grooming styles, and so forth constantly to keep consumption up, and the most effective way to achieve that end is through creating in people a preoccupation with style. Once that happens, then style becomes the major way in which we think about presenting ourselves to others. Style becomes the way in which people say who they are, who they want to be, and who they feel opposed to. Style becomes a major expression of political commitment. In short, style has become a major if not the major rhetorical system at work in the world today. We understand what others mean, and we influence others, through style much more than we do through carefully planned discursive discourses, argument, and expository presentations. Because global capitalism is the engine behind this preoccupation with style, style is a system of communication likely to increase in dominance and importance.
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.
Matthew S. May and Kate Siegfried
Louis Pierre Althusser (1918–1990) is widely recognized as one of the most significant and influential Marxist philosophers associated with the structuralist turn in the middle of the 20th century. The ongoing publication of scholarly monographs that develop his conceptual legacy, the depth of his impact in disciplinary debates in fields across the humanities and social sciences, and the continued translation of his work from French into multiple languages, to offer only a few examples, testify to the consensus regarding the enduring importance of his theoretical innovations and often controversial interventions. He devoted tremendous intellectual energy toward a critique of humanism and phenomenological-based Marxism even as he eschewed traditional positivist economic explanations of history and exploitation—engaging in what amounts to nothing less than an effort to fundamentally shift the way the West reads and interprets Marx. Despite the controversial aspects of his interventions, there is little disagreement that the concepts produced by Althusser irreversibly affected and continue to affect the trajectory of Marxist and post-Marxist thought throughout the world, albeit often through the back door, smuggled in and unrecognized—in his lexicon: as an embedded but nevertheless absent cause.
Cultural studies seeks to understand and explain how culture relates to the larger society and draws on social theory, philosophy, history, linguistics, communication, semiotics, media studies, and more to assess and evaluate mass media and everyday cultural practices. Since its inception in 1960s Britain, cultural studies has had recognizable and recurring interactions with Marxism, most clearly in culturalist renderings along a spectrum of tensions with political economy approaches. Marxist traditions and inflections appear in the seminal works of Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson, work on the culture industry inspired by the Frankfurt School in 1930s Germany, challenges by Stuart Hall and others to the structuralist theories of Louis Althusser, and writings on consciousness and social change by Georg Lukács. Perhaps the most pronounced indication of Marxist influences on cultural studies appears in the multiple and diverse interpretations of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Cultural studies, including critical theory, has been invigorated by Marxism, even as a recurring critique of economic determinism appears in most investigations and analyses of cultural practices. Marxism has no authoritative definition or application. Nonetheless, Marxism insists on materialism as the precondition for human life and development, opposing various idealist conceptions whether religious or philosophical that posit magical, suprahuman interventions that shape humanity or assertions of consciousness, creative genius, or timeless universals that supersede any particular historical conjuncture. Second, Marxism finds material reality, including all forms of human society and culture, to be historical phenomenon. Humans are framed by their conditions, and in turn, have agency to make social changing using material, knowledge, and possibilities within concrete historical conditions. For Marxists, capitalist society can best be historically and materially understood as social relations of production of society based on labor power and capitalist private ownership of the means of production. Wages paid labor are less than the value of goods and services produced. Capitalist withhold their profits from the value of goods and services produced. Such social relations organize individuals and groups into describable and manifest social classes, that are diverse and unstable but have contradictory interests and experiences. To maintain this social order and its rule, capitalists offer material adjustments, political rewards, and cultural activities that complement the social arrangements to maintain and adjust the dominant social order. Thus, for Marxists, ideologies arise in uneasy tandem with social relations of power. Ideas and practices appear and are constructed, distributed, and lived across society. Dominant ideologies parallel and refract conflictual social relations of power. Ideologies attune to transforming existing social relations may express countervailing views, values, and expectations. In sum, Marxist historical materialism finds that culture is a social product, social tool, and social process resulting from the construction and use by social groups with diverse social experiences and identities, including gender, race, social class, and more. Cultures have remarkably contradictory and hybrid elements creatively assembled from materially present social contradictions in unequal societies, ranging from reinforcement to resistance against constantly adjusting social relations of power. Five elements appear in most Marxist renditions on culture: materialism, the primacy of historical conjunctures, labor and social class, ideologies refracting social relations, and social change resulting from competing social and political interests.
Matthew Bost and Matthew S. May
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are among the most powerful theorists of communication and social change under present-day global capitalism. In their Empire trilogy and other individual and collaborative works, Hardt and Negri argue for the fundamentally communicative nature of contemporary power. Their analyses demonstrate the ways that media technology, global flows of finance capital, and the contemporary shift to economies based on information and affective or emotional labor create new, more complex networks of oppression and new possibilities for more democratic social change. Hardt and Negri’s work, therefore, shifts the focus of critical communication and cultural theory from attaining or challenging political power within the nation-state and invites scholars to rethink sovereignty as empire: an interconnected global phenomenon appertaining to capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They furthermore reimagine dissent as a constitutive process of resistance and mutual aid through which the multitude simultaneously withdraws from empire and composes itself through the social communication of struggles across time and space. Hardt and Negri’s work has been taken up in communication studies to theorize the materiality of communication; the labor performed in cognitive, communication, and service industries; contemporary media audiences and reception; and historical and contemporary social movements, from the Industrial Workers of the World to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
Bryan J. McCann
The term materialist rhetoric refers to scholarly approaches that seek to account for the relationship between rhetoric and the world that it inhabits. Rhetoricians have differed sharply on the character of this relationship and how it should inform rhetorical theory, criticism, and practice. To be a materialist is to insist that there exists a world outside of human agency that exerts force on human affairs. Marxism is the most influential philosophical tradition for materialist rhetoric, although rhetoricians vary in terms of their adherence to and interpretation of its principles. Karl Marx argued that the antagonistic class relations at the core of capitalism were the chief material determinant for social being. Historical materialism is the primary methodology of Marxist critique, and it rests on the premise that the character of class relations is not governed solely by human volition. Rather, these relations create the conditions of possibility for and shape the trajectory of social life. While Marxism has informed the liveliest debates regarding materialist rhetoric, not all materialist rhetoricians are Marxists. The earliest iterations of materialist rhetoric drew on Marxism for inspiration, but did not adopt an explicitly anticapitalist orientation. Rather, materialist rhetoric initially referred to calls for rhetoricians to better account for the material character of rhetoric itself. Later developments in materialist rhetoric emerged from debates regarding the nature of Marxism as a rhetorical method, the question of whether rhetoric is representational or constitutive, the character of rhetorical agency, and the existence of a knowable material world outside of rhetoric. Classical Marxists in rhetoric have argued that scholars should predicate their work on the presumption of an experiential reality outside of discourse that exerts force on human symbolic activity. They argue that grounding rhetorical critique in a nondiscursive materiality is necessary for ethical judgment and political practice. Others who reject classical Marxism embrace the claim that rhetoric is material—so much so, in fact, that it comprises every dimension of social being. Debates between these perspectives hinge largely on how different scholars theorize contemporary capitalism. Whereas classical Marxists retain faith in the revolutionary agency of the working class, their critics contend that rhetoric itself has become the central modality of labor in the modern economy and, therefore, the chief resource for resistance. Other materialist perspectives do not dwell on theoretical debates regarding Marxism, but instead attend to other dimensions of being beyond human symbol use. Whereas some scholars are interested in rhetoric’s relationship to the human body and physical spaces, others theorize rhetoric in ways that reach beyond the limits of human cognition.
Brian Massumi (1956–) is a contemporary political theorist of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics. One of the foremost thinkers of “radical empiricism,” he is responsible for enabling the widespread use of Deleuzean philosophy in communication and inaugurating the so-called “affective turn” in the theoretical humanities. Massumi is Professor of Communication at the Université de Montréal and a collaborator with the experimental art and activism lab SenseLab, founded by Erin Manning. His most well-known translation is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and he is the author of ten books, including the widely influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002). Massumi’s radical empiricist approaches concern the aesthetics of communication and power in the context of global capitalism. He opens the field of communication to the study of relationality, what he calls “being-in-becoming,” which he describes in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s “the actual” and “the virtual.” His critical embrace of becoming reframes the concept of “the event” as a processual unfolding of forces of expression, or experience. Instead of remaining wedded to communication models that limit language to designation, manifestation, and signification, Massumi’s focus on becoming calls for accounts of the extra-linguistic. Three key concepts include expression, affect, and perception. Through creative and experimental dispositions, Massumi position the fields of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics toward vibrant scenes of relations-already-underway, or how feeling, thinking, and being begin, again, in the middle of something already underway—a “happening doing.”