Superheroes are a global phenomenon. The superhero genre has been proliferated through modern industrial societies by way of movies, television, comics, and other forms of popular media. Although virtually every nation in the world has heroic myths, the modern superhero, as marked by the inception of recent American comics heroes in 1929, is a uniquely Western invention. Superheroes are “Western” insofar as they embody and exhibit Western civic values, such as democracy, humanism, and retributive justice. These characters have been communicatively incorporated into globalization processes by means of diffusion and thereby enact aspects of cultural imperialism. Even so, superhero figures have been in high demand across many populations for their entertainment value. As superheroes have diffused in non-Western cultures, they have not only been absorbed by new cultures but also refigured and adapted. These non-Western adaptations have had a recursive influence, such as the global popularity of Japanese manga. The recursive relationship between Western superheroes and their non-Western adaptations implies superheroes are an important aspect of cultural fusion in global popular culture.
The Globalization of Superheroes: Diffusion, Genre, and Cultural Adaptations
A Culture-Centered Approach to Health and Risk Communication
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
The culture-centered approach (CCA) to health and risk communication conceptualizes the communicative processes of marginalization that constitute the everyday meanings of health and risks at the margins. Attending to the interplays of communicative and material disenfranchisement, the CCA situates health inequalities amidst structures. Structures, as the rules, roles, processes, and frameworks that shape the distribution of resources, constitute and constrain the access of individuals, households, and communities to the resources of health and well-being. Through voice infrastructures cocreated with communities at the classed, raced, gendered, colonial margins of capitalist extraction, the CCA foregrounds community agency, the capacity of communities to make sense of their everyday struggles with health and well-being. Community voices articulate the interplays of colonial and capitalist processes that produce and circulate the risks to human health and well-being, serving as the basis for community organizing to secure health and well-being. Culture, as an interpretive resource passed down intergenerationally, offers the basis for organizing, and is simultaneously transformed through individual and community participation. Culture-centered health communication, rooted in community agency, drawing upon cultural stories, resources, and practices in subaltern contexts, takes the form of organizing for health, mobilizing agentic expressions toward structural transformations.
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.
Cultural Productions of Queer Asia
Queer Asia, which critiques the multidimensional flows of power (e.g., globalization, market capitalism, state capitalism, and/or Western queer formation), is a process of reimagining historically specific and culturally saturated nuances of minoritized sexualities and genders in and across Asia and Asian diasporas. This process redirects attention to cultural productions of Queer Asia as disjunctive modernities. By this means, contemporary global capitalism enables a paradoxically contested space of temporality through which new geopolitical imaginaries of minoritized sexualities and genders can emerge. Consequently, Queer Asia troubles, remixes, and remaps how the logic of Whiteness that operates as a global, colonial, imperial, and capitalist power homogenizes culturally heterogeneous paradigms of minoritized sexualities and genders through LGBTQIA+ identities, discourses, and politics. Three topics—identifications and affinities, relationalities and spatialities, and media and popular culture—represent indefinite and unlimited possibilities of Queer Asia. Accordingly, examining these topics in light of the cultural productions of Queer Asia provides possible pathways to expand the current circumferences of queer studies in communication, which is known as a very White, Western, and US-American discipline.
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.
Global Health and Critical Studies
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Amid the large scale inequalities in health outcomes witnessed globally, communication plays a key role in reifying and in offering transformative spaces for challenging these inequities. Communicative processes are integral to the globalization of capital, constituting the economic conditions globally that fundamentally threaten human health and wellbeing. The dominant approach to global health communication, situated within the global capitalist logics of privatization and profiteering, deploys a culturally targeted and culturally sensitive framework for addressing individual behavior. The privatization of health as a commodity creates new market opportunities for global capital. The extraction of raw materials, exploitation of labor, and the reproduction of commoditization emerge on the global arena as the sites for reproducing and circulating health vulnerabilities. By contrast, the culture-centered approach to global health foregrounds the co-creative work of building communicative infrastructures that emerge as sites for resisting the neoliberal transformation of health care. Through processes of grassroots democratic participation and ownership over communicative resources, culture-centered interventions create anchors for community-level interventions that seek to transform unhealthy structures. A wide array of social movements, activist interventions, and advocacy projects emerging from the global margins re-interpret the fundamental meanings of health to create alternative structures for imagining health.
Medical Tourism and Communication
Medical tourism (MT), sometimes referred to as health tourism or medical travel, involves both the treatment of illness and the facilitation of wellness, with travel. Medical tourism is a multifaceted and multiphase process involving many agents and actors that requires careful planning and execution. The coordinated process involves the biomedical, transportation, tourism, and leisure industries. From the communication perspective, the process can be viewed as a 5-stage model consisting of the: (a) orientation, (b) preparation, (c) experiential and treatment, (d) convalescence, and (e) reflection phases. Medical tourism is uniquely situated in a nexus of academic literature related to communication, business and management, travel and tourism, policy and law, healthcare and health administration. Communication permeates and perpetuates the medical tourism process and does so at the levels of interpersonal interactions (provider-patient communication), small group (healthcare teams), organizational (between healthcare providers), and mass and computer-mediated communication (marketing, advertising, and patient social support). This process may, in some cases, involve high rates of international and intercultural variation. Further study of the MT process can help to gain a better understanding of how healthcare consumers evaluate information about medical procedures and possible risks, as well as the specific message features and effects associated with various communication channels and information delivery systems. Continuing scholarly efforts also should focus on the relationship between medical tourism and communication.
Cultural Fusion Theory
Eric Mark Kramer
Cultural fusion is the process of integrating new information and generating new cultural forms. Cultural fusion theory recognizes the world as a churning information environment of cultural legacies, competing and complementing one another, forming novel cultural expressions in all aspects of life, including music, cuisine, pedagogy, legal systems, governance, economic behavior, spirituality, healthcare, norms of personal and interpersonal style, family structures, and so forth. This is a process of pan-evolution, involving countless channels, not merely two cultures coming together to form a third, hybrid culture. During this process the traditional pace and form of change is itself changing. Cultures are also transformed as a result of the churning process of an emergent global semantic field generated by countless networked exchanges.
Cultural Imperialism and Communication
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.