John Tomlinson

Tomlinson defines globalization as “the rapidly developing process of complex interconnections between societies, culture, institutions and individuals world-wide. It is a process which involves a compression of time and space, shrinking distances through a dramatic reduction in the time taken – either physically or representationally – to cross them, so making the world seem smaller and in a certain sense bringing human beings ‘closer’ to one another. But it is also a process which ‘stretches’ social relations, removing the relationships which govern our everday lives from local contexts to global ones.”

Tomlinson believes the concept of globalization is iconoclastic due to the implications it has for established theories in global economics and culture. One example he provides is the effect of globalization on the concept of the nation-state, which had been used as a fundamental unit of analysis in international relations and global politics. Globalization, according to Tomlinson, also causes us to readjust the way we look at national identity. Unlike postmodernism, it does not necessarily challenge established theories on an epistemological level, but rather, “the iconoclasm of globalization lies simply in the implicit demant to re-envisage the world that arises once the nature of complex global interconnectedness and the processes of time-space compression and action at distance are recognized.”

Tomlinson offers a critique of cultural imperialism theory that relies on several key points.

  • First, he argues that one of the fundamental conceptual mistakes of cultural imperialism is to take for granted that the circulation of cultural goods can be equated with cultural dominance. To back this argument, he critiques the notion that Americanization is occurring through global inundation with American television products. He points to a number of anecdotal examples of television networks who have managed to dominate their domestic markets; that home-produced programs normally top the ratings; and that foreign imports normally are used during non-peak hours.
  • Secondly, he questions the notion that cultural agents are passive receivers of information. “Movement between cultural/geographical areas always involves translation, mutation, adaptation, and the creation of hybridity.” We must look at globalization as a dialectical process and consider that global culture is essentially that of the hybrid.

References

Tomlinson, John (1997) Cultural Globalization and Cultural Imperialism, pp. 170-190 in Ali Mohammadi (ed.) International Communication and Globalization. London: Sage.