Media’s effect on Nationalism

The field of International Communications is, not surprisingly, very related to the field of International Relations which is of great interest to me.  I was surprised by the incredible overlap between the theories of IC and those of IR- the names of the theories are largely identical.  Thusso discussed Modernization Theory, Dependency Theory, Structural Imperialism, Hegemony, and Critical Theory, which all have direct overlaps in International Relations.  The fields also have the same issues in research; that is, assigning causality based on a set of historical data points that have too many contingencies to be conclusive.  The never ending battle in research is distinguishing correlations and causality, and it seems to be nearly impossible in the field of International Communications.

Let’s look at the hypothesis that Anderson posed in 1983, mentioned in the Waisbord reading.  As I understand it, media and nation building go hand in hand.  Global media delineated national boundaries, and a requirement of these less clear geographic borders led to an increase in Nationalism as a substitute.  I would argue that it makes far more sense chronologically to attribute the growth in nationalism to globalization than to media.

Say that I live with my friends in a house in the middle of nowhere, and we have little knowledge of or interaction with anyone else in the world.  We know that there may be a few other people in our world, but we don’t know for sure how many, we just know that they are too far away to matter.  Then as time passes, we expand our little family and we spread out.  Eventually we come to another groups border, and we realize that we have gone as far as we can without conflict.  We gradually expand as far as we can until we find that all of our borders are in contact.  As we become aware of more and more people in society, we try and stay unified by naming our territory- we are all from The Land of Henske, and we all carry the flag to ensure that we are able to recognize one another.  As societies continue to grow and spread, there is more and more need to distinguish our group from the others.

Now imagine that the globe has been searched and scoured and virtually every community has been accounted for.  It is the 1960s, 70s or 80s and technology is in a major upswing.  We can now read newspapers from every country, communicate with our friends and families wherever they are in the world, and McDonalds is slowly but surely beginning to take over the world.  As these new cultures begin to interact more and more, nations must decide whether to assimilate with the cultures that infringing on the ways of life we have known for generations, or maintain our own identities.  Thus nationalism will once again play a major role, because as culture feels threatened in order to ensure survival they must reunite under one flag once again.

Of course, everything is more complicated than I’ve described it here.  In this little example, I’ve left out war, famine, politics and religion.  But the point is that the relationship between media and nationalism is not necessarily causal.  Perhaps technology that allows for the international media to exist could be causal, or perhaps Anderson is right and media is fundamental to nationalism.

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