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date: 26 April 2018

Globalization, Culture, and Communication: Renationalization in a Globalized World

Summary and Keywords

Cultural globalization has promoted seemingly opposing forces simultaneously, such as recentering and decentering, standardization and diversification, and renationalization and transnationalization. The intensification of transnational flows of media culture and the associated cross-border connection and communication has been destabilizing national cultural borders and engendering the formation of diverse mediated communities among hitherto marginalized people and groups within and across national borders. At the same time, we have observed the increasing pervasiveness of the inter-nationalized modes of media culture flows and communication—“inter-nationalized” with a hyphen is intentional—in the sense of highlighting the nation as the unit of global cultural encounters that resolidify exclusive national boundaries.

The synergism of the process of market-driven glocalization and the state’s policy of soft power and nation branding has further instituted a container model of the nation, as the inter-nationalized circulation and encounter of media culture have become sites in which national identity is mundanely invoked, performed, and experienced. In this process, national cultural borders are mutually reconstituted as transnational cultural flows and encounters are promoted in a way to accentuate a nation-based form of global cultural encounter and exchange. While lacking in a historically embedded, coherent narrative of the nation, it works to institute a new, container form of the nation in which cultural diversity within national borders is not given its due attention and thus sidelined. Facilitation of border crossing of culture and communication does not necessarily accompany the transgression of clearly demarcated national cultural borders.

Keywords: cultural globalization, border transgression, renationalization, soft power, nation branding, banal inter-nationalism, cultural diversity, communication and critical studies

Complication of the Globalization of Culture and Communication

In the last quarter-century, the globalization of culture and communication has advanced considerably.1 It has been pushed forward by several complex factors, such as the improvement of media culture production capacity and the growth of media culture markets that have taken place in many parts of the worlds in the post–Cold War context, the progression of international alliance and linkage among media culture industries and creators, the advancement of digital communication technologies that facilitate these developments, and the sweeping expansion of the Internet and social media that accelerates cross-border communication. These have drastically displaced the hitherto-overriding division between producer and consumer, professional practices and grass-roots creativities, public and private, and the sense of being here and over there. Traversing the world, numerous kinds of media culture, information, and commentary are coproduced, circulated, consumed, mixed, and remade, which facilitates mediated communication and connection at a distance in an unprecedented manner.

The capacity of media communication in the construction of symbolic communities across distances and over time, especially those of modern nation-states, has been much studied (e.g., Anderson, 1983; Carey, 1989; Thompson, 1995). The revolutionary development of digital media communication has given rise to the amplification of mediated communities, including the ones among hitherto-marginalized people and groups and the ones that hitherto were inconceivable within a national framework. Accordingly, notions such as hybridization, deterritorialization, transnationalism, and postnationalism have drawn our attention to cross-border interaction, fusion, mobility, and communication, which seriously put the clearly demarcated national cultural borders into question. Such arguments underline how active cultural mixing and cross-border connection processes bring about innovative kinds of translation, exchange, and relationship in a globally mediated world.

At the same time, global interconnectivity is never free from the restricting forces of globalization, which generates unevenness through the marketization of media culture and the reconfiguration of a global cultural power structure (e.g., Sparks, 2007; Hafez, 2007). While national borders continue to become more and more porous, the measures of border control are reformulated constantly to tame disordered flows and tightly redemarcate the borders—materially, physically, symbolically, and imaginatively. The intensifying cross-border flows of media culture have undeniably promoted cross-fertilization and people’s cross-border exchange beyond the confinement of national borders, but not all of them lead to a substantial transformation to an exclusive form of national identity or foster a cosmopolitan outlook in terms of openness, togetherness, and dialogue within and beyond national borders. Border crossing does not necessarily cause the transgression of borders. Transgression of borders requires one to fundamentally question how borders in the existing form have been sociohistorically constructed, and also seek to displace their exclusionary power that unevenly divide “us” and “them” and “here” and “there.” However, the border crossing of media culture is more often than not promoted and experienced, while being dissociated from actions of transgression, and the border management subtly adjusts itself to a new geocultural configuration to maintain and even reinforce the exclusionary formation of national cultural borders.

What is required is to examine the complicated interaction between progressive possibilities and their limits articulated in the globalization process, which has manifold and contradictory consequences. The following discussion will consider the contradictory consequences of cultural globalization, with a particular concern about one of the most contested issues of cultural globalization—whether national cultural borders are displaced or reinforced. It will be argued that while promoting various modes of cultural flows, exchanges, and connections beyond national borders, the advancement of market-driven globalization of culture and communication has shaped “the inter-national administration of cultural diversity” that promotes a particular kind of cross-border connectivity and exchange to be embraced while suppressing others. (In the term inter-national, the hyphen is put between inter and national intentionally, to underscore the reworking and strengthening of the national in tandem with the intensification of media culture globalization.)

Such forces have been generated by the synergism of two significant interrelated developments regarding media culture globalization—a substantial increase in global cultural events, showcases, and spectacles, as well as a growing interest in nation branding. Their interaction facilitates the media culture of a nation-state circulating, rivaling, consumed, and branded in an international arena, which makes a nation-state function as one of the most marketable localities of glocalization, a unit of commercialized and standardized cultural diversity that is to be promoted. In this process, a container model of the nation has been instituted further, as national cultural borders are mutually reconstituted and cross-border cultural flows and encounters are promoted in a way to accentuate an inter-nationalized form of circulation and encounter of media culture as a site in which national identity is mundanely invoked, performed, and experienced. Although this way of constructing national identity in tandem with inter-nationalism is always a significant part of modern nation-state building, a market-driven mode of global promotion of cultural exchange and communication newly makes the national thinking and feeling pervasive, as it permeates the idea of the nation as the unit for global cultural exchange, competition, and diversity.

Contradictory Forces of Globalization

One way to understand the complexity of cultural globalization is to consider how seemingly contradictory vectors of globalizing forces such as decentering—recentering, diversifying—standardizing, and transnationalizing—nationalizing work simultaneously and interconstitutively. Media culture globalization has decentered the capitalist modernity from the West and the global cultural power structure from the United States, as evinced by the dynamic localization practices and the rise of non-Western media cultures, including those of South Korea, China, India, and Japan (e.g., Tomlinson, 1997; Jin, 2016; Curtin & Shah, 2010; Iwabuchi, 2002). Yet this also has accompanied the restructuring of global cultural power through the web of corporate alliances and market integration taking place in many parts of the world. McGuigan (2009) argues that “cool capitalism,” which gives priority to individual consumer sovereignty in a profound marketization logic, is capable of subtly taking in its critique to promote further commercialization. To apply his point more extensively, capital is flexible enough to absorb subversive and opposing challenges for its own benefit.

The decentralization of power configurations can be seen in the emergence of transnational media corporations based in non-Western countries as global players. While it is no longer convincing to automatically equate globalization with Americanization, there is no denying the enormity of the US global cultural influence, nor the fact that a new center is not emerging to take the place of the United States. The point is that it is no longer possible to understand the uneven structure of global cultural connections as bipartite, with one-way transfers of culture from the center to the periphery. Cultural power still matters, but it is being dispersed through the web of industry alliance of various parts of the world. Power structure is decentered, but at the same time recentered, during this process. Cross-border partnerships and cooperation among multinational corporations and capital involving non-Western countries are being driven forward, with the United States as a pivotal presence.

While, for example, the inroads that Asian companies have made into Hollywood and the global diffusion of Japanese anime and video games, Korean pop music and TV dramas, and Indian movies might look like signs that the United States is losing its global cultural hegemony relatively, in reality these phenomena simply illustrate that the pattern of global dominance by transnational media conglomerates centered on the United States and other developed countries is becoming more firmly entrenched. Further, the state-driven development of creative industries in China has pushed the collaboration between Hollywood and its Asian counterparts into that of an inextricable partnership (Kokas, 2017). The structure of transnational media flows is being reorganized in a highly dispersed and ubiquitous manner through the intensifying collaboration of multinational media corporations and media creators based in various developed nations.

The elastic exploitation of the emerging countertrend is also demonstrated by the ways that globalization constantly engenders and organizes cultural diversity (Hall, 1991; Hannerz, 1996). Globalization does not mean simply the standardization of the world through the spread of the same products, values, and images transmitted from the United States and other developed Western countries. It is, in fact, constantly giving rise to new distinctions. Globally disseminated cultural products and images are consumed and received differently within the specific cultural framework formed by the political, economic, and social context of each locality, as well as by people of differing statuses depending on their gender, ethnicity, class, age, and other factors. At the same time, they are reconfigured through a process of hybridization in each locality. American popular culture is exported to countries throughout the world, but the cultural products that perform best are those that mix in local elements while absorbing American cultural influences. Meanings are negotiated locally, resulting in the creation of new products that are more than mere copies. Symbolic power in the age of globalization is not concentrated in the place where the culture originated; rather, it is exercised through the processes of active cultural negotiation that take place in each locality. In fact, it is now almost impossible to imagine local cultural creativity outside the context of globalization, and sufficient profits cannot be produced without fostering a local specificity that is mostly equated with the national market in an essentialist manner.

As demonstrated by the prevalence of TV-format business and film remaking, globalization does not destroy cultural differences, but rather brings about a “peculiar form of homogenization” while fostering them (Hall, 1991). The global spread of American consumer culture has led to the creation of a series of cultural formats through which differences can be adjusted. This process is facilitated through globally shared cultural formats such as genre, narrative style, visual representation, digitalized special effects, marketing techniques, and the idea of coolness. These formats could be described as the axis of the global cultural system. Arguably, many of them have been initially developed in the American production of media culture (Morley & Robins, 1995). In this sense, one could say that “America” has become a base format that regulates the process by which modern culture is configured around the world. Yet other players of Europe, Asia, and Latin America also contribute greatly to enriching the repertoire of cultural formats.

The world is becoming more diverse through standardization and more standardized through diversification, and this dynamic too is first and foremost organized and promoted by marketing forces. While cultural formats that are shared in many parts of the world come almost exclusively from a handful of developed countries, local and transnational media culture industries in many parts of the world press ahead with global tie-ups and partnerships to raise their profits by tailoring this axis to every corner of the world, while promoting cultural diversity in every market.

Working with these market-driven forces, the intensification of transnational flows and connections has engendered various modes of connection, translation, exchange, and dialogue beyond and across national borders. However, it does not fully displace national borders; instead, they work to rehighlight them (e.g., see Hannerz, 1996; Smith, 2001). It is commonly argued that the efficacy of the nation-state’s boundary policing in the modern constitution of politics, economy, and culture is deeply problematic during the globalization process, and that the term transnational more productively directs our attention to a new perspective of the flows disregarding the boundaries set up and controlled by nation-states, the most important of which are those of capital, people, and media/images (Hannerz, 1996). While the nation-state remains by far the most important governmental body, the national framework is no longer able to handle the complex matters of transnational flows of capital, media, and people well—so much so that “territoriality is fast becoming an anachronistic delimitation of material functions and cultural identities” (Benhabib, 2002, p. 180).

However, transnational connections do not necessarily displace the national boundaries, thoughts, and feelings. Unlike global, the term transnational tends to “draw attention [to] what it negates” (Hannerz, 1996, p. 6). While it is undeniable that the circulation of media culture discounts the national boundaries and activates transnational connections and cross-border exchange and communication, however, such developments in reality also have made the national framework even more robust. As Michael Peter Smith (2001, p. 3) argues, while problematizing the assumed efficacy of the nation-state’s boundary policing in the modern constitution of politics, the economy, and culture, the transnational perspective explicates “the continuing significance of borders, state policies, and national identities even as these are often transgressed by transnational communication circuits and social practices.”

This is not to underestimate the transgressive capabilities of media culture in a globalized world to offer alternative cultural imaginations and social visions (e.g., Mankekar, 2015). Perhaps precisely because transnational media flows highlight the trend that it has become no longer tenable for any country to contain its cultural orientation and agendas within clearly demarcated national boundaries, the transgressive tendency of popular culture and its boundary-violating impulse of cultural hybridization are never free from the renationalizing force of desperately seeking to redemarcate and control cultural boundaries. As Roger Rouse (1995, p. 380) argues, “[t]he transnational has not so much displaced the national as resituated it and thus reworked its meanings” to administer the globalization process within a national framework.

Beyond Methodological Nationalism?

The gravitating power of renationalization is also an important issue for researchers’ analytical frameworks. Methodological nationalism has been criticized for its taken-for-granted assumption of the nation-state as the unambiguous unit of analysis, but it also has attracted renewed attention in studies of globalization. Its main problem is the presumption of “the self-evidence of a world ordered into nation-states” and “the apparent naturalness and givenness of a world divided into societies along the lines of nation-state” (Wimmer & Schiller, 2002, p. 303). Beck (2006) also elaborates on the problems of methodological nationalism in relation to globalization and cosmopolitanism.2 He argues that the subordination of society to the state uncritically presumes a “container model” of mutually delimiting national societies, which is derived from “a territorial understanding of society based upon state-constructed and state-controlled borders” (2006, p. 27). This problem persists in the analysis of globalization, as the presumption of a mutually constitutive dichotomy of the national and the international makes one apt to take “the global as the maximum intensification of the national” (p. 29).

In line with this argument, Hepp and Couldry (2009) critically discuss the limit of nation-centered approaches in the comparative studies of international media communication. While not referring to “methodological nationalism,” they also disapprove of a “container thinking” that endures in the studies of media and communication, which incline to search for national-territorial differences and interactions of media cultures. They acknowledge the lingering relevance of the state power to regulate the national media system and market, but they also call a renewed attention to the actuality that production and consumption of media cultures are always subject to “translocal” processes that go beyond the nation-state framework. They propose a “transcultural approach” to analyze the process of cultural thickening “in the frame of an increasingly global communicative connectivity” (p. 41). They do not suggest that cultural deterritorialization has made the national territoriality totally irrelevant, but they do argue that “the borders of the ‘cultural thickenings’ to which we belong do not necessarily correspond with territorial borders, even though territories continue to have a high relevance as a reference point for constructing national community” (p. 39). So they are concerned with the interplay between territorialization and deterritorialization, more precisely between (territorialized) specific processes of meaning articulation and (deterritorialized) generation of cultural forms in their “production and reference point” (p. 42). The point, thus, is not just about a localized interpretation, but more about the transnationalized complexity of cultural thickening under the force of globalization. While the national is still relevant to contextualized articulation of meanings out of transnationally circulating cultural forms, the distinctiveness of the national is rearticulated not in reaction to, but only in tandem with, cross-border cultural connections and globally shared cultural references and forms.

Hepp and Couldry’s argument makes an important point about the limit of a nation-centered container model for the analysis of media culture globalization. Yet we also need to think conversely about the picture that national cultures reconstruct and articulate through globally shared cultural forms and transnational connectivity—namely, to consider whether and how deterritorialized cultural thickening is facilitated and structured in an international communicative arena as a way to prompt further a territorialized conception of the nation rather than dismantling it. This is to take the operation of the national framework seriously in the examination of cultural thickening by understanding the nation as a globally shared cultural form, through which local distinctiveness and differences are expressed to each other, as will be discussed in the next section.

It can be argued that a container model of nations has been put forward by and has orchestrated global production and circulation of culture, and this has made some impact on people’s understanding and experience of global cultural encounters. In this respect, Beck’s (2006) distinction between methodological nationalism and national outlook, which is the subscription of social actors to the notion of methodological nationalism, is important. Researchers might have theoretically refuted the problem of methodological nationalism for the comprehensive analysis of cultural globalization processes, but national outlooks are getting even stronger and pervading people’s everyday lives even more widely.

It has been deeply instilled in mainstream discourse, media representations, and everyday practices of cross-border cultural exchange in which the inter-nationalized production, circulation, regulation, and consumption of media cultures play a significant role. This further advances a long-held, complicit working of the national and the inter-national to widely engender an idea of the nation as the unit of global cultural encounters. This has highly a problematical implication in the enforcement of exclusionary politics of the nation. Before elaborating on it, however, let us consider more of the institutionalization of inter-nationalized media culture connectivity that sustains the permeation of national outlook.

The National as a Constituent Form of Globalization

As discussed earlier, market-driven globalization does not simply homogenize the world; rather, it heterogenizes it and even generates and organizes cultural diversity (e.g., Hannerz, 1996). As for media culture, this cultural dynamic is occurring at the site of production as well as consumption. Globally circulating cultural products and images are consumed differently in the specific political, economic, and social contexts of each locality, and by people of various sociocultural backgrounds (gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, and age). At the same time, these products and images in each locality are reconfigured and mixed with local elements, resulting in the creation of new products that are not just mere replicas of the original. And media and cultural producers are aware of this dynamics of the localization process—so much so that so-called local taste and the specificity assumed as such have become well incorporated into their marketing strategy of glocalization (Robertson, 1995).

Transnational corporations that are based in developed countries pursue profits by tailoring glocal cultures in every corner of the world’s markets through transnational tie-ups and partnerships. But the significance of glocalization is not just limited to a business concern, but rather extends to the ways in which a particular kind of diversity is promoted on a globally common ground. American and Western cultural influences are always and already inscribed in the formation of media cultures in many parts of the world, but this trend has become even deeper and more structural. The new configuration of cultural power exploits the locally specific meaning construction process in a globally tailored manner.

Glocalization generates an entangled interplay of standardization and diversification whereby, as Wilk (1995, p. 118) argues, cultural difference is expressed and shown to each other “in ways that are more widely intelligible,” through “universal categories and standards by which all cultural differences can be defined.” Especially important for the generation of what Wilk (1995) calls the “structure of common difference” are the global diffusion and sharing of cultural formats such as narrative style, visual representation, digitalized special effects, marketing technique, and the idea of coolness—most of which originate in the United States and other developed countries—through which various differences are articulated in the international arena.

Cultural specificity or particularity being articulated through a common or universal form is a long-standing feature of the modern era. As Robertson (1995, p. 36) points out, it was during the time of the 19th and early 20th centuries that “‘the world’ became locked into a particular form of a strong shift to unicity” through “the organized attempts to link localities on an international or ecumenical basis.” While the locality can take various forms, ranging from a small community to a transnational regional community, it is “the national” that has become a “prototype of the particular,” a container form in which cultural specificity is articulated through common cultural formats (Robertson, 1995, p. 34). Thus, the nation has long been functioning as the most prominent local units of cultural diversity; however, especially since the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, the market-oriented process of cultural glocalization has been pushing this momentum further forward on a global scale.

The key players in this process include international organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and, more significantly, media and cultural industries that transnationally and locally work with and for them. In the last two decades, the number of international media spectacles and cultural exhibitions and festivals, such as sporting events, film festivals, TV/music awards, food expos, pageants, and other tourism-oriented events, has substantially increased, as well as a proliferation of satellite and cable broadcasting and audiovisual Internet sites. These constitute what Urry (2003) calls “global screen,” a site through which “localities, cultures, and nations appear, to compete and mobilize themselves as international spectacles and consumed by others, compared and evaluated, and turned into a brand” (p. 107). What is crucial here is that the national has functioned as one of the most profitable local markets—as a unit of commercialized cultural diversity in the world—whereby the images of the nation have come to be more and more constituted as a brand through global mass-culture formats. They do not just provide a basis for the expression of national cultural distinctiveness; they also create an inter-nationalized interface that highlights the specific nationality of cultures and, as will be discussed later in this article, propagates the idea of the nation as a unit of global cultural encounters in which people are urged to participate.

Globalization of Soft Power and Nation Branding

This development makes Urry (2003, p. 87) apt to say that “the nation has become something of a free-floating signifier relatively detached from the ‘state’ within the swirling contours of the new global order.” However, inter-nationally orchestrated, cultural glocalization processes have engendered an increasing interest in the enhancement of a nation’s image as a brand, and states have become eager to take the initiative by joining forces with media culture industries. The management of the nation’s image in the world is an old story, but it has been developing into “a strategically planned, holistic, and coherent activity” by incorporating marketing techniques since the late 1990s; British brand consultant Simon Anholt allegedly coined the term “nation branding” in 1996 to describe this process (Szondi, 2008, p. 4). The improvement of a nation’s brand images in the world via the circulation of media culture has been widely regarded as serious business for the states in order to enhance national interests in terms of economy and foreign policy.

The policy concern of nation branding has been widely discussed in relation to creative industries and cultural/public diplomacy, but soft power is the most-often-used term in Japan, as well as other East Asian countries. The term soft power was first coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye. Nye (1990) argued that “soft co-optic power” was a significant factor in the attainment of global hegemony by the United States; he defines this as the power to get others to want what you want” through such symbolic resources as media and consumer culture: “If [a dominant country’s] culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow (p. 32).”

The US use of media culture for advancing public diplomacy is nothing new. Indeed, the US policy of disseminating the image of liberty, affluence, and democracy through media and consumer culture to win the Cold War is all too well known. However, Nye considered it imperative in the post–Cold War context that the US government further develop a soft power policy, the point being to make strategic use of a globally diffused media and consumer culture—of symbolic icons and positive images and values associated with the United States. A decade later, the concept of soft power attracted renewed attention in the context of the George W. Bush administration’s hard-line policies, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the discussion of soft power was extended to other parts of the world as well.

In the last two decades, many countries other than the United States have significantly developed their capacity to produce media-cultural texts and symbolic images, thanks to the development of digital communication technologies and glocally adoptable cultural formats, as well as the expansion of media culture markets in previously less developed regions. While Nye deplored the decline of American soft power under the Bush administration, other states began to pursue the idea of exploiting the economic and political utility of media culture more aggressively to win over international competition, although the term soft power was not necessarily used. The concept of “Cool Britannia” might be the best-known policy and practice of this kind, but in East Asia, South Korea, Singapore, China, Taiwan, and Japan are also eager to promote their own cultural products and industries to enhance their political and economic national interests. Most famously, the South Korean government has actively promoted its media cultures overseas since the 1990s, thereby contributing to the sweeping popularity of South Korean media cultures, known as the Korean Wave. The Korean success has greatly stimulated neighboring countries to develop serious cultural policy to boost their own soft power. Indeed, “soft power competition” has been intensifying in 21st-century East Asia (Chua, 2012).

While media culture is now publicly recognized as a useful resource for promoting political and economic national interests, the internationalization of soft power in fact diverges from Nye’s original argument in significant respects. One such divergence has to do with the uses of media culture as a resource in the context of an international image politics. According to Nye (2004), media culture is just one of three possible resources that can be utilized to enhance a nation’s soft power; the other two are respectful foreign policy and attractive democratic values established in the relevant society. In particular, he clearly warns against conflating the international appeal of media cultures with soft power, stressing that soft power will not be enhanced if the other two resources are not properly developed. What is striking, however, is that this kind of conflation is actually a prevalent operational principle of cultural policy discussions in many parts of the world. The main players, it turns out, are more preoccupied with largely effortless, pragmatic uses of media culture for the purposes of enhancing an international image and boosting the economy—the key term here being branding. Thus, the state is strongly urged to play an active role in the production of attractive national cultural odors in the age of national branding competition.3

In the course of the globalization of the idea of using media cultures as part of a national foreign policy strategy, the soft power argument has been replaced by a shallower policy discourse on the enhancement of international images. As a result, soft power is not so much being misunderstood and misappropriated as used to bolster a very different logic at the level of cultural policy governing the national media culture. This is not to defend soft power discourse; Nye’s soft power argument shares with nation branding the basic principle of using media culture to enhance a narrow and focused set of national interests, and attracting others and making others follow are both instances of unidirectional communication. However, a different, more pragmatic kind of maneuver for the administration of culture has been pushed forward. It relies on and legitimizes the marketization of culture and sponsors the inter-nationalized glocalization of media culture, and its key concern is to promote the production and circulation of attractive media culture for the purpose of enhancing national images and economic profits in the world by way of branding the nation®.

We need to be cautious not to take the nation-branding policy discussion at its face value. What nation branding really means is ambiguous, and whether and how a nation can be branded is open to question from the marketing standpoint (Fan, 2010; Anholt, 2013). The academic discussion of nation branding is not limited to the issues of marketing operations. To follow Fan (2010, p. 101), nation branding can be defined more broadly as “a process by which a nation’s images can be created or altered, monitored, evaluated, and proactively managed in order to enhance the country’s reputation among a target international audience.”

Nation branding, even in this sense, is a messy, precarious business. There is no guarantee that the exportation of media culture enhances national images. Many actors within the states, public relations advisory organizations, and media and cultural industries are involved in the project of nation branding, with diverse intentions and approaches that engender incoherent and contradictory policy actions (Aronczyk, 2013). Also, it is rather difficult to judge whether and how nation brand images are enhanced. Only an elaborated ethnography of policy implementation and people’s reception process would help us fully understand a complicated process of nation branding. Nevertheless, its impact is nontrivial, inasmuch as it accompanies the material institutionalization and fiscal funding and, more crucially, advances a pragmatic understanding of the usefulness of culture and the role of cultural policy.

The growing attention to media culture as a useful resource for the projection of appealing images of the nation has strongly encouraged the development of a highly pragmatic and opportunistic cultural policy. While the national policy of using culture in the pursuit of national interests is not new, recent developments signify a new collaborative relationship between the state and media cultural industries, and between culture and the public interest. The issue at stake is thus whether and how the series of cultural policy discussion is concerned with tackling imperative cultural issues that cultural globalization processes have underscored, such as “the neo-liberalism operation of cultural imperialism” by global media conglomerates’ oligopolistic control over copyrights (Hesmondhalgh, 2008) and the new international division of cultural labor (Miller, Govil, McMurria, Maxwell, & Wang, 2005), and the facilitation of cross-border self-reflexive dialogue over these issues (Iwabuchi, 2015). Also crucial is the consideration of whether the recent cultural policy discussion unengaged with “cultural policy proper” (Williams, 1984), which aims to advance social democratization in terms of support for art and media regulation designed to counter the kind of penetrating market forces that tend to marginalize unprofitable cultural forms and the expressions of minority groups. The discursive formation focusing on the use of culture to enhance national interests conceals rather than reveals more imperative issues to be tackled within the era of globalization. We need to consider seriously the fundamental question about “the public good—this, understood as distinct from the political objectives of governments or the commercial objectives of the cultural industries” (Turner, 2011, p. 696).

Renationalization and Banal Inter-Nationalism

Another issue, more relevant to this paper, is the discursive and performative power of nation branding to institute a national outlook socially. Recently, more critical scholarly attention has been paid to its relevance to the reconstruction of national identity (e.g., Janesen, 2008; Volcic & Andrejevic, 2011; Aronczyk, 2013). The international projection of attractive images of a nation eventually necessitates the rearticulation of the selective narratives, symbolic meanings, and widely accepted stereotypical images of the nation to be appealingly represented as a coherent entity. The growing interest in nation branding pushes the search for the distinctive cultural assets of a nation and the redemarcation of a core national culture. Such representation of national culture is eventually projected toward the nation’s citizens (Varga, 2014; Volcic & Andrejevic, 2011; Aronczyk, 2013; Kaneva, 2011). While the key aim of nation branding is considered to be the international projection of the attractive images of the nation, it is not just externally oriented, but also internally directed. As Janesen (2008, p. 122) argues, “Branding not only explains nations to the world but also reinterprets national identity in market terms and provides new narratives for domestic consumption.”

This has been accompanied by the extension of the mutually constitutive relationship of the national/internal and the international/external. The construction of a national identity is always closely related to the international appraisal (“how they perceive us”), as well as the representation of the foreign (“not like us”), against which the distinctiveness of the nation (“who we are”) can be demarcated. In particular, the gaze of significant others, most prevalently Euro-American others, is constitutive of the discursive construction of national identity in non-Western countries where Western orientalism and self-orientalism function in a complicit manner (see Iwabuchi, 1994, for a discussion of the case of Japan).

The Euro-American gaze still occupies the dominant position. However, as nationality has come to be “constituted through specific local places, symbols and landscapes, [and] icons of the nation central to that culture’s location within the contours of global business, travel, [and] branding” (Urry, 2003, p. 87), wide-ranging and reciprocated international gazes have come to play a key role in the formation of national identity, whereby the idea and practice of nation branding rehighlight the nation-state as the most meaningful cultural entity of collective identification.

It can be argued that the representation of the nation in market terms is superficial and ahistorical, lacking substantial depth and coherence of national narratives. Furthermore, as Kaneva (2011, p. 11) argues, while “branded imagination seeks to infiltrate and subsume the symbolic order of nationhood,” there is no guarantee that it succeeds to get people’s consent over the national narrative with which they are encouraged to identify. Nevertheless, the action of searching for legitimate content to be filled into the national form itself endorses a given existence of “authentic” national culture: “the mundane practices of nation branding do serve to perpetuate the nation form . . . Because they perpetuate a conversation about what the nation is for in a global context” (Aronczyk, 2013, p. 176). This suggests that the practice of nation branding and people’s participation in it themselves work to confirm the nation as a form of collective identification and belonging. In this sense, it can be suggested that nation branding plays a parallel role to the reconstruction of “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1983), as it involves a call for people’s participation in the mass ritual of nation branding, as well as the renewed representation of the nation. Nation branding domestically generates the mobilization of citizens, who are encouraged to join in it as “representatives, stakeholders, and customers of the brand”: “Citizens are called upon to ‘live the brand’ and hence to act and think in ways that are well suited to the general contours of the national brand” (Varga, 2014, p. 836). People thus are invited to perform as an ambassador of a nation-branding campaign.

Whether such an invitation is really embraced by people is an open question, but the coaction of the marketization of media cultures and associated policies of nation branding, to say the least, has broadly propagated an idea among the populace that the promotion of national branding via media culture must be taken seriously, as it is of grave importance for national interests. In addition, a more mundane and modest form of mass participation is prevalent among the general public. We have observed a rapid development of global televised spectacles of various kinds, in which people are asked to purchase a ticket to become part of the event and display a particular national symbol (Roche, 2000). Moreover, with the amplification of actual or virtual participation in the number of international occasions, people are encouraged to confirm a sense of belonging to a particular nation. Such occasions provoke people to feel a sense of national pride when “our” national cultures do well. Alternatively, it might stir up a sense of regret, anger, and frustration when “others” beat “us.”

It can be argued that this just displays a trivial, transient consumption of and identification with the idea of the nation, lacking substantial meanings of the narrative of the nation and, thus, for the expression of national pride. Fox (2006) argues in his examination of the rise of nationalist sentiment through national holiday commemorations and international soccer competitions that the participation in such occasions elevates the sense of national belonging, but this does not necessarily lead to the rise of nationalistic sentiment: “While holidays and sports had the capacity to make the students national, there is little to suggest that they made them nationalist . . . any experience of collective belonging neither led to nor followed from heightened nationalist sensitivities” (p. 232).

This is rather an important reminder that we should not jump to conclusions about the rise of nationalism in the age of global interconnectedness without making a close analysis of people’s participation in international cultural events. Distinguishing between national cohesion and nationalist passion, Fox (2006, p. 232) further states, “National content does not follow unambiguously from national form.” It can be argued, however, that the increase in international cultural encounters that “make people national” also needs to be taken seriously, for the firm infiltration of the sense of national belonging and identification eventually takes a nonassertive, banal form.

Michael Billig (1995) has argued that national feeling is facilitated and displayed by means of such mundane actions as casually showing the national flag in the city. The banal practice of national belonging is promoted further by an increase in encounters with people, goods, and images from many parts of the world and a plethora of international events and spectacles, which facilitates the creation of a mundane form of people participation in nation branding. While this development might open up a possibility of cultivating new kinds of conception and imagination that goes beyond an exclusive framework of the nation, the cojoined operation of market-driven glocalization and nation branding also engenders, I would suggest, “banal inter-nationalism,” which prompts people to implicitly comprehend cross-cultural encounters as those among mutually exclusive national cultures with delimited boundaries. With the entrenched permeation of the assumptions that the global is the congregation of nations and that cultural diversity is comprehended mostly as that between nations, the conception of the nation as a (brand) form or a container based on territorial understanding of culture gains wider currency. Banal inter-nationalism has made methodological nationalism no longer just an academic matter, but a part of people’s mundane practices.

Inter-Nationalized Cultural Diversity and Marginalized Cultural Differences

Pervading the thinking and feeling that the nation is the unit of global cultural exchange, banal inter-nationalism is apt to reinforce the cardinal importance of the nation as a cultural form, which people identify with, belong to, and show loyalty to, and which newly induces a sense of national belonging and ownership of national culture. This might take an assertive shape of nationalistic clashes over the ownership of culture. For example, the rise of “soft power competition” has given rise to and added fuel to the flames of the vicious circle of antagonistic nationalism in Asia. Recent Indonesian condemnation of a Malaysian tourism campaign in terms of the ownership of Bali dance culture, as well as Chinese criticism of the distortion of historical representation in the South Korean drama series Jumong 2, demonstrate the increasing role that media culture plays in provoking disputes over the ownership of national culture and historical narrative.

Although not necessarily engendering such xenophobic aggression, banal inter-nationalism implicitly and explicitly engenders exclusionary politics of the nation, as it newly provokes the clear demarcation of “us” and “them” through an inter-nationalized administration of cultural diversity. This is to take seriously Wilk’s (1995, p. 118) argument that the hegemony of the global cultural system is “not of content, but of form.” While glocalization organizes cultural diversity through form, it does not include various kinds of social and cultural differences. The institution of globally shared container forms and cultural formats generates a certain mode of cultural diversity, and this indicates the operation of cultural hegemony that “celebrate[s] articular kinds of diversity while submerging, deflating, or suppressing others” (1995, p. 118). Banal inter-nationalism highlights a nation-based cultural diversity of the world rather than attending to marginalized differences and multicultural situations within a nation. The study of how this occurs is still underexplored, and more research needs to be done. In the remaining discussion, some important issues in such investigation will be suggested.

While nation branding renders the narration of the nation highly commercialized, dehistoricized, and incoherent, such narratives are still based on an essentialist conception of the nation as an organic cultural entity, and do not pay due attention to the diversity within a nation-state (Kaneva, 2011). Nation branding from time to time supports minority groups’ traditional culture or promotes tokenized multicultural commodities in an international arena; the kinds of media culture promoted for circulation are chiefly those that are commercially mainstream in their countries of origin; and there is not much space for socially and culturally marginalized voices within a nation. It fails to bear in mind that national borders are discursively drawn in a way that suppresses various sociocultural differences within and disavows their existence as constitutive of the nation.

It might take the form of candid suppression by the nation-branding policy and the straightforward application of banal inter-nationalism to the media representation of multicultural situation. Alternatively, the progression of inter-nationalized media cultural flows and connections further sidelines the recognition of hyphenated subjects. This issue of inter-nationalized promotion of cultural diversity deterring the due appreciation of cultural diversity within national borders has never been new. It is reminiscent of a crucial point raised by Edward Said’s seminal work Orientalism (1978), on how the dichotomized construction of culturally coherent entities exerts symbolic violence on the lively reality of a human society full of cultural diversity. While western Orientalism has been countered by oriental Occidentalism or self-Orientalism, it is often argued that the two discourses are not in conflict, but rather in collusion, in that they mutually, though unevenly, construct culturally coherent entities in separation (Iwabuchi, 1994). The covert victims of such an interaction of Orientalism and self-Orientalism, thus, are those who are excluded, marginalized, and silenced in each society as their presence and experience of marginalization themselves are disregarded further.

The operation of intercultural marginalization of this kind also takes more subtle forms with the intensification of cross-border mobility of media culture and people. One complicated case is the impact of inter-nationalized cultural exchange on the social recognition and disempowerment of migrants and diasporas. The key problem here is the oversimplified identification of migrants and diasporas with their home countries. Critical researchers of Asian-Australian studies stated about the enduring stereotypical images of Chinese migrants and diasporas in Australia: “As we become more and more dependent on the dollars from the economies of Asia, I would hope that the vestiges of nineteenth-century orientalism will fade away” (Kwok, Khoo, & Ling, 2004, p. 159). This statement refers to an expectation of a positive impact of the rise of the economy and culture of their “home” countries on the social appreciation of migrants and diasporas. The sense of hope expressed here is well taken, and it might be the case that the rise of the Chinese economy would improve not just international images of China, but also social recognition of those diasporas/migrants who identify themselves and are identified as “Chinese” in the host society.

However, there is no guarantee that this is the case. Even if the rise of Asian economies and cultures might make a classical mode of Orientalism less relevant, geopolitically driven cultural othering dies hard. It is well known that the rise of the Japanese economy in the 1970s and 1980s reproduced orientalist images such as “economic animal” or “techno-Orientalism” (Iwabuchi, 1994: see also Roh, Huang, & Niu, 2015, for a discussion of techno-Orientalism in the United States). Likewise, the rise of the Chinese economy actually induces negative reactions in other countries, and this might even lead to harmful effects on people of Chinese descent living there. A negative effect on migrants and diasporas in the host country also can be exerted by the conspicuous rise of the culture of the home country. A crucial point here is an assumption that migrants and diasporas are self-evidently identical to and representative of the nation-state of their “origin.” And it is this apparent axiom that should be seriously questioned.

Furthermore, even if the rise of media culture of the host country has an empowering impact on hyphenated subjects via the improvement of the images of that nation, this does not guarantee the facilitation of the full recognition of them as members of the host society. Indeed, it might further strengthen the perception of their “national” affiliation other than “ours,” hence reinforcing the multicultural containment of “their” difference. There is a thin line between the empowerment of diasporas by their association with the images of the home country and the confusion of their identities and differences with those living in the home.

For example, the rise of the Korean Wave has not had only negative impacts on resident Koreans in Japan. On the contrary, some of them are empowered by the drastic improvement of the images of South Korea in Japan due to the popularity of its media culture. Positive reception of the Korean media culture in Japan has greatly fostered self-critical views of Self-Other relations among Japanese audiences. Many came to hold much better perceptions of South Korea, realized how their images of South Korea were biased, became willing to know more about South Korean society by visiting it, and even relearned the history of Japanese colonialism. Furthermore, the positive change in the images of South Korea has eventually accompanied an improvement in the social recognition of resident Koreans who had long been suffering from discrimination as ethnic minorities in Japan (Iwabuchi, 2008). This clearly shows an affirmative impact of the rise of the media culture of the home country on the appreciation of migrants and diasporas in the host country. However, since this empowerment is achieved by their association with the images of South Korea, there is an apparent confusion of identities and experiences of resident Koreans in Japan with those living in South Korea. Regarding resident Koreans in the same light as South Korea inevitably accompanies the inattentiveness to historically overdetermined lives and experiences of resident Koreans in Japan.4

The sympathetic reception of media culture improves the images of the nation-state that exports it, which might lead to enhancing the social recognition of diasporas/migrants of that country’s descent in the host society. However, whether its impact is positive or negative, the presumed identification of hyphenated subjects with their home countries is problematic because it tends to be coopted by banal inter-nationalism and discourages a serious appreciation of cultural diversity and full engagement with multicultural politics within the nation. Banal inter-nationalism precludes a nuanced understanding of the diasporic negotiation of “where one is from” and “where one is at” (Ang, 2001) by negating to acknowledge that this person is a member of “our” society. This is reminiscent of another classical insight of a crucial point of Said’s Orientalism, which is, as Clifford (1988, p. 273) points out, a “relentless suspicion of totality” about any notions of distinct human groups, cultures, and geographical spaces. Such suspicion has never become irrelevant in a globalized world in which cross-border flows and connections of people and culture have been ever-intensifying, while at the same time rehighlighting the resilience of exclusive national cultural boundaries.

Toward the Construction of Inclusive Borders

The impossibility of the modern project of constructing a culturally coherent nation has been even more apparent as sociocultural diversity within the nation is intensifying further due to transborder ethnocultural flows. However, this does not mean the demise of the ongoing reconstruction of mutually exclusive national cultural borders. We have been witnessing the rise of nationalism and jingoism, along with the demise of multiculturalism and attacks against migrants and refugees in many parts of the world. Less aggressive, but no less important, is the progression of the inter-nationalized administration of cultural diversity, which functions through the promotion, not hindrance, of cross-border flow connections and exchanges of national cultures. Crossing national cultural borders is much encouraged, but mostly in a nontransgressive manner that mundanely strengthens the clear demarcation of national borders and renders their exclusionary politics inconsequential.

This is not to underestimate how the globalization process has destabilized an assumed coherence of the nation by promoting diversification and fragmentation within and how transgressive actions and collaborations have been growing in the world, as media culture globalization have facilitated the expression and sharing of alternative views and hitherto marginalized voices, the cultivation of self-reflexivity and open-minded dialogue, and the formation of cross-border alliances. Many researchers have been looking to such progressive possibilities to get over the exclusive demarcation of national and cultural boundaries, with an attention to cross-border connection and communication as well as internal cultural diversity (e.g., Iwabuchi, 2002). However, the transgressive drive of the globalization of culture and communication is never free from the strong nationalizing force of desperately seeking to redemarcate and control borders, and such renationalizing gravity is resilient and flexible enough to overpower such radical possibilities. Sreberny-Mohammadi’s (1991) argument, made at the beginning of the 1990s, that the framework of the nation-state both as a spatially controlled entity and as a discursively articulated geography is very relevant to the analysis of media and cultural globalization, is even more pressing as the globalization of culture and communication has become much more intensified, and really a constitutive part of people’s mundane experiences. More critical analysis of how the development of the inter-nationalized promotion of culture and communication operates to contain cultural diversity within national borders is required, and such investigation is indispensable to consider whether and how national cultural borders become more inclusive and dialogic.


The study of cultural globalization had been much developed in the 1990s after the collapse of the Cold War. Many works have discussed how media and cultural flows and mixing had become active and chaotic in a unprecedented manner in ways that disregarded national and cultural borders. At the same time, it was also the 1990s when the examination of the modern construction of the nation by mass media and audiovisual culture had been conducted by applying media and communication approaches to Benedict Anderson’s influential work of “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1983). The capacity of media communication in the construction of symbolic communities across distances and over time, especially those of modern nation-states, has been much studied. This convergence means that many media and communication scholars became concerned not just with the mediated construction of the nation but also with whether and how the national cultural borders were being weakened and deconstructed in the age of cultural globalization by critical comprehension of the key role of media communication in the construction of the nation.

Some scholars even suggested a term, postnationalism, to refer to the tendency that nation-states and national identities relatively lose their prominence. The revolutionary advancement of digital communication technology and social media significantly advanced the personalization of media communication and the convergence of media platforms on which people creatively rework and produce media messaged and images. The development of digital media communication has also given rise to the amplification of mediated communities, including those of hitherto-marginalized people and groups and one that was hitherto inconceivable within a national framework. Together with the intensification of people’s mobility, which accompanied superdiversity in society, this trend urges researchers to attend to the use of media communication across and within national borders by minorities, migrants, and diaspora and the investigation of the construction of collective identities exemplified by that of the nation has become less vibrant.

However, these relentless nationalistic and jingoistic movements have been observed in many parts of the world. The aggression of the market-driven globalization process, which makes many people’s socioeconomic status fragile and unstable, urges people to attack visible enemies such as migrants, refugees, and ethnic minorities. In particular, the 9/11 incident in 2001 and intermittent terrorist attacks in Western countries since then have been generating attacks against Muslim people and antimigration sentiments. While the nation is still considered in unique ways, the operation of imagined communities has been partly transforming from narrative, representation, and the memory of the nation as a timeless organic cultural entity to less historically embedded and more divisive assertions of the nation directed against cultural others, such as foreigners and migrants in the new millennium.

More prevalent is the fortification of the nation by racist and jingoistic attacks against migrants and ethnic minorities. How this has been occurring in mass media as well as the Internet and social media has become a significant topic in the study of media communication, and many researchers are turning their attention from the progressive possibilities of digital media and cultural mixing to their regressive uses. At the same time, the reproduction of a container model of the nation in a globalized world remains critical for scholars of culture and communication to study. The amplification of nation-based events, festivals, and showcases testifies to the renewed market value of the nation as a cultural form in a globalized world.

Conjoined with this is the rise of a cultural policy of the use of media culture to promote national interests, accompanied by a growing interest in soft power and nation branding. Recent studies of nation branding have focused on how the synergism of marketization of culture and its pragmatic use in the service of national interests generate renationalization through the facilitation of border crossing of culture and communication in ways that deter the transgression of clearly demarcated national cultural borders that contain cultural diversity. How this mode of renationalization operates and how the sense of belonging to the nation is conceived are significant issues for academic investigation into the globalization of culture and communication, and more empirical studies in diverse contexts are expected in the future.

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(1.) Parts of this paper are based on some of the arguments in Iwabuchi (2015).

(2.) Beck’s argument is criticized for being too ruthless toward prominent sociological works. For an extensive critique from the sociological perspective, see Kendall, Woodward, and Skribs (2009, pp. 54–75).

(3.) As for a “cultural odor,” see Iwabuchi (2002).

(4.) The rise of the Korean Wave has coincided with the demonization of North Korea, and this has caused a strong attack against those who identify themselves with that country in Japan.