Words, Culture, Power, and Carey

2) IC draws from a number of disciplines and theoretical perspectives. Which theory matters the most to your interests within the IC field?

International communication certainly does draw on a wide range of theories and perspectives, and seemingly applies them to an even wider range of questions and subfields within IC. My background is in anthropology, so I cannot help coming to the study of international communication through an anthropological lens. I focused in undergrad on culture, interactions among cultures, and the complicated relationships between words, power, knowledge, and culture, and so it was interesting for me to read through last week’s survey of theoretical perspectives and see concepts and names (Gramsci’s hegemony theory, Appadurai’s “scapes,” dependency theory, Foucault, discourse analysis, for example) that I previously associated with anthropology through the frame of IC.

Although the chapter by Carey might not be the most recent or cutting-edge theoretical framework we discussed in class, I have a feeling I will be keeping his words in mind throughout the semester. Towards the end of the chapter, Carey argues that “our minds and lives are shaped by our total experiences – or, better, representations of experience” and that communication, thus, consists of these representations of reality (33). This understanding of communication surpasses the idea of communication as simply a transmission act and recognizes it as something far more powerful: as simultaneously creating and being created by culture. This seems to be the cornerstone of so many other theoretical perspectives we read about. Carey, of course, was not the first or only person to explain this effect of communication (Bourdieu and Foucault come to mind, too) but his explanation of the ritual theory of communication seems especially relevant in the context of international communication.

Understanding Carey’s groundwork of how language impacts reality seems fundamental to understanding much of the other theoretical work we read about. For example, hegemony theory takes this one step further by explaining the kinds of realities that language is able to shape within a given structure of power. The field of cultural studies also furthers this framework by examining how material objects figure into these communicative and culture-building rituals. Dependency theory and media imperialism also rely on these language-culture-power relationships. Carey, for example, describes the act of reading a newspaper as “a situation in which nothing new is learned but in which a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed” (20); this view of communication as a process that confirms one particular view of the world (at the expense of other views) seems especially relevant to the arguments of media hegemony/imperialism.

Because I am interested in relationships between words and reality, power and language, discourse and hegemony, and how culture fits into all of it, I am excited to start to consider the media more broadly as a player in these relationships. I know that Carey’s ritual view of communication will be a key framework to keep in mind. I am also interested in exploring the idea of networks further. It seems that they could be an interesting player in these relationships, too.

-ml.

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