Mattelart, A. (2000). Networking the World: 1794-2000. University Of Minnesota Press.
Chapter 1: Networks of universalization
In this chapter, Mattelart’s offers us a rather well fleshed out social, political, economic, historical, and geographical framework within which to situate the concept of globalization which, according to Mattelart’s has crept up on us without us even realizing it. The chapter gave me significant insights into globalization and compelled me to think about it in ways that I’d not considered before.
Mattelart starts with a discussion about Enlightenment and liberalism – two 18th century projects that heralded what we today term as globalization. Through a nuanced discussion (that also seemed like a history lesson!) about signs, language, division of labor, global free trade, circulation through the semaphore and electric telegraph, railways, undersea cable, internationalization of time and financial markets, radio communication, and social reorganization, Mattelart takes us through an impressive journey.
However, this chapter makes me wonder…
- What exactly is Mattelart’s central thesis/argument? Based on this chapter, it seems that he’s equivocating. While he takes us through this impressive history lesson, he seems unable to make up his mind about how he feels toward globalization. On the one hand, he says that globalization is turning the world into a “global workshop” (pg. 6) and that it is a conduit for “ventures in expansionism” (pg. 15), and on the other, he praises globalization (networking and communication) by saying that it “necessarily promotes equality and democracy” (pg. 17). I am confused! Make up your mind, Mattelart! J
Chapter 2: The Culture Factory
A more engaging chapter than the first one, where Mattelart talks about the political and strategic (a tautology!) nature of information and how information was manipulated in the latter half of the 19th century for specific gains by France, Germany, and the US. With the internationalization of “news” came its minions: PR, marketing, and advertising which together crystallized for recipients, highly selective information that would help legitimize contemporary economic and political practices with the public, never mind what was really going on.
This was significant in the sense that I realized not much has changed since then, except for the fact that we can seek independent information to dig beneath the surface of issues. But that’s only a select few of us, and even then, who’s creating the “independent” information that we get? The discussion on Hollywood and the missionary press was interesting (who knew that was why Hollywood was formed!?), as was Mattelart’s (rather accurate) conceptualization of “the world as a giant insurance company”.
Mattelart veers the discussion toward WWII and the association between propaganda and the internationalization of media such as radio, advertising, and cinema. As a student of communication, this chapter was the most enjoyable and thought-provoking for me to read. I found it rather ironic how post WWII it was thought (by whom?) that for democracy to function, society needed to be unobtrusively controlled! The New York Times “red peril” discourse was a famous example that reminded me of Manufacturing Consent, (Herman and Chomsky, 1988, Pantheon Books). Ironically, here’s the 1988 New York Times article about the book: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/06/books/whose-news.html?scp=1&sq=Manufacturing+consent&st=nyt
Indeed, categorizations and characterizations undertaken by the media are ambivalent, malleable, and contingent upon social, political, and economic considerations. Sometimes it’s the Communists, sometimes the Chinese, at other times the Mexicans, or the turban folk – the enemy is always at the gates (Immigration Act of 1917, anyone!?), ready to destroy the American way of life, as far as the media are concerned.
I agree with Alli that Mattelart’s exposition comes across as excessively dark and depressing. Mattelart builds his thesis upon the idea that “freedom of speech”, while an honorable and admirable concept, acts as a conduit for freedom of business, economics, trade, and commerce, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Psssst…I think the man in the cartoon might be Mattelart! 😉
I understand that Mattelart is not a big supporter of globalization (he claims that letting multinational companies “network the world” is tantamount to letting these giant corporates regulate and monitor the global exchange of ideas), but aren’t ideas also being connected thanks to globalization? While I am not completely convinced by Mattelart’s argument against globalization, he does make some good points that are well substantiated – the “global workshop” for example, where children work 16 hours a day in India and China for eight cents on sweatshirts that are eventually sold for $50. For more, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/08/gap-next-marks-spencer-sweatshops.
But I also think that globalization (just like all other developments in recent decades) is a good and bad thing. Yes, it can fragment the world and reduce us to the 16 digits on our credit card, but does it not foster avenues for growth across the world? Yes, it “incorporates the masses”, but does it not allow for people to be connected regardless of time and location? Yes, networks have always been used for gaining unjust control of the world and they have been abused (just like every other tool known to humankind), but isn’t a networked world, a better world that’s hopefully headed toward a meritocracy? Does globalization not afford intergenerational educational and job mobility and dissolve national boundaries when it comes to the flow of information, and by extension, power? Does all of this not make for a world that is connected for the better?
Questions for Discussion:
When we meet on Monday (9/13), here’s a list of things we could discuss:
- Americanism vs. Americanization
- Globalization vs. Globalism
- Mattelart makes a spirited call for modern strategies for “collective resistance” that will combat the evil of globalization (my words!). However, he does not elaborate on this. What could these strategies be and if adopted, will these non-mainstream strategists and their strategies ever be able to take on the big bucks that giant corporations can shell out to maintain the status quo that serves their vested interests?
- If communication technology is constantly pushing physical, intellectual, and mental borders, as Mattelart argues in the preface, how do we reconcile this with his elaborate argument that globalization commodifies human beings? For that matter, how does this tie in with our discussion of “humachines”?