Internationalising Media Studies

By Daya Thussu

For hundreds of years the West has dominated the world of Media Studies, but Daya Thussu is about to prove to us that countries such as China and India are fast becoming a challenge to the Western hold on the world of Media Studies.

Despite being one of the fastest growing academic fields globally as well as a rapidly globalising subject, the study of media still remains steeped in a US-dominated epistemological and pedagogic framework. The growth of media studies internationally, is a reflection of the huge impact of globalisation on the media, ensured by the explosion of transnational media flows, made possible by new technologies and institutional changes (economic, political and legal) profoundly affecting the study of global media. The globalisation of media combined with the globalisation of higher education means that the research and teaching of the subject faces formidable challenges, not only as the subject of enquiry but also as the means by which researchers and students undertake their studies. Teaching and researching of media does not seem to have kept pace with these transformations, as universities across the world continue to follow conventional ways of thinking about media studies.

As media studies have gradually globalised, its research approaches and agendas need to be broadened, with internationalisation becoming a major concern. The emphasis in the field is steadily shifting from the traditional approach of considering the role of media in the vertical integration of national societies, to studying transnational horizontal integration of media structures, production processes and audiences.

The increasingly complex relations between local, national, regional and international production, distribution and consumption of media, represents the reality of contemporary global networked society. With the expansion of digital television and availability of on-line delivery mechanisms there now exists a plethora of material for media research, giving many more a window into researching media cultures and consumers in different socio-economic and political contexts.

International media and its study are in the process of transformation, spurred on by increasingly mobile and globally networked communication infrastructure. The multi-vocal, multi-directional and multi-layered media flows have also made redundant many traditional ways of thinking about the media. The transformation of media and communication in Asia – the world’s most populous region with some of its fastest growing economies – has profound implications on what constitutes the “global” in media and its study.


The Burden of History

The study of media emerged on the fringes of academic activities, initially in the United States, where communication became the subject of university research after the end of the First World War, when interest in the psychological potential of the media to shape people’s views became apparent, reflected in such works as Walter Lippmann’s on public opinion (published in 1922) and Harold Lasswell on propaganda, (published in 1927). The growing institutionalisation of media and communication studies within the disciplines of sociology, politics and psychology led to the establishment of “mass communication” as a new area of academic inquiry. Early work in the field demonstrated a positivist and empiricist orientation, with an emphasis on behavioural “effects” research, representing interest in applied aspects of communication. Such studies tended to have a national focus and largely ignored the transnational and historical contexts of communication and media.

In Europe, media and communication as a field of academic study took time to develop, though in Finland, a college of journalism was established in 1925 in Czechoslovakia in 1928 and the Institut Francais de Presse in Paris in 1937. In Britain’s class-dominated academe, media studies developed at the margins of traditional academic activities. Initially the subject was taught in the former polytechnics and was characterised as having a Marxist orientation – reclaiming and validating the experience of the working classes. The dominant “culturalist” paradigm took a qualitative and critical approach and evolved in the 1970s to delineate the ideological role of the mass media.

It was not the European but the US model of mass communication studies, with its health, development, interpersonal and organisational variants, which received widest global currency. In the global South media and communication research was profoundly influenced by the American tradition of mass communication research, given its prominence during the Cold War. This was reflected also in a dependency relationship in the field of research, evident in the import of textbooks, journals, citations, employment of experts and the funding, planning and execution of research.

It is not surprising then that US approaches were adopted in media and communication courses around the developing world. The so-called modernisation paradigm shaped the theoretical framework in relation to media and communication studies in much of the global South. A dependency syndrome developed that privileged a type of data-driven research on the behaviour, attitudes and values of the people in the developing countries but largely failed to analyse the political, social and cultural contexts of communication. A valuable antidote to modernisation thesis, represented by critical research, analysed patterns of ownership and production in the media and communication industries, and located these within the context of national and transnational power relations. However, this tradition often took a deterministic line in which much of the South was seen as an undifferentiated “other”.

Such limitations of scholarship were not specific to the study of media and communication, but afflicted the social sciences more generally, being deeply rooted within Euro-Atlantic academic traditions. As Said has argued, in the European intellectual imagination the “other” was created as part of an ideological Orientalist discourse, promoting and privileging European imperialist epistemology.

As British colonialism became entrenched in most of the globe during the Nineteenth Century, the hegemony of the English language was established, supplemented in the Twentieth Century by the growing relationship between American-led global capitalism – with its formidable media, cultural, corporate, military and communication networks – and the English language. This severely disadvantaged scholars writing in other languages (even European ones). Translations, where they existed, were more often than not from English into other languages than the other way around.


The Burden of Theory

Media studies, like other fields broadly within the arena of social sciences and humanities, is affected by what might be called epistemological essentialism, rooted as it is within an Anglo-American intellectual tradition. The “US-UK duopoly” in global media is also paralleled in the study of it, largely because of the dominance of English as the language of global communication, combined with the fact that the study of media emerged in the United States as an academic field and is therefore home to the majority of textbook and journal publishing in the area, closely followed by Britain. The authoritarian vs. liberal media theory remained the dominant paradigm in the study of media during the Cold War. Southern demands for a fairer and more balanced flow of information, leading to the 1970s debates within UNESCO about the creation of a New World Information and Communication Order, brought the global South, albeit briefly, into global communication discourse. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union prompted scholars to offer reflections on the transitional state of the media in the former communist countries of the Eastern bloc. By the end of the 1990s, there was talk of “de-westernising” media studies.

Yet endeavours at providing comparative models of media systems have ignored analysis beyond the Euro-American ambit, despite the extraordinary expansion of the media, especially in Asia, where despite the massive expansion of media, its study remains largely derivative and lacking in indigenous theoretical underpinnings.


Media Studies and the Rise of “Chindia”

The most significant recent change in relation to the globalisation of media is the rise of Asia, especially its two largest countries – China and India. Any meaningful discussion of the internationalisation of media studies, must take into account the rapid growth of the two ancient civilisations with huge potential to influence the emerging global “knowledge society” – and which are increasingly making their presence felt on the global scene. Jairam Ramesh, a former minister in Indian government, is credited with the notion of “Chindia”. The idea seems to be catching up – a Google search for the word “Chindia” shows more than half a million hits. One key indication that the “Chindia” phenomenon is more than just a neologism, is the fact that trade between India and China – negligible at the beginning of the 1990s, had climbed to $70 billion by 2013, making India’s eastern neighbour its largest trading partner.

The “peaceful rising” of China and the economic growth of India (though deeply skewed in favour of a rich minority in both countries), coinciding with cracks within the neo-liberal model of US-led Western capitalism, are set to challenge conventional frameworks for the study of international media and communication. Their combined economic and cultural impact, aided by extensive global diasporas, is likely to create globalisation with an Asian accent.

With over 200 round-the-clock news channels, India has the distinction of having the world’s most linguistically diverse media landscape, while China has emerged as the country with the highest blogger population as well as being the largest exporter of IT products. According to the World Association of Newspapers, in 2010, more than 110 million copies of newspapers were sold daily in India, making it the world’s largest newspaper market, followed closely by China with daily sale of 109 million copies. Moreover, outside the Anglo-American media ambit new configurations are developing: Indian entertainment corporations are looking east for markets beyond the diaspora.

China’s economic development over the past quarter of a century has been unprecedented – since 2006 China has been the world’s largest holder of foreign-currency reserves, estimated to be about $2 trillion. In 2010, China bypassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy after the US. China’s creative economy – television, animation, design, publishing and digital games – is booming. In communication hardware too, China has demonstrated extraordinary growth – the China Great Wall Industry Corporation launched more than 30 satellites in the past two decades, and in 2008 China became the third country in the world after the US and Russia to send a manned space mission.

As the Indian media and communication sector further integrates with the US-dominated transnational media conglomerates – benefiting from an English-fluent creative work force as well as media outsourcing industries, Indian cultural products are likely to have a transnational reach, attracting consumers beyond their traditional South Asian diasporic constituency. The availability of new delivery and distribution mechanisms coupled with the growing corporatisation of its film factories and television industry have ensured that Indian content has entered the global media sphere, with the potential of pushing it in new directions. Indian companies are investing in Hollywood production in what is emerging as significant synergies between Hollywood and Bollywood – the world’s richest and its biggest film industries. Already, Indian films are increasingly being watched by an international audience as well as a 24-million strong Indian diaspora. Hindi films are shown in more than 70 countries.


The “Chindia” Challenge?

The Chinese version of media marketisation – where the state has played a central role in taming Anglo-globalisation, and India’s example of a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural media system, may offer interesting sites for future media and communication research. The rise of “Chindia” may also have a long-term effect on how capitalism evolves and international relations are managed.

How will the “Chindia” factor affect media studies? The study of media and communication is rapidly growing in both countries – more than 800 communication and media programmes were being run in Chinese universities, paralleled by the publication of many Chinese language journals in the field. The opening up of the media and communication sector has led to mushrooming of mostly vocational and media research institutes in India. Both countries are also the source of a considerable number of postgraduate and research students studying media and communication in Western universities.

Globally, as media studies has grown and gradually gained acceptance as a legitimate area of academic inquiry, its research concerns and agendas have broadened. There is a need to develop original methodological approaches that encompass new phenomena and identify differences and similarities through comparative and collaborative research. To achieve this a broader theoretical framework is needed that draws from the best practices of both the critical as well as liberal traditions of media and communication scholarship. In addition, pedagogic parameters need to be rethought, an imperative to internationalise to reflect the globalising tendencies of the mass media and of higher education, and most importantly, to take account of the processes unleashed by the rise of “Chindia” in a “post-American” world.


About the Author

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication and Co-Director of India Media Centre at the University of Westminster in London. Among his key publications are: Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood (Palgrave/Macmillan 2013); Media and Terrorism: Global Perspectives (Sage, 2012); Internationalising Media Studies (Routledge, 2009). News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment (Sage, 2007); Media on the Move: Global Flow and Contra-Flow (Routledge, 2007); International Communication – Continuity and Change, second edition (Hodder Arnold, 2006) and Electronic Empires – Global Media and Local Resistance (London: Arnold, 1998). He is the founder and Managing Editor of the Sage journal Global Media and Communication.


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.