What Is the Meaning of Cultural Imperialism
What Is the Meaning of Cultural Imperialism
When a sub-ordinate nation is ruled by a more dominant nation, the dominant nation passes on most of its cultural traits, most notably language, onto the sub-ordinate nation through power. This transfer of one culture onto another, is what we call, cultural imperialism. The language that is believed to be the dominant language today is the ‘English’ language, which obviously comes from the western culture.
In today’s world you see English spoken almost everywhere, in India its even the co-official language along with hindi, the status of the English language as international language is well recognized and seems to be spreading fast, even in places such as Nigeria where English medium schools are growing in number. Robert Phillipson, a well known scholar of applied linguistics, in his book, ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ (1992), discussed how organizations such as the British Council, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank, have promoted the English language.
They regard the English language as extremely well established and as ‘a gateway to the world’. With the increasing dominance of the English language the entire western culture too, takes up an imperialistic form. Especially in developing nations such as ours, where to an extent we really do rely on already developed nations such as Britain, for our prosperity. Now coming to Pakistan, as I discussed earlier that through power or authority English language has spread, and this authority usually lies with colonizers, in our case, Britain.
We’re aware of the fact that in the 1800s Pakistan was a part of United India, and the rulers were the English. During that time English had become an important language to learn for the purpose of attaining influential posts, and unfortunately the Muslims of that were vastly uneducated and unable to attain the high ranks, even though there were efforts by the Great Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to urge the Muslims to learn English, the Muslims continued to be discriminated against.
Hence we can understand that since the very beginning, Muslims of the sub-continent were continuously subjected to discrimination and were not allowed to wholly practice or even form their culture, as the ruling elite were English. When Pakistan was formed, it was thought that this would allow the Muslims to live freely and independently of any western or external influences, but sadly, this was not the case. A few years after independence Gen. Ayub Khan came into power and he was absolutely pro-english.
During his tenure, English was given great importance at the expense of Urdu (cultural language of Pakistan). The major change was that educational institutions such as Aitchison College had become English medium. There was a great sense of prestige attached to the language, it was appropriately an ‘elitist’ language at the time as only 2% of the population was fluent in writing and speaking English. Then, throughout the democratic reign of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and even throughout the military reign of Gen.
Zia ul Haq, the status of Urdu continued to diminish, and the English language continued to spread, and ofcourse with it, the western culture. Ayesha Chaudry in her research paper “New Face of Imperialism” quotes James Petras stating that cultural imperialism is “the systematic penetration and domination of the cultural life of the popular classes by the ruling class of the west in order to reorder the values, behavior institutions and identity of the oppressed people to conform with the interests of the imperial class”.
This kind of imperialism seeks to achieve economic exploitation through the export of cultural and entertainment commodities, and the establishment of political hegemony by dissociating people from their cultural roots. It is the corporate sector dominated by the west through technologies that allow mass communication to take place, that has evolved the world into a global village allowing the globalization of culture and the globalization of economy to occur simultaneously.
Through deregulation of trade that allows foreign trade to be carried out without much restrictions and the domination of world economy by transnational companies such as ‘Coke’, has shaped the world into a globalized marketplace. Organizations such as IMF and World Bank, have consistently imposed the western corporate vision, through structural adjustment programs, trade deregulation, reducing barriers to trade etc, and Pakistan, being one of the developing countries, was subjected to such economic imperialism.
This domination would not have been possible without the media, and the mass media too, to great extent is controlled by major western transnational corporations. This has lead to shift in the buying behavior of consumers and hence also influencing the culture, since the two are very closely related. It is the youth that is the main focus, since they are vulnerable. This ‘vulnerability’ is preyed upon by the imperialistic west through the help of media, to convince this rebellious youth that American products offer greater satisfaction.
This can be seen in the real world around you, but we’ll come to the effects later. So through, economic imperialism, majorly in the form of trade, utilizing the great strength that lies with the media, and through colonialism followed by an increasing importance given to English and the reluctance of our rulers to promote our own cultural values and norms, the doors to a ‘cultural invasion’ were opened, and this door, even allowed influences from across the border, India, to enter the fray and play its role in cultural imperialism.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 3 January 2017
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