Tuesday, December 27, 2011

American hegemony in Communication: Neo-imperialism and market-logics

So much of the discipline of Communication research and the pedagogy of Communication is founded on the principles of developing communication skillsets for effectiveness. As global markets have opened up to the export/import of education, Communication skills training has sought to find robust markets abroad.

The assumption behind this marketing enterprise is that Americans have something to offer (in this case, a US-branded knowledge base about what makes up good and effective communication) to the rest of the world. The competitive advantage of the American brand of communication education therefore ties to this ability of the brand to develop a unique selling proposition and to sell it well to its target audiences abroad. So we have wholesale programs ranging from public speaking to writing that are attempting to make entries into Asian markets.

What I find completely misguided about this picture though is that it continues to reek of US-style imperialism and arrogance (based on the belief that the Americans can export their democracy, civil society, capitalism, nation building, communication skillsets to the rest of the world). It continues to carry on the basic assumption that Americans can teach others across the globe how to become better communicators (of course based on an assumption of effectiveness and superiority).

In addition to the basic problem of arrogance and American exceptionalism that is built into this logic, I also find the logic to be counterintuitive to the narrative of the market and market research. Market research begins with the basic premise that you first conduct formative secondary and primary data gathering to figure out who your audience is even before you start developing and designing your product. If US academics of Communication who so desire to market their communication skillsets to Asia want to be effective, my suggestion to them would be that they begin with first understanding their markets in Asia, the cultures that they are marketing to, and the needs that originate from within these market. However, I am not so sure that the US-style academic system is capable of doing this because of the fundamental problem of US exceptionalism that makes Americans arrogant and poor listeners in global arenas (you have to look at the history of recent decades of US diplomacy globally to get a sense of this).

To really be effective, US communicators who want to export US-style knowledge of effective communication skills perhaps need to begin by being humble and by unlearning the basic premises of communication that make them arrogant. The starting point is perhaps the recognition that US-style research and teaching of communication is just that, a cultural artifact that is deeply rooted in American assumptions about what communication is and what makes it effective.

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