Critical World
Thinking Globalization Through Popular Culture
What is “critical”?

What is the “Critical” in Critical World?

Critical World takes seriously the potential of popular culture to perpetuate structural relations of inequality (as in the case when artists from developing economies are not compensated for their artistic creations, see the research of Steven Feld in particular) and to reinforce negative stereotypes about non-western cultures (as when pygmies are represented as creatures of the forest).  But it also takes seriously the subjectivity of people who produce and consume popular culture, and considers the possibility that consumption can also lead to outcomes that are not necessarily alienating.

In an attempt to achieve a more critical approach to the study of popular culture and globalization, Critical World combines elements from three analytical perspectives:

  • Ethnography:  This is the primary tool of most anthropological research and put simply refers to long-term, field-based observation that attempts to understand cultural beliefs and practices from a local point of view.  Ethnographic research is no longer exclusive to the domain of anthropology, though it still remains the defining characteristic of the field, and a central aspect of qualitative methodology in general.
  • Political Economy:  Marx’s initial critique of political economy must be understood in the context of a broader set of ideas that linked the wealth of nations to free flowing self-regulating markets.  When culture becomes a commodity, there is as much cause for alarm (Adorno & Horkheimer) as their is wonder (Benjamin). More recently, scholars from a variety of disciplines (such as anthropology, communications, and cultural studies) have shown that in order to understand how globalization works—and how it works against us—we need to look at markets, institutions, capital and inequality.
  • Dialogical Hermeneutics:  Traditionally a set of methods for the interpretation of classic sacred texts, this philosophical tradition became increasingly interested in the question of how we come to know the things we know (see the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer).  From this perspective, prejudice—instead of being seen as an obstacle to understanding—is always present, but can be used as a resource for reworking truth.

A critical approach to the study of popular culture and globalization requires not only being attentive to the often invisible structures of inequality and their relationship to everyday experience (Raymond Williams), but it also requires a good “inner ear” (Gadamer), one in which the self is able to hear itself listening to others.


Suggested Reading:

Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. 1979.  The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso.

Appadurai, Arjun.  1986.  Introduction.  The Social Life of Things : Commodities in Cultural Perspective.  Cambridge :  Cambridge University Press.

Brennan, Timothy.  2001.  World Music Does Not Exist.  Discourse, 23.1, Winter.

Byrne, David.  1999.  I Hate World Music, The New York Times, October 3.

Feld, Steven.  2000.  A Sweet Lullaby for World Music, Public Culture 12.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg.  2005. (2nd revised edition)  Truth and Method. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Goodwin, Andrew and Joe Gore. 1990. World Beat and the Cultural Imperialism Debate. Socialist Review 20 (3).

Hesmondhalgh, David.  2002.  The Cultural Industries.  London: Sage Publications.

Marx, Karl.  1992 (reprint edition).  Capital.  Penguin Classics.

Williams, Raymond.  1977.  Marxism and Literature.  New York :  Oxford University Press.