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Diaspora 2:2 1992 "World Music" and the Global Cultural Economy Martin Roberts Massachusetts Institute of Technology What is a global culture? To what extent is it meaningful to speak of such a culture today? What is the relationship, within a global culture, between global and local, center and margins, core and periphery? How are we to evaluate such a culture, as a positive or as a negative phenomenon? As something to be welcomed and celebrated , or resisted? These are some of the questions that recently have been the subject of intense discussion and debate among cultural theorists (Schneider and Wallis; Featherstone). To these questions , however, I would like to add a further set which frames the preceding ones. Why are cultural theorists so interested in global culture? What is at stake for them in theorizing about it? What larger issues and agendas are being played out in their debates? What are the implications of this theoretical discourse about global culture for that discourse itself? These are the two sets of questions I will be exploring in this essay: the first concerning the nature, meanings, and value ofglobal culture; the second, framing the first, concerning the implications oftheories ofglobal culture for cultural theory itself. My discussion will focus on a form of cultural production that has been prominent in recent debates about global culture, the popular-music industry, and within this form, the phenomenon now commonly known in the English-speaking world as "world music ." My purpose is both to try to make sense of the world-music phenomenon itself by considering it in relation to several models of global culture and to use world music as a means ofreflecting back on the theoretical models used in its interpretation and evaluation. Discussions about global culture have been preoccupied with its value. One older, negative model sees it in terms of cultural imperialism , the hegemonic advance of western—and specifically North American—mass culture to all parts of the world and, with this advance, the destruction of local cultural particularities. As Claude Lévi-Strauss laments in Tristes Tropiques, "humanity is installing itself in monoculture; it is preparing to mass-produce culture, as if it were beetroot" (37). This monocultural model posits a basic opposition between core and peripheral cultures and figures their rela229 Diaspora 2:2 1992 tionship as the colonization ofthe periphery by the core—the imposition ofcentralized western mass culture on peripheral nonwestern cultures. This negative view ofglobal culture has more recently been called into question, however, by a less pessimistic alternative model which, while not completely opposed to the first one, conceives global culture not simply as the Coca-Colaization of the world but as a tension between homogeneity and heterogeneity, uniformity and diversity , sameness and difference. The encounter between western and nonwestern cultures, it is argued, is not simply a one-way process resulting in the obliteration of the second by the first, but a more complex process of indigenization, whereby the interaction of global mass culture with local cultures produces hybrid cultural forms which render simple oppositions between core and periphery problematic. Like the first model, this second model treats global culture as resulting from the expansion of a now rampant transnational capitalism to most parts ofthe globe but takes a very different view of its cultural consequences. The popular-music industry is ofcourse a paradigmatic example of such transnational capitalism and has been a privileged site for the debate between the cultural imperialism and indigenization models ofglobal culture I have outlined. Conventionally, the spread ofAnglo-American pop and rock to most parts ofthe globe has been read as a particularly blatant example of western cultural imperialism and the homogenization that this allegedly entails. More recent studies, however, have stressed the indigenization of western popular music in nonwestern musical cultures and the hybrid musical forms that this produces, as well as the increasingly marked impact of nonwestern musics on western ones (Frith, Garofalo). Examples of indigenized musical forms include Algerian raï music, which combines the technologies ofwestern pop with Arabic chant; the bhangra music popular among Britain's Asian youth culture, which combines Indian music with western dance beats; or the bikutsi rock of the...


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