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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Globalization, Visual communication, difference

Giorgia Aiello
  • Fonction : Auteur


This is a proposal to present the four-year international research project "Globalization, Visual Communication, Difference", funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme. Through an investigation of key dimensions of social and cultural difference such as diversity, dissent and locality, the project highlights the crucial role of specific identities in global communication practices. This novel articulation of difference in global culture draws attention to the various ways in which the visual may be used to communicate distinction in the oversaturated marketplaces of contemporary communication. In doing so, the project also interrogates the dialectic and co-constitution of visual difference/homogeneity and sameness/heterogeneity in a variety of globalist communicative contexts. Specifically, the project focuses on gathering key case studies from across communication industries with a strong visual component, including but not limited to city and nation branding, store design, corporate visual branding, advertising, lifestyle consumption goods, and photography. In exploring this topic, the project is theoretically framed by a central issue in global interconnectivity: the tension between cultural homogenization and heterogenization (Appadurai, 1996; Nederveen Pieterse, 2004). Although communication scholars have largely and increasingly been interested in so-called 'global culture', academic debates on the globalization of communication practices have been dominated by a focus on 1) processes of homogenization in 2) 'traditional' media and ICT technologies. In the humanities and social sciences, the rise of global capitalism has been associated with the increasing loss of difference in cultural production. Less attention has been given to how difference may be globally mobilized for symbolic and/or material profit. More specifically, scholars have focused on how the 'center' of powerful media conglomerates generates and distributes increasingly homogenous discourses, genres and styles of communication (cf. van Leeuwen, 2005). However, in the time and age of design, "the interfaces we call media are transformed" (Couldry, 2009, p. 441), and it is increasingly the concentrations of power found within and across global flows of semiotic goods which are responsible for shaping and reshaping cultural and social identities alike. In particular, the visual has become a crucial interface between global capital and the different publics that may have a stake in globalization itself. This is because of its cross-cultural perceptual availability and, hence, also its potential for meaningful transnational and transcultural communication. In this context, the communication of difference/heterogeneity, rather than sameness/homogeneity, has become a crucial form of symbolic currency for success in the global marketplace. This also entails that what is mostly generic communication may get passed off as specific representation and that the stylization of identities may be mystified as the substantial honoring of difference and diversity. Throughout the 1990s, scholars in the humanities and social sciences suggested that globalization was a homogenizing force as culture and capital traveled to far ends of the world. Recently, however, scholars such as Fairclough (1999) and Lash and Lury (2007) have argued that the 'new' or advanced capitalism that underlies contemporary processes of globalization is characterized by a centrality of communication and that, in this context, difference (or heterogeneity) becomes a key resource for success in the heavily semioticized - rather than simply mediatized - global marketplace(s) of late modernity. Likewise, Fairclough (2000) and others have maintained that neoliberalism, the political and social project that sustains and co-constitutes advanced capitalism (or globalism), is not about erasing difference or engendering homogeneity, but it is rather about structuring and rescaling difference. As identities and social relations are (re)structured to enable and justify neoliberal forms of governance, difference is also actively managed and deployed as a (positive or negative) currency--as in the framing of individual agency in terms of 'virtues' or 'flaws' in the globalizing discourse against social welfare. Ultimately, success in the marketplace(s) of advanced capitalism may be progressively tied to any given economic, political and/or cultural actor's ability to deploy difference in communication, but only insofar as this is a highly structured (and arguably sanitized) endeavor for the achievement of globalist ends. And it is in contemporary 'design-intensive' societies (Lash & Urry, 1994) that the visual - in its disparate forms, including mediated imagery, the urban built environment, design, branding, and material culture - becomes an especially privileged form of currency for the global(ist) performance, exchange and production of prized identities. The presentation offers a progression from broadly 'immaterial' to increasingly 'material' contexts of visual communication--from corporate image banks and visual branding (with the notable example of the Starbucks logo) to the ubiquity of the Che Guevara and the spatiality of corporate chain stores and regenerated urban centers. Along the same lines, each case study within the "Globalization, Visual Communication, Difference" project offers a unique perspective on social and cultural difference. The outcome is an unusually rich discussion of the significance of national, racialized, countercultural, embodied and emplaced identities - among others - for a nuanced investigation of the nexus of globalization and visual communication. This research also draws attention to the cultural and economic importance of the work of professionals such as designers, photographers, and urban planners, who are increasingly responsible for the (re)production of cultural and social differences in everyday life. As a whole, the project considers critical methodologies for research on the relationship between cultural globalization and visual communication, the interplay of visuality and both multimodality and materiality in global culture, and the importance of visual analysis in global communication scholarship. Ultimately, an understanding of the politics and meanings of contemporary visual communication is profoundly important in today's world of continually overlapping and contested cultural and social identities, and where the pluralities, disparities and synergies associated with processes of globalization are most often realized discursively, that is to say, in and through communication.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840438 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840438 , version 1


Giorgia Aiello. Globalization, Visual communication, difference. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840438⟩


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