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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Taboo in the context of globalization

Margarita Tulnova
  • Fonction : Auteur


Contemporary society is going through a series of changes as a result of globalization. Transformations in the cultural aspect of society are reflected in the change of norms, which include "the negative prescriptions (categorical prohibitions) concerning people's behavior, the violation of which results in the appropriate sanctions" (Sotsiologia: Entsiclopedia 2003) , - the taboo. Publications on the topic of taboo in mass media, productions of films with the titles containing the word "taboo", Internet blogs and journals written by representatives of different ethnic cultures in English and Russian have served as the material for the present analysis aimed at understanding how globalization affects the transformations in content and structure of proscriptive norms in different cultures. The investigation shows that the changes in the taboo systems are realized both in the violation of the prohibitive norms - detabooisation, and in the emergence of new taboos. Both aspects are expressed in verbal and non-verbal forms. One of the brightest manifestations of non-verbal violation of the traditional prohibitions is relationships between sexes: sexual relationships in younger age and before marriage, group- and homosexual love have become a norm in many world cultures. Another example of non-verbal break of taboo is global spread of obscene gestures. In verbal communication taboo is realized in the avoidance of particular language and themes in certain communicative situations. (Sternin 2000) Among the themes which are no more considered to be forbidden in different cultures are sexual relationships and connected with it naming certain parts of the human body; diseases connected with the intimate parts of the body. Parents not loving their children is no longer considered to be a shameful theme which has developed into a popular topic of a 'child-free' lifestyle. The result of the verbal detabooisation is the widely-discussed reduction of restrictions on the use of obscene language. A new kind of breaking the taboo is the way of using obscene language in the internet with the help of 'liturgatives' (term by G. Gusseinov 2008) - crossing out the text which might be perceived as indecent. The other tendency in the way taboo systems are changing is emergence of new taboos. Internet is one of the generators of new taboos, e.g., the notion of a password has gone beyond the military or detective discourse and has become part of everyday use. Analysis of the material shows among the new non-verbal taboos are the natural smell of the body, public display of a child's naked body. The globalization of young age as a value of society is leading to the rejection of old age. New taboos are also caused by the global spread of the concept of tolerance which is manifested in the use of euphemisms for the ethnic names. There is also evidence that the concept of tolerance underlies avoidance of naming unpleasant things on the whole. Taboos as well as norms are situational, that is the system of permitting and prohibiting norms regulates communication in different situations. The investigation shows that the notion of situational appropriacy is being transformed. Changes are observed in institutional discourse, e.g. in the Russian academic discourse the refusal from impersonality is caused by the influence of the English language academic culture. Changes in the fundamental values of society caused by globalization are also reflected in subcultures, e.g. the use of obscene language is considered to be the norm in rap texts irrespective of the language they are written in. "Rebellion against the norms" (Bauman 2000) is fed by mass media. Thus, numerous reality shows have lifted the prohibition to discuss and display personal life in public. The shift of the focus from the socially important aspects of life to the personal ones is the illustration of the spreading individualism as a globalizing value. Mass media have also broken the conventional restrictions on the display of violence which has become commonplace on TV and in cinema. Due to the fundamental power of taboo, descriptions of breaks of taboo are often accompanied by the epithet "shocking" and its synonyms. However, due to the nature of detabooisation regular and repetitive violation of prohibition leads to the loss of its power and to the conversion of the taboo into the norm. Detabooisation also results from the possibility of breaking norms as prohibition can only have power when the breach of it is followed by punishment. In modern society, due to the spread of multi-culturalism and pluralism of values the issue of sanctions has become questionable. Besides, due to the spread of tolerance as one of the key concepts of modern society communicative response is being limited. Discursively, the urge to break taboos is strengthened by the rational argumentation which plays off against the irrational nature of taboo. Analysis has shown that the changes in the taboo systems in different cultures are connected with the global process of emancipation. Modern world has placed freedom in the first place in the list of its values (Z. Bauman 2001) which can be illustrated by the frequency of appeal to the concept of freedom as an argument in favour of breaking taboos. The concept of freedom is often verbalized with the help of lexical units with the meaning of 'being beyond the boundaries' and interpreted with the help of the metaphor "open - close". Presumably, striving for the rejection of internal moral restrictions and the blurring of the boundaries are the interconnected aspects of one trend of globalization. Many values which underlie the process of detabooisation reflect the predominant influence of western cultures on the other world cultures as one of the dimensions of globalization. Analyzed discourse about transformations in the prohibitive norms not infrequently refers to the influence of American culture. Having its roots in the core of linguo-culture taboo is the reflection of fundamental values of society. Naturally, radical global changes in the norms provoke resistance of cultures affected. Like many other aspects of resistance to globalization, the opposition to the transformation of cultural prohibiting norms to a significant extent appeals to the threat of ethnic or national disintegration. In sum, the current tendencies of detabooisation and the emergence of new taboos are caused by the process of globalization and reflect the transformations in the value systems of the world cultures.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840674 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840674 , version 1


Margarita Tulnova. Taboo in the context of globalization. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840674⟩


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