“Now Class” … Let’s Wrap it Up!

So all of this ‘stuff’ we’ve been talking about over the semester … what does it mean? In essence the topics covered in class from IR theory to public diplomacy to globalization to network building to development and nationalism are all influenced by the communication, political, technological, and cultural elements constructing the field of International Communications. With any hope, understanding the framing of stories, association between networks, integration of media platforms, NWICO failures, use of media for nation and state-building, and the spread of media to remote regions of the world will better equip us, students in the SIS program to interact in this globalize world. Moreover the readings providing insight into this interdisciplinary field, coupled with the class discussions help to supplement our understanding of International Communications. Through this holistic approach to the field of International Communications, we can go forth from the class, cognizant of complex and diverse elements interacting in the global environment to be trailblazers defining the future of international communication sphere.

Who knew a prank could be so deadly?

Talk about unintended consequences … “Kate Middleton’s nurse was tormented by radio prank before she killed herself”New York Post online headline.

Yes we’re gonna talk about it. Even though it’s just celebrity gossip, the events transpiring after the announcement of Kate’s pregnancy, highlight critical failure on behalf of the radio hosts for not being interculturally sensitive.

While the autopsy reports still wait to confirm cause of death for Jacintha Saldanha, all fingers have pointed to Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the Australian Radio DJs charged with bringing about Mrs. Saldanha’s untimely death. Pulling what they called the “biggest royal hoax”, the DJs impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles calling King Edward VII’s Hospital to check on Kate’s condition. Unaware of the ruse, Mrs. Saldanha patched the DJs through to the head nurse to answer the call. No discriminating information was released to the DJs, yet the prank phone event set into motion the death of Mrs. Saldanha.

Blamed as the culprits for Mrs. Saldanha’s tragic end, the hoax played out by the two DJs highlight the absence of intercultural sensitivities. While authorities are still investigating other factors that influenced Mrs. Saldanha’s choice, the fact is these radio DJs were not aware of the impact of their prank. Not cognizant of Mrs. Saldanha’s Indian upbringing and cultural heritage, the Australian DJs prank message was decoded differently than it would have to a British nurse. Although influenced by British colonizers, Indian culture does not possess the same core values rooted in British society. Interpreting the message as just transmission, Mrs. Saldanha could not see the ruse in motion. Yet, her failure to decode the message properly, in her mind, was a failure. Mrs. Saldanha could have seen ending her life as the only was to ‘save face’, as a way of showing respect to the group (Indian culture tends to be more collectivist and respect orientated) and fixing her error in judgment.

While this is just speculation on my part, these events highlight the need to be interculturally cognizant in international communications. No matter what type of communication: phone, radio, or internet messages are interpreted different for everyone. As Castells mentions in Communication Power that “people [can] modify the signified of the messages they receive by interpreting them according to their own cultural frames.” (Castells 127). Keeping this mind, people must be mindful of cultural diversity. In this case, the DJs assumed it was just a simple prank played on an unsuspecting British nurse, yet their lack of intercultural sensitivities lead to tragic ends.

Even though these events do not reflect international communications in the sense of public diplomacy, development communications, international relations, and networks, the tragic end of Kate’s nurse highlights the need for more intercultural awareness and decoding of messages in cultural contexts.


Case in Point: Mobile Phones in Africa

So this weeks readings dare to open up the box of theories, approaches, strategies, and so forth as they relate to development communication. (or if you to break it down further, the readings open up the doors to defining communication ‘and’ or ‘for’ development (elaborated by Sey). Yet, this blog will steer clear of the competing and intermixing of development communication theories and approaches to talk about an ICT used in development… the mobile phone.

Araba Sey’s “‘We use it different, different’: Making sense of trends in mobile phone use in Ghana” looks at the various uses of mobile phones for Ghanaian. The article emphasizes people use mobile phones to multiple purposes, more specifically using them in ways that help them achieve their livelihood goals. While previous researchers highlight the use of mobile phones to pursue development outcomes: political, social, or economic, (in the case of this article mobiles as a means to reduce poverty) Sey paints a different portrait. She notes mobile phones take on a variety of purposes for each user, not explicitly for poverty reduction, but most importantly as a means to “facilitate connectivity” (377). So in this light, she highlights the ‘different’ benefits mobile telephony provides Ghanaians.

Yet, Chenxing Han’s “South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones: Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development” points out what Sey and other ‘mobiles for development’ scholars lack focus on …. the negative consequences of mobile devices. [As a side note … reading Hans’ article before Sey’s enabled me to identify the ‘optimism narrative’ in Sey’s article]. Just as Sey laid out in her argument, mobile phones in Ghana, while not necessarily achieving economic development goals, they did provide connectivity benefits. Her argument reflects what Han wants scholars to re-evaluate. This notion of ‘positivity’ and ‘optimism’ integrated into the ‘mobiles for development’ literature. Scholars tend to steer clear of the negative consequences and effects mobile phones may have in that community. Looking at the various communities in South Africa, mobile phones did not necessarily act as a “safeguard for people in emergency situations.” (2063) Rather, mobiles required purchasing expensive minutes and text messages, they also enabled new opportunities to engage in sexual exploits, and lastly posed an individual security risk – the potential to be mugged. In this light, Han calls for scholars to examine more than just the benefits of mobiles, but a holistic review of mobiles, including the neutral and negative outcomes.

With this being said, this week’s readings show us a case in point of Han’s argument. While Sey highlights the connectivity benefits mobiles provide for Ghanaian livelihood, she fails to acknowledge the neutral or potentially negative effects. So while mobile telephony may exhibit potentially beneficial means to bring about connectivity and development, it will be necessary to access the not-so-gleaming attributes of mobiles.


The Evolution of Louis Vuitton

So we have been talking a lot of international communications as it applies to the nation-state, networks, international relations theory, cosmopolitanism, and so forth. Well this post wants to take a different spin on international communications and see it through the eyes of a couture handbag retailer, Louis Vuitton. (Just as a side note, I work in fashion retailing, so this post fits right in with that!) From the mind of 16-year old Louis Vuitton Malletier, who set out to be a trunk-maker, developed into a globally known fashion house. Starting in 1854 evolving to the 21st century, Louis Vuitton is recognized as the most valuable luxury brand in the world. Yet, throughout its transformation from 1854 to 2012, its adaptation to the changing international atmosphere has enabled them to maintain their recognizable brand throughout the world. And something that has further facilitated this dominance is via social media. As Caitlin detailed in her blog post, the pros and cons of social media, it seems to help Louis retain his valuable status.

In 2009, Louis Vuitton with the opening of their global ‘maisons’, launched their social media presence. While Louis Vuitton markets and develops products with a ‘traditional’ appeal, this social media presence helps them to bridge ‘modernity’. Pulled from an Louis Vuitton’s launch of the London ‘maison’, setting up a social media presence provides them one more avenue in their “global communication process.” So just as political movements, the Department of State and other actors incorporated social media into their international communication strategies, retailers have needed to do the same. While this is certainly an adaptation of Caitlin’s pros and cons article, it applies to more than just governments, NGOs, and transnational networks. Global fashion houses are cognizant of similar issues impacting their business, sales, and the continuation of the brand.

So while we have been discussing international communications in more of a state, non-state, and network light, Louis Vuitton along with the other traditional fashion houses (such as Chanel), have had to pick up their game as well. Integrating social media into their international communication strategies have helped them to uphold their iconic status across the globe!


P.S.: Just check out their Facebook likes!



A subject near and dear to my heart … Zumba. It seems a bit crazy to think about Zumba in the context of International Communications … but really the successful fitness program, developed by Mr. Beto Perez, has grown to over 150 Countries. Started in the mid 1990’s in Colombia, ‘Beto'(as he is called by Zumba-goers and instructors around the globe) accidentally created a whole new fitness program. Using salsa and merengue in place of traditional aerobics, this ‘dance-fitness’ took off. Through the help of entrepreneurs, Beto brought Zumba to the United States in 2001, starting with just master classes, Beto’s creation blossomed into a full-fledged fitness program known around the globe!

Using social media and strategic mission, Zumba continues to grow across the globe. Unlike other fitness programs, Zumba focuses on the ‘dance-party’. Typical programs stress sections of the body it tones, strengthens, or lift or emphasizes a ‘total-workout’. Well … Zumba went about it a different way, transferring the program into each new country, Zumba continues to frame the program as fitness “without the strain, without the sacrifice, just the pure joy of a party.” Zumba emphasizes fun for all, its line of programs – Gold, Sentao, Aqua, Atomic, and Toning – enable everyone (kids and older people) to get in on the party! Furthermore, its ability to promote its brand and it’s mission through Facebook, helped to carry the dance-fitness program overseas. By establishing individual Zumba Facebook pages in each new country grew into, Zumba could tailor it’s messages and programs to appeal to those new fitness goers. Zumba’s use of Facebook to grow the program has enabled it to become a global phenomena (unlike Jazzercize!). By framing it’s mission into each cultural context and relying on Facebook input as the means to develop the program internationally, Zumba Fitness is able to “spread the philosophy of health and happiness and of loving everything you do” around the globe!


New Age of Public Diplomacy

This morning, I had the unique opportunity of conversing with a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee staff, while I will observe his request to keep his name from the record, he talked a lot about the essentiality of reinvigorating Public Diplomacy overseas. And How do we do this? … the topic of our discussion! Following the mass bombings in several embassies in 1998, United States Embassies needed to restructure their security environments and move away from city centres. Putting them out of reach of the public, United States presence began to wither. So since this massive transition the United States Embassies and Senate Foreign Relations have been seeking out ways to re-engage the public.
So how do we do that? Although it may appear that the internet, radio, and televisions help to spread the United States message, it all comes back to person-to-person interaction. While Internet sites, the Voice of America broadcasts, virtual exchanges, and so forth help to ramp up the attention given to American issues, the successful transmittal of the American word is via physical interaction. Brought up as an option to reinforcing this concept, the use of PeaceCorps volunteers to conduct English lessons or discuss American holidays. Furthermore, the need for public-private partnerships. These rough economic times inhibit Senate passing bills to fund the entirety of overseas exchanges and programs. If the Department of State was more willing to seek out NGOs or Private firms to fund a partial amount of the expenditures, we would be seeing more programs and exchanges popping up overseas. Additionally, utilize DoD personnel overseas to deploy Strategic Communication programs and get their local counterparts talking about new ways to collaborate.
The pull away from city centres following the 1998 attacks and the potential for increased security measures following the recent attacks strained the abilities of diplomats and the staff to reach out to the local communities. Yet we know these physical interactions and exchanges are why public diplomacy works. So in this technological age, how else can we use tv, radio, internet to supplement the constrained abilities of person-to-person public diplomacy?


Pop Culture – Who Holds the Key?

Stemming from class discussions and the work of Castells, the growth of convergence culture and mass self-communication sites enables individuals (such as our class) to be an integral part of shaping the popular culture, seen on the television, online, and distributed across the globe.

As media has adapted from the radio and television to the Internet, an intermixing of platforms has occurred. Labeled as the process of convergence culture, media conglomerates give viewers the chance to interact with media content on multiple platforms, often times with an overlap of content. Enabling this “multitasking” through multimodal communication (Castells 132-134), media provide additional opportunities to consumers to express their preferences about the content. Giving viewers this ‘agency’ to produce user-content directed towards the media, viewers can share their interpretations of the decoded messages as well as interact with other viewers whom are decoding similar messages. Convergence culture, particularly through the integration of online participatory websites, sets up this “culture of sharing” (Castells 126). Engaged in this online ‘sharing environment’ viewers or audiences can exchange decoded messages and contend with the uni-directional messages spread by the media conglomerates. The result … “the rise of interactive production of meaning.” (Castells 132) Or as Castells labels it the creative audience, wherein all audiences participating in mass communication environment remix their cultures to synthesize a shared culture.

So … as audiences interact with one another, exchanging messages, contesting messages in the media, and so forth, the creative audience empowered by the convergence culture becomes an integral factor of determining the future culture. These environments media conglomerates open the doors to a “culture of co-production of content.”(Castells 126) The now ‘active’ audience whom provides responses, interpretations, and suggestions via online participatory sites, influence the production of media conglomerates. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and so forth allow audiences to express their preferences toward media content and influence the current production of culture. Although the media conglomerates still control the final product, the outgrowth of online participation sites through convergence culture allows audiences to dictate what it will do, be, and look like. Thanks to these technology, us, the students of SIS 640 could determine the next craze!


instagram Just like Instagram has made it’s mark on in our world!