Comparing Cross-Border Information Flows and Their Effects

Authored by: Pippa Norris

Handbook of Comparative Communication Research

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415802710
eBook ISBN: 9780203149102
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514241


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Melvin Kohn (1989) distinguishes four approaches to cross-cultural comparisons: Nations can be examined as “objects,” “contexts,” “units of analysis,” or as “parts of larger international or global systems.” This chapter contributes to the last of these four approaches. It compares societies using a new Cosmopolitanism Index, conceptualized as the permeability of national borders to cross-border information flows. It is interested in the ways national systems respond to global influences and argues that comparative research needs to account for the processes at the national level that “mediate” these trans-border influences. The first section outlines the concept of cosmopolitan communications and the reasons for its spread. The second section discusses the debate about these developments in the previous literature, identifying diverse arguments based on theories of cultural convergence, polarization, and fusion. In contrast to these, the third section proposes a new theoretical framework, based on firewall effects. We theorize that the expansion of information flowing primarily from the global North to South will have the greatest impact on modernizing values in cosmopolitan societies characterized by integration into world markets, freedom of the press, and widespread access to the media. Parochial societies lacking these conditions are less likely to be affected by these developments. Moreover, within countries, many poorer sectors continue to lack the resources and skills necessary to access modern communication technologies. Important socio-psychological barriers further limit the capacity of the media to alter enduring values and attitudes. By neglecting the role of these sequential firewalls, the risks to national diversity have commonly been exaggerated. The fourth section operationalizes these factors and uses the resultant index to classify cosmopolitan and parochial societies around the world. The conclusion considers the implications for the next research agenda on these issues.

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