Cultural Intimations and the Commodification of Culture: “Sign Industries” as Makers of the “Public Sphere”

By Rodanthi Tzanelli.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What does ‘globalization’ mean for those who allegedly stand at the ‘receiving end’ of its messages? Do they truly stand at its receiving end only – or, are they partaking in it in covert ways? This paper proffers some theoretical reflections on the nature of new cultural industries and the interplay of local, national and global resistances that they induce. It singles out a specific case in which the contingent generation of interdependencies between Hollywood film-making and the ‘tourist industries’ that emerge from Hollywood screening of various locales leads to the production of new understandings of culture and identity in different parts of the world. The ensuing commodification of these locales by various agents of global tourist and Hollywood networks suggests that film and tourist industries are bound together through the circulation of the same cultural ‘signs’.

These ‘signs’ are constantly interpreted - not only by cultural industry agents and consumers (film audiences, tourists) but also by the native populations and nation-states unexpectedly faced with this unprecedented commodification of their histories, identities and environments. The hermeneutic potential such ‘global circulations of the sign’ carry suggests that we examine the communication of different cultural industries as what I will term ‘global sign industries’. Reactions of localities and nation-states to this phenomenon encompass both hostility and submission to cultural commodification. This ambiguity, inherent in what I shall term ‘cultural intimations’ of identity, both reveals these ‘sign industries’ as unintentional makers of the ‘public sphere’ and presents the disenfranchised of late modernities as poetic agents of culture. Bringing together classical critical theory, social anthropology, cultural studies, and literature on the creative industries and sociology of culture, this paper aspires to contribute an understanding of the nature of globalization and its impact on cultural specificity.

Keywords: Cultural/Creative Industries, Cultural Intimacy/Intimation, Film, Globalization, Hermeneutics, Identity, Public Sphere, Signs, Tourism

Global Studies Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 579.209KB).

Dr. Rodanthi Tzanelli

Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, LEEDS, Yorkshire, UK

Rodanthi Tzanelli is lecturer in Sociology and deputy director, Center for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, UK. She has previously held a part-time lectureship in European History at the University of Central Lancashire (2002), a lectureship in Sociology at the University of Kent (2004-2007) and a visiting lectureship at the Center for Mobilities Research, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University (2007). Her interests include the critical study of national and European identities, the politics and ethics of culture industries (film, tourism) and representations of deviancy, areas on which she has published in international journals. She is the author of The Cinematic Tourist: Explorations in Globalization, Culture and Resistance (Routledge: International Library of Sociology, 2007). Her new book, Nation-Building and Identity in Europe: The Dialogics of Reciprocity, will be published in late 2008 by Palgrave-Macmillan.

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