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UNIT 25: Global Popular Culture



The diffusion of popular culture across frontiers and boundaries has been taking place for millennia. Music, games, and jokes traveled with the caravans along the Silk Road, accompanied the armies of the Crusades, and sailed across the oceans in ships during the age of exploration. However, the globalization of popular culture during the twentieth century was more extensive, more pervasive, and more penetrating than during previous eras.

Causes included the development of new technologies and the economic globalization of capital, labor, natural resources, production, and consumption. Political factors also played a role, from imperialism and nationalism to totalitarian states and the Cold War; so too did social struggles over the constructions of race, class, ethnicity, religion and gender.

The globalization of culture is both a consequence of such historical processes and a lens through which to view them. Cultural globalization is also a salient historical phenomenon in itself, and it is surely the aspect of globalization most visible and meaningful to the largest number of people around the world.

Today, the same music can be heard in Harare, Zimbabwe as in Portland, Oregon. Madonna t-shirts, hip-hop pants, and Rasta dreadlocks are found all around the world. Coca-Cola's "We Are the World" campaign was broadcast by television networks on every continent. Indeed, Marshall McLuhan's futuristic "global village" seems a contemporary reality.

This unit explores the globalization of popular culture and its many and varied effects around the world. Frequently, this process has been driven and dominated by developed countries and their transnational companies. However, the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean have also appropriated and transformed European and North American cultural forms, infusing them with their own cultures and concerns.

In some cases, less-developed countries were able to export the products of their own popular cultures to other nations, even to Europe and the United States. The globalization of popular culture may be powerful and pervasive, but it is a complex process where the peoples of the world are active agents as well as passive consumers. In the end, the globalization of culture is a complex multi-directional process, which interacts with internal and international politics, new technologies, and economic globalization, but is itself a powerful historical process that has changed the way people around the world live.


Time Period: Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were periods of rapidly accelerating interconnections between the world's peoples. Imperialism, war, and trade each brought more peoples into new economic, political, and social relationships with one another. In the nineteenth century, the development of mass media-especially increased production of newspapers and novels-allowed distant peoples access to cultural trends in far-removed places. In the twentieth century, the invention of the radio, television, and computer enhanced this phenomenon of widespread access. The result was that popular cultural trends in one region could quickly spread across the world, where they could be modified by local traditions and became included in local popular cultures.

AP Themes:

  • Examines interactions in economics and politics by demonstrating the ways that popular culture in the last two centuries has been the result of cultural borrowing and blending.
  • Explores technology, demography, and environment by examining the role of technological innovations such as rapid transport and mass media in disseminating cultural traditions around the world.
  • Discusses cultural and intellectual developments by exploring the ways that popular culture from one place can resonate with-and help to shape-popular culture in another place.


  • Question 1: In what ways can athletic games reflect tensions between national and global identities?
  • Question 2: How have peoples in different times and places adapted popular cultural forms to reflect their cultural needs?
  • Question 3: How did twentieth-century technological advances in communication and transportation shape the pace and nature of globalization?
  • Question 4: How did twentieth-century technological advances in communication and transportation shape the pace and nature of globalization?


How is this topic related to Increasing Integration?

As popular cultural forms are introduced and accepted into new cultures around the world, they integrate human societies through recreation, sound, and rhythm.

How is this topic related to Proliferating Difference?

Individual societies tend to interpret and reformulate introduced popular cultural forms selectively and in culturally appropriate ways. These various interpretations and reformulations reveal social and cultural differences between the world's peoples.

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