Theories of hybridity entered international communication research at a time when the cultural imperialism thesis was ceding ground to the media globalization paradigm. This has been controversial because “the idea of cultural hybridization is one of those deceptively simple-seeming notions which turns out . . . to have lots of tricky connotations and theoretical implications” (Tomlinson 1999, 141). Although usage of the term hybridity acquired critical momentum in Anglophone postcolonial studies – mostly focused on the British colonization of India and its politico-economic-cultural aftermath, especially in the work of literary critic Homi Bhabha (1994) – the notion itself has many historical and scholarly antecedents.
Development Of The Concept Of Hybridity
Historically, terms such as syncretism, creolization, mestizaje (Spanish), and métissage (French) have been used to describe various linguistic, racial, ethnic, and cultural mixtures in contexts as varied as ancient Egypt, post-independence Caribbean nationstates, and contemporary Latin America. Also, many scholars have used hybridity or variations on the term to explain artistic, cultural, and historical exchanges and mixtures in different parts of the world. These include the Argentinean-Mexican cultural theorist Néstor García Canclini (1995), the Spanish-Colombian media scholar Jesús Martín Barbero (1993), the French historian Serge Gruzinski (2002), the French Guyanese literary critic Roger Toumson (1998), and the Saudi sociologist and novelist Turki al-Hamad (2001).
Although there is widespread recognition that cross-cultural fusions are historically and geographically pervasive, there is controversy about the meaning and implications of hybridity, which focuses for the most part on the nature of the connection between hybridity and power. In this regard, postcolonial theorists have sparred intensely about the advantages and pitfalls of using hybridity. Does the existence of cultural hybridity imply the subversion of political and cultural power? Does it merely celebrate the very specific experiences of migrant intellectuals? Or, more gravely, is the discourse of hybridity complicit with structures of inequality, as in the past it was a racist discourse used to justify colonial repression (Young 1995; Kraidy 2005)?
The field of communication imports its theories, methodologies, and some of its major debates and questions from the social and human sciences. It is not surprising, then, that the debate over hybridity in postcolonial studies translated into a parallel polemic in international communication scholarship, where there have been major differences between, on the one hand, “dominance” perspectives and, on the other, “resistance” or “pluralism” approaches. After several decades where primary concerns were about propaganda and then about modernization and development, theories of cultural domination developed as a reaction to the western-centric assumptions of the modernization paradigm. “Cultural imperialism” and “media imperialism” approaches dominated discussions in the 1960s and the 1970s, but since the 1980s opponents have argued that dominance approaches rooted in the radical political economy tradition have lost their explanatory power due to the growing complexity of global communication and intercultural relations.
The result was an emergence of a variety of disconnected and sometimes contradictory lines of theory and research, most of them connected to the so-called “cultural turn,” a move away from political economy and social psychology and toward British cultural studies, French poststructuralism, and American film theory and criticism. The ensuing engagement with culture as a broad and important issue prepared the ground for the appearance of theories of hybridity at various levels in international communication research. From the perspective of the traditional division of communication processes in terms of production, message, and reception, most hybridity research has emphasized media texts and reception, though a few studies have analyzed the links between production, message, and reception.
The Concept Of Hybridity In Research
The British scholar Jeremy Tunstall (1977) may have been the first international communication scholar to use the adjective “hybrid” when he predicted three decades ago that regional media centers would produce “hybrid genres,” i.e., indigenized versions of programs developed in the west. Indeed, regional media production centers such as Brazil, Mexico, and Hong Kong have vindicated Tunstall’s prognosis and inspired research that engages with the notion of hybridity. One scholar identified four patterns of mixture in Hong Kong’s cultural industries: the parrot pattern described wholesale mimicry of foreign culture by local industries; the amoeba pattern referred to a modified cultural form with a non-changing content, such as the adaptation of a foreign movie for local consumption; the coral pattern reflected cultural products whose content is changed but whose form remains the same; and the butterfly pattern was a wholesale hybridization blending the local and the global (Lee 1991).
Some political economists of communication have toyed with the notion of hybridity, albeit indirectly, arguing that continental integration through free trade deals “does not portend a unitary North American monoculture” (Mosco & Schiller 2001, 4). Indeed, hybrid cultural forms are compatible with the aims of globalization (Kraidy 2005), since market forces have shaped “an increasing hybridity of global culture, ever more complex and more commodified . . . everywhere more complex and more commodified in the same sort of way” (Boyd-Barrett 1998, quoted in Kraidy 2005).
One area of media research where hybridity has been a central notion is studies of migrant or diasporic media in western countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These include amateur, homemade media and the productions of professional media institutions. Migrants have used personal media such as video cameras and editing consoles, sound mixers, and increasingly blogs and the Internet to represent the experience of migrant life. For example, Croatian and Macedonian immigrants in Perth, Australia, produced videos of weddings and birthdays, video “family albums,” or raw scenes from the Yugoslav war to create “an iconic continuum” (Kolar-Panov 1997, quoted in Kraidy 2005) between host country and homeland. Similarly, media produced in “Tehrangeles,” the Iranian community in Los Angeles (Naficy 1993, quoted in Kraidy 2005), or media consumed by Punjabis in London expressed the tensions between two or more worldviews that shaped the hybrid culture of migrant life, drawing its affective energy from the native country while being concretely grounded in the host country.
The most nuanced treatment of hybridity in the context of communication processes is probably the Spanish-Colombian scholar Martín-Barbero’s expansion of the notion of mestizaje to include relations between ethnic groups, cultural expressions, social classes, and political constituencies, whose overlaps are best understood in the study of popular culture. According to Martín-Barbero, communication plays an important role in the formation of mestizajes because it is instrumental in the creation of meaning and not because of mere information transmission. As against media-centric theories of communication, Martín-Barbero (1993, 2) advocates an interdisciplinary approach more attuned to “the cultural realities of [Latin American] countries, the new combinations and syntheses – the mestizajes – that reveal not just the racial mixture that we come from but the interweaving of modernity and the residues of various cultural periods, the mixture of social structures and sentiments.” Hybridity in this case is a helpful entry point to understand media and popular culture as a struggle to define the social world, often drawing on myths from the past and aspirations for the future.
Hybridity has been useful for scholars in the field internationally. It remains a controversial notion, even though suspicions persist about its methodological practicality, theoretical usefulness, and ideological implications. In the end, it is still too early to determine whether theories of hybridity constitute a temporary fad or whether they will remain part of the debate over power and culture in international communication scholarship.
- Al-Hamad, T. (2001). Arab culture in the era of globalization. Beirut: Al-Saqi. (In Arabic).
- Bhabha, H. (1994). The location of culture. London: Routledge.
- García Canclini, N. (1995). Hybrid cultures: Strategies for entering and leaving modernity (trans. S. López & E. Schiappari). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1989).
- Gruzinski, S. (2002). The mestizo mind (trans. D. Dusimberre). London: Routledge. (Original work published 1999).
- Kraidy, M. M. (2005). Hybridity, or the cultural logic of globalization. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
- Lee, P. S. N. (1991). The absorption and indigenization of foreign media cultures: A study of a cultural meeting point of the east and west: Hong Kong. Asian Journal of Communication, 1(2), 52 –72.
- Martín-Barbero, J. (1993). Communication, culture and hegemony: From the media to mediations (trans. E. Fox). London: Sage. (Original work published 1987).
- Mosco, V., & Schiller, D. (eds.) (2001). Continental order? Integrating North America for cybercapitalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
- Tomlinson, J. (1999). Globalization and culture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Toumson, R. (1998). Mythologie du métissage. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
- Tunstall, J. (1977). The media are American. London: Constable.
- Young, R. (1995). Hybridity in theory, culture and race. London: Routledge.