GE3V17049 The Cultural Cold War

Class 2 Soft Power, Americanization and Cultural Imperialism 


1. How culture works 


2. Defining sender and receiver

3. Conclusion

  • Gienow-Hecht, Jessica C. E. “Shame on US? Academics, Cultural Transfer, and the Cold War - A Critical Review.” Diplomatic History 24 (2000): 465–94. (29pp)

  • Kroes, Rob. “American Empire and Cultural Imperialism: A View from the Receiving End.” Diplomatic History 23, no. 3 (1999): 463–77. (14pp)

  • Nye, Joseph S. “Soft Power.” Foreign Policy, no. 80 (Autumn 1990): 153–71.(18pp)

  • Outline of Class 2

  • This class will focus on the different answers that have been given to the question: How does culture work to change attitudes? This is a 'black box', there is no 'testable' answer. The answers reflect key insights from different schools of tought.

Class Description
Track Name


Researchers who study cultural diplomacy and cultural transfer have no way of "testing" how culture is transferred and how it change societies. As you can read in the Gienow-Hecht's article, many theories have been developed to try and give a sense of what is going on. Those theories, often developed by sociologists and cultural theorists, are linked to broader theoretical frameworks and the eras in which they are developed, such as the 1960 and the 1970s

1. How culture works

How does cultural tranfer actually work?


In the 1950s cultural diplomacy was seen as an effective way of doing foreing policy. 

The Wilsonianist logic was important in this understanding of the mechanism behind cultural transfer. By transferring cultural values , by making the world more 'American', the world would become more safe.


Cultural imperialism makes the case that U.S. culture was exported and crushed other cultures because there was so much money involed. Other cultures were - in this interpretation - often fundamentally changed.

A classic example of this in popular culture is "The Gods Must Be Crazy"

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1980 South African comedy film written and directed by Jamie Uys. Financed only from local sources, it is the most commercially successful release in the history of South Africa's film industry Originally released in 1980, the film is the first in The Gods Must Be Crazy series. It is followed by one official sequel, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, released by Columbia Pictures. Set in Botswana, it follows the story of Xi, a San of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau Toma) whose tribe has no knowledge of the world beyond, Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers), a biologist who analyzes manure samples for his PhD dissertation, and Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), a newly hired village school teacher.

Culture like other economic exports dominated because there was so much money that U.S. industries like Hollywood could bring to the table

There are 3 type of cultural imperialism


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United Nations, notably UNESCO, began a fierce debate over a new global communication order that centered very much on the industrialized West. Were western media crushing local media? Media imperialist argue they are.



Their discourse grew out of UNESCO’s increasing concern with the protection of national cultures, as well as the rising interest in the study of nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s as represented by Benedict Anderson and others.

This type of critique inverted the logica of the 1950s. Where the Wilsonian logic was stil seen as something positive in the 1950s, in the 1960s this dynamic was criticized. 


Scholars such as Emily Rosenberg, claimed that in the twentieth century U.S. foreign policymakers had consciously begun to “spread” American culture, information, and the concept of a free and open economy in order to expand the national market abroad.


These scholars make the argument that American culture does not have a special status in this globalized world. McDonaldization, Americanization etc. do not occur.

What is actually happening is 'globalization' a process whereby all cultures are exchanged and altered in a process of constant global change.

2. Defining Sender and Receiver

What are the intensions and responses of sender and reciever of culture?


In politics (and particularly in international politics), soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce (contrast hard power). In other words, soft power involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.


Kroes argued that cultural imperialists were wrong. Recievers of the U.S. culture could deconstruct that culture and reassemble it to give it new meaning. Much like Lego.

Obama is not celebrated as someone who got the Affordable Care act, but as a symbol of freedom. Receivers can give culture new meaning.

3. Conclusion

•Ideas about how public diplomacy works are rooted in ideas about Americanisation, which has been studied by sociologists. 


•How power works mirrors what other scholars have said about the Cold War. Marxist interpretations of the Cold War, of the Soviet Union as an aggressor have been mirrored by  what historians have written about U.S. public diplomacy.

In the assignment you will be asked to discuss different exampels of U.S. culture with the help of the toolbox offered by the reading and the module.

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