A Study of the Cultural Imperialism Theory Essay

A Study of the Cultural Imperialism Theory Essay.


This paper explores the validity of the Cultural Imperialism Theory which says the Western culture has dominated the cultures of developing Nations. It examines to what extent and how the Western world in the real sense has dominated the developing countries. The study further examined the means through which the developing countries are being dominated culturally by the Western culture. The paper further looked at both the negative and the positive effects of cultural imperialism. It concluded that though the western world is succeeding in eroding the culture of developing countries and Nigeria as a study, Nigeria as a Nation should put on some safety belt in safeguarding our heritage.


Culture is the way of life of a set of people. It encompasses the knowledge, ideas, beliefs, values, standards, and sentiments prevalent in the group. According to Charles A. Ellwood, an American Sociologist, culture is the “collective name for all behavior patterns socially acquired and socially transmitted by means of symbols”.

Dare A., defines Culture as the collectivity of human activities and general principles that tend to guide ideas of a group of people with shared traditions (general acceptability), which are passed on, instilled into generation (socialization) and reinvigorated by members of the group (sustainability) while Imperialism as defined by The Dictionary of Human Geography is the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination

The Theorist of Cultural Imperialism theory, Herb Schiller postulated that Western nations dominate the media around the world which in return has a powerful effect on Third World Cultures by means of imposing on them, western views thereby destroying their native cultures Western Civilization produces the majority of the media (film, news, comics, etc.) because they have the money to do so. The rest of the world purchases those productions because it is cheaper for them to do so rather than produce their own. Therefore, Third World countries are watching media filled with the Western world’s way of living, believing, and thinking. The third world cultures then start to want and do the same things in their countries and destroy their own culture. In cultural Imperialism theory, the key words are culture and imperialism.

According to Anaeto G., Onabajo, O. and Osifeso, J. (2008), they wrote that “the western countries are technologically developed in television and motion programmes and developing countries that are not technologically developed depend on the programmes from the developed countries. This means that the programmes from the developed counties which portray their culture will be imbibed by the developing nations. This western culture now dominates our local culture simply because we are consuming their mass media messages”. The assumptions of the theory according to Schiller, H., are classified into three namely 1. Ontological Assumptions 2. Epistemological Assumptions

3. Axiological Assumptions

1. Ontological Assumptions

This theory says that humans do not have the free will to chose how they feel, act, think, and live. They react to what they see on television because there is nothing else to compare it to besides their own lives, usually portrayed as less than what it should be. 2. Epistemological Assumptions This theory explains that there is one truth and no matter what that truth never going to change. As long as Third World countries continue to air Western Civilization’s programs then the third world countries will always believe they should act, feel, think, and live as Western Civilizations act, feel, think, and live. 3. Axiological Assumptions This theory is value-neutral and objective. It does not matter what beliefs the people of Third World may already hold, the television programs from the Western World will communicate the same message and affect them in the same way.


The critiques of the Cultural Imperialism theory came up with scientific theory which counter-argued the theory with the following responses: Explanatory Power: It explains what happens when one group of people with their own ideas sends messages through the media to a different group of people. Predictive Power: It predicts that Third World countries’ culture will be destroyed and the people will identify with Western views. Parsimony: We can see a direct linear path from sender to receiver through the media channels and then watch the effects.

Falsifiability: The theory could be proved false should the Third World countries not be affected by Western media and they do not lose their culture. E.G “Under the intriguing title Seducing the French (1993), Richard F.Kuisel concedes that the French underwent a process of Americanization. But at the same time, they succeeded in defending their “Frenchness.” French consumers found some American products appealing but they also continued to cherish and idealize French national identity, notably the idea of a superior French high culture.”

Internal Consistency: There is a logical flow of events and consequences within the theory. Heuristic Provocativeness: This theory could lead to new hypotheses such as which cultures are affected more than others (if any) or whether low context differ in the reception of messages compared top high context cultures? Organizing Power: This fits with what we already know about differences between Western civilization and Third World countries. Another example the critique stated is that “if an International Broadcast station shows a video depicting Nigerians as corrupt, dangerous and malnourished, should someone in Nigeria watch this the Western stereotype of Nigerians, and not affected by it, the theory have been proved false”.

John, T., further argues that Cultural imperialism consists of the spread of modernity. It is a process of cultural loss and not of cultural expansion. There never were groups of conspirators who attempted to spread any particular culture. Instead, global technological and economic progress and integration reduced the importance of national culture. Therefore, it is misleading to put the blame for a global development on any one culture. The notion of imperialism that is, purposeful cultural conquest is irrelevant; instead, all countries, regardless of whether they are located in the northern or southern hemisphere, are victims of a worldwide cultural change


Tracing world history all through the era of colonialism, there have been histories of cultural imperialism which will seem the only way to explain the popularity of the very-British game cricket in all countries that once served as British colonies. Invasion of a country most often doesn’t end with an invasion of the geographical territories within the political boundaries alone. Religious and cultural invasion are often inseparable parts of a political conquest. It’s much easier to rule if your subjects share the same religious and cultural platforms as the invaders? The cultural imperialism theory is founded upon the premises of imposing the influences and beliefs of the stronger culture (the invaders) upon the weaker or more submissive culture (the invaded). How does this cultural Imperialism take place?

Dare A., states that Cultural imperialism takes place when one culture overtakes another in such a way that the latter ends up following a significant number of values, traditions, beliefs and influences of the former either completely or in a way merges the influences of the dominating culture with those of its own. Such a cultural invasion can either be active or passive. In its active form, the dominant culture forcefully imposes its cultural influences upon the dominated culture. This is a dynamic phenomenon where the subordinate culture is compelled to adopt the ways of the invaders. The passive form is when one culture (not necessarily subordinate) voluntarily embraces the influences and traditions of another culture. Here, the dominant culture makes little or no forceful efforts in imposing its cultural ideals upon another but the latter gets influenced as a consequence of its receptivity to the former’s cultural impacts. The passive form of cultural imperialism is what largely takes place today.

Cultural imperialism can also occur due to the significant commercial relations between two countries. A country heavily importing products and services of another country may get significantly influenced by the exporting country’s lifestyle attributes and social values. We can see this phenomenon in the form of Westernization of a number of Eastern countries. This is a type of passive cultural imperialism as the receiving culture adopts the foreign values without perceiving the fact that they are, in fact, becoming slaves of a foreign culture.

English Cultural Imperialism

English cultural imperialism has been rife in the history of cultural imperialism. Latin which has the Church’s official language to popularizing its national game all across its colonies was changed to English. The British Empire left no stone unturned to make sure that its subjects adhered to its cultural idiosyncrasies even decades after ceasing to be its subjects. The fact that Cricket is among the top ten most popular sports around the world with an estimated 3 billion fan following, especially in countries like Australia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, New Zealand and certain African and Caribbean countries proves the strength of the English cultural imperialism. It is also a known fact that English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish.

Decades of dominion and repressive policies towards Tibet, Taiwan and various other neighboring regions by China has had a significant influence upon the religion and culture of these regions. The aggressive promotion of a standardized Chinese language across Mainland China and Taiwan indicates towards an attempted cultural imperialism aimed at overtaking regional dialects in these areas. Also, the fact that most traditional aspects of the Chinese culture pertaining to religious beliefs, festivals and social norms significantly inundate the socio cultural edifices of various Oriental countries indicate towards strongly existing cultural imperialism.

The most widespread and still continuing instance of cultural imperialism can be seen in the form of Americanization. This is mostly due to the multitudes of commercial relationships the United States holds with a large number of countries in all parts of the world. This is definitely passive cultural imperialism and the countries that are most affected are those that have voluntarily adopted the stereotyped American lifestyle values and specific cultural aspects


The Issue of Sagging

Sagging has become the latest phenomenon among the male youths today in Nigeria. It is what is in vogue; if you have not exposed the lower part of your private, you belong to the old school system. What is sagging and where did it come from? According to Greg, M., sagging was adopted from the United States prison system where belts are prohibited. Belts are sometimes prohibited to keep prisoners from using them as weapons or in committing suicide by hanging themselves. The style was later popularized by hip-hop artists in the 1990s. It has since become a symbol of freedom and cultural awareness among some youths or a symbol of their rejection of the values of mainstream society. Jails are typically state run institutions. What usually happens is the state will order a set number of inmate uniforms. These uniforms are usually in general sizes like small, medium and large; making them ill-fitting for most inmates.

When a medium sized inmate comes in and there are no remaining medium uniforms this inmate will receive a large instead. Prisoners are not allowed to have shoe laces or belts for fear they’d use them to kill themselves (by way of strangulation or hanging), or as weapons to kill or injure other inmates. The combination of over sized clothing and lack of fastening devices created the perfect storm for falling pants. Many street hungry rappers latched on the dress of their incarcerated friends and family and brought the style to the masses. Thus a new trend was born and Nigerians have fallen into this trend Linguistic Imperialism Language is one of the principal elements in identifying a particular culture and the absence of it makes a culture unidentifiable. It is vital for cultural transmission and preservation.

With the gradual loss of our indigenous languages in Nigeria, what culture are we then preserving? Ogwu, M., Agbanu, N. and Ofordile, J. describes Linguistic Imperialism as “People who can relate with each other only through the medium of communication foisted on them by a former colonist are victims of a peculiar kind of Schizophrenia”. The use of our language is declining in Africa especially Nigeria because we are compelled to embrace Western culture and civilization as Western language. Western language has created a division between an elite and mass of our people who still cannot do business with foreign language. It causes alienation for people who cannot speak English or French. Language is a vehicle of culture; we are in a very serious problem. e.g. “Professor Babafunwa project on local language as a basic tool of teaching in Nigeria was aborted because of the nature of our country.”

Parents also do not encourage their children or wards to speak in their local language as they belief it causes setback in their education. Fashion imperialism You hardly find few of our men, women and the youths who still embrace our cultural mode of dressing. Our people are going ‘gaga’ with the western way of dressing thereby losing their root of African way of dressing. It’s quite unfortunate that when expatriates and tourist who come to Nigeria appreciate our native attire while the owners of the heritage has seen it as something of old school and fashion.

Tattoos have also become a common phenomenon. Both the young and old are stamping themselves all over the body with symbolic ‘devilish’ tattoos. Religious Imperialism Most churches in Nigeria today have gone the western way. When you go to some churches today, you marvel at the way some our ladies apparel. The custom of covering of hair has been eroded by the western way; all kinds of dressing are acceptable. The men or young male adults put on all sort of jewels and dress ‘haggardly’. The sense of going to commune with God is lost.


Through the float of western culture into Nigeria through the advent of technology and globalization, there has been obvious moral decline in Africa and in Nigeria in particular. This moral decadence has permeated almost all spheres of our culture. Moral consciousness has been equated with awkward and odd life styles. According to Oshafu, H., in his article “Cultural Imperialism”, this resulted due to Africa’s carelessness and failure to hold their culture with high esteem. He added that the moral excellence of African society has over night transformed into moral decay. Elders are no longer respected, our rapid festivals and ceremonies are now seen as “old school” and we now have children of single parents, a phenomenon that is identifiable with America. People no longer communalize, nobody wants to be anybody’s brother’s keeper. Our mode of dressing has been totally distorted by western civilization through foreign films and media content.

Today we seem not to have any cultural attire. Our people now prefer to go naked on the streets as against our culture, micro minis with handless tops has this to show. The acculturation of “blue jean and hamburger” has gradually found it way into young people in African society. The issue of dress code has led to controversies in our high institute in today. Cases of immoral dressing have also gave way to rapid sexual harassment among students and lecturers, bosses and their employees. Raping in our society today came as a result of reckless dressing code by ladies The traditional notion of chastity and virginity have been rendered absurd by pornographic and sleazy materials displayed on screens, distorting sexuality and condoning promiscuity, which has given rise to active homosexuality and lesbianism in our society today.

These cases of reckless sex have led to the rapid spread of STD’s particularly, HIV/AIDs in our society today. Innocent children are dying of this disease. They paid dearly for the offence committed by their parents. This is immoral evil militating against the dignity of human person. Increase in Crime Rate With exposure to the western way of life, increase in crime rate is on high. Most of the films we watch on the television set are crime oriented thereby leading to increase in crime rate. In as much as there is positive impact of the television set, the negative aspect outweighs the good part, as the western world is teaching modern ways to crime though the kind of programmes being disseminated, which includes kidnapping, serial killing etc.

Look for more points

We have scholars who however belief that Cultural Imperialism theory regardless of its negative effect has its positive side. Cultural imperialism they say is not entirely bad as it increases the pace of development in Nigeria and other less developed countries. For example, in the giving away of media products free of charge or selling them at a very low price to these developing nations, the US actually accelerates the growth of the media industry and the advancement in technology, hence increasing the knowledge and skills of the people there. Their actions not only add on to actual growth; the subsequent increase in human capital further boosts potential growth, which is essential for the actual growth to be sustained in the long run. This investment in human capital goes a long way and benefits the country as it strengthens the competitive edge and increases productivity of the workforce.

Economic growth is also achieved Even more so, being a developing nation, Nigeria would not have had the latest technology available to produce media products; it is only through the provision of the American companies that they are able to obtain state-of-the-art equipment. The advocacy of production of local-helmed programs would thus further enhance American influence on the nation. Despite government efforts to hinder cultural imperialism, they cannot completely eliminate the impacts of this influence as American media products have already found their way into the market and become a part of Nigeria’s media production efforts. They need such “interference” in order to keep their media industry alive WAY FORWARD Long Term Investment in the Development of our Mass Media

One way cultural imperialism spreads is through the mass media. The local media imports foreign materials because it is cheaper than having to produce local indigenous content. An example of this issue is that indigenous journalists have to learn to transcribe and rewrite news by foreign news agencies rather than source for their own stories. Sometimes even rewriting local stories covered by the foreign news agencies. Our government and private investors should invest heavily in our local media and encourage the development of indigenous content that will reflect our culture, values, promote our languages etc. Media products like movies, news, music, advertising etc should be regulated to avoid the influx of foreign content. This is where organizations like the Nigerian Broadcasting Service come in. They should develop stronger laws and be strict in its enforcement of the laws such as the 60/40% rule (60% indigenous, 40% foreign). If the indigenous media products are of high quality, the citizens will be encouraged to consume them.

This is so because a lot of people give the low quality of the products (movies, music, adverts, news etc) as reasons for not consuming them. If Nigerians consume indigenous media products, it will reflect in every area of our lives (culturally that is). An example is what is happening in the Nigerian music industry,. Because of the increase in local content in our music, it is now becoming acceptable and even encouraged to sing in our indigenous languages(Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo etc), dress in our native attires most especially Ankara and wear our national colors. There has been a rise in the popularity of Pidgin English as opposed to just speaking plain English. Also the teaching of our indigenous languages should be encouraged in our schools. All primary and secondary schools should be encouraged to teach at least one Nigerian language at all classes especially in the minority regions of the country where the minority languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Parents should further speak their native dialect with their wards or children to aid them to be conversant in their local dialect. Young adults today see it as a taboo or as inferiority complex speaking in their local dialect; “it does not sound ‘tush’ rather local” parents more importantly should be more watchful and observant in the kind of foreign stations their children tune to for their programmes as “media has become the primary means by which many of us experience or learn about many aspects of the world around us” Stanley and Dennis, 5th edition,p.200). With the presence of technology, access to International broadcast station is at the tip of the hand, we have cables surrounding us and with just a remote control, you can be anywhere in the world learning and assimilating what is been impressed on you. As such supervision is needed to regulate what is been watched.

Parents should devout time for their children while they are still young as most of the western values tend to catch them while they are still young just as the “catch them young phrase”. Another solution is to try to export our own culture as this will help in boosting tourism in Nigeria. We should conscious try to sell and promote our media products to the rest of the world. This will improve our image globally and help foreigners understand our culture, values, cuisine better. I would like to say at this point that we should not consume wholly indiginous media products. A little foreign content is still advisable as there has been some good aspects of cultural imperialism such as technological and educational advancement, political structure (democracy), eradication of some harmful practices like the killing of twins etc. We should take a balanced approach, like an 80 (indigenous))/20% (foreign).


As a result of globalization and technological advancement, the western world has succeeded in dominating the third world countries. This notwithstanding should not be an excuse for Nigerians and other third world countries to be subjugated by the western world. Nigerian as a nation should fight cultural imperialism and fight back for our lost culture. One way by which this could be done is through Long Term Investment in the Development of our Mass Media as it is the major means by which cultural imperialism spreads.

The local media imports foreign materials because it is cheaper than having to produce local indigenous content. An example of this issue is that indigenous journalists have to learn to transcribe and rewrite news by foreign news agencies rather than source for their own stories. Sometimes even rewriting local stories covered by the foreign news agencies. Our government and private investors should invest heavily in our local media and encourage the development of indigenous content that will reflect our culture, values, promote our languages etc.


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A Study of the Cultural Imperialism Theory Essay