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Last updated February 24, 2000


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Explanation of Theory:

Cultural Imperialism Theory states that Western nations dominate the media around the world which in return has a powerful effect on Third World Cultures by imposing n them Western views and therefore destroying their native cultures.

Theorists: Herb Schiller

Date: 1973

Primary Article:

     Schiller, H. J. (1973). Communication and Cultural Domination. White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press.

Individual Interpretations:

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.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

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.

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.

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 effect them in the same way.

Critique: Scientific Theory 

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 effected by Western media nd they do not lose their 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 effected 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. 


Several people have seen the episode of Southpark where one of the students is swapped for a "starving Ethiopian." Should someone in Ethiopia watch this cartoon, the Western stereotype of Ethiopians all starving to death will tell that person that all they are are tiny black people who cannot help themselves. If the person is not effected this way the theory is proved false but the relations between American and Ethiopian individuals will still be hurt because of those stereotypes.

Relevant Research:

     Boyd, D. A. (1984). The Janus Effect? Imported Television Entertainment Programming in Developing Countries. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 1, 379-391. 
     Ogan, C. (1988). Media Imperialism and the Videocassette Recorder: The Case of Turkey. Journal of Communication, 38, 93-106. Saliven, M. B. (1991). Cultural Imperialism: A Media Effects Approach. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 8, 29-38. 
     Straubhaar, J. D. (1991). Beyond Media Imperialism: Asymmetrical Interdependence and Cultural Proximity. Critical Studies in Mass Communications, 8, 39-59. 

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A