Global Communications and Cultural Change
Pippa Norris Books

John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


See recent book covers at's

Order from Cambridge University Press

Back to other books









Cosmopolitan Communications

Cultural Diversity in a Globalized World

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart

(Harvard University and University of Michigan)

Cambridge University Press.

Order direct from Amazon for $25.99.


Many societies have experienced a flood of information from diverse channels originating far beyond local communities and even national borders, transmitted through the rapid expansion of access to mass communications.  This is a core component of the broader phenomenon of globalization. The late twentieth century witnessed a decisive shift in the scale, density, and velocity of cultural interactions which cut across the territorial boundaries of the nation-state. These profound changes are widely observed. But the consequences -- especially the impact on geographically-isolated cultures which were previously stranded at the periphery of modern communication networks -- are far from clear. What happens to communities living in distant rural villages in Bhutan, as well as far-flung districts and remote provinces in Burkina Faso, Burma, and Afghanistan, once the world connects directly to these places and people living in these places learn more about the modern world?


The most common assumption is that the expansion of the global media will gradually encourage cultural convergence around the world. The heart of this book develops a new theoretical framework and examines systematic evidence to analyze whether the global media has the capacity to reduce national diversity, for good or ill. We theorize that the expansion of communication flows from the global North to South will probably have the greatest impact on national cultures in cosmopolitan societies characterized by integration into world markets, providing few external barriers to cultural imports; freedom of the press, facilitating internal information flows; and also widespread public access to mass communications. Provincial societies which lack these conditions are less likely to be affected by the growing pace and density of global communications. Moreover at individual level there are important limits on media access and also social psychological learning barriers to the acquisition of enduring values and attitudes. For all these reasons, the threat of cosmopolitan communications on cultural diversity is commonly exaggerated.

This book outlines these ideas, and then lays out the data and survey evidence, drawing upon the World Values Survey, covering 90 societies worldwide from 1981-2006. Paired case studies also allow more in-depth analysis. The broad comparative framework and the innovative research design allow the core propositions to be tested empirically. The conclusion considers the implications for cultural policies. The book will contribute towards the research literature on political communications, comparative politics, comparative sociology, globalization, development, comparative public opinion, political behavior, journalism and media studies.

Book Reviews

“A challenging, fact-packed study that defangs the monster of cultural imperialism! Scholars and governments may not agree with the authors’ conclusions, but they cannot ignore the powerful arguments set forth in this seminal volume. This book is a major contribution to the study of global communication flows and their impact on diverse cultures.” 
-Doris Graber, University of Illinois at Chicago

“Norris and Inglehart have written an important book on the debate about the impact of mass media on cultural values across the world. It turns conventional wisdom on its head by showing that, far from producing cultural convergence, the impact of an increasingly global mass media differs significantly according to the medium as well as the audience. Where societies show an openness to the broader world, cosmopolitan values can flourish. In other contexts, cosmopolitan values are likely to make less headway. Access to mass media still allows plenty of room for the imprint of distinctive national cultures. This book will be indispensable to all those interested in debates about the changing nature and form of culture in a global age.” 
-David Held, London School of Economics

Cosmopolitan Communications addresses widely held beliefs and theories of the impact of mass communication on society. Is access to modern mass media destroying cultural diversity? Does it generate cultural convergence? Are we facing ‘Americanization’ or cultural imperialism as a consequence? This book tackles these questions empirically on a global scale. Results demonstrate that the spread of media of mass communication does have an impact on all spheres of life. However, and more importantly, results also show that the fear of a loss of cultural diversity is greatly exaggerated and mostly unfounded. This book is a long awaited contribution to a debate that has relied on ideological argument alone far too long.” 
-Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Social Science Research Center Berlin

“The authors present a well documented and balanced examination of the role and influence mass media on cultures. Based on their ‘firewall theory’ the book is a significant addition to the crucial area detailing under what circumstances values are impacted by Western media and values on a global level. It breaks new ground and provides a comprehensive analysis of factors influencing or not influencing a range of cultures. Must read for anyone looking at the nexus of culture and mass media from an international perspective.” 
-Thomas McPhail, University of Missouri

“Norris and Inglehart’s comprehensive and highly commendable book is not only empirically very rich but also breaks new ground theoretically. Cosmopolitan Communications provides a new roadmap for the study of transnational communication and culture.” 
-Daya Thussu, University of Westminster, London

“This meticulous and sophisticated empirical survey of the formation of cultural and political values in relation to exposure to news media dispels some persistent myths and casts new light on a discourse which has become dominated by entrenched positions. More than this, it offers an original and persuasive thesis on the significantly moderating effects of local cultural and institutional conditions on cosmopolitan communications. A landmark study and an essential point of reference for analysts, activists and policy makers alike.” 
-John Tomlinson, Nottingham Trent University


List of tables

List of figures

Preface and acknowledgments


1.       Is cultural diversity under threat?

2.      Investigating cultural convergence


Part I: Firewalls

3.       Markets

4.       Poverty

5.       Classifying societies


Part II: Consequences

6.      Citizens: National and cosmopolitan identities

7.      Consumers: Economic values

8.      Morality: Traditional values, gender equality and sexuality

9.      Activists: Civic engagement


    10.   Cultural convergence over time?

11.    Conclusions: The implications for cultural policies

Technical Appendix A: Concepts and measures

Technical Appendix B: List of countries

Technical Appendix C: Methods


Select bibliography



Copyright 2008 Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138.

Last updated 12/13/2009