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Impact case study

Globalization and Culture

Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

School: School of Arts and Humanities


Professor John Tomlinson has acted as a consultant to national and international bodies including UNESCO, influencing their thinking, policies and practices. He has shaped cultural practitioners' understanding of the cultural consequences of globalization through presentations to major cultural organisations.

He has provided conceptual and contextual analysis of cultural policy-related issues to inform the thinking and decision-making of international bodies through:

  • addresses to the Council of Europe (Budapest 2003, Strasbourg 2005)
  • an expert presentation on cultural respect and understanding to the Commonwealth Civil Society Consultations Meeting.
  • a submission to the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding, which reported to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala (2007).

Influence on UNESCO policy-making The most significant impact stems from Tomlinson's expert briefing document for UNESCO in 2008: Cultural globalization and the representation of otherness through the media. This paper informed UNESCO's world report: Investing in cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue (2010). Tomlinson's research underpinned conclusions drawn by UNESCO on cultural diversity in a changing media landscape in Chapter five of the report, and informed UNESCO's recommendations on supporting the production and distribution of media that respond to the needs of local contexts .

Professor Tomlinson influenced the way the UNESCO report addressed the relation between globalization and cultural diversity by directing attention to the process of deterritorialization (a concept that was at the heart of Tomlinson's Globalization and culture. An example of this direct influence is on p.14 of the UNESCO Report: "One of the most far-reaching effects of globalization is a weakening of the usual connection between a cultural event and its geographical location as a result of the dematerialization or deterritorialization process facilitated by information and communication technologies" (Tomlinson, 2007). In Chapter 5, there is clear evidence of Tomlinson's influence in the discussion of "Counter flows, local and regional trends" (p.133 ff.) and "A changing media landscape" (p.135 ff.) These particular recommendations continue to feed into UNESCO's sectoral priorities and policies.

Facilitating responsible corporate action The BBVA Foundation (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) invited Tomlinson as one of "the finest researchers and creators worldwide" to write a chapter on 'Cultural globalization reconsidered' for the book: The multiple faces of globalization (2009). The BBVA Foundation is one of the world's largest corporate sponsors of research as "the most effective means to address the challenges facing contemporary society". Contributors' findings resulted in the foundation producing strategies for responsible corporate action to meet the demands of a globalized world.

Encouraging international cooperation in development Tomlinson was commissioned to write an article for Welt-Sichten (World View), a magazine for global development and ecumenical cooperation published by a coalition of church-based charities in Germany and Switzerland. A revised version appeared as Eine Welt Taschenkalender (2012), a diary-calendar that aims to engage the public and provoke discussion. These publications are evidence of Tomlinson's impact on public debate and understanding.

Promoting global artistic expression Tomlinson delivered a keynote address at the Impakt Arts Festival Conference on Accelerated Living in Utrecht in 2009. His talk provided an analytical framework for artists from across Europe to reflect on their practices in the context of the cultural condition of global immediacy. His lecture 'Architecture, globalization, locality' to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2011 gave architects an opportunity to reflect on the cultural impact of professional practice in the context of the globalization process.

Research background

Tomlinson has researched the cultural dimensions of globalization since 1996. The first major outcome was the publication of the influential Globalization and culture. This was the first study to attempt to interpret the cultural dimensions - as distinct from the economic, technological and political dimensions - of the globalization process. Situating itself theoretically at the interface between sociology and cultural analysis, the book analyses and interprets the impact of globalization in the sphere of culture, and the role of culture in the constitution of the dynamics of globalization itself.

In each of the three areas summarised below, the research has broad relevance for a range of end users in the cultural and political spheres.

Emergence of globalized culture Tomlinson's research aims to understand the emergence and trajectory of globalized culture which, while giving due weight to the specificity of the cultural, nonetheless insists on its complex entanglement with economic, technological and political factors. In particular, Tomlinson interprets globalized cultural production and experience as outcomes of, on the one hand, the time-space transformations of social and cultural modernity and, on the other hand, of the dynamics of contemporary capitalism. His work is informed by a focus on the intersection of cultural modernity and the global capitalist economy. As a result, he interprets culture as everyday practice and lived experience framed within an analysis of global and national institutional processes. One significant implication of this has been a re-interpretation of theories of cultural imperialism in terms of a more complex process of the deterritorialization of culture, significantly inflected by the commodification of cultural experience deriving from capitalism.

Nature and prospects of cultural identities Tomlinson's research explores how cultural identities are constituted in globalized societies. In particular, he explores this in relation to debates over the agenda of cultural diversity, and the nature and prospects for cultural cosmopolitanism. His analysis views cultural identities as essentially plural subject positions that are generated, rather than threatened, by the dynamics of global modernity so that cosmopolitan forms of identity co-exist with national and ethnic ones. These insights have been developed in consultation work for international public sector institutions such as UNESCO.

Communications and media Tomlinson has examined the key role of communications and media technologies in the deterritorialization of cultural experience. This work has developed in recent years in two directions. Firstly, it explores the role of contemporary media and communication practices in the organization of people's experience of their locality and its relation to distant events and processes. Secondly, it analyses the role of media technologies in the constitution of cultural immediacy.



  • Tomlinson, J., 1999. Globalization and culture. Cambridge: Polity.
    Over 1900 citations on Google Scholar, reprinted 6 times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005). It has been translated into numerous languages: Japanese translation: Seidosha, 2000; Chinese translation (complex character): Weber Publications, Taipei, 2000; Korean translation: Nanam Publication House, 2000; Italian translation: Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 2000; Spanish translation: Oxford University Press Mexico, 2001; Chinese Simplified Character: Nanjing University Press, 2000 ; Farsi translation: Cultural Research Bureau, Tehran, 2003; Turkish translation: Ayrinti Yayinlari; Lithuanian translation: Leidykla "Mintis" Vilnius; Romanian translation: Editora Amacord, 2004; Arabic translation: Kuwait Cultural Bureau, 2008.
  • Tomlinson, J., 2002. Interests and identities in cosmopolitan politics, in Vertovec, S. and Cohen, R. eds, Conceiving cosmopolitanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 240-53.
  • Tomlinson, J., 2003. The agenda of globalization. New Formations, 50. 10-21.
  • Tomlinson, J., 2007. Globalization and cultural analysis, in Held, D. and McGrew, A. eds, Globalization theory: Approaches and controversies. Cambridge: Polity. 148-68.
  • Tomlinson, J., 2007. The culture of speed. London: Sage.