Wednesday, April 28, 2010

HomeSpun Goodness

Add this to a long list of fabulous Smithsonian products: The HomeSpun blog provides an online space for Indian immigrants and their descendants to describe the process of acculturation in the United States.

This recent blogpost comes courtesy of my friend Raj, who describes the tricky process of cultural identification from the perspective of a woman who knows her way around a rickshaw transmission, but resorts to YouTube videos when she needs to don a sari.

At heart are some of the essential questions underlying cross-cultural communication: What exactly is culture? And how do we identify its influence?

And now (because I just can't help myself) here's the nerdy public diplomacy spin: A lot of PD information programs are based on the assumption that anti-American sentiment arises from ignorance or incomplete understanding of U.S. culture. See, for example, President Bush's lamentation that "there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us" shortly after the 2001 attacks. But there's another assumption in that statement, namely that U.S. culture is something that can be defined and understood.

But, as Berger and Luckmann note in The Social Construction of Reality, reality is a social construct that is shaped by culture. The Bush administration and the Obama administration have supported information campaigns that attempt to change attitudes about the United States by spreading pro-American information throughout potentially hostile regions, using PD as a tool to reconstruct the reality of people with negative opinions about the United States.

But how can they hope to bring people around to the "right" understanding of U.S. culture when the nation's own citizens struggle to define exactly what that culture entails?

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