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Dickinson College

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Tunisia: Popular Culture and Globalization in the Arab World


When one walks down the main streets of Tunis it is clear that the faces represented in billboards do not match the faces of those walking along the streets. Why is this? Are the ads representative of the layering of civilizations that Tunisia has undergone? Are the ads from another source, such as the French, and just implementing their system on top of Tunisians expecting it to be successful? Moreover, what are the implications of these advertisements on the Tunisian identity? W.E.B. DuBois discusses the phenomenon of a “double consciousness” that has developed in African-Americans due to the portrayal of African-Americans by the dominant White American system (DuBois:1987). Is there a form of a “double consciousness” occurring in Tunisia right now? Perhaps the advertisements are a result of the phenomenon of globalization. Due to an increasing connectedness of people around the world, scholars have claimed implications on individual cultures. Regarding these implications, three main theories have been created. First, one of homogenization, which is a convergence of culture meaning that due to the dominance of a strong nation, most likely the United States, this culture will overtake all others (Holton 2000:140). The result of this hypothesis is that all other systems are wiped out and the world is left with one dominant, standard culture (Holton 2000:140). The second hypothesis is known as polarization. Edward Said describes this phenomenon in depth through his novel, Orientalism. Polarization is the hypothesis that two dominant, but contrasting, cultural stereotypes will emerge: the Western and the non-Western (Holton 2000:146). The last theory is hybridization. Hybridization is the blending of all cultures through cross-border exchange (Holton 2000:140). Under this theory, it is claimed that due to the exchanging of ideas in an increasingly connected world, one mixed culture will emerge. According to all of these theories, globalization has severe effects on culture. Due to the process of socialization, alterations in culture translate to alterations in one’s identity. Therefore, as cultures are being shifted due to globalization, what is the affect on one’s identity? How does one define himself, where does the origin of influence for his identity reside and why? I specially explore the answers to these questions through the minds of Tunisians. In order to understand the answers to these questions, I explain the phenomenon of globalization in the context of advertising. I show that through advertising, globalization has created a consumer culture around the world. In this sense, I use advertisements to represent globalization. My research uses advertisements as instruments to understand globalization’s effects on individuals’ identities within Tunisia. To start to uncover whether any of the three theories of globalization discussed above can be found within Tunisians, I ask Tunisians to interpret popular billboard advertisements found throughout Tunis. Next, I ask Tunisians about their identity. When explaining their identity, are hints of homogenization, polarization or hybridization present? Overall, I attempt uncover whether advertisements affect Tunisians’ identity. From this investigation, I realize a strong Tunisian pride remains, but that this pride is not demonstrated through the images of advertisements in Tunisia.


Mass Communication | Sociology of Culture

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