Media theorist Marshall McLuhan, explored the ways electronic media have transformed the values, lifestyles, and institutions of Western civilization. McLuhan’s most famous idea is that “the medium is the message,” which argues that the important thing about media is not the messages they carry, but the way the medium itself affects human consciousness and society at large. McLuhan believed that media profoundly impacted human consciousness and culture, and that the emergence of new media forms led to a fundamental restructuring of the cultural order and the collective framework of consciousness.
McLuhan argued that human history has largely been driven forward by changes in the media that society is built around, and that each successive wave of change, from the introduction of writing to the introduction of the printing press, and subsequently television and the internet, have all restructured, not just what we use to communicate with one another, but how we conceive what it is possible to think in the first place.
McLuhan’s theory is laid out in his book “Understanding Media,” where he defines media as extensions of ourselves. McLuhan’s assertion is that the dominant medium of communication shapes a society more than the content of its messages. If we follow this line of thinking, we can track how the introduction of new media forms, such as electronic gaming, social media and digital media production, have had a significant impact on our present-day cultural order.
Here are some examples of how new media forms have influenced culture:
- Globalisation: The rapid development of new media, such as the internet and social media, has accelerated the trend of globalisation in human society. These platforms have facilitated intercultural communication and the exchange of ideas, leading to the blending and diffusion of cultures.
- Digitalisation of Culture: The emergence of new media forms has resulted in the digitalisation of culture. This involves individuals abstracting from real life and obtaining digital identities, as well as the creation of digital culture. Digital media has transformed the way cultural artefacts, such as music, films, and literature, are created, distributed, and consumed.
- Influence on Cultural Practices: New media forms, particularly social media, have had a significant impact on cultural practices. They shape public opinion, disseminate cultural knowledge, and facilitate the spread of artistic creations worldwide. However, the influence of media corporations in deciding which stories to tell and promote can also impact cultural preferences.
- Cultural Identity: Social media usage has influenced cultural identity by encouraging association and interconnecting across cultures. It has become a powerful platform that shapes our value framework, thinking process, and perspective on life. The media’s influence on cultural identity is a subject of constant concern, as it can both contribute to the acculturation process and raise questions about the direction societies are following.
- Cultural Construction: Media plays a crucial role in the construction of culture. It influences people’s way of life, shapes cultural norms and values, and contributes to the formation of collective consciousness. The media has the power to introduce new aspects to cultures and facilitate intercultural socialisation.
The introduction of new media forms, particularly those connected with the internet and digital production, have transformed our cultural order in a very short period of time, not simply by facilitating globalisation, digitalising culture, shaping cultural practices, influencing cultural identity, and contributing to cultural construction, but also by changing the symbolic framework within which these practices take place and are understood. These changes have both positive and negative impacts on individuals and society, and it’s important to critically analyse and understand the role of media in shaping Western culture, particularly at a point where we are experiencing high levels of cultural disruption, as social norms are being questioned and challenged, then reconfirmed and reasserted.
Cultural disruption refers to the process of changing the social order of an organisation or society, often through the introduction of new ideas, practices, or technologies. It can be seen as a way to challenge the status quo, and opening up space for new ways of thinking or doing things. The Cultural Disruption model has been conceptualised in relation to the process of solving of what is called a Unique Cultural Problem (UCP). According to Marius Dønnestad, “Cultural problems are the tensions that arise within and between people and groups of people as they – driven by their moral intuitions – compete to survive and thrive in modern society. Cultural problems, then, relate to identity, status and belonging.”
A UCP must fulfil three criteria: Differentiation, Cultural Relevance, and Cultural Impact. In order for ideas and concepts to be meaningful, they must be clearly identifiable from the wider mix of social and cultural ideas that are in circulation in public discourse at any point. They must also accord with the cultural values, beliefs, and practices, if not of the host community, at least an emerging or developing community, thereby ensuring a meaningful connection is realised with people who take these ideas forward.
Cultural relevance can be achieved through cultural insights, local knowledge, or cultural adaptation, though the routes for achieving any significant degree of familiarity and social salience within a particular cultural framework, may not be evenly distributed or common to everyone. They may become more likely, however, as universalistic models of media distribution break down and networks of personalised symbolic relevance become more prevalent. For a UCP to have cultural impact, then, it will have to offer a meaningful sense of a social responsibility, cultural innovation, or cultural leadership.
At some point, a group of people will have to decide that they are unhappy with the status quo of the found situation in which they no longer identify with. They may then seek to advance an agenda of cultural disruption that brings about either social or organisational change. This is the nature of politics, civic life, professional management and systems management, but it is also tied with commercial activity, the arts, popular culture, and the expression of ideas in public discourse. Perhaps the most significant cultural disruptor of recent times has been Donald Trump, who, despite having once occupied the most powerful role in the global order, continually saw himself as the archetypal disruptor of social norms and conventions.
While Trump might be an extreme example of the cultural disruptor, the process of disruption can itself be manifested in several forms, not all based on individual conditions:
Culture Change: People who see themselves as building the ‘best culture’ for society or an organisation, often depend on recruiting other people as part of a strategy that pays attention to the opportunities and risks arising from social change. For example, with the climate crisis, and the extreme forms of disruptive behaviour that are exemplified in the Just Stop Oil protest, where people who believe that social disruption is the only way to deal with the greater harms of carbon uses, are prepared to antagonise the majority population. There is no play book for managing change in this way, and many people approach the challenge of social protest with an unpredictable impact mindset, going from challenge to challenge. However, in the process, they are hoping that they can build societies capacity and willingness to change.
Disruptive Culture: In contrast, disruptive cultures encourage creativity and innovation by rewarding intelligent risk-taking. The aim of cultural disruptors in this mode is to support and develop agile leadership behaviours at all levels of society and within organisations. This is a model of disruption that recognises the need to build the capacity for social change based, though this is based on pragmatic and practical assessments of needs, resources, and efficiencies. Think of the campaign to ban smoking in public places, or the campaign for Same-Sex Marriage. Rather than demanding that people just stop using something, or doing something, this developmental model of disruptive behaviour seeks to define practical changes that can be brought in without causing distress or pushback from the public. A negative rejection of the message of change can undermine change if it is handled in the wrong manner. The disruptive culture mindset instead seeks to slowly build acceptance of the need to change.
Cultural Disrupter: A cultural disrupter, then, is someone who uses culture itself to challenge the existing state of affairs and creates a new way of thinking or doing things. This often comes in the form of artists, musicians, writers, and now social media influencers. The cultural disrupter will often introduce new ideas, practices, or technologies into the popular domain which have long-lasting and significant effect on people and their expectations of change within either the social order, or the order of an organisation. The adoption of email for communications in organisations had to be championed and systematised so that it became a default form of engagement between employees in nearly all businesses. The danger is that the disrupter can seek to impose their preferred solution and enforce cultural homogeneity, though at this stage in the cycle of technical development of media, there is insufficient institutionalisation of single ways of doing things. Look at how Twitter is now being challenged with Threads, Blue Sky and Mastodon, each nibbling away at the expectation that new and emerging technologies can themselves be easily displaced.
Overall, cultural disruption can be seen as a way to create positive change and challenge the current conditions. However, it requires a willingness to take risks, embrace new ideas, and be open to change. Implementing cultural disruption in an organisation can be challenging due to various factors. Here are some of the challenges that organisations, for example, may face:
- Resistance to Change: Cultural disruption often involves introducing new ideas, practices, or technologies that challenge the existing norms and ways of doing things. Resistance to change from employees who are comfortable with the existing state of affairs can hinder the implementation of cultural disruption.
- Lack of Alignment: If the cultural disruption is not aligned with the organisation’s overall strategy and goals, it may face difficulties in gaining support and buy-in from employees and stakeholders. It is crucial to ensure that the cultural disruption aligns with the organisation’s vision and objectives.
- Cultural Clash: Implementing cultural disruption may lead to clashes between different cultural values and beliefs within the organisation. This can create conflicts and resistance among employees, making it challenging to establish a cohesive and unified culture.
- Leadership Support: Cultural disruption requires strong leadership support and commitment. If leaders are not fully invested in driving the change and do not actively promote and model the desired cultural behaviours, it can hinder the successful implementation of cultural disruption.
- Communication and Training: Effective communication and training are essential for successfully implementing cultural disruption. Clear and consistent communication about the reasons for the change, its benefits, and how it aligns with the organisation’s values is crucial. Additionally, providing adequate training and support to employees to adapt to the new cultural norms and practices is important.
- Sustaining the Change: Cultural disruption is an ongoing process, and sustaining the change over time can be challenging. It requires continuous effort, reinforcement, and monitoring to ensure that the desired cultural behaviours and practices are embedded in the organisation’s DNA.
Implementing cultural disruption in an organisation requires careful planning, effective leadership support, sensitive communication, and a focus on aligning the change with the organisation’s strategy and goals. Overcoming resistance, managing cultural clashes, and sustaining the change are key challenges that need to be addressed for successful implementation. Overcoming resistance to cultural disruption can be challenging, but there are several strategies that organisations can use to address this issue.
Here are some ways to overcome resistance to cultural disruption:
- Communicate the Benefits: It is essential to communicate the benefits of cultural disruption to people and stakeholders. This can help anyone affected by the proposed changes to understand why the change is necessary and how it can benefit them, their community and the people who are associated with their social development.
- Involve Employees: Involving people in the cultural disruption process can help them feel more invested in the change and reduce resistance. This can be done through co-development and participative planning sessions, co-operative decision-making, and other forms of social and mutual engagement.
- Provide Training and Support: Providing adequate training and support to people and communities can help them adapt to the new cultural norms and practices. This can include training on new technologies, processes, and behaviours. The most effective way to learn is to facilitate co-learning in a social context, rather than trying to impose something from without or above the social setting.
- Lead by Example: The concept of leadership is worth questioning. In community development terms, facilitation and stewardship are more effective ways to bring about change. Facilitators should model the desired cultural behaviours and practices to encourage colleagues to follow suit. This can help create a culture of accountability and commitment to change.
- Address Concerns: Addressing concerns and feedback from people and groups within each community can help reduce resistance to cultural disruption. This can be done through open communication channels, feedback sessions, and other forms of engagement.
- Align with Values: Ensuring that the cultural disruption aligns with a clear and contestable set of values is essential for public engagement. Imposing one set of values and not allowing any further discussion undermines the trust-building process. Clarity and agreed values, when expressed as a defined mission, can help people see change as a natural evolution of the social framework and the culture we adopt as an expression of that. This can help reduce resistance and increase buy-in.
Overcoming resistance to cultural disruption requires a combination of effective communication, employee engagement, training and support, leadership modelling, addressing concerns, and alignment with values. By addressing these challenges, organisations can successfully implement cultural disruption and create a more innovative and adaptive culture. A values-led approach to cultural disruption, therefore, is one that is based on the organisation’s core values and beliefs. Here are some key points about a values-led approach to cultural disruption:
- Solving Cultural Problems: The Cultural Disruption model is based on the principle that people create social value by solving social and cultural problems. A values-led approach to cultural disruption involves identifying and addressing cultural problems that are aligned with the communities’ values and beliefs.
- Guidance of Place-Based Values: Values-led social leadership is characterised as being founded on values that underpin stewardship-like relationships between people and place. This approach emphasises the importance of aligning our developmental and systematised values with the organic and emergent values of the community and environment in which we operate.
- Culture Alignment: A values-led approach to cultural disruption requires aligning the change with the communities’ values and purpose. This can help people see the change as a natural evolution of the communities culture and reduce resistance.
- Rewarding Intelligent Risk-Taking: Disruptive cultures encourage creativity and innovation and reward intelligent risk-taking. A values-led approach to cultural disruption can foster a culture of innovation and risk-taking that is aligned with the values and beliefs of a community.
- Building Social Muscle: Building the best culture for a community requires a people and culture strategy that pays attention to the opportunities and risks arising from whatever sort of change is being introduced. A values-led approach to cultural disruption involves building the social muscle to adapt to the changing cultural landscape, and to ensure that no one is left out or behind when changes are introduced.
A values-led approach to cultural disruption, therefore, involves aligning the desired change with the communities values and beliefs, solving cultural problems that are rooted in a communities sense of identity and values, while fostering a culture of innovation and risk-taking that is aligned with these values. By taking a values-led approach, change-makers can successfully implement cultural disruption and create a more adaptive and innovative culture.
In some circumstances, indeed many circumstances, change is difficult to foster, as people are naturally conservative and find disruption in-and-of-itself to be something that is best avoided. Integrating a values-led approach into cultural disruption can face several potential challenges, such as a resistance that pushes back against change because people are comfortable with the existing culture and may be reluctant to embrace new values and behaviours. Therefore, any approach to change would benefit from avoiding dissonance and conflict, and instead seeking alignment with the existing culture. By integrating a values-led approach, it is possible to introduce a new set of values with the existing culture of the community. If there is a significant misalignment, it can be challenging to bridge the gap and create a cohesive cultural framework.
Leadership support is crucial for successful cultural disruption. It’s demonstrable that Margaret Thatcher was a significant disruptor of the economic order in the UK, however, after more than forty years in which the consequences have been assessed, it is impossible to say the results were worth the cost, as the UK is in an equally parlous position as it was in the 1970s. If leaders do not fully embrace and demonstrate the new values that the community wishes to embrace, then it’s possible to undermine the integration of a values-led approach. As seen in the 1970s, this lack of integration created generational disturbance, and resulted in a cultural clash, where many people felt disenfranchised and expressed their dissatisfaction through antagonistic forms of popular culture. This led to conflicts and resistance among sections of the population, and therefore made it challenging to establish a unified culture.
Effectively communicating the rationale and benefits of the values-led approach, and providing education and training to people in their communities on the new values and behaviours expected of them, can be a challenge. Lack of clear communication and understanding can hinder the successful integration of the approach. Having a collective purpose is easily manifested at a time of social risk, such as at a time of war or during a pandemic, but in general terms, it is much more difficult to bring people together to accept the need for a unified social or national project. Cultural disruption is therefore an ongoing process, and sustaining the change over time can be challenging. It requires continuous effort, reinforcement, and monitoring to ensure that the desired cultural values and behaviours are embedded in the social DNA.
Addressing these challenges requires determined and foresighted leadership based on mutual trust building, collaborative decision-making, accessibility and inclusion, with support for everyone to contribute. This must then be articulated through effective communication that is in alignment with existing cultural values and expectations, and is committed to providing high-quality education and training with a focus on sustaining the change. By proactively addressing these challenges within communities, it can increase the likelihood of successfully integrating a values-led approach into cultural disruption.
To facilitate open and respectful communication during cultural conflicts, consider the following strategies:
- Recognise and Respect Cultural Values: Acknowledge and respect the cultural values and beliefs of all parties involved in the conflict. This helps create an environment of understanding and empathy.
- Promote Active Listening: Encourage active listening by all parties involved. This involves giving full attention to the speaker, seeking clarification, and summarizing what has been said to ensure understanding.
- Avoid Assumptions and Stereotypes: Be mindful of assumptions and stereotypes that may arise during cross-cultural communication. Challenge preconceived notions and approach the conversation with an open mind.
- Learn About Different Cultures: Take the time to learn about the customs, values, beliefs, and communication styles of individuals from different cultural backgrounds. This knowledge can help foster understanding and bridge cultural gaps.
- Use Simple and Clear Language: Use language that is easily understood by all parties involved. Avoid jargon, slang, or complex terminology that may create confusion or misunderstandings.
- Encourage Open Communication: Create a safe and inclusive space for open communication. Encourage individuals to express their perspectives, concerns, and feelings without fear of judgment or reprisal.
- Mediation and Conflict Resolution: If necessary, consider involving a neutral third party or mediator to facilitate the resolution of cultural conflicts. A mediator can help guide the conversation and ensure that all parties are heard and respected.
By implementing these strategies, organisations can foster open and respectful communication during cultural conflicts, leading to better understanding, collaboration, and resolution. However, while cultural disruption and cultural conflict are related concepts, they have some key differences:
Cultural Disruption refers to the process of changing the social order of an organisation or society, often through the introduction of new ideas, practices, or technologies. Cultural disruption can be seen as a way to challenge the existing state of affairs and create a new way of thinking or doing things. Cultural disruption is often intentional and can be driven by a desire to innovate, improve, or adapt to changing circumstances.
Cultural Conflict, in contrast, occurs when there are cultural differences between individuals within an organisation or through general interaction with one another. Cultural conflict can arise from differences in norms, values, and background assumptions. Cultural conflict can be triggered by misunderstandings, stereotypes, and assumptions about other cultures. Cultural conflict can be resolved, however, through strategies that promote understanding, respect, and empathy for cultural differences. Overall, cultural disruption is a deliberate process of change, while cultural conflict is a natural occurrence that arises from cultural differences. While cultural disruption can lead to cultural conflict, it can also be a way to address cultural conflict by introducing new ideas and practices that promote understanding and respect for cultural differences.
Community media can play a crucial role in facilitating cultural disruption and avoiding cultural conflict. Here are some ways community media can contribute:
- Promoting Understanding and Empathy: Community media can promote understanding and empathy for cultural differences by providing a platform for diverse voices and perspectives. This can help break down stereotypes and promote a more inclusive and collaborative culture.
- Encouraging Open Communication: Community media can create a safe and inclusive space for open communication and dialogue. This can help individuals express their perspectives, concerns, and feelings without fear of judgment or reprisal.
- Fostering Collaboration and Innovation: Community media can foster collaboration and innovation by bringing together individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds to work on common goals and projects. This can help create a culture of shared values and principles while respecting individual differences.
- Challenging Assumptions and Stereotypes: Community media can challenge assumptions and stereotypes that may arise during cross-cultural communication. By promoting critical thinking and reflection, community media can help individuals approach the conversation with an open mind.
- Providing Education and Training: Community media can provide education and training to individuals on cultural differences and values. This can help reduce misunderstandings and conflicts and promote a more inclusive and respectful culture.
Moreover, community media can play a vital role in facilitating cultural disruption and avoiding cultural conflict by promoting understanding, encouraging open communication, fostering collaboration and innovation, challenging assumptions and stereotypes, and providing education and training. By leveraging the power of community media, organisations can create a more inclusive and adaptive culture that is aligned with their values and beliefs. Community media platforms can facilitate cross-cultural communication and understanding in the following ways:
- Providing a Platform for Diverse Voices: Community media platforms can provide a platform for individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds to share their perspectives and experiences. This can help promote understanding and empathy for cultural differences.
- Culturally Relevant Messages: Community media platforms can enable the communication of culturally relevant messages to specific communities, even segmenting according to different identities, interests, and experiences. The purpose of community-focussed communication is to engage in mutually resonant conversations and discussions that are meaningful.
- Forcing Services to Learn: Community media offers people an opportunity to respond to issues that are of concern within their bonded groups, and allows them to address biased or stereotypical communications. In a partnership approach, service providers and other public stakeholders can learn and adapt their approach to engagement in a more culturally sensitive manner.
- Encouraging Communication Across Cultures: With more than half of the world’s population using social media, communication across cultures has become smoother and more frequent. Community media platforms, however, are better placed to facilitate cross-cultural communication and interaction because they are collective and shared platforms, with built-in self-governance and accountability processes. This means that information dissemination and interpersonal communication can challenge misinformation and divisive communications because they are trusted in the flow, sharing, and transfer of different cultural symbolic purposes in the world.
- Promoting Cultural Understanding: Community media platforms can promote cultural understanding by providing education and training to individuals on cultural differences and values. This can help reduce misunderstandings and conflicts and promote a more inclusive and respectful culture.
Community media platforms, then, can play a vital role in facilitating cross-cultural communication and understanding in relation to cultural disruption because community media can provide platforms for diverse voices, while targeting culturally relevant messages, forcing stakeholders to learn, encouraging communication across cultures, and promoting cultural understanding through education and training. By leveraging the power of community media, we can create a more inclusive and adaptive culture that is aligned with their values and beliefs. The aim is not to produce a space where everyone agrees, but to create a safe space where everyone can disagree if necessary.