Linguistic Capital

A third capital applicable in identifying an audiences preferences of television as a cultural good is linguistic. According to Morrison and Lui “Linguistic capital can be defined as fluency in, and comfort with, a high-status, worldwide language which is used by groups who possess economic, social, cultural, and political power and status in local and global society” (2000, p. 473). According to the authors, Linguistic capital has exchange value in markets (Morrison & Lui, 2000). The “disposition about language acquired in the course of learning to speak in particular context,” or linguistic habitus (Chavez, 2014, p. 28), is a form of linguistic capital which can be used as an advantage in social and market contexts. Being part of a contextual speech community or knowing foreign languages well enough to understand the cultural norms transmitted through them gives individuals access and, in some cases, power and can serve as a commodity.

This chapter argues, however, based on an analysis of survey interviews in eight Latin American countries, that the proportion of people whose identity is deeply globalized is actually still quite small, and that the traditional layers of identity at the local, regional, and national levels are still the strongest for the large majority of people, with the cultural-linguistic region rapidly becoming very important for some cultures.

Capitals, Class, Viewing Options, and Viewing Choices

Cultural proximity is also limited by factors largely related to social class stratification. It also evolves with the changing nature of television, which has moved from dominance by a few broadcast channels to a much larger, more fragmented universe of competing pay TV and internet channels, as well (Lotz, 2014). One of the remarkable things about most Latin American countries was that pay TV or multichannel television penetration had been very low (Porto, 1998) by global standards for middle income countries until the mid-to-late 2000s, other than Argentina and Colombia, where multichannel penetration had been much higher, above half, much longer (Straubhaar et al., 2016). However, that seems to be changing, which is likely to have a complex interaction with cultural proximity, which had been notably high in Latin America, both for national and regional television productions (Sinclair & Straubhaar, 2013).

National audiences or other cultural groups originally united by language and/or culture in ways that gave rise to the theory of cultural proximity (Straubhaar, 1991) seem to be increasingly fragmented by economic, cultural, and linguistic capital in the senses defined by Pierre Bourdieu (1984,1991). Economic capital (Bourdieu, 1984) has long given some people in the economic elite of many countries access to multiple television channels, particularly those delivered by satellite or cable, that the vast majority of the population could not afford (Porto, 1998), when they were originally diffusing rapidly in other countries. Changing income distribution in key Latin American countries seems to be expanding these possibilities well beyond the elite. In Brazil, for example, prior to the economic slowdown that began in 2014, estimates were that close to 40 million people had risen from the working class or working poor into the ranks of the lower middle class, where it was now feasible for them to have pay TV or broadband internet, to use internet-based television more easily. Similar economic expansion in China, other BRICS countries, and other middle income countries such as Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, and others, seem to be producing similar changes in access to media, while some countries once considered developing, like South Korea and Singapore, now have among the highest multichannel, internet, and digital media penetrations in the world (ITU, 2019).

Increased economic capital gives audiences greater access to more kinds of television, which may challenge the kind of loyalty implied by cultural proximity by providing many more alternatives. Increased cultural capital gained from family background, education, travel, etc. may give audiences the cultural knowledge that might make previously unfamiliar, foreign television programs more interesting or relevant. Increased linguistic capital would work in a manner very similar to cultural capital, but based specifically on language learning leading to broader interest in other cultures’ television.

Cultural proximity also evolves with the changing nature of television, which has moved from dominance by a few broadcast channels to a much larger, more fragmented universe of competing pay TV and internet channels (Lotz, 2014). In most countries, at least until the major economic growth of the lower middle classes in the 2000s, only elites or upper middle classes have had the education, employment experiences, travel opportunities, and family backgrounds that give them the cultural (Bourdieu, 1984) or linguistic (Bourdieu, 1991) capital required to seek, understand, and enjoy programs in other languages, from other countries (Straubhaar, 2007). One remarkable feature about most Latin American countries was that pay TV or multichannel television penetration remained very low (Porto, 1998) by global standards for middle income countries until the mid-to-late 2000s, with the exception of Argentina and Colombia, where multichannel penetration had been much higher for a long time (Straubhaar et al., 2016). People in the economic elite in many Latin American countries had long been able to access foreign programming through subscription services that were mostly unaffordable for the majority of the population (Porto, 1998).

This chapter posits that this wealth enables more parts of the audience to obtain more viewing choices and options increased (until recent recessions caused by Covid-19) across more parts of the population in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, and in similar countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in most countries. This rapidly increasing economic capital is a major factor in the evolution of cultural proximity.

 
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