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National Cultural Repertoires

Institutional arrangements of news media and occupational cultures in each country also have to be understood as embedded within and informed by national cultures and the “repertoires of evaluation” (Lamont and Thevenot 2000a) they provide.7 Three broader national cultural differences between Germany and the United States have to be considered as conditions of possibility for professionalism. These differences should be understood as a relative dominance of values, which coexist in each country.

  • 1. One of the general agreements in comparative research is that the stronger emphasis of collectivism in Germany and individualism in the United States are central for explaining cross-national differences (Hofstede 1980). A study on property rights (Beckert 2007) enlightens this issue by ascribing different beliefs in equality, held strongly in both countries, to this fundamental opposition: German law assesses equality according to outcomes and promotes social justice to this end. The United States have a stronger concern with the preconditions of equality (equal opportunity), in line with the individualist philosophy of meritocracy. In the first instance, de facto inequalities are moderated while they are left to open competition in the latter. In a similar vein, individualism has been linked to economic liberalism and the centrality of socioeconomic status and achievement in the United States (Lamont 1992:137-139). Several studies, assembled in an edited volume (Lamont and Thevenot 2000b), found higher valence of arguments following a market logic in the United States than in France, while the reverse is true for evaluative criteria focusing on civic solidarity.
  • 2. Another important contrast between the United States and Germany revolves around the contrast between pragmatism and intellectual- ism. While there is a stronger preference to find practical solutions rather than implement rigid principles, dogmas or theories in the United States, the country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers), with its emphasis on Kultur und Bildung (culture and education) and idealism, is the opposite in this respect. Kalberg (1987) identified the intellectualism and anti-materialism of German educated classes as root causes for the influential cultural pessimistic critique of modernity at the turn of the twentieth century.

As a consequence of pragmatism, Michele Lamont concluded that the United States is a “loosely bounded culture” with less clearly coded classification systems, more tolerance for transgression and flexibility for cultural innovation (Lamont 1992:115). Even though she contrasted this with the more “tightly bounded culture” of France, a comparative study of cultural criticism reached a similar diagnosis for Germany: more rigid boundaries of aesthetic evaluation that favor high art in Germany and less hierarchical and more fluid evaluations of culture based on less rigid boundaries between high and popular culture in the United States (van Venrooij and Schmutz 2010).

3. Another cultural difference has less substantive than expressive implications. I will call this dimension mode of civil religious discourse. Religion has great import in political discourse and legitimation in the United States (Bellah 1991:168-189). Elevating the civil community through religious symbols became untenable in Germany after the Holocaust, however. This is not to say that religion is absent in German political culture but that it is wrong to think of it as a civil religion comparable to the United States (Minkenberg 1997). Yet, it is hard to imagine an absence of religious-like moral discourses and binaries, especially concerning the centrality of the Holocaust in German history. The point is that because of the relative inability to celebrate Germaneness, the mode of German public discourse is typically low mimetic (Frye 1973), which implies that moral oppositions between heroes and villains in public narratives are less clearly differentiated (P. Smith 2005). This is why media research finds more moral and emotive discourse in US news compared to Germany, which appears more matter-of-fact and detached in comparison (e.g. Ferree et al. 2002; Umbricht and Esser 2016). The discursive mode in the German public sphere would seem to also extend to the self-presentation of its participants, including journalists, and to how they conceive of themselves and perform professionalism.

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