The Ascendancy of Geoeconomy: The Quest for Global Culture

Chapter 10

The Economic War”

In his Letter to the French” of April 1988 — which was intended to offer a program for his second seven-year term as president — Francois Mitterrand wrote: Let us consider the world economy; it appears as nothing but a battlefield where businesses wage a pitiless war. No prisoners are taken. Whoever falls, dies. As in military strategy, the victor always follows simple rules: have the best preparation, the fastest moves, take the offensive on adverse territory, have good allies and the will to win.” This martial discourse reflects the spirit of the 1980s.1 Clausewitz to the rescue of marketing,” the battle for spoils,” officer of the new world conflict,” psychological movements of images on demand”: these are a few expressions gleaned from strategic treatises and financial magazines, examples among others of the combat noises heard among corporations seeking to continue politics by other means in the theater of world operations. Needless to say, the semantic aggressiveness of the new officers and high priests of the economic war would appear derisory and shameless when real war broke out in the Gulf.

Throughout the world, corporate actors had grown in visibility, not only in the great financial markets but on the best-seller lists. For his first book, Thomas J. Peters, American guru of excellence,” pocketed nearly two million dollars in royalties.2 In France, the largest publisher specializing in this type of work was publishing a hundred books a year in 1989, as compared with ten during the preceding decade. These books, which enjoyed a transnational readership far broader than just business executives, provided a medium for the followers of the new business doctrine — a doctrine relayed on the French domestic market by the new busi-


ness supplements of the large newspapers and new magazines with such evocative titles as Defis (Challenges), Challenge, Dynasteurs, and so on.

Playing on words, one could say that a transition had occurred from the hegemony of the reason of state (raison d’etat) to the supremacy of corporate status (raison sociale). The norms and references of the welfare state, public service, and the constraining play of social forces, all tended to cede power to private interests and the free play of market forces. Not that the state tends to disappear or lose its monopoly of rule-making, nor that the two regimes of truth” are impermeable one to another-far from it-but the fact that the corporation and the freedom of the entrepreneur became the center of gravity of society resulted in a redistribution of hierarchies and priorities and the roles of other actors. In short, what changed was the whole way of producing consensus, of cementing the general will.

The field of management,” wrote the sociologist Michel Vilette in 1988, has contaminated all segments of society and is perceived as a universal cultural model.”3 Not only did the corporation become a full actor in public life, expressing itself more and more openly and acting politically on all of society’s problems, but its rules of functioning, its scale of values, and its ways of communicating all progressively impregnated the whole body social. Managerial” logic was instituted as the norm for managing social relations. The state and its territorial subdivisions as well as associations were seized by the schemas of communication already tried out by the protagonists of the market. The portfolio of offers of professional communication services was enriched by new clients and new skills, and the very definition of communication gained a new set of conceptual frameworks.

This process of the social emergence of the entrepreneurial actor both fuels and is fueled by deregulation. By this term I mean something that goes beyond the liberalization or lifting of rules and laws that had bridled free enterprise, and well beyond the fluidification” of circuits of finance, transport, telecommunications, and audiovisual media. The process of deregulation can only be interpreted as the promotion of a different principle of social organization, another way of putting individuals, groups, societies, and nation-states into relation with each other. It is also another way of doing (or not doing) social theory.

This new way of thinking involves not only free enterprise but also a veritable cult of enterprise, bordering on the religious, to the point where many firms have taken their desires for reality, their project of corporate development for internal democracy, their discourse about new internal communications, for the advent of employee participation and mobilizations, and new forms of corporate self-organization for new means of personal realization.

With the consecration of the entrepreneurial approach, other voices in the knowledge and practice of communication began to be heard. If during the 1960s and 1970s the state and its major officials, as well as academic circles, were the nearly exclusive producers of discourse on communication, proposing concepts and protocols of action, in the 1980s, on the other hand, market experts progressively took over the field. Even if complicity between the university and commercial expertise does not date from this decade, it is a euphemism to say that the passageways between the two have multiplied quickly, and that even beyond this type of exchange, more and more notions circulate about communication that are in fact put forward by corporations themselves or their networks. Moreover, one may reasonably foresee that this phenomenon of telescoping together practical knowledge” and theoretical knowledge”if indeed that distinction still really means anything-can only grow. The liberation of flows signifies the acceleration of the circulation of knowledge, including theoretical knowledge, in all directions.

This multiplication of crossroads and meeting places often happens to the detriment of meaning and proper epistemological distance, as certain contemporary efforts to theorize managerial action eloquently show. With the intellectual legitimacy conferred by innumerable references to Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-Francois Lyotard, such works claim to explain to us the birth of postmodern enterprise.” The enterprise of the 1980s becomes an immaterial entity, an abstract figure, a universe of forms, symbols, and communication flows, in which the problems posed by the restructuring of the world economy and the redistribution of the dependencies and hierarchies on the planet become diluted.4 No more traces exist here of the celebrated model of the new apparatus of control, that Panoptikon of which Foucault made himself the archaeologist, but instead a vaporous world of flows, fluids, and communicating vessels evolving into dissipative structures.”5

The Global Dimension: A Mode of Management

The space of organizing production and marketing has extended itself to the space of the world market. The global” and globalization”: these two notions — directly transposed from English — have taken over from international” and internationalization.”

The new stage of expansion of corporations with a world scope comes in the wake of four previous stages. At first a firm was content to export through a network of distributors and local suppliers. Then it constructed its own marketing network. Later, while remaining essentially based in the country of its headquarters, it started to establish its own factories and its own sales and marketing networks within certain markets and in foreign economies that it saw as key. Finally, it integrated itself into national industrial contexts, sometimes even agreeing to decentralize its research and development centers. This history was, however, less linear than it appeared. Different stages were completed at varying rhythms, or even skipped altogether by different branches of industry and services. This history of the international expansion of corporations is therefore asynchronic and will continue to be so for a long time, to the extent that the global vocation is not the same in each corporation. But the industrial and commercial corporations at the forefront of the new mode of internationalization clearly constitute the standards of excellence for the others.

One of the prerequisites of the transition is the gigantic redeployment marked by leveraged buyouts, transnational alliances, and the megamergers of the 1980s, guided as they were by three slogans of the decade: economies of scale (how to produce most cheaply); the power of scale (how best to manage thanks to the accumulation of networks, information systems, and talents); and economics of breadth (how to cut costs by producing several different products within the same line, or diversification within standardization).

In the media and advertising sector, this redeployment helped constitute the phalanx of new planetary networks of agencies-basically American, British, French, and Japanese-as well as new multimedia groups, in Western Europe, Australia, and Japan in particular. By crossing the Atlantic and bidding to take over U.S. firms, these new arrivals provoked the megamerger of the century: the alliance between the U.S. giants Time and Warner. Communications appeared a highly profitable sector, and the stock market helped it on its meteoric rise, until the day when, for all parties concerned, a conjunctural decline and fluctuations in the advertising market made these huge publicity networks and media corporations much more fragile.

The 1980s, which had seen the rise of giant-scale ventures in an indus­try doped up by its own talk about exponential growth, ended in uncertainty for investors, and for banks in particular. As for the effects of industrial synergies” and the power of scale, the strategies for multimedia or multiservice diversification sensationally announced by candidates for global communications corporations” or complete horizontal and vertical integration failed to produce the expected results. The press magnate Robert Maxwell-a few months before his death and the collapse of his group-divested his audiovisual activities, and the total” communications agency Saatchi and Saatchi had to renounce merging into a single portfolio of services management consultancy and advertising expertise. These instances remind one that building a global corporation is more chaotic than one might have believed during the feverish bidding of a leveraged buyout.6

The semantic transmutation from international” to global” took place so rapidly that theorization is overwhelmed by professions of faith. Nor is it at all likely that theory can catch up, considering the pressure of pragmatism. This is one reason why it is difficult to separate the theoretical analyses proposed by management specialists, for example, and the discourse of major industrial firms striving to reach critical mass or advertising agencies seeking to position themselves in a transnational market. That is also why it is difficult to separate the triumphalist myth of immediate, gung-ho globalization from its fragmented and chaotic realization. This gap never appeared so clearly as when a heavyweight of management science, Professor Theodor Levitt, director of the Harvard Business Review, justified by his writings and counsel the corporate strategy of the British-based global communications agency Saatchi and Saatchi. This strategy collapsed in less than three years under a colossal indebtedness and the pressure of the recession on the U.S. and British advertising markets. It was this very same Harvard professor who had theorized the concepts of global” and globalization,” though he had not invented them, since the terms were already circulating in the marketing divisions of major world firms.

The concept of globalization is equally indebted to the matrix of financial globalization” that developed in the course of the 1970s and 1980s, a period when the framework of the financial systems in place since the end of World War II broke apart and frontiers between traditionally different occupations and national systems dissolved. New products and markets appeared in the financial sphere; all were immediately international in a world economy of real time.

The Amoeba

Global space gives rise to the notion of total management, or better, holistic” management, a term common in English though rare in French except in philosophical dictionaries. It refers to holism,” the theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Levitt’s approach is based on four observations: the world is becoming a global village”; the market is no longer national but worldwide in scale; the urban way of life predominates; and certain major tendencies can be observed (the development of individualism, the Americanization of youth, the emancipation of senior citizens, and so forth). From these observations spring three hypotheses: the homogenization of needs under pressure of new technologies; price competition (consumers are ready to sacrifice their specific preferences to take advantage of cheap and reasonably good quality products); and economy of scale (the standardization made possible by the homogenization of world markets permits the reduction of costs). Levitt recommended that corporations create a single product for the whole world market, market it at a single price (the lowest possible), promote it in the same way in each country and use the same distribution circuits everywhere. In other words, roughly, he recommends that they imitate firms like Coca-Cola, one of the few that follow such a strategy.7 This theory of the homogenization of needs and markets and the standardization of products has been subjected to numerous criticisms by those who think that the world, on the contrary, is becoming more differentiated and who recommend a return to the original definition of the term marketing,” which is to segment the market according to the differences that run through it.

Globalization is both an internal and an external affair. It is a way of organizing a firm and a way of relating to world space. To describe this new mode of organization, the economic literature calls on the metaphors of the hologram, the amoeba, and frequently the language of biology. The corporation and the world-as-market are treated through the prism of the living organism.

We must understand these metaphors as signifying an end to the rigidity of hierarchies within the corporation, the decline of forms of pyramidal authority inherited from the military conceptions of managers shaped by World War II, in which the retention of information was a source of knowledge-as-power and where everything functioned by sanction and penalty. By contrast, here is a model of management based on information and communication networks, in which personnel are implicated and made to feel responsible for fixing and realizing objectives, and in which positive criticism seeks the harmony of networks of interaction, tapping employees’ informal and spontaneous creativity and capacity to innovate. This model involves appropriating knowledge and skill and reinvesting them continually in the organization. As the director of Gannett, one of the most dynamic press groups in the United States, put it: I want each of my journalists to become his own manager and marketer.” In the flowering of neologisms that accompanied the boom in best-sellers on management, one notion sums up the change: the intra-preneur.” To Fordism’s separation of tasks is opposed a new form: the capillarity of the managerial function, its diffusion within the body of the enterprise.

And since the employee is a part of the whole, he or she is also a carrier of the whole.

Globality as a mode of management has no meaning unless it is linked to the corporation’s mode of inserting the business into the world economy and world market. There, too, the corporation obeys the relational schema. Management of production, marketing, and research and development operates in a mesh made up of all the internal networks of the firm, interconnected with external networks. This is demonstrated by corporations’ share in transborder data flow: 90 percent, according to a 1987 estimate.8 Corporations depend on these flows at five levels: production coordination planning systems, including production scheduling, management of production materials, and inventory record-keeping; financial systems, including budget monitoring and accounting systems as well as sales and production data; engineering systems, including largescale mathematical models and specialized computer equipment; purchasing and customer systems, including accounts payable and receivable, historical profiles of suppliers, corporate customers and airline reservations; personnel management systems, including payroll and human resources planning. Fed by an incessant flow of information, the network-corporation abandons its vertical and centralized structure and adopts fluctuating contours. Consider, for example, the more and more frequent call for subcontracting (which may give rise to further subcontracting). The network transforms and regenerates itself constantly.

This mode of organization places the corporation in the first rank of clients for integrated communication services (radio, television, visionphone, voice messaging, data transfer, telecopying, etc.), which open the way for the unification of systems across normalized networks such as ISDN (integrated services by digital network). A portable terminal allows each subscriber to receive polymorphous messages transmitted to him or her from any point on the planet connected to the network.

Users as Coproducers

To the hierarchical distribution of tasks and powers in the Taylorist enterprise corresponded a sedimentation of space. The local, national, and international represented tiers, impenetrable one to another. The new representational scheme of the corporation-as-world-network proposes a model of interaction among these three levels. Every strategy on the world market must be both local and global. This is what the Japanese managers express with their neologism glocalize.”

The first element was the creation of an adequate corporate culture. The horizontal model of organization presupposes generating or reinforcing in employees a feeling of belonging to their company. In the world-scale firm, corporate culture, as a sharing of values, beliefs, rituals, and goals, has the mission of forging the impossible alliance between the local and the global. This culture is not properly speaking situated in a territory: it is a mentality. Once this goal has been enunciated, the new breed of manager is rarely more precise, providing at best a few recommendations: do not let national identity have the upper hand over global identity, recruit native managers, promote them to positions of responsibility in international management, develop multicountry career paths, do not penalize expatriates, multiply the opportunities for trips abroad, and finally, reaffirm, in a coherent corporate policy, the objectives of the firm’s global strategy.9 A level absent from this mystique of corporate identity and culture at the vanguard of the world economy is that of the individual and family. The time scale of global management completely destructures the notion of free time, with unfortunate consequences for family life and employees’ nervous systems. As for the excluded categories-“stateless” victims of the new corporate patriotism, products of the generalization of precarious labor — they do not react favorably to incitements to identify completely with their corporation.

A second aspect of the new configuration is the decentralization of certain decisions. While more than ever the center makes global managerial decisions on strategic issues, products, capital, and research, and while more than ever the headquarters is the summit of the network and the heart of information-gathering and distribution, a certain decentralization of the center” to the advantage of local units is nonetheless called for. Their power consists in deciding tactical questions such as marketing, packaging, and advertising, or else deciding on modulations of a standardized core” product.

The role attributed to advertising and marketing in establishing a link between the local and the global is indeed a decisive point in the strategy of globalization. As Kenichi Ohmae, director of the Japanese subsidiary of McKinsey Consultants, explains: [The] value system [of the global corporation] is universal, not dominated by the dogma of the home country and it applies everywhere. In an information-linked world where consumers, no matter where they live, know which products are the best and the cheapest, the power to choose or refuse lies in the hands of customers, not in the back pockets of sleepy, privileged monopolies like the multinationals of an earlier time.”10

According to the Japanese expert, this return to the consumer proves all the more necessary in that this proximity acts as a counterweight to the centrifugal forces” that push managerial actions and decisions far from the consumers’ sphere of control, far from their orbit. The more the centrifugal logic is felt, the more dispersed your people and the closer the attention they must pay to local customers and markets, the more they need to escape the center’s rigidities while retaining its shaping values.”11

The supplier tends more and more to search upstream to discover the client’s desire and even to help him or her define it. As economist Albert Bressand notes: From production pure and simple, we are moving to coproduction’: the value added to the product is found more and more in its fine tuning to demand.”12 This move to the consumer raised to the rank of coproducer”-or pro-sumer,” in Alvin Toffler’s expression finds a powerful auxiliary in the gathering, storage, and treatment of information. Consider private industry’s restructuring of research and the prodigious development of multivariable studies of merchandise flows, program flows, and the flows of audiences, which began with the first applications of scanning techniques in supermarkets (bar-coding). This trend is also seen in data banks and data bases that combine more and more variables to identify and classify targeted groups according to common characteristics. This evolution doubtless reflects the growing Taylorization” of consumption. More and more disciplines, more and more people, are endeavoring to scrutinize consumers’ acts and gestures for strategic purposes. As a result, administrative research has undergone a qualitative and quantitative leap in countries that had been more or less spared from market logics until recently.

Standard Supply or A la Carte?

The most revealing issues on the frontier of homogenization have crystallized around the defining of targets for advertising campaigns seeking to respond to the new exigencies of the world-as-market (marche-monde) or its regional subdivisions.

The space occupied by the advertising industry and by marketing has grown to the point of their becoming an unavoidable mediator of the interface with the media. Agencies and groups have made themselves global in a geostrategic sense-with certain advances and retreats, of course — pushing the ramifications of their transnational networks ever outward. The integration of services offered has advanced along parallel lines. The failure of Saatchi should not allow us to overlook the logic of diversification of advertising activities extending well beyond media advertising to embrace sectors as diverse as direct marketing, sponsoring, institutional communication, and lobbying. This tendency has reached the point where advertising conceived for managerial purposes tends more and more to be dubbed communication,” further complicating the definition of the field. Deregulation of audiovisual systems has brought its share of novelty to the advertising scene by bringing together the large agencies and advertisers in the sponsoring and producing of programs.

It is against this background that the different efforts to determine the profile of the transfrontier consumer have been pursued. The hunt for cultural universals is on. It draws on investments already made by mass culture in the imaginary (l’imaginaire) of people belonging to very different cultures. The creation of a single market of images is one of the stakes in the redeployment of the audiovisual industry. But the vicissitudes of the construction of a Pan-European television industry already suggest the difficulties in bringing together for one single program at a given hour an audience composed of a mosaic of cultures and languages. Channels of this type have already had to lower their ambitions. The older story of the internationalization of the daily press and periodicals has long since suggested that internationalization is a matter of segmentation and asynchronism. For example, a given magazine is not internationalized everywhere at the same time (there is a vanguard as well as a rearguard); a magazine is not necessarily adaptable to every country; the target aimed at by local versions of international magazines is mainly the upper sectors of the middle class.”

The experience of advertising agencies tells the same story. It demonstrates that, aside from products already hallowed on the world scene, such as Marlboro, Coca-Cola, or Levi Strauss, there are often more differences than similarities. A congress of the IAM (International Association of Marketing), held in Paris in April 1989, ended on the following observation: there is indeed a profound tendency toward globalization of markets and economies, but it coexists with other tendencies leading to the generalized demassification” of consumption and the blossoming of micromarkets, a logic just as tangible as the simultaneous internationalization of macromarkets for consumer durables. A more nuanced approach is thus called for, to take into account the differentiation of consumer tastes, with an a-la-carte offer gradually taking the place of a standard supply-at least in the major industrial societies (since the debates did not venture beyond this perimeter). This perspective of “differentiation within globalization” stimulates the search for transnational segments, as revealed by studies that track differences and similarities beyond national borders in the attempt to circumscribe sociocultural mentalities-that is, the major groupings of individuals who share life conditions, value systems, priorities, tastes, and norms.

And so the notion of Euro-styles” is born. While Europe still desperately seeks a unified identity, this notion proposes a new sociological breakdown of the population of the old continent. This provides an insight into the prevailing effervescence concerning the idea of a single European market-but also of the vagueness of the expert advice” provided by agencies that are more interested in beating their competitors than in submitting to scientific verification their hypotheses on particular identities, differences, and resemblances.

It also shows that one cannot explain the redistribution of the spaces of transnational communications without taking into account the dynamics of the creation of vast supranational zones of commercial exchange: not only the laboratory of the European Economic Community with its twelve member states but also that of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States, and Mexico, not to mention the pole now forming in Asia around Japan.

The European testing ground has already changed the strategies of large corporations with worldwide ambitions. One of the central issues at stake is the necessity of finding a proper balance between internationalization and regionalization, at the level of organizing principles and structures as well as that of products and strategies. This is what IBM calls the challenge of transnationality,” appropriating a notion born in the 1970s in the United Nations expert commissions responsible for formulating codes of conduct for the multinationals. The first timid commitment by IBM was its decision to transfer the headquarters of one of its six divisions from the United States to Great Britain. The production and development strategies of each of the six divisions, however, continue to be defined in the United States.13

The slowness of the process of building transnationality” at the level of the production system makes it all the more necessary to build it by means of symbols. It is in this sense that the consumer is the essential agent of legitimation of the globalization of the economy, although the discourse concerning the simultaneously global and differentiated consumers is still full of holes.


As a paradigm not only of the corporation but also of future society, the conception of globalization calls for three observations.

First, the question needs to be reframed somewhat. The corporation, conceived as a communication and information network radiating outward from itself, is a choice field for applying systems theory. This theoretical corpus, which unifies the most diverse forms of communication and information around notions such as system,” autonomy,” complexity,” and so forth, is doubtless rich in potential for understanding the complex dynamics of our social systems, because it is willing to cross-fertilize both new and traditional scientific fields (molecular biology and evolution theory, neurosciences and artificial intelligence).

But it is still necessary to take precautions, so tenacious is the ideological heritage in communications studies of that old positivist project, a sociology of the social organism.” Systems theory is indeed potentially dangerous in the uses to which it is put, as one biologist explains: It is with apprehension that one sees some notions-which seem to confer the status of prophets on the exponents of the”new paradigm”-become perverted and changed into a fashionable jargon or an ideology of the third millennium, when they are appropriated by business or media circles.”14 Every social problem tends to be formulated as a communications equation. If there is a difficulty, a knotty problem, it is reduced to the loss of a piece of information (due to filtering, a blocked channel, entropy, etc.). This vision of the corporation is potentially dangerous because it risks justifying the great imbalances and inequalities that divide the planet. In particular, its theories of self-organization, while they have the virtue of attenuating the idea of a pyramidal organization of power, fail to take into account their necessary obverse-that is, the exclusion of everything external to the system of reference, or what the same biologist quoted above calls the exo-organization.” But this external world is full of sound and fury, contradictions and conflicts. These potential neo-Darwinian deviations are all the more worrisome in that this conception of the corporation sees itself as a new conception of the universal. In reality, this universal is one that functions in a closed circuit. It is no coincidence that Kenichi Ohmae, the author who has pushed the global concept the furthest, is also the one who has frozen the world of the global economy into the notion of triad power,” that is, the area occupied by North America, Western Europe, Japan, and the new industrial countries of Asia.15 The theory is clearly segregative, for it considers the remaining 80 percent of the world population only as candidates for the model of consumption and the way of life prevailing in the triad. There is a deja-vu quality about this idea, since Ohmae is only renovating the old diffusionist axiom. In the same way, deregulation is merely the continuation by other means of the old principle of the free flow of information.

Guided by this principle, the notion of self-organization paired in the 1980s with that of self-regulation. The latter has become the natural complement of the project of deregulation.16 Thus, during the recent European debates on the harmonization of legislation on advertising in the audiovisual media, it was in the name of the right to self-regulation that interprofessional organizations (grouping together advertising clients, agencies, and media) asked the European Community to raise the statute of free commercial speech” to the status of a new human right.” What this actually meant was the freedom to push back the limits imposed by society on subordinating the public sphere to the ends of publicity, as Jurgen Habermas would put it.17

The second remark reinforces the preceding one. It applies in particular to a conception of the corporation such as that developed by Ohmae. For if this biomorphic theory of corporate organization is cosmopolitan, it also reflects the characteristics of the culture that enunciates it. Reading the works of this theoretician of management, one cannot help being struck by his conception of what one could call the welfare corporation. It is to anthropologists that we should look for the beginning of an explanation for this. Japanese society tends to assimilate bonds of kinship and local ties and, more generally, to identify the social with the biological, culture with nature. The language itself reflects the analogy between family and business. The traditional terms oyabun (both father and boss) and kobun (both child and employee) express it directly. Groupism,” which pushes the members of a group to serve the interests of that group, has been institutionalized in the large modern enterprise; it is the transposition and conscious adaptation of a model drawing both on tradition and on nontraditional realities in which a need for regulation makes itself felt. Hence the strong identification of the worker with the enterprise. As for the deviant, who does not respect the rules of the group, he or she is excluded. But groupism” means that deviance is rare.18

The third remark concerns the handling of crisis, that is, all the events that might destabilize the reference system.” The corporation is only viable under two conditions: it must be communicative and integrated. The social and economic environment, however, is more and more unstable and hostile. Hostile takeovers, ecological catastrophes, labor conflicts, mergers, restructurings, terrorist threats, product sabotage, and other accidents and incidents are hypothetical situations where the crisis” takes form and demands an immediate response. The spilling of barrels of toxic substances into a river, the sinking of a supertanker, an accident in a nuclear generator, the explosion of chemicals-such catastrophes are manifestations of what have been dubbed major technological risks”; they forced the corporation in the 1980s to study crisis management.

Crisis is not only the heated moment in which the corporation must mobilize its networks to attenuate the impact of dysfunctional elements on public opinion and on its employees. Crisis becomes an integral part of the way of managing the corporation in peacetime. As the communications director of the Sandoz corporation put it during the 1986 catastrophe, when toxic products flowed into the Rhine after a fire in a Basel warehouse: We must develop a cybernetic perception of public relations…. To get there, corporations have the duty to reflect in times of peace on their culture, their ethics of communication, and the choice of their communicators.”19 In the corporation conceived as an extremely complex interactive system that must face the irrational within and the unforeseeable without, the circulation of communication flows must not be interrupted. Information is life itself, a vital flow for staying in tune with the times, hence the permanent conflict between the need for transparency and the maintenance of an image. Hence, as well, the difficulty of going beyond a transparency understood as anything other than the struggle for the legitimacy and credibility of the enterprise by means of communication. But transparency, if one were inclined to dreaming aloud, could turn into a vast questioning of the prevailing model of development and progress and its natural propensity to destroy the environment-a questioning very different from the ecological marketing of the green” political line.

The Rise of Japan

It was during the decade of geoeconomy that Japan acceded to the second rank among industrial powers, becoming the foremost investor and banker in the world economy. In counterpoint, the industrial decline of the U.S. superpower continued. An official report on the competitiveness of the U.S. high technology industry, published in March 1991-at the very moment when the highly symbolic Gulf War was coming to an end-concluded that in 15 of the 94 key technologies for the near future (in electronic chips and robotics in particular) American industry would no longer be present on the international scene in 1995. In 18 others, it was considered weak. It could only meet the challenge in 25 technologies, including data banks and artificial intelligence.20

Outside of finance and the automobile industry, the most spectacular penetration of Japanese firms has taken place in consumer electronics, where they control almost half the market. Starting from this locomotive sector, Sony and Matsushita have begun joining together equipment hardware and program software at the crucial moment when the fate of different high-definition television systems (HDTV) is being played out. In taking over two of the majors-Columbia and MCA-Universal-at the end of the decade, the two electronics giants have become owners of a quarter of Hollywood’s studios. The early 1980s had already seen the Japanese animation industry displace U.S. producers of cartoons. Losing two ornaments of America’s film industry led many Americans to feel that someone was stealing a part of their national soul.” So they expressed it in the polls that marked the rise of Nippophobia. This reaction was also fueled by a CIA report on Japan in the year 2000, the authors of which were not afraid to call on Westerners to be alert and mobilize against a country that was plotting to dominate the world and whose culture-“amoral, manipulatory and repressive”-would be incompatible” with that of the Judeo-Christian” West.21

One large problem for the Japanese cultural industry in its effort to establish itself on the world market in children’s television was that it had to make use of the cultural heritages of others, for the most part Europeans.22 In the same way, Japanese industry had borrowed the concepts of productivity” and quality” developed by Americans W. E. Deming and J. M. Duran in the period 1952-54 in order to develop their wellknown model for managing the post-Taylorist corporation. And in conceiving its approach to the global consumer, Japan, possessing the world’s largest advertising agency, had to make an alliance with other heavyweights in the triad. Japan thus occupies a leadership position in the production of the world economy, but a minor role in the world culture” and in the cultural industry’s representations of universality.

Finally, after a decade marked by economistic illusions and the fever of speculation, geopolitics, brought back onto the agenda by war, came to brutally remind Japan-but also Germany-that one can be the paragon of economic power in the twenty-first century and at the same time a political midget in the new planetary order. The old continent, for its part, could only note that the Europe of the Single Europe Act, already realized in the heads of those who conducted strategic studies on markets and transnational lifestyles, was far from constituting a solid and coherent political alternative to U.S. leadership, even if the United States was in industrial decline and dependent on Japanese chips to manufacture its Patriot missiles.

An indication of the difficulty of forecasting the outcome of the competition for world economic hegemony: in 1992, for the first time since they began to surge in the 1970s, the Japanese electronics firms suffered heavy losses in their turn. The same year, IBM, Toshiba, and Siemens announced that they were forming an alliance to perfect computer memories 16 times more powerful.” This strategy, dubbed double leapfrog” by the specialists, aims to jump over two generations of technology in order to take control of the following one. By allying to conceive the chip of the twenty-first century,” the three firms once again demonstrated the growing complexity of transnational cross-fertilization of capital and resources.

  1. See A. Mattelart, Advertising International: The Privatisation of Public Space, trans. M. Chanan, London-New York, Routledge, Comedia Series, 1991.↩︎

  2. T.J. Peters and R. Waterman, In Search of Excellence, New York, Warner, 1982. On the publishing boom in the English language, see the articles in Business Week, January 20, 1986, under the title of Business Fads: What’s In-and Out.”↩︎

  3. M. Vilette, L’homme qui croyait au management, Paris, Seuil, 1988.↩︎

  4. As an illustration, see F. Carmagnola, Estetica e organizzazione,” Sviluppo e organizzazione, Milan, November-December 1989; R. Cooper, Modernism, Post-Modernism and Organizational Analysis: The Contribution of Jacques Derrida,” Organizational Stud­ies 10, no. 4, 1989.↩︎

  5. For a caustic commentary on the uses of new paradigms in economics, see C. Du­rand, Paradigmes sans rivages,” Les Papiers 5, Spring-Summer 1989, Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Mirail.↩︎

  6. See Mattelart, Advertising International. See also J.-M. Charon, ed., L’etat des me­dias, Paris, La Decouverte, 1991.↩︎

  7. T. Levitt, The Globalization of Markets,” Harvard Business Review, June 1983.↩︎

  8. J. Becker, coordinator, Transborder Data Flow and Development, Bonn, Friedrich­ Ebert-Stiftung, 1987. Also note the contributions by geographers in H. Bakis, coordinator, Communications et territoires, Paris, La Documentation francaise, 1990.↩︎

  9. See, in particular, G. S. Yip et al., How to Take Your Company to the Global Mar­ket,” Columbia Journal of World Business, Winter 1988.↩︎

  10. K. Ohmae, Planting for a Global Harvest,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1989, p. 139. See also, by the same author, Managing in a Borderless World,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1989.↩︎

  11. Ohmae, Planting for a Global Harvest.”↩︎

  12. A. Bressand, in L’Expansion, November 23-December 6, 1989.↩︎

  13. C. Lorenz, La fin du centralisme,” excerpt from Financial Times in Courrier International, no. 7, December 20-26, 1990.↩︎

  14. G. Beney, Travail planetaire et chomage humain,” Terminal, July-August 1989, p.21.↩︎

  15. K. Ohmae, Triad Power, New York, Free Press, 1985.↩︎

  16. See A. Mattelart and M. Palmer, Advertising in Europe: Promises, Pressures and Pitfalls,” Media, Culture & Society 13, no. 4, October 1991.↩︎

  17. J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1989.↩︎

  18. A. Berque, La communication intergroupale au Japon,” in Information et commu­nication, Seminaires interdisciplinaires du College de France, ed. A. Lichnerowitz et al., Paris, Maloine, 1983.↩︎

  19. See M. Raboy and B. Dagenais, eds., Media, Crisis and Democracy: Mass Communication and the Disruption of Social Order, London, Sage, 1992.↩︎

  20. A. Kahn, Les technologies americaines menacees,” Le Monde, March 23, 1991.↩︎

  21. P. Sabatier, Japon/Etats-Unis,” Liberation, July 6-7, 1991.↩︎

  22. J. Mousseau, Plaidoyer pour une industrie francaise du dessin anime,” Communi­cation et Langages, no. 52, 1982.↩︎

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