The Last Word
Hip-Hop Bridges International Divides
by Danielle Goonan '07
June 29, 2010
Danielle Goonan ’07 soaks up the culture of London.
Big IR is in crisis. At the London School of Economics, my fellow students and I have spent much of our time trying to define international relations methodologically, ontologically and epistemologically—to little avail. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been much soul-searching within the discipline. The bipolar conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union allowed international relations to largely ignore the importance of ideas, culture and religion, instead focusing on the importance of power and materialistic interests. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, international relations’ main theories were questioned, and the validity of the discipline as an actual “science” was up for discussion.
But the end of the Cold War also provided the discipline with an array of opportunities. Scholars have begun to explore the importance of ideas and culture in defining interests, particularly because of the reemergence of religion and culture in international relations. While states do pursue power in its various forms, culture—and music in particular—also influenced the relations between states.
Even during the Cold War, the American government was using jazz as a soft power tool to win over the hearts and minds of people worldwide. My master’s dissertation will continue to explore culture’s role in international relations by studying the ways in which hip-hop culture has been used by governments and individuals to promote crosscultural dialogue.
The first part of my dissertation concerns the State Department’s legacy of using African-American culture to promote American interests. In recent years, the State Department has used hip-hop culture as a diplomatic tool by hosting concerts, facilitating the exchange of artists and organizing workshops. In particular, it has focused on Muslim youth in Morocco, Palestine, Jerusalem, Germany and other nations by bringing over American Muslim rap groups to perform. The goal of such programming is to connect Muslim youth abroad to American youth in the states in hopes that such links will bridge the gap caused by years of war and destructive antiterrorism tactics.
The second half of my master’s essay will use the research I conducted as a J. William Fulbright grantee to Italy to argue that hiphop culture has helped North African immigrant artists become acculturated into Italian society. The intensification of globalization during the last decade has led some to argue that national identity and state sovereignty are threatened by the spread of a hegemonic global culture influenced greatly by American popular culture.
However, this section of my dissertation argues that hip-hop, as an aspect of global popular culture, has reinforced Italian sovereignty. Migrant artists have had to integrate themselves into a hip-hop culture that existed prior to their arrival. They have to rap in Italian, market their music to Italians and learn enough about Italian society and culture to create music that resonates with the majority population. Their involvement in hip-hop culture has allowed them to participate in the Italian political, educational and social arenas, rather than further their marginalization.
This research sprang from the experiences I had living in Bologna, Italy, during my year abroad as a Dickinson student. The research, volunteer and social opportunities offered by the program provided me with the resources I needed to return to Italy after graduation as a Fulbright recipient. Furthermore, my month spent conducting ethnographic research in Argentina with Dickinson’s Patagonia Mosaic gave me the methodological skills needed to pursue my Fulbright research.
My Dickinson education taught me to view the world through an interdisciplinary lens, to never underestimate the value of different approaches and disciplines—and to question everything. Dickinson gave me the freedom to explore my own ideas and has provided me with the open mind needed to understand the importance of culture to the discipline of international relations.
Most important, an interdisciplinary liberal- arts education has trained me to understand just how interconnected we all are and that we should promote these links within disciplines and among human beings. I hope my academic pursuits continue this Dickinson tradition.
Danielle Goonan ’07, an American-studies major at Dickinson and native of Brooklyn, will finish her master of science in international relations at the London School of Economics this fall.