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Uses and Gratification Theory and Its Relevance to Cultural Identity of the Saudi

University Students Using Facebook

Whereas uses and gratification theory is concerned, abbreviated as UGT

theory, this approach of communication targets the audience rather than the

communicators. It seeks to understand the reason and objective of the people for using

specific media to gratify some specific needs. For example, Werner Severin and James

Tankard argue that this approach “attempts to determine the functions that mass

communication is serving for the audience” but from the point of view of the audience

and not the communication (1997, p. 238). In other words, they mean that the shift is

to the “purpose of the receiver” (p. 238). This shift is significant, for it calls for the

analysis of the purposes and goals of the receiver who is also the user.

Referring to the originator of this theoretical lens, they are of the view that this

field has witnessed a robust revival on account of the refutation of Elihu Katz’s against

Bernard Berelson’s claim of the mediazation of the culture, raising questions about

“What do people do with media?” ( p. 02). In other words, it means the audiences are

placed at the center of the communication model and then attention is paid to their

needs why they need media and how they use it. The most interesting thing that

emerges here is that the audiences or the target of the media or communication are not

only rational but also aware of the uses of the media with a purpose in mind. They are

not consumers; rather, they are users (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch 1975, p. 511).

While using his learning module, Professor Sorin Adam Matei of Purdue

University has argued that after a great shift from “many-to-many communication”

model after the advent of social media, where most of the deterministic theories have

lost their holistic validity, now the attention is on the transformative perspective. Now
the most important point is that the users, which are called consumers, “are actively

choosing specific media content according to their needs,” the reason that most of the

actions of the users are “consciously intended” (2010, p. 214-15). This fact makes

these users active users with full or partial orientation of goals. Referring to the old

theorists, Blumler and Katz, he argues that it is up to the users how they use media

according to their needs, context and even social backgrounds. Therefore, they are not

passive but “active participants in the media consumption process” (p. 215). Moreover,

the users are not only “goal-oriented” but are also loaded with alternatives to choose

from (p. 215). Therefore, it is interesting to know the human needs that force him to

connect to media (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1975, p. 513) change with the passage

of time and also find alternatives for their gratification. The reason is that these needs

not only vary from gender to gender but also from person to persona and context to


These requirements have forced various theorists to seek assistance from

models, exploring other psychological and social areas concerning human milieu. For

example, Professor Adam Matei has presented a sketch model in his article, saying that

on the one hand, there are needs and their gratification which produce effects, while on

the other hand, there are media attributes, which include not only specify the level of

engagement of the audience, but also indicate their temporality, spatiality, interaction.

This is equated with the context which also includes the required goal, the given

timeframe and the space in which this media consumption or interaction is taking place

(2010, p. 215-216). It, hence, becomes highly probable and even complicated to

exactly pinpoint the users’ needs and then predict their timely or untimely

However, when such needs are specified beforehand, it seems easy to ensure

their gratification to some degree and also with some certainty, he argues (p. 217).

However, it must be very challenging to use when it comes to social media, for the

content and communication generators do not have any specific audiences in mind;

rather it is the audiences that are to select the media and use the communication for

their own purposes. In fact, social media has put the producers at the tenterhooks, but

at the same time, has posed a serious challenge for the audiences / users to use the

content they need for their specific goals.

As far as users’ needs are concerned, they again depend on the personality

types which have led this research to purposes, that are not limited to motives,

platform choices, personality differences, socialization and nature of the personality

(Kircaburun, Alhabash, Tosuntaş, & Griffith, 2018, p. 1). Kelly Quinn has beautifully

unraveled such issues and aspects of using social media platforms under the prism of

this theory, saying that there is a hell of difference between privacy settings, privacy

regulations and the things that the people share with each other on social media (2016,

p. 62). She further argues that the usage of these platforms have a strong link to

privacy attitudes and behavior (p. 62). She means that in the initial stages the people

prefer privacy over usage and then move forward. Leaving aside of grouping media,

Kelly’s research strongly links the privacy controls with the social attitude to add that

the users’ goals may be incompatible with their overall usage. Therefore, social media

demonstrates the centeredness of the users regarding their needs.

Both of these theoretical underpinnings present a highly different scenario in

which the youth are to be placed to evaluate their use of social media; their implanted

culture in the shape of resistance to communication impacts and demonstration of

those impacts and the needs for which they use social media. Whereas implanted

culture is concerned it already resides within the individual user who is living in that

cultural context and demonstrating the culture through his value-set or set of values or

assumptions about his language, religion, social ways, traditions, conventions, mores

etc., which make up his overall behavior. However, when it comes to the gratification

of needs, it depends on the individual needs and attitude toward other cultures. This

use also depends on the time, space and context of the users of social media.

Therefore, when the Saudi youths, specifically, university students are placed

in this context, various researches have shown them from different theoretical

perspectives as reviewed below.

2.3. Globalization’s Impact on Cultural Identity

As far as globalization is concerned, it has been derived from the word ‘globe’

which generally means, our planet, earth. Though it seems a general transformation,

Manfred B. Steger calls it a “process, a condition, a system, a force, and an age”

(2003, p. 07). Although he has suggested to use the term “globality,” in the same

breath, he comes to the point of its definition saying that it is a “social condition”

which entails not only political, but also economic, social and environmental

interdependencies among nations (p. 07). However, his corollary of this definitional

content is that it is going to change the “forms of human contact” (p. 08) whether it is

general contact or contact through other communication methods.

Therefore, it is a holistic concept that Tomlinson has defined in detail in his article,

“Global culture, deterritorialization and the cosmopolitanism of youth culture” as

“Globalization is a complex process because it involves rapid social change

that is occurring simultaneously across a number of dimensions – in the world

economy, in politics, in communications, in the physical environment and in culture –

and each of these transformations interact with the others.” (2004, p. 21).

Tomilson has expressed almost the same feelings in his book, Globalization

and Culture in which multidimensionality of globalization is the major argument

(1999). His other major points fall under the different categories including

communication, which is the hallmark of social media. That is why social media has

become a tool for furthering globalization, making interdependencies integral part of


The phenomenon of globalization has thus impacted the cultural identities of

the youths in almost every other country. As globalization leads to multiculturalism

that is the amalgamation of various cultures or cross-cultural interaction of different

cultures (Modood, p. 2) when it comes to social media, it seems media that has

brought different societies closer to each other than ever before. As media has

accelerated globalization, globalization has proliferated media channels as well,

leading to undermining the locality or what is called the native culture (Wang, 2008).

In fact, social media pellets the users’ consciousness with opposite cultural markers

where the identity becomes prominent on account of local resistance. Wang has cited

Giddens, a media theorist, to point out that there exists “tensions between globalization

and localization” (p. 204). This argument almost runs parallel to both theoretical

perspectives as outlined above with respect to this research; for cultural implantation

perspective is the same as localization or local culture while the globalization

represents the uses of gratification theoretical perspective in that it is up to the users to

select his goals and then accept other cross-cultural markers.

In fact, this tension is also between the implantation cultural aspect and the

uses for gratification. Although Wang’s case is that of India, it seems that the contest

between the local culture and the global culture is also continuing in other world

contexts such as Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly, it seems that the orthodox culture of Saudi

Arabia is giving way to globalization on account of the widespread education,

burgeoning number of university students and proliferation of social media.

Furthermore, globalization has ushered its avenues to the world even before

that when Vesajoki conducted an ethnographic study among the Finish visitors and

reached the conclusion that as the world has been closing the gaps of nationalities

through social media networks, it was impacted the cultural identity in one or the other

way. Vesajok has cited Stuart Hall about the impacts on the national identity (p. 67)

that it has somewhat merged into the world citizenship and assumed a new identity (p.

70). He means that now the local cultural identity is appearing in the shape of global

identity, though, he has not referred to it.

If globalization as a conceptual structure encompasses the theoretical perspectives

outlined above, three clear aspects to touch in this research emerge. The first is the

cultural identity that is the ultimate end which has various stands that demonstrate the

impacts of globalization, a face accelerated by social media and its proliferation.

Therefore, the first study is to highlight the impacts of social media, second is these

impacts on the identity, and third is the impacts of globalization on the cultural

identity. The aspects of the cultural identity to be studied deeply included theological,

social, linguistic, value system within the given ethical framework and role of
historical heritage leaving aside the incumbent political or social or socio-political or

even engineered theological narratives.