Cover Story | Education

Hume Johnson Tackles Jamaica's Identity Crisis

"One of the most rewarding areas of my research is to witness the overwhelming response to my pioneering work to expand global knowledge and understanding of Jamaica."

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We live in the age of branding. Every product, boutique, restaurant, town, city and state has to find a way to stand out from the crowd, lest it get left behind in a sea of likeness. You may not think that branding expands to nations as well, but it does. Think of how the Caribbean is portrayed on TV, and how many friends have gone there to honeymoon. Branding is all around us, and it has more use than strictly encouraging tourism. Nation branding is the process by which nations construct their distinctive identity, culture and heritage, which they then project onto the world, and it is part of what Hume Johnson researches at RWU.

Hume is a native of Jamaica, and her country is of the utmost importance to her. “It has always been important for me to contribute to my country even while I reside abroad in different countries,” she says. And contribute she has, specifically to the perceived view of how Jamaica is branded: from outside influences, instead from within. She is arguing for a promotion of the nation’s credentials beyond tourism, to have the nation thought of as more than a vacation spot – as the powerful
island nation with a rich history and culture that it is.

At RWU, she is exploring civil society, political activism and social movements, and their intersections with state governance. She is also focusing on the public relations and brand image of nation states. Hume’s research posits that nation branding is particularly important for developing countries such as Jamaica. These nations depend on tourism, trade and inward investment to boost its economy and offer a meaningful life to its poor.

“In my current research, I examine the dilemma confronting ‘Brand Jamaica.’ Many aspects of the Jamaican brand exhibit extraordinary presence, influence and promise: tourism, sports, a vibrant culture, world famous export products and iconic citizens such as Bob Marley and Usain Bolt,” Hume says. “Yet, there are also dangerous deficits, and a prolonged crisis embodied in poor governance – violent crime, breaches of human rights, poverty and rising unemployment.”

Hume is an active and recognized public affairs commentator and political analyst with the media in Jamaica. “My job as a political analyst and commentator also aligns well with my role as a professor of public relations and media studies,” Hume explains. “It allows me to teach students from a position of practical experience.”

Her long term goal is to produce a body of scholarly work on Jamaica’s national brand and its contribution to the global community. It’s important because it will serve to expand global knowledge and understanding of Jamaica. This will help to establish a more complete image of this remarkable country beyond tourism – a national brand of Jamaica, created by its own citizens.