Harold Innis is one of the foundational theorists of media and communications studies. In the mid-20th century, he developed his concept of media bias (also called the bias of communication). It remains Innis’s most cited concept, but it is also significantly misunderstood. For example, since his death in 1952, bias has often been applied in ways that are akin to a form of technological or media determinism. This has been an ongoing problem despite the fact that Innis developed his concept as a means of compelling analysts to reject such mechanistic formulations. Indeed, his goal was to promote more self-reflective modes of scholarship and, by extension, a recognition that such intellectual capacities—which he believed were essential for civilization’s survival—would be lost if they were not recognized and defended. More generally, Innis contextualized his work regarding media bias in terms of interrelated historical conditions involving political economic dynamics. Through his application of the concept to over 4000 years of history, he sought to provide his contemporaries with the reflective perspective needed to comprehend the underpinnings of modern biases that stressed present-mindedness and spatial control to the neglect of creativity and duration. Bias was derived from Innis’s studies on Canadian economic development involving the exploitation of its resources (an approach to history called the staples thesis). Several of the insights he garnered in those studies need to be recognized if we are to fully understand his subsequent communications research. Also, tracing the origins of his concept of bias enables us to fully assess the nature of Innis’s supposed media determinism. Typical uses of bias today focus on the spatial or temporal orientations that many assume are compelled through the use of a specific medium or set of media technologies. This misreading, inspired mainly by Marshall McLuhan’s representations of Innis, has led to assumptions regarding Innis’s determinism and a general neglect of the complexity of his original work. To repeat, Innis developed bias in order to redress the mechanistic and unreflective thinking of his day and always conceptualized it in terms of factors that are salient to the place and time being examined. Moreover, he applied bias alongside now largely forgotten concepts ranging from unused capacity to classic power–knowledge dialectics. Lastly, he situated the development and implications of a particular medium in relation to both old and new media (not just technologies, but organizations and institutions also). In sum, to comprehend Innis’s concept of bias, its intellectual and political underpinnings need to be acknowledged, the political economic dynamics of its development and application understood, and the implications of McLuhan’s influence recognized.
Robert T. Tally, Jr.
Fredric Jameson (b. 1934) was the leading Marxist literary and cultural critic in the United States and, arguably, in the English-speaking world in the late 20th century and remains so in the early 21st. In a career that spans more than 60 years, Jameson has produced some 25 books and hundreds of essays in which he has demonstrated the versatility and power of Marxist criticism in analyzing and evaluating an enormous range of cultural phenomena, from literary texts to architecture, art history, cinema, economic formations, psychology, social theory, urban studies, and utopianism, to mention but a few. In his early work, Jameson introduced a number of important 20th-century European Marxist theorists to American audiences, beginning with his study of Jean-Paul Sartre’s style and continuing with his Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison-House of Language (1972), which offered critical analyses of such theorists as Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, along with the Frankfurt School, Russian formalism, and French structuralism. With The Political Unconscious (1981) and other works, Jameson deftly articulated such topics as the linguistic turn in literature and philosophy, the concepts of desire and national allegory, and the problems of interpretation and transcoding in a decade when continental theory was beginning to transform literary studies in the English-speaking world. Jameson then became the leading theorist and critic of postmodernism, and his Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) demonstrated the power of Marxist theoretical practice to make sense of the system underlying the discrete and seemingly unrelated phenomena in the arts, architecture, media, economics, and so on. Jameson’s concept of cognitive mapping has been especially influential on cultural theories of postmodernity and globalization. Jameson’s lifelong commitment to utopian thought and dialectical criticism have found more systematic expression in such books as Archaeologies of the Future (2005) and Valences of the Dialectic (2009), and he has continued to develop a major, six-volume project titled “The Poetics of Social Forms” (the final two volumes of which remain forthcoming as of 2018), whose trajectory ultimately covers myth, allegory, romance, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and beyond. Jameson’s expansive, eclectic, and ultimately holistic approach to cultural critique demonstrates the power of Marxist critical theory both to interpret, and to help change, the world.
Dialogue and its extension to polylogue are presented as an intersubjective basis of communication. The intersubjective aspect cannot be explained by any discipline without a contradiction, since any explanation would require intersubjective awareness. While necessary, dialogue requires a third aspect: dialogue about something, a theme, a subject matter, a problem, a point of disagreement, such that the topic sets a limit to the dialogical partners. This third aspect shifts the discussion away from subject-to-subject encounter as inadequate and moves to the subjects as partners who first are engaged in a dialogue about something. While speaking to someone about something, there is a mutual exchange of awareness and a broadening of horizons of both, with an addition of others who are co-present even if they are not empirically available. To speak to someone of physical laws is also to speak with Newton, Einstein, Planck, and others who form a polylogical field—forming an extension of the awareness of dialogical partners. The issue that arises is whether the individual can form her own position, or whether she is dominated by a historical tradition of interpretation. The dialectical debate between Habermas and Gadamer shows the problem, which is finally resolved by an extension of dialogue through education. The final and most concrete aspect of dialogical communication is present at the level of praxis as bodily activity which is equally intercorporeal. We build our world and thus our history and form a depth of intercorporeal communication of what we can do. While the dialogical domain is the focus of this research, it also includes suggestions on critical evaluation of specific theories and mutual controversies among theorists, e.g., Habermas and Gadamer. Such controversies are necessary to show how dialogical procedures not only posit different theoretical positions but help such positions to become clearer and more articulated.
Slavoj Žižek stands as one of the most influential contemporary philosophical minds, stretching across a wide variety of fields: not just communication and critical/cultural studies, but critical theory, theology, film, popular culture, political theory, aesthetics, and continental theory. He has been the subject (and object) of several documentaries, become the source of a “human megaphone” during Occupy Wall Street, and become, while still living, the subject of his own academic journal (the International Journal of Žižek Studies). Žižek’s theoretical claim to fame, aside from his actual claim to fame as a minor “celebrity philosopher,” is that he weaves together innovative interpretations of G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Jacques Lacan to comment on a variety of subjects, from quantum physics to Alfred Hitchcock films to CIA torture sites. While there are as many “Žižeks” as there are philosophical problem-spaces, Žižek proposes an essential unity within his project; in his work, the triad Hegel-Marx-Lacan holds together like a Brunnian link—each link in the chain is essential for his project to function. Further, his intentionally provocative work acts as a counterweight to what he views as the dominant trends of philosophy and political theory since the 1980s—postmodernism, anti-foundationalism, deconstruction, vitalism, ethics, and, more recently, speculative realism and object-oriented ontology.
Political economy approaches examine the power relations that comprise the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark the political economy approach including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, Europe, and the less developed world. Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of both concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions. Political economy approaches tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film or a book to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe and companies use media technologies, now often comprised of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.
Marco Briziarelli and Eric Karikari
The strong affinity between the work of Antonio Gramsci and communication is based on several Gramscian communication-related themes and particular modes of his thought that significantly resonate with this field of studies. They include his drawing on the rhetorical tradition inspired by Vico, his assumptions of the constitutive role of language in creating an intersubjective reality that shapes common sense, and the fact that language provides the conditions of possibility for a hegemonic project. The strong tie between communication and Gramsci’s thought creates a vantage point for understanding both how Gramsci developed his political theories based on communication concerns and how those theories in turn advanced the field of communication. On the one hand, Gramsci by his intellectual formation, as well as via life experiences, became extremely receptive of theories that linked language, culture, and society. Those theories can help illuminate Gramsci’s key ideas, such as hegemony, common sense, national popular, the strategic concept of translation, and the relational nature of concepts. On the other hand, Gramsci’s own reflection on the nexus between language and history significantly contributes to a theorization of language as a cultural practice resisting hypostases, an important qualification of Saussurian structural linguistics, and finally can offer the basis for a materialist approach to communication. Thus, the common denominator of a Gramscian perspective on communication must be found in the consistent use of dialectical thinking, which mediates binarisms like diachronic–synchronic, stability–change, individual–collective, unity–diversity, and symbolic–material. This article discusses the above-mentioned connection between Gramsci and communication in more detail. First, it explicates the ways in which Gramsci’s work was influenced by communication concerns, and then it analyzes how Gramsci’s work influences the realm of human communication today.
Erin Sahlstein Parcell
The United States military is a frequent point of public conversation since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Approximately two and a half million service members have deployed in the Global War on Terror, and many have completed multiple deployments with almost 7,000 fatalities across operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Communication research on the military has a long history but since 9/11 has picked up pace with scholars seeking to understand the military’s relationship with the media, its discussion in the public sphere, and the interpersonal/familial experiences of service members and their families. The theoretical and methodological approaches are wide ranging within the discipline, but an intergroup perspective is noticeably absent. Many opportunities exist for answering intergroup communication questions, most notably at the military and civilian divide and, in turn, offering insight about and practical suggestions for communication within and about the military. Given the numerous possibilities for intergroup communication research related to the military, researchers should seize the opportunity to bring new theoretical and methodological approaches to the area. One theory, which has not been used in the intergroup communication scholarship but has great potential for this part of the discipline, is relational dialectics theory. Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a critical/interpretive theory/method package that explores the substance and form of relational talk with a keen eye for dominant and marginalized discourses. For example, intergroup communication scholars who study the military from an RDT perspective could help illuminate how different groups (e.g., military families and civilian families; same-sex military married couples; and opposite-sex military married couples) understand and construct, for example, their similarities and differences with the goal of improving their interactions. Intergroup communication scholars could use also RDT to study how multiple group-related discourses are present within military groups who have diverse membership (e.g., Family Readiness Groups, FRGs) where members constitute the intersections of several identities (e.g., military wives are simultaneously members of military culture but technically are not military personnel; members are also often simultaneously women, spouses, who, in some cases, are mothers who come from different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, as well as identify as officer or enlisted wives).