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Dr. Mookerjea - Cultural Studies 6

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Sourayan Mookerjea

SOCIOLOGY 345 HAROLD INNIS "A Plea for Time" Clay vs Papyrus - communication bias give rise to a scribe class ability for an empire to project power over space (papyrus, light and transportable) and time (clay, durable). innis' writing is quite sketchy but insightful nonetheless another scholar in the early nineties wrote a book called Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, has an idea called 'print capitalism' and the way print is used. innis too is talking about this a new kind of literacy brought about by the gutenberg printing press before this very specialized groups of people know how to read, and they tend to be priests. it was a clerical literacy. what happens with the gutenberg: it is not quite the birth of mass literacy (that's not till public education) but literacy definitely begins to expand into a post-clerical kind of literacy, a middle class literacy, a form of bourgeois literacy in the sense that these new readers live in towns. a new kind of communicational needs arise that pertain to the expansion of the economy over vast swaths of space. merchant trading companies like the hudson's bay company had to use a new kind of prose and a new kind thing called informatio▯ to do their business, a reportorial style and function of writing. Shift to absolutist monarchies that then become large trading empires, and administration of that empire requires a new kind of communication, the report. so new kinds of readers, new kinds of writing. innis would have studied this closely. he is thinking about how this kind of prose takes on new forms ie newspapers, 18c novels, and so on. its role in that sense is mediating the possibility of the formation of nation states. benedict anderson talks about pretty much the same thing. his argument is that once you have a reading public reading the same newspapers and novels (and there are fewer novels so everyone is reading the same ones) means that people are feeling solidified in this communal act of everyone reading the same news and the same stories, doing it ritually every morning, and feeling united to your countrymen. this, anderson says, is the basis of this imagined community that is nationalism. Innis goes further, you then have common others, common enemies. the creation of the other is fundamental to the we-feeling underlaying nationalism. he contrasts printing with RADIO radio appealed to vast areas, escaped literacy and thus escaped classes, and let a single individual appeal to vast numbers of people at once. he is thinking of hitler's use of the radio and antisemetic propaganda. once you have print culture, one of the things that mediates is how a particular dialect of some language other than latin can be elevated and turned into the high-status language first of powerful people and eventually of everyone (cf elias) and then rallied around for nationalistic reasons. but literacy is not universal yet. this speaking of different dialects and nonliteracy leads to instability in certain regions within th enation. the radio eliminates that, making it possible for everyone to hear the language and hear the message at once in a one-directional pattern. the use of FILM german's shown films of battles won in the theatres back home almost immediately after the event. greater realism allows for greater delusion. innis is trying to understand the us as a war machine. numerous generals have become president, but no general has ever been prime minister, in canada or britain. innis is trying to figure out how us is taking over britain as the driver of capitalism in his time. he posits the idea of the national corporation. before there were international trading houses ie hudson's bay company. then you had the family firm, an institutional form tha tthe running of capitalism took, family run businesses by wealthy well connected people and politically well connected, part of the nobility etc. the national corporation emerges in the time of the civil war in US, the national scale corporation becomes entrenched in the USA. there is a new kind of information need that goes with this: bureaucracy. before people had exchanged information on investment and profit etc was in the social life of manoral estates and playing polo and going to balls (kind of like golf today) etc. especially if you think about the relatively small UK where you could know all the major players. but compare that with national scale corporations that are now the main sites of economic investment etc, there are a whole bunch of new things that are part of today's economy: market signals, elaborate market indices and analyses, specialized people studying industries, following corporations and ins and outs and write supports and provide investment ratings that allow people to make decisions about where to put their money. even the price, innis realized, is a form of information. the stock market then is a signaling device, communicating info about where to invest based on prices alone. it is this new kind of communication ca▯ed INFORMATION. __________________________________ you also have another element: AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. he is trying to explain its relationship to war. he looks to the lumber and newspaper industry and he notes that in the case of the usa, particularly in terms of the spanish american war and the boor war, in both cases you had newspapers promoting war for a long time, fanning the flames of war, publishing atrocity stories, being morally outraged, urging the nation to war, etc. it is because it is in the profit interests of newspapers because people will buy the paper to catch up on the war happenings. in the process of fann
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