Themes of Innis and Marx Compared

Earle Beattie
1978 Canadian Journal of Communication  
In the words of an Innis College sonq "Who the he11 was H a r o l d Innis?" M y history professor, A r t h u r Lower, made his works familiar t o our c l a s s many years ago a t United College, Winnipeg. B u t I suspect I r e l i e d on Lower's lectures more than on reading Innis, f o r a s Lower tcld us, Innis was a very turgid w r i t e r . He was an economic historian who devoted the l a s t twelve years of his l i f e , u p t o 1952, t o communication s u b j e c t s , writing Empire and
more » ... riting Empire and Communications in 1950 and The Bias of Communication and Changing Concepts of Time in 1951. Communication was not .just added on as another subject as he believed t h a t i t was the key t h a t unlocked history, bringing about social changenot exactly a class-struggle theory of change. All t h i s i s t o say t h a t something of an Innis revival i s underway in the academic world and serving t h i s on March 30-31 was a conference e n t i t l e d "H.A.Innis a Symposium. Legacy, Content, Direction." I t took place in the amphitheatrel i k e s e t t i n g of Simon Fraser University with i t s g r e a t , fountained courtyard atop a low mountain plateau in Burnaby, B . C . , overlooking Burrard I n l e t . Across the I n l e t were the snow-capped peaks of the Coast range, a f i t t i n g s e t t i n g f o r a revival of a great Canadian scholar a f t e r 25 years in e c l i p s e . (On the opposite page three authors from Simon Fraser discuss i n a new book The Tangled Net how Innis concepts formed the basis o f t h e i r work). Me1 Watkins says the contemporary revival of p o l i t i c a l science i n Canada "centres c r i t i c a l l y on the wedding of Innis and Marx." (This Magazine Vo1.12, No. 1 ) . Watkins, Reg Whitaker and Ian Parker presented papers ( a s p a r t of a panel) t h a t linked Innis themes t o Marxist themes, f o r example, Innis "centre t o margin" theory on how empires exploited t h e i r hinterlands. Imperial control centres such a s ancient Rome o r modern London dominated outlying t e r r i t o r i e s through the use of f a s t , lightweight media (papyrus, paper) and good transport. The metropolis held the hinter:ands in a s t a t e of dependency i n which a s t a p l e s t r a d e had t h r u s t i t in the f i r s t place. The materials used i n message-making a s s i s t e d in t h a t domination, However, counter media developed on the periphery of empire a s r e s i s t a n c e t o centralism and gradually won over. I t was a thesisa n t i t h e s i s ,synthesis theory based on media as determinants. Empires achieve equilibrium only through a harmonious balance between the bias of "time" and "space"t h a t i s , between media t h a t celebrated the past, re1 igion, history, permanence of materials, c o n t i n u i t y , and personal, small oral s o c i e t i e s such as the Athenian c i t y s t a t e . Temples, s p i r e s , pyramids pointed heavenward, stone building showed sol i d i t y , and so were s t y l e d "time biased." Space media on the other hand were lightweight, s e c u l a r , s c i e n t i f i c and mechanistic, concerned w i t h the present, covering distances speedily, such as provided by paper, printing, high speed presses and e l e c t r i c i t y . The media e s t a b l i s h monopolies of knowledge not by what they say but by the p a r t i c u l a r bias of t h e i r materials, technology o r form. They favour c e r t a i n kinds of information over other kinds inevitably, creating social i n s t a b i l i t y , o r a s McLuhan put i t "the medium i s cour. ON PACC l/b 8 CANADIAN JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION
doi:10.22230/cjc.1978v4n4a185 fatcat:omauwzd2qbbcnoiqc7u7ooemse