Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 7, No. 1, 1993
Edited by Brian Shoesmith & Ian Angus

Orality in the twilight of humanism: a critique of the communication theory of Harold Innis

Ian Angus

It is not too strong to suggest that the experiment that became Canada, and that Canada may become, may well be over. This has been said before, notably in George Grant's 1965 Lament for a Nation. 1 It has been true before, but never with quite the finality that faces Canadians now. In between the Free Trade Agreement and the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the economic and political forces that made Canada possible are in the process of disintegration.

The history of the country has been shot through with imperial preferences from start to finish. At this moment we must discover what else it was or it will not be saved. It will not be worth saving. The future will be different or it will not be at all. How deep, how far, can the critique of these preferences go? Canadian thought has never thrown away history for the onward rush of modernity. Does that mean we have another chance? The Federal Government, whose strong hand was the basis of a country that defied both geography and language, now merits only the words of the Scottish Jacobite song "Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation".

What force or guile could not subdue,
Through many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station,
But English gold has been our bane,
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

The only difference is that the old empire has been exchanged for the new.

At this juncture, we are motivated to inquire into and define the Canadian tradition and, even more important, to reformulate it in a manner that will make its persistence valuable -though its viability will depend on many other factors as well. This concern for the viability of Canada is not new in the tradition; it is perhaps its most characteristic component. Formed as it was by the modernising forces of successive empires, Canada, and especially Canadian thought, has remained deeply suspicious of modernity. In particular, as Arthur Kroker has argued in Technology and the Canadian Mind, it has been articulated through a critique of technology, a critique in which Harold Innis occupies the key role of mediating the modernising, ecstatic, spatial vision of Marshall McLuhan with the historical, tragic lament of Grant. But, as I have argued elsewhere in a critique of Kroker, this attempted mediation fails: Canada is more fundamentally a tension between irreconcilable extremes than a synthesis. To this extent, it has always been "postmodern". 2

In European thought, the critique of modernity in the twentieth century was developed primarily by the Frankfurt School and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. They converge on the question of technology and the instrumentalising of reason in modernity. 3 This critique of a universalising and mathematising reason has been popularised and extended in the recent debates concerning postmodernism into a defence of local, particular, embodied articulations. 4 Such an emphasis is also characteristic of Innis' communication theory of civilisation. The time is perhaps due to consider Innis' work in the context of the critique of modernity, a context which he went some distance toward defining, but in which he is rarely considered. The present task is not to extend Innis' work empirically but explore it as a contribution to post-colonial, critical theory and to chart its limits.

Thought is always with a location. Not that it may not travel, only that its belonging is precious, that the issues of its provenance hover over its fortunes. Thought emerges from contradiction; it is borne by the urgency of critique. The place of this urgency is matched by its timeliness. 5 This urgency may now be called (English?) Canada. It is forced to criticise the civilising project of "the West" from which it emerged, and to recognise that it cannot survive if it does not depart from this provenance. The work of Harold Innis, in perpetual tension between these two locations - Canada and "the West" - begins to clear a space for a post-colonial reformation of thought through a theory of communication.

Post-colonial thought

Post-colonial societies may be divided into two types: those with a long recorded history and civilisation prior to their reduction to a colonial status and those which were perceived by Europeans as savage due primarily to the "undeveloped" state of their technology and the lack of a state organisation. Within the British Empire, India and China fall into the first category and the colonies in Africa, America and Australia the second. "Uncivilised" societies were perceived as both original and unspoiled as well as undeveloped and savage, based on the model of the archetypical, European myth of the Garden of Eden and "original sin". The apparently rival accents of the noble savage and the unredeemed natural man derive from this same source. It may still be necessary to emphasise that the perception of this difference was lodged more in European cultural history than in the characteristics of the colonised societies that were selected as emblematic. However, its consequences were extremely significant for the subsequent development of colonialism. This is perhaps clearest in the extent of immigration. While previously "civilised" societies were colonised, reorganised and exploited through a British military/administrative class aligned with an indigenous elite, "savage" societies were subjected to genocide, slavery and/or removal and confinement. Their populations have been largely displaced and replaced by European immigration, which itself cannot be discussed apart from the class and ethnic/national exploitation that motivated it. In the present, post-colonial context, distinct issues arise as a consequence of this difference that is deeply rooted in the European conception of civilisation. In the Indian context, for example, it becomes important to place the British episode and its influence on later post-colonial history in the context of a much longer history. 6 With respect to "New World" societies, the post-colonial enterprise takes two different shapes. First, the struggle of Aboriginal peoples for independence and/or influence, and the assertion of a traditional heritage that can address contemporary social problems caused by European society, and the technological domination of nature. This immediately raises fundamental questions about the origin and status of what Europeans have called civilisation. Second, there is also the question of the history and fate of the ex-European people who have found themselves on the margins of European power, and who are faced with a choice of identifying with it or questioning its foundations on the basis of their historical experience in the New World. In this case, the issues of their identity, their relation to nature and technology, and their relation to Aboriginal peoples are enfolded in questioning the concept of "civilisation".

For a thinking situated at this latter juncture, it is fundamental to bring to articulation the experiences rooted in the social histories of colonial societies. For if we are anything other than Europeans manque, a pale reflection of the real stuff, it is in the history of our relations to the environment, the Aboriginal people, and to European colonial power that it is to be found. Of course, this will begin to take different forms and to pluralise the location of the post-colonial, ex-European critic - but it is remarkable, for example, how the question of "identity" is key to discussions in Canada, Latin America and Australia. 7 A danger arises at this point that such reflection will take the form of a mere "experiential catalogue". Northrop Frye used this term to suggest that Canadian literature tended to simply list experiences as if this were adequate to constitute a cultural tradition. He suggested, by contrast, that it is only when experiential contents are formed into a universal mythic pattern that a contribution of more than local interest is attained. 8 The problem, of course, is that such supposedly universal myths, (for Frye it is the biblical story), are by no means self-evidently universal. It may be not only experiential content that is new, but the form of structuring itself. To this extent, Frye is right: unless the new, cultural experience transcends a catalogue and becomes a structuring form, we have simply the extension and deeper imperialism of European culture - new grist for the old mill. From this demand for an interplay between the experiences rooted in social history and the forms of thought, issues the possibility of post-colonial culture by ex-Europeans. Without this kind of reflexivity, we fall back to European models at a later date. Our experiences are neither simply contingent, nor immediately universal, but concern the possibility of a universalising articulation from a particular location. 9

The demand for an interplay between experience and forms of thought opens a space where one can discuss Canadian thought and put it into dialogue with a more general, post-colonial discourse. This essay is concerned with the contribution of Harold Innis to marking such a space. It suggests that Innis' humanism both makes possible, and forecloses, a post-colonial, cultural and communication theory. In the tradition of Innis, communication theory is concerned with the formation of the senses in the perception of the world, the constitution of social relations in institutions, and the labour of conceptualisation that orients thought. Communication media are thus thoroughly constitutive of the three dimensions of perception, institutions and thought, not merely representations of an earlier existing world. In this sense, communication theory requires both a historical theory of civilisation and a therapeutic diagnosis of its present state. The present critique of Innis intends to push this requirement further to reveal the presuppositions of this notion of civilisation itself, and thereby clear more space for post-colonial dialogue.

From dependency economics to communication theory

In the first place, Harold Innis was a political economist who documented the economic dependency of Canada through its reliance on the extraction and export of staple resources. His approach to economics was in the tradition of institutional economics, which has a historical emphasis rather than an emphasis on the synchronic, mathematical modelling of conventional economics. The staple theory of economic dependency is an attempt to explain Canadian economic development as distinct from European development on the one hand, and development in the United States on the other.

Marx's work, for example, was primarily an attempt to explain the transformation from feudalism to capitalism in Europe - from a system based on personal dependence in which the economy is subordinated to political relations of dominance, to a capitalist system in which there is private property in both land and labour, as well as all other commodities. Land and labour are the two major exceptions to things that can be exchanged in pre-capitalist economies. While there is money in a feudal system, the capacity of land and labour to produce a surplus are not capitalised. Marx was primarily concerned in explaining the development of capitalism as an internal dynamic emerging from feudalism. In the United States, by way of contrast, early economic relations were largely those of independent commodity producers producing a commodity which they sold on the market. This co-existed with colonial, feudal-type relations of dominance and slavery in the South until the dominance of the former was established in the Civil War. There were, of course, large differences of scale between the export-oriented, "merchants of Boston" and small-scale farmers. Nevertheless, the widespread predominance of immediate producers who were directly tied to production for exchange, goes a long way toward explaining the attenuation of the class struggle in US politics, an issue that was posed in its classic form in 1905 by Werner Sombart in Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Independent commodity producers provided the basis for relatively widespread democracy, and for a certain independence of opinion that was expressed in populism - though the later concentration of capital and consequent crowding out of competition, has rendered this democratic component progressively weaker over time. As Marx remarked, the great fact about the US is that its capitalist development is not based on a prior feudal heritage.

In Canada, up until the time of the development of the staple theory by Harold Innis and others (and, unfortunately, even more recently), there was a tendency to assimilate Canadian economic history to either the European or, perhaps more relevantly, the US model of development, because clearly Canada is like the United States in being a New World society without a feudal stage. (Though, of course, the settlement of Quebec would be somewhat of an exception to that generalisation). The basic fact that the staple theory explains is the development of a colony as the exploitation of a successive set of staple resources for export - furs, trees, fish, wheat, and so forth. The central relationship involved is the relation between an imperial centre and a colony at the periphery, or margin. This implies significant transportation costs, both in the export of raw materials going to England from Canada, and in the import of manufactured goods, and these costs must be reckoned into the prices of the goods when they reach the market. This significance of transportation extends even into the unity of the nation and its relation to the empire, since transportation was developed by "public" expenditures and remains under political control due to the impossibility of capitalising such huge enterprises privately. The staple theory of economic dependency thus theorises the specific development of a colonial political economy - Canada has been, successively, a colony of France, Britain and the United States - that is sustained in a pervasive, structural tension between the modern, industrial character of the imperial centre, and the almost unhistorical, primal encounter with wilderness at the periphery.

It was against the background of this dependency theory that Innis developed his later work on communication theory. When the Second World War broke out, he started giving public lectures and addresses about what society owes to those who fight, and also spoke in the same breath about the collapse of civilisation as something that had simply happened. Innis fought in the First World War and was injured in France; he recovered in Britain and returned to Canada to write his MA thesis at McMaster University on "The Returned Soldier". In short, he is a member of that generation of people who came to maturity in, and immediately after, the First World War - a generation to whom we owe so much for the development of critical thought. We may mention Wilfrid Owen, Eric Maria Remarque, Edmund Husserl, the Frankfurt School, and many others in this regard - thinkers and writers for whom the question of "what is civilisation?" became an unavoidable issue. The experience of the First World War was the first time that Europeans and European colonials could no longer blame the conflict on benighted savages from other places. They had to face the fact that it was the civilised nations of Europe who originated the mass destruction which could no longer be viewed as a conflict between civilisation and savagery, so the question for that generation became - what is civilisation, and what is the source of its current failure? So when it began all over again in the Second World War, this element of Innis' historical formation resurfaced. His works which explicitly focus on communication stem from the period after the Second World War up to his early death in 1952. During that time he shifted his inquiry away from political economy, and was concerned to undertake some sort of diagnosis of civilisation under the aegis of communication.

Aside from the biographical dimension to this shift, there are also internal reasons within his political-economic studies. While some commentary has emphasised the sharp shift in focus from Canadian economics to world history, and asserted rather common-sensically a break in Innis' works, the main burden of scholarship has been to argue for a deeper conceptual or thematic unity. It has been suggested, for example, by Donald Creighton, Melville Watkins and Ian Parker that through his studies of the pulp and paper staple industry, Innis was brought into the study of the newspaper industry. 10 Thus, his interest was at first simply in another staple study along established lines, a connection that is indicated by a number of transitional articles on the role of public opinion in economics, and the role of transportation and communication in economic theory. While the focus of interest certainly broadened in the later studies, this line of interpretation emphasises the continuity of development. In particular, it emphasises the elements of the later work that focus on the political economy of communication. As David Crowley has pointed out, this is an interpretation that works to the advantage of the theoretical priority of political economy. 11 We may extend this observation to suggest that there is a matter of disciplinary monopoly of knowledge at issue here, which may well function to pull back the interdisciplinary innovation of Innis' later work into an established, theoretical framework. The "discipline" of communication did not exist in Canada in Innis' time, though it has now been institutionalised in several universities. Thus, the temptation of disciplinary imperialism can now work either way. (Should it go to the advantage of communication studies, it is necessary to point out that very little work in the established field has anything like the historical breadth, theoretical innovation, and observational wealth of Innis' work on communication).

Thus, while continuity of development is certainly significant, it is still a very large step indeed from staple economics to the grand scope of the later studies of communication as a theory of civilisation. An adequate theory of the relationship between the two parts requires sufficient emphasis on what is new and path-breaking, as well as the location of its emergence within previous studies. Robin Neill has argued that the early studies convinced Innis of the role of values and public opinion in economic development, and that the history of communications addressed the origin and institutionalisation of these factors. 12 Since the role of values and opinion is not generally the focus of political economy, this argument provides an account of the discontinuity that could mushroom into the altered scope, style, and theme of the later work. Moreover, it has the advantage of linking the shift to Innis' prior involvement in debates concerning the role of values in the social sciences, and converges with Crowley's claim that the communication theory should be seen as a corrective to the state of the social sciences in North America. 13

Each of these interpretations, stressing continuity and accounting for discontinuity respectively, may lay claim to a partial truth. But it would be a mistake to overlook, as both do, the influence of the larger historical situation that was indicated above. The crisis of civilisation inaugurated by the First World War, resurfaced in the Second World War in such a manner as to provoke Innis into a diagnosis of its root causes. Certainly, this involved an extension of theoretical tools developed in earlier work, and no less certainly, did it take off from perceived inadequacies in the social sciences. Nevertheless, the turn in Innis' work must be understood as a response to the world-historical crisis of European civilisation as it has emerged in the twentieth century. The world literally shook and Innis was provoked to look into what had made that world. And the upshot of this is to see in Canada's crisis, the crisis of European civilisation - no mean task for thinkers marginal to Europe, though only possible for one implicated in its shaking. Innis' work shifted because he accepted the task and the gamble, that his location at the margin as a post-colonial, intellectual proposed in this crisis.

A key aspect of the distinctiveness of the staple theory is its focus on the role of transportation in a colonial economy. When the impact of the Second World War raised the issue of the earlier conflagration and the current prospects for civilised existence, this focus on transportation was both generalised and transformed into a communication theory of society and civilisation - this intellectual situation, after all, hardly has the status of a biographical detail. As James Carey has asserted, until the introduction of the telegraph, communication was co-extensive with transportation. 14 Innis' communication theory retains all the features of dependency economics, but generalises the concept of transmission, or movement through space, into a fundamental, constitutive component of the social order. Given the priority of history and time over geography and space throughout modern thought, this emphasis on space is a key component of Innis' orginality. 15

Whereas the staple theory has a clear reference to Canada, the communication theory has no such immediate reference. Nevertheless, it is a theory of communication worked out from the periphery, which argues that it is the undervalued, or unrecognised media that sustain the balance required by a viable civilisation. Media theory is thus a critique of institutions. Moreover, the biases of institutions tend to be invisible to social scientific analysis, since the social science disciplines are built upon and generally justify the prior institutional arrangements through incorporating their presuppositions into the basic theoretical propositions. For this reason, media theory is also a critique of the disciplinary organisation of thought. The centre systematically misrecognises the conditions of its own existence. It fails to understand that it does not sustain itself of itself but only through its relations to the periphery, on which (in a reversal) it is "dependent". The communication theory of Harold Innis is thus a theory and diagnosis of civilisation from its periphery. Not an outright rejection, but a taking on board of the ideal of civilisation in the moment that it becomes apparent that the centre has become the source of a new and intensified savagery. In the light of these themes, which bear considerable resemblance to contemporary post-structuralist and deconstructionist ones, it is important to notice that Innis' defence of time and oral tradition is not merely a re-establishment of key assumptions of European thought - today usually called phono and logo-centrism. The paradox is this: even when a conventional, European, "metaphysical" assumption is rediscovered in a colonial context, the context of (re)discovery confers a different meaning - neither as an assumption, nor as autonomous, since its constitution through the periphery has undermined its self-evidence and independence. In this manner, the Eurocentrism of European culture becomes (at least potentially) simply European and clears a space for a discourse beyond "the West".

A media theory of civilisation

The fundamental thesis underlying the media theory of Harold Innis is:

[T]hat civilisation has been dominated at different stages by various media of communication such as clay, papyrus, parchment, and paper produced first from rags and then from wood. Each medium has its significance for the type of monopoly of knowledge which will be built and which will destroy the conditions suited to creative thought and be displaced by a new medium with its peculiar type of monopoly of knowledge. 16

Innis' written work on communication tends to use the concepts (space, time, bias, medium, and so forth) through which his media theory is articulated in large-scale, historical analyses, rather than directly explaining or defining what they mean. It may even seem, at times, as if these concepts have no coherence outside of their specific use. But, while there is plenty of room left for these concepts to be used in different contexts to illuminate the history and politics of communication, it is also necessary to ask whether they can provide the basis for a coherent, media theory. This interpretation will begin from the most systematic discussion of these concepts in the introduction to Empire and Communications.

There, Innis refers to centrifugal and centripetal forces - forces tending to make a society more integrated over a given area versus forces which tend to allow more independent, peripheral areas. The concepts of time and space describe the constitutive power of the media of communication in constructing and maintaining society. Initially, it is clear that media which emphasise time are durable, such as clay, and especially stone. Media that emphasise space, on the other hand, are light and easy to move over large areas, in particular papyrus and paper. Innis connects the latter media with administration and trade because of their space-orientation, and the former with permanence and time. These characteristics are connected to aspects of institutions. "Materials that emphasize time favour decentralization and hierarchical types of institutions while those that emphasize space favor centralization and systems of government less hierarchical in character". 17

The first thing to notice about this statement is the connection of the terms decentralisation and hierarchy, on the one hand, and centralisation and less hierarchy, on the other. This is not our normal usage of the terms and I think it can be explained in the following way. The centralisation/decentralisation axis refers, in fact, to the manner and extent of co-ordination in space. To say that an organisation is decentralised is to say that there is not much (or only very loose or difficult) co-ordination over a given area, implying that there are more dispersed centres of power. Innis' claim is that when there are more dispersed centres of power, the tendency is for each of these centres of power to be more hierarchical. The axis of hierarchy, then, refers to the administrative chain of command. To say that an administrative organisation is more hierarchical, is to say that it is more or less continuous from bottom to top - that there are no equivalent but dispersed powers.

Time-oriented media promote means of social organisation which are decentralised, involving more dispersed centres of power, but in each of these centres, the administrative hierarchy is more direct from top to bottom. By contrast, media that emphasise space favour centralisation and less hierarchy. Centralisation means co-ordination over a large area, and less hierarchy implies that in some of those administrative ladders, the relations of command overlap. There are equivalent ladders of power in different places, one of which does not necessarily subsume the rest.

It is through these terms that Innis investigates what is, for him, the key subject matter of communication theory - the persistence of a society in the two dimensions of space and time. 18 Every society persists in both space and time, of course, but with different degrees of effectiveness. He introduces the term "empire" to describe a society which is persistent with a substantial degree of efficiency in both dimensions. That is, an empire covers a large area and it lasts a long time. Since every medium of communication has a tendency, or "bias", toward either space or time, an empire involves a co-existence of different media of communication. A society that manages to balance the influence of space-oriented media and time-oriented media, will be successful in both space and time.

Let us explore the notion of medium utilised here. It is evident from Innis' historical discussions that he views pyramids - and architecture in general - as means of communication. A "medium of communication" is understood in a very wide sense as any kind of a formative and integrating social mechanism. Media of communication, understood in this way, are described as having intrinsic characteristics. Most straightforwardly, if one writes on stone, it tends to last; if one writes on paper, it can be easily transported. These characteristics are not given to the medium by its environment, though they are certainly used in a specific way in a given environment. 19 At first blush, it may appear as if the characteristics of media are primarily, or even exclusively, directly physical. But the distinction between heavy and light media as media oriented toward time or space, even though it is used by Innis, 20 is drastically over-simplified.

A more thorough analysis of the structure and argument of Empire and Communications can clarify the relation between a medium and its object. After the introductory chapter, the second chapter is on Egypt and the third on Babylonia. In both of these, the main object that is at issue is water. But it is not the object "water" that is key in deciding the time or space bias in a medium of communication. In Egypt, there was a necessity to predict the annual flooding of the Nile, and this concern with time led to calendars and exact methods of reckoning time. In Babylon, the problem was irrigation: there was lots of water but it wasn't in the right place. Irrigation solved this problem of space. Thus, the same object, water, in the case of Egypt led to a medium oriented toward an emphasis on time, whereas in Babylon, it led toward an emphasis on space. While water was the object at issue in both cases, the "medium" is different. Thus, it is not the object carried, but the manner of carrying; it is not the flooding, but the reckoning. The characteristics of a medium of communication cannot be defined through the material characteristics of the object with which it is concerned, but only the manner of dealing with that object. Thus, the intrinsic characteristics of a medium may include its durability or portability, but it is not confined to these. It is more fundamentally about the manner of organisation that is constructed. It is not only a material resource and a technology (oriented to dealing with a particular object), but also a social relation constructed co-extensively with this technology. A medium of communication is both a technology and a social relation. 21

We should notice in this discussion that a medium is always analysed in relation to the whole environment. It is not an isolated thing, but the central factor within a complex environment made up of many media of communication, and the objects they carry or reckon with. Its bias has to do with its influence on the whole of this environment. Thus, the intrinsic characteristics of the medium, which is a certain organisation of perception, institutions and thought, lead in a given environment to effects of reorganisation of that environment.

>From these three characteristics, we may conclude that a medium of communication, in the work of Innis, is not a specific thing distinct from other things. Rather, it is a way of viewing the constituent practices of a society. This way of viewing focuses on distinct phenomena (media) as condensations of constituent practices. Analysis of media of communication begins from intrinsic characteristics which emphasise either space or time in the context of a wider, media environment. A particularly successful society may have a balance in space and time which is micrologically evident in the balance between the different biases of different media. Communication, in this sense, is an approach; one might even say a theory and "methodology", not a defined set of objects.

In this context, Innis introduces his notion of a "bias" of communication. Every medium of communication has a bias toward either space or time. In considering the term bias, we should set aside the normal use of the term in which we would say someone is biased if they present only half of the information, and conceal another relevant part of the information. By "bias" is meant the emphasising of a certain aspect of experience, the time-oriented aspect or the space-oriented aspect, and it is intrinsic to the medium of communication 22 - though the effects of the medium in a concrete case must be assessed in the relation of these characteristics to the media environment as a whole. Bias is not a bad use of a medium; it is unavoidable.

Several things follow from this notion of bias. First of all, the idea of "monopolies of knowledge". Innis' communication theory places a key stress on institutions as the constitution of an organisation of human society. Institutions are based on a medium of communication that is the most significant within that institution, which "monopolises" knowledge through monopolising access to, and use of, that medium of communication.

While Innis discusses the bias towards space or time, he also refers to a "concern", or a concern with the "problem" of space and time, which is best understood as a figure/ground shift. When a society has been reasonably successful in extending itself in space through utilising media with a bias towards space, this success then comes to be taken for granted and the explicit concern, or thematisation of the social energy, becomes directed toward time. Time becomes the problem which must be addressed on the basis of a presupposed success with space, or vice versa. So the notion of bias is also utilised to articulate a relationship between the presupposed, taken-for-granted, organisation of a society, and the specific thematic projects that the society pursues.

Since every medium of communication is biased towards either space or time, it is impossible for a single medium to be complete. If the society was only oriented to space, for example, it would be unstable with respect to time. If a society was only oriented to time, it would have great difficulty in occupying a single area successfully. Innis introduces the notion of "balance" to suggest that a society is most successful when it is based not upon one predominant medium of communication, but upon several, especially a combination of several media which orient towards competing biases of space and time. This notion of balance is Innis' reformulation of the idea of disinterestedness in traditional humanism. Though it is no longer suggested that one can "rise above" the conflicts of social life, and judge them from an "unbiased" perspective, it is argued that a balance of biases can allow a viewpoint which, in a sense, neutralises the biases of media.

This theory of media of communication is then oriented to a twofold task. First of all, it attempts to present an historical theory of civilisation which would incorporate and surpass previous theories by showing historical changes as emerging from shifting relations between competing media of communication. Second, Innis' media theory is oriented especially towards the present, towards answering the diagnostic question concerning the present state of civilisation. This eventually also implies the reflexive question: "why does a communication theory of civilisation arise now?" What is it about our own society that motivates us to inquire into communication in a way that has not been done before? Innis suggests that our society has been extremely efficient in media oriented towards space. We have more and more organisation over a larger and larger area, developing what is essentially a world system. What we do not do well is organise things in the dimension of time. While we have a very efficient and well-integrated, world system, it is extremely sensitive to periodic shocks and dislocations. The critique is that it does not have stability over time, despite a remarkable stability over space. In this respect, the emphasis on space is taken to be characteristic of industrialisation, mechanisation and modernity. In this critical vein, Innis stresses:

the importance of the oral tradition in an age when the overpowering influence of mechanized communication makes it difficult even to recognize such a tradition. Indeed the role of the oral tradition can be studied only through an appraisal of the mechanized tradition for which the material is all too abundant. 24

The emphasis on time, by way of compensation, is a metonymic and synechdochic critique of industrial civilisation. Orality was a stabilising influence in civilisation in the past, though this has not been adequately enough understood. 25 In the present, we need to recover and extend orality in order to develop greater stability in time, and this is the healing intention of Innis' theory - to restore balance where balance has been disturbed. It is the diagnostic and therapeutic intention originating in the crisis of civilisation that motivates the contemporary development of the theory of media of communication.

Any such reflexive appraisal raises profound difficulties. In Empire and Communications, Innis states that the "significance of a basic medium to its civilisation is difficult to appraise, since the means of appraisal are influenced by the media and indeed the fact of appraisal appears to be peculiar to certain types of media". 26 In other words, if our society is constituted through the biases inherent in media of communication, our social arrangements, and therefore our manners of thinking, are also constituted by these biases. How can we get a standpoint from which we can appraise or evaluate these biases? Aren't we so firmly inside the society as to be incapable of really seeing it? This was a continuing concern of Innis that is characteristic of the orientation of his communication theory. In the opening statement of an essay entitled "Industrialism and Cultural Values", he phrased it this way:

We must all be aware of the extraordinary, perhaps insuperable, difficulty of assessing the quality of a culture of which we are a part or of assessing the quality of a culture of which we are not a part. In using other cultures as mirrors in which we may see our own culture we are affected by the astigma of our own eyesight and the defects of the mirror, with the result that we are apt to see nothing in other cultures but the virtues of our own. 27

It is in the context of this reflexive issue that Innis introduces the concept of empire in Empire and Communications.

I have attempted to meet these problems (the problems of reflexive assessment) by using the concept of empire as an indication of the efficiency of communication. It will reflect to an important extent the efficiency of particular media of communication and its possibilities in creating conditions favorable to creative thought. 28

Thus, the concept of empire refers to the efficiency of the plurality of media of communication existing in a certain society to extend in both space and time. Efficient extension in both space and time constitutes an empire, and such efficiency has to do with the capacity for reflexive evaluation.

The development of reflexive evaluation has consequences for Innis' method of analysis and writing style. His method of analysis is what we might call "micrology". He focuses on characteristic events within a society. He doesn't begin by characterising the whole but from specific events, giving us a plurality of glimpses of these specific events, creating a montage effect that implies the nature of the whole. This micrological approach is not a causal theory but rather a method of investigation. It is not the claim that the media of communication determine the form of the society, but rather the suggestion that investigation of the constitutive elements of a society as media of communication, shows that the micrological organisation prefigures and articulates the macrological structure. This is, therefore, not a technological determinism, but rather a procedure of investigation which leads to a manner of intervention. Innis' writing is both descriptive and prescriptive. He uses, as McLuhan has remarked, 29 a modernist technique of writing, through a plurality of glimpses and montage, to encourage the perception of patterns and thereby, an oralist intervention in the system of writing. Because the bias of writing is towards bureaucratic and centralising influences, and the bias of the oral is towards time - oriented intervention based in a synthesis of all of the capacities of a human individual, the idea of Innis' writing is to motivate the reader to intervene in the text in an oralist manner. Then, by micrological extension, perhaps to intervene in society as a whole in a similar manner.

Oral tradition as contemporary critique

Innis suggests that writing has a centralising effect tending to promote bureaucratic organisation due to its one-sided orientation to space. 30 It tends to promote analytic, abstract thought, and to isolate the writer and the reader from each other. Scientific thought, for example, whose cumulation of results depends on writing, continually liquidates its past to present an analytic, synchronic, theoretical summary of the current state of knowledge. Innis attempts to rescue and justify oral tradition in the context of a society which has been one-sidedly oriented toward the written. Two major aspects of orality are relevant to its contemporary critical function - the role of memory and the central importance of the concrete situation in the here and now.

Sound is essentially immediate and evanescent. Its immediacy connects it to action. Speech as action, though Innis does not seem to have recognised it, has been fundamental to the rhetorical tradition. To speak to someone is to act and to provoke an immediate reaction in a way that writing does not. Oral society is based upon the notion of speech as action, rather than language as description, and has evolved many strategies for overcoming the tendency of spoken words to be forgotten. Stories, rituals, and so forth are built upon formulae and mnemonics. Poetry has a key function in which the rhythmic metre makes things easier to remember and to put in place. Moreover, there is a high level of redundancy and of formulaic assemblage of pre-organised parts. Thereby the structure of speech in an oral society tends to be additive rather than analytic. In analytic thought, one subordinates the higher category to the lower, an example to the general theory, whereas within orality, one tends to simply add on without any clear pattern of subordination or hierarchy. This key role of memory is extremely important in primary orality, and exerts a formative influence on the whole of societies in which orality is the only, or major, medium of communication. Oral society is homeostatic due to the continuous incorporation of the past into the present. 31 There is no way for that which has really been forgotten to survive. Consequently, oral society orients much of its energy toward not forgetting, towards continuously re-enacting the past in the present.

Equally important, because speech is action, is the here and now situation in which an utterance takes place. Originality or creativity does not reside so much in making up new stories but in the quality of this enactment or performance. The oral mind is oriented towards narrative accounts; stories rather than lists. Consequently, there is no neutrality but a standpoint with both a descriptive and an evaluative dimension. Orality is participatory and inclusive, not distant. It acts over small spaces and unites people in face-to-face encounters. Being situational rather than abstract, oral tradition is agonistic, or rhetorical, rather than epistemological (which is based on a separation of the knower from the known).

Innis documents the unacknowledged importance of the oral tradition in maintaining Western civilisation and he wishes, by acknowledging that importance, to promote greater orality in the present, in order to increase time-consciousness, and thereby to heal the one-sided emphasis of space-oriented, bureaucratic society. The therapeutic goal of his communication theory is therefore oriented toward a greater "balance" between the competing biases of writing and orality. "Lack of interest in problems of duration in Western civilisation suggests that the bias of paper and printing has persisted in a concern with space". 32 For Innis, the traditional, humanist perspective outside competing interests is not possible since the biases inherent in media of communication extend throughout the material and intellectual formation of society. Nevertheless, the attempt at reflexive evaluation is not simply abandoned for interested polemic. Rather, it is to be sought in a balance between the differing biases of a plurality of media of communication. In this spirit, Innis remarks that the power of Plato's dialogues is that they involve an encounter between two media of communication. They were written when oral society encountered a new literacy, and that it is the double-sidedness rooted in this moment of civilisational transformation that gives persistent relevance to Plato's philosophy. 33

Two criticisms of Innis' media theory which can be made at this point will situate it as an attempt to continue the humanist tradition through its twilight. The first is with respect to the notion of empire as an index of the efficiency of communication. If we ask the question of what is successful communication, it is doubtful whether "extension" in either space or time, or both, can serve as an adequate measure. There is a bias toward empire implicitly built into this criterion as it operates in Innis' conceptualisation of a communication theory of society and civilisation. 34 Insofar as extension in space or time is characteristic of a medium of communication, the most successful society will be one which extends in both space and time. An empire extends in both space and time with considerable success. Consequently, Innis' theory suggests that the most successful communication, in both a descriptive and prescriptive sense, results in empire. Moreover, the most extensive, reflexive evaluations can also be expected to emerge from such an imperial situation of balance. We may well hold up to question a theory which contains an evaluative component suggesting that empire is the most successful form of communication. In this sense, Innis' dependency theory of communication is unable to imagine any possibility of independence for the ex-colony. It remains tied to the imperial assumptions of European humanism. In order to pass beyond this restriction, we need to ask: is there any sense in which media theory could justify a restriction of the extent of communication?

The second criticism has to do with the notion of oral tradition. I will argue that there are two incompatible accounts of oral tradition in Innis. In the first place, orality is understood as time - orientation and presented as a balance to the space-orientation of writing. This implies that orality, like any medium of communication, is a selection and co-ordination of human senses, and institutionalisation of this selection leads to a monopoly of knowledge. Therefore, in this version, orality is just as partial as any other medium of communication, such as writing, video, photography, sign language, architecture and so forth. Orality in this first sense, is a medium of communication alongside others. Its centrality derives from its capacity to balance the dominant space-orientation of contemporary society such that, in this specific situation, it may play a healing role.

But there is another account of the conception of orality in Innis. Orality is also viewed as a fundamental synthesis, a basis co-ordinating all human senses, and incorporating both time and space in a unique manner. As he says in "The Problem of Space", "In oral intercourse the eye, ear, and brain, the senses and the faculties acted together in busy co-operation and rivalry each eliciting, stimulating, and supplementing the other". 35 Orality understood in this manner, is an integration of human capacities into a functioning whole, from which all other media abstract partial selections and developments of human capacities. In this formulation, orality is not merely alongside other media of communication; it is the fundamental basis of all human communication from which other media derive, and to which they are secondary.

This contradiction between two modes of understanding orality is embedded in Innis' theory and, more particularly, in the two-fold intention of his media theory of civilisation - the intention of giving a historical account of the development of civilisation based on media of communication, and the intention of investigating and healing the problems of the present. This relationship between the history of civilisation and its present crisis, gives rise to the two manners of understanding orality that are densely intertwined in Innis' texts. We should resist any tendency to simply solve the contradiction between these two accounts of orality. A great thinker such as Innis does not simply make logical mistakes; this central contradiction motivates and animates his entire work in a manner that is characteristic of the age as an attempt to think through dependency in a neo-colonial and post-colonial context.

Critique of planetary culture

We may, however, characterise the situation in which this dual account of orality arises, for it is itself symptomatic of the historical juncture which Harold Innis' communication theory seeks to address. The twentieth century may be described as the twilight of humanist civilisation. In such a situation, we are motivated to recover the fundamental notion of humanism - the unity of the human body as the origin of media of communication, and human capacities and creativity. The present tendency of media is to shatter this unity, to fragment human capacities, and to fracture the conception of the self. In this situation, the unity of the human body becomes very problematic, and motivates a historical reflection on the origins of the conflicts of our own time that recovers the unity of the human body that is present in orality. By means of this conception of orality, one can criticise the contemporary development of media of communication. In this sense, the conception of orality is deeply reflexive since the motive for its recovery is rooted in the situation of its loss. For this reason, Innis' notion of orality inscribes a similar figure of thought to George Grant's lament for a nation in the moment of its demise.

Nevertheless, it may also be the case that our present situation and the present, fragmenting tendencies of media of communication show that this fundamental, humanist notion of bodily integrity is simply no longer viable. It may have been a prejudice of previous media of communication, not a fundamentum for media sui generis. The moment of recovery, due to its origin in the moment of endangerment, cannot erase the doubt inherent in its origin to embrace a humanist metaphysics of bodily integrity. While it recovers this conception, it is obliged to reconstruct it in the present, and thereby cannot simply rely on it as established. This reflexive situation leads to a contradiction between orality as the fundamentum to all media, and orality as a balance to other media; and is rooted in the contemporary situation for radical reflection in which humanism is fading but is necessary to see what is emerging - a situation of twilight, not of definitive end or beginning. 36

The contemporary situation of the twilight of humanism has a further consequence for understanding the concepts of space and time as they are utilised by Innis. Innis criticises the quantitative notion of time but not that of space. He contrasts time to mechanisation and industrialisation, thereby allowing the concept of space to stand, through the assumption of quantified space, for industrialism per se. Innis pointed out in "A Plea for Time", for example, that there are two ways of misunderstanding history. 37 We may misunderstand history as antiquarianism, as that which is simply finished, or on the other hand, as that which remains and continues, implying that we understand those of the past as if they were just like us in the present. In both cases, we misunderstand history, which is change in continuity, and continuity in change. Innis has done a great deal to resurrect the notion of history from this dilemma of reduction backward to the past, or forward toward the present. We may term this, to utilise Husserlian terminology, a critique of the mathematical substruction of experienced time. However, there is no comparable critique of the mathematical substruction of lived space.

As time can be misunderstood as a linear progression which poses the apparent choice between discontinuity and continuity, so space can be misunderstood as simple location in a mathematical grid in which the opposition of here to there eradicates continuity in difference, or traversal. In his concrete descriptions, Innis always uses the notion of space as traversed space - that is, space that has been unified and differentiated through media of communication - he simultaneously conceptualises space as already necessarily quantified. It is only on the basis of this quantified conception of space that the contrast between space and time can stand as emblematic of the problems of mechanisation, and industrialisation as a whole. Thus, the contradiction in the conception of oral tradition enters the conception of space as well.

Edmund Husserl, in his critique of modernity, argued that such misunderstandings are a result of substituting an intellectual framework of mathematical concepts for the lived experience of space and time. 38 Science may well be aided by such a procedure, but we ought not to confuse what is precisely the result of a procedure with our ordinary experience of the world. For this reason, Husserl argues that contemporary criticism must return to the living body underneath mathematical substructions, whether they be substructions of space or time. His analysis thus suggests that the fundamental contradiction from which the crisis of humanism emerges, is between mathematical, scientific substruction, on the one hand, and the living body, on the other - or, between system and lifeworld. In this case, the critique that is required, focuses on the relation between mathematical-formal substructions and lived experience in both spatial and temporal dimensions, rather than the counterposing of time to space. From this perspective, Innis' descriptions capture the inscription of experience through the spatial and temporal components of media quite well, but there is a failure at the level of conceptualisation that grounds the therapeutic and critical side of his theory.

The abstraction of various capacities from the unity of the living body has allowed them to be developed in a way which would not have been possible if their integration in orality had never been sundered. This development of separated capacities in the present time is allowing for a new co-ordination of the senses in the culture external to the individual body. Marshall McLuhan called this phenomenon the "global village". The socio-cultural co-ordination of abstracted and developed capacities is replacing the original co-ordination of capacities in the human body. We may define planetary culture as this emergent co-ordination of developed media of communication outside the human body. It is a systematic connection that originated from abstraction from the lived body, but now completes and reverses itself to construct a new synthetic body. Whereas the body used to be the ground for all the figures of the abstracted human capacities, now the synthesis of abstracted and developed capacities is creating a new, media environment, a new planetary culture, which is the ground upon which the human body appears as a figure. This situation is not just another change within the continuum of history, but a change that brings this development between the human body and the abstraction of its capacities to some sort of conclusion or closure. It is this situation that can be called the twilight of humanism.

Innis points us to this critical situation of the present, but in a manner that differs from the Eurocentric version that is common to both Husserl and McLuhan. Despite the critique of Innis' conceptualisation presented above, his counterposing of space and time, industrialisation and orality, gives a marginal, post-colonial twist to the critique of modernity. For Innis, it is not just a story of abstraction-fracturing and synthetic recombination. The story must also include the fact that the abstraction-fracturing begins from a specific location which thereby gains power over other locations (becomes a centre). Consequently, the planetary recombination, while it is a "whole", is a centred whole that skews all phenomena in the global context toward a Eurocentric bias. It is to the post-colonial recuperation and extension of the critique of modernity, that Innis makes his most profound contribution. The tension in Innis' work is exemplary of a pervasive tension in our historical-geographical configuration and cannot be simply resolved. In the present context, the tension between orality as fundamental, and orality as alongside other media, condenses the issue of whether the imperial domination of space can be surpassed or only limited.

By linking orality with time orientation, Innis developed a critique of the mathematical substruction of time, and has turned away from a similar critique of the mathematical substruction of space. In order to understand the contemporary tension between the unity of the living human body and the development of the capacities abstracted from this unity, we require a critique of space as well as time. The therapeutic intention of communication theory cannot be properly fulfilled through the notion of balance. It is better served by a metaphor of excavation, of digging down to the fundamental unity from which communicative capacities have been abstracted, and at the same time, a doubt that this excavation is uncovering a fundamental unity - a suspicion that perhaps this unity only appears as such through an historical bias that is in the process of disappearing. This reflexive situation articulates a sense of loss, of lament, for the passing of something loved. Whether it be orality or an impossible nation, what is loved is close, local, and requires a turn against the universalising and homogenising dynamics of civilisation and thought. This recovery of the particular is most characteristic of Canadian thought. In Innis it succeeds only in a minor key, as a holding action against a dynamic that it cannot criticise fundamentally enough. He reverses empire but cannot imagine an exit from it. Is it now possible to develop further this reflexive paradox to recover not only what was loved, but also the lost possibilities of the past? Can the imagination of local autonomy, the lost dream of the new world, be recovered? For this we need not only a critique of empire, but the thought of the self-sustaining local. How can we justify communications of restricted scope? The fact that these are questions and not assertions indicates that they are characteristic of a conjuncture in which they are not (yet) resolvable. It is the great merit of Innis to have taken social science to the critique of colonialism. It allows us to probe the possibility of a post-colonial exit from Europe. Not to traverse, but to inhabit, our own space. Here.


This essay was drafted while I was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Media Studies at Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley, Australia in July-August 1991. Throughout that time, I benefited considerably from discussions with Kevin Ballantyne, Norman Leslie, David McKie, Robyn Quin and Rod Quin. I would particularly like to thank Brian Shoesmith for many interesting discussions of Harold Innis, media technologies and the comparative historical formations of Canada and Australia.

1. George Grant, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (Toronto & Montreal: McClelland & Stewart, 1970). In this work (pp. 53-4) Grant says, "The aspirations of progress have made Canada redundant. The universal and homogeneous state is the pinnacle of political striving. ... Modern civilisation makes all local cultures anachronistic".

2. Arthur Kroker, Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis/McLuhan/Grant (Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1984). See my review essay "Technology and Nihilism in Canada", Theory, Culture & Society, v.5, n. 1 (1988). See also my argument in George Grant's Platonic Rejoinder to Heidegger (Lewiston & Queenston: Edwin Mellen, 1987), pp. 114-126.

3. For an extended treatment of this convergence, see my Technique and Enlightenment: Limits of Instrumental Reason (Washington: Centre for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1984).

4. See in this connection, Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington & Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984); David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989). Habermas rejects the postmodern turn in thought precisely because of this emphasis on locality and particularity - in short, the rejection of Enlightenment ideals. Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. F. Lawrence, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987). My position in this debate has been to accept the assertion that there is a new condition of postmodernity but to theorise it in terms deriving from the convergence of phenomenology and Critical Theory (see note 3 above) that diverge significantly from the ideological pluralism of "postmodernism". The difference between theorising a historical condition and an intellectual tendency is key here. See Ian Angus, "Circumscribing Postmodern Culture" in Ian Angus & Sut Jhally (eds.), Cultural Politics in Contemporary America (New York & London: Routledge, 1989) and "The Politics of Common Sense: Articulation Theory and Critical Communication Studies" in Stanley Deetz (ed.), Communication Yearbook 15 (Newbury Park: Sage, 1992).

5. These words attempt provisionally to situate this essay in dialogue with several books which I think are very important for contemporary cultural studies. See Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, trans. Russell Moore (New York: Monthly Review, 1989); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge, 1988); Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).

6. See Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (London: Zed Books, 1986); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" in In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, op. cit.

7. The reference to identity throughout Canadian thought is too extensive to document however, for policy discussions, see Vital Links: Canadian Cultural Industries (Government of Canada, Department of Communications, 1987). For a comparison between Canadian and Australian Studies discussions, see Australian Studies and Canadian Studies: Reports, Responses, Prospects, Cultural Policy Studies, Occasional Paper No. 11 (Institute for Cultural Policy Studies, Griffith University, 1990). For Latin America, see Leopoldo Zea, "Identity: A Latin American Philosophical Problem" in The Philosophical Forum, v.XX, n.1-2, Fall-Winter 1988-89. See also, Richard White, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980 (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1981) and Graeme Turner, National Fictions (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1986).

8. Northrop Frye, "Conclusion to A Literary History of Canada" in The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi, 1971); The Great Code (Toronto: Academic Press, 1982).

9. I have tried to follow through with this demand by articulating the concept of "portage" in George Grant's Platonic Rejoinder to Heidegger, op. cit. and with respect to "border" in "Crossing the Border", The Massachusetts Review, Special issue on Canada, v.XXXI, n.1-2 (Spring-Summer 1990). I have also attempted to advance George Grant's concept of "particularity" in a more international context in "The Politics of Common Sense: Articulation Theory and Critical Communication Studies", op. cit.

10. Donald Creighton, "Harold Adams Innis - An Appraisal" in William H. Melody, Liora Salter and Paul Heyer (eds.), Culture, Communication and Dependency: The Tradition of Harold Innis (Norwood: Ablex, 1981), p.23; Ian Parker, "Innis, Marx and the Economics of Communication: A Theoretical Aspect of Canadian Political Economy" in ibid, p.134-6; Melville Watkins, "Technology and Nationalism" in Peter Russell (ed.), Nationalism in Canada (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1966), p.287. Ian Parker also points out that Innis' earlier political economy studies has already paid particular attention to circulation, transportation and communication.

11. David Crowley, "Harold Innis and the Modern Perspective on Communications" in Culture, Communication and Dependency: The Tradition of Harold Innis, op. cit., p.235.

12. Robin Neill, A New Theory of Value: The Canadian Economics of Harold Innis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), pp.93-6; David Crowley, op. cit., p.235.

13. Neill, op. cit., pp.82-92.

14. James W. Carey, "Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph," Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988), pp.203-4.

15. See Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London & New York: Verso, 1989) and Frederic Jameson, "Cognitive Mapping" in Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (eds)., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

16. H.A. Innis, The Press: A Neglected Factor in the Economic History of the Twentieth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1949), p.5.

17. Harold Innis, Empire and Communications (Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1972), p.7.

18. These dimensions of space and time can be interpreted in two fundamental ways: as a Kantian formal structure which is more or less filled out by media of communication. In this case, the space/time schema would be pre-existent to media and there would be a distinction between the "real" space/time nexus and the extent to which it is known or experienced within a society. This raises several intractable problems since, while the distinction between these two is necessary from this perspective, the two usages can never, in principle, be related to each other. The other alternative, which I believe to be truest to Innis' historical discussions, is phenomenological and Marxist. Space and time as they are experienced (in the widest sense) within any society are understood to be constituted through media of communication, and media of communication are formed and developed through human praxis. Space exists only insofar as it is traversed in some manner and time exists only through the means of transmission between generations. Communication media thus "set up", or constitute, through human labour, the limits of what is experiencable, and the manner in which it is experienced, in a social formation. In this case, there is no distinction between "real", or "scientific" space/time and the social experience of space/time. Rather, the scientific scheme is a specific cultural formation whose historico - spatial emergence has its own conditions of existence in the predominating media of communication.

19. Despite the influence of Innis on McLuhan, this is one key point of difference. In McLuhan's notion of a medium of communication, a medium has no intrinsic characteristics; all that a medium "is" is an effect of characteristics from the media environment outside the given medium of communication. For this reason, it is a throughly rhetorical theory. The medium has no intrinsic content; its content is a translation of the prevailing configuration of the media environment. This understanding is throughout McLuhan's work: the content of a medium is a previous medium; the effect of a medium is the amplification or acceleration of existing processes that it introduces; this amplification is a relational product of the medium's environment. I have discussed this position in relation to Bateson's systems theory and phenomenology in "Mediation and New Social Movements" in Communication Theory, v.2, n.1 (February 1992).

20. See, for example, Empire and Communications, op. cit., pp.7, 26-28.

21. The present point is limited to establishing that Innis' notion of medium applies to both a technology and a social relation and not to the object on which these operate. However, this understanding of a medium requires a more detailed analysis of the relation between technology and social relations than is available in Innis' work. I have followed up this issue in a related essay entitled "Instrumental Reason, Cultural Studies of Technology and the Frankfurt School" (forthcoming).

22. A similar notion of the intrinsic characteristics of media of communication is elaborated by Don Ihde through his term "inclination" - the tendency of a technology to be used in a certain manner; this is not a determinism since the inclination can be resisted, even though this may require a conscious using against the grain that has other consequences. See Technics and Praxis (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979) and Existential Technics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983).

23. See for example, Empire and Communications, op. cit., p. 25, 170; The Bias of Communication (Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1973), pp.60,76,92,96.

24. See "A Plea for Time" in The Bias of Communication, op. cit., p.76. Orality is also counterposed to the "mechanized" in The Press, op. cit., p.4 and "A Critical Review" in The Bias of Communication, op. cit., p.190.

25. The Press, op. cit., p.4.

26. Empire and Communication, p.9.

27. "Industrialism and Cultural Values", in The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951), p.132.

28. Empire and Communication, p.9.

29. Marshall McLuhan, Introduction to The Bias of Communication, p.vii.

30. Empire and Communications, op. cit., pp.24,44,90,100; The Bias of Communication, op. cit., pp.4,35-6,50,100. This account of the contrast of writing and orality also relies on Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (London: Methuen, 1982), pp.31-116 which is a much more comprehensive and systematic comparison than that provided by Innis.

31. At this point we might ask a question. Is oral society as stable as it seems? Or does it simply appear so because it consumes its past? Innis has suggested that orality has a time bias, a stability through time even though it is very local in space. Could it be that oral society simply does not preserve the memory of its instabilities? Also, in reflecting on this question, how could we know oral society as it is, as distinct to how oral society appears to us? In short, how can we answer the reflexive question of appraisal that underlies Innis' work? See Ong, op. cit., p.61.

32. "A Plea for Time" in The Bias of Communication, op. cit., p.76.

33.Empire and Communications, p.56. This analysis of interaction between different media as creating a potential for reflexive awareness is expanded in Marshall McLuhan's conception of "media hybrids" as the source of creative energy. See Understanding Media (New York: New American Library, 1964), pp.57-63.

34. See Empire and Communications, p.115,170.

35. "The Problem of Space", in The Bias of Communication, p.105. This conception is even more central to the work of McLuhan. See, for a selected statement of this pervasive theme, Understanding Media, op. cit., p.81.

36. See George Grant's Platonic Rejoinder to Heidegger, op. cit., pp.74-84.

37. In The Bias of Communication, op. cit., p.61f.

38. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972).

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