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Media, Structures, and Power

Media, Structures, and Power: The Robert E. Babe Collection

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 432
  • Book Info
    Media, Structures, and Power
    Book Description:

    Containing introductions and contributions by other prominent scholars, this volume situates Babe's work within contemporary scholarship and underscores the extent to which he is one of Canada's most prescient thinkers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8643-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments: Robert E. Babe
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-2)
  6. Robert Babe, Canadian Scholar
    (pp. 3-14)

    Over the course of a career, the collected works of most academics typically reveal the development of early insights into full-blown analyses. Central figures and schools of thought are fleshed out, gradually applied toward some sort of definitive conclusion. Indeed, for most, a career in the academy entails a journey in time through which concepts and political ideals run their course. Consciously or not, for most, the circle is squared.

    Robert Babe, however, is not a typical scholar. Earning a PhD at one of America’s elite economics departments – Michigan State University in 1972 – Babe left a predictably secure, prosperous career...


    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 17-21)

      Robert Babe’s work on economics is a hologram for his oeuvre as a whole. In it we find deep engagement with theory, whether orthodox or heterodox; theoretical pluralism; interdisciplinarity; and a deep concern for the real-world consequences of how we think and what we think about. Seeds of all of his other work can be found here, whether that is research on the history of communication theory, developing a framework for understanding relationships between cultural studies and political economy, or investigations into the epistemological underpinnings of environmental disaster. It may be ironic, but it is also valuable that Babe’s critiques...

    • 1 The Place of Information in Economics
      (pp. 22-42)

      In recent decades, theorists such as George Stigler, Gary Becker, and Richard Posner have endeavoured to extend the applications of neoclassical theory into areas as diverse as family planning, racial discrimination, crime, marriage, divorce, drug addiction, politics, and suicide. Indeed, for such ‘economic imperialists,’¹allbehaviour involving scarce resources can be illuminated by neoclassical price theory.

      This chapter takes exception to that proposition. Focusing on information/ communication, the chapter proposes instead that neoclassical economics be taken captive, contending that neoclassicists’ notions of ‘market,’ ‘price,’ ‘value,’ ‘commodity,’ ‘demand,’ ‘supply,’ and ‘exchange’ are but specialized and reductionist renderings of broader communicatory phenomena....

    • 2 Communication: Blind Spot of Western Economics
      (pp. 43-59)

      This chapter compares the disciplines of economics and communication studies. In their mainstream versions, known respectively as neoclassical economics and as administrative communication research,¹ these scholarly areas appear at first glance to be quite similar. The economist’s market, after all, comprising monetary and commodity flows between buyer and seller, has a seemingly close correlate in the communication system, comprising sender, receiver, medium, message, code, and feedback. Certainly it is interesting and important to compare and contrast these conceptual models that condition so much of what their mainstream practitioners have to say. Closer comparisons between these mainstream or dominant modes of...

    • 3 Copyright and Culture
      (pp. 60-65)

      When Canada’s federal government announced in October 1987 that it had negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States it emphasized that Canadian culture had been safeguarded. While the pact covered resources, energy, manufactured goods, services, and capital, according to the government, culture had remained ‘off the table’ – except for commitments to abandon postal rates favouring Canadian magazines, to inaugurate a retransmission right for broadcasts rediffused by cable TV systems, and the ominous undertaking to hammer out an agreement over the next five to seven years on all remaining trade irritants.

      Implicit in the government’s assertions respecting the inviolability of...

    • 4 ‘Life Is Information’: The Communication Thought of Graham Spry
      (pp. 66-78)

      Graham Spry was exemplary in combining theory and praxis. On the one hand he was a historian, political analyst, and communication theorist; in addition to articles on Canadian communication policy, he wrote on ancient and Russian history, on ‘India and Self-Government,’ and on francophone-anglophone relations within the Canadian Confederation. This gentle, witty man was also, however, impassioned and tenacious in pursuing institutional reform through voluntarist politics, and his legacy continues to be felt in the fields of journalism, broadcasting, and health care.

      In 1930, with Alan Plaunt (1904–41),¹ Spry formed, and until 1936 worked vigorously on behalf of, the...


    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 81-90)

      The chapters in this section illustrate Robert Babe’s insightful critiques of Canadian policymaking in the fields of media and telecommunication. Through his historical analyses, Babe’s work demonstrates how the vested interests of industrialists and governments have been advantaged structurally, undermining the development of an autonomous and broadly public interest–oriented cultural industry in Canada.

      Babe’s work exemplifies what Dallas W. Smythe advocated as the proper subject of inquiry into the political economy of communication. Smythe suggested that research should reveal the strategies of those whose power is antithetical to human welfare – ‘It seems to me from the standpoint of understanding...

    • 5 Media Technology and the Great Transformation of Canadian Cultural Policy
      (pp. 91-118)

      In a deservedly famous work, economic historian Karl Polanyi depicted the passing of feudalism and the rise of capitalism as comprising three basic transformations: Nature, in becoming commodified, was transformed into ‘land,’ a mere factor of production; human beings in being commodified were transformed into ‘labour,’ also merely a factor of production; and finally social inheritance became the commodity ‘capital.’¹ The price system, in other words, penetrated not only allocations of final outputs, but as well social processes of production.

      For Polanyi these transformations, while fundamental, were not unmitigated blessings. Indeed, he lamented, in coming to rely almost exclusively on...

    • 6 Control of Telephones: The Canadian Experience
      (pp. 119-133)

      In popular literature on new media,¹ in academic literature on the information revolution,² and most significantly in policy documents from the government of Canada (see chapter 5), a recurring theme is evident:technological imperative,the doctrine maintaining that technology’s march is largely inevitable, autonomous, foreordained. Indeed, a range of governmental soothsayers have endorsed the doctrine of technological inevitability: Arthur J. Cordell, writing for the Science Council of Canada,³ Francis Fox, minister of communications,⁴ and the panel known as the Telecommission,⁵ are notable examples, among many others. This technological imperative, it is to be noted, provides a veneer of inevitability, naturalness,...

    • 7 Convergence and Divergence: Telecommunications, Old and New
      (pp. 134-151)

      Until recently the termtelecommunications(literally ‘communicating from a distance’) was reserved for point-to-point, as opposed to point-to-mass and point-to-multipoint, electronic communication. As media converge, however, old distinctions give way. Increasingly, telecommunications is an omnibus term denoting all modes of electronic communication.

      Indeed, analysts now refer to the ‘new’ telecommunications.¹ Major features distinguish the new from the old: (1) the rapidity of technological change, particularly the shift from analogue to digital transmission; (2) convergence among hitherto distinct sectors of the industry; (3) increased competition, even in sectors previously deemed ‘natural monopolies’; (4) heightened commodity status accorded information and communication; and...

    • 8 An Information Revolution?
      (pp. 152-163)

      If the information revolution may be said to have had a father, surely it would be Fritz Machlup, formerly economics professor at Princeton. Machlup’s 1962 book,The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States,was the inaugural attempt to identify and explore the pervasive importance for the U.S. economy of information and knowledge production. That seminal work inspired two burgeoning literatures: most directly, one on the information economy, but also another on the information society. The latter incorporates social, cultural, and political analyses and forecasts deemed attributable to the perceived exponential growth in information-related activity. Together these two...

    • Appendix. Vertical Integration and Productivity: Canadian Telecommunications
      (pp. 164-182)

    • Introduction to Part Three
      (pp. 185-192)

      I first met Bob early in our respective careers when we were both on faculty in the Communication Studies Department at Simon Fraser University. Since that time we have had rather peripatetic careers, never managing again to be in the same place at the same time, save for the occasional conference. Nevertheless, I have been able to follow his contributions to the discipline through an impressive body of published work. Over the years we have also encountered a number of students, apparently just as mobile as we have been, who have been able to take courses with each of us....

    • 9 Foundations of Canadian Communication Thought
      (pp. 193-216)

      Canada has a rich heritage of communication thought. This paper relates and compares aspects of the thought of five foundational theorists – indeed, I would argue, the five foremost Canadian humanities and social sciences scholars writing in the English language in the twentieth century – to discern whether there exists a mode of communication study that may be termed ‘quintessentially Canadian.’ The theorists considered here are Harold Innis, George Grant, Marshall McLuhan, C.B. Macpherson, and Northrop Frye.

      My choice of the last two may be somewhat surprising. The eminent University of Toronto political philosopher C.B. Macpherson, after all, never referred to himself...

    • 10 Innis, Saul, Suzuki
      (pp. 217-226)

      In the present chapter I focus on Innis’s communication thesis and relate that to the thought of two of our eminent contemporaries, John Ralston Saul and David Suzuki. Although Innis died in 1952, his timespace media dialectic remains as pertinent as ever.

      For most of his career, Harold Innis was an economic historian specializing in Canada. He maintained that economic theory should be closely integrated with economic history, as history is the test of theory. His aim, therefore, was to develop a ‘philosophy of economic history or an economic theory suited to Canadian needs.’¹ He identified three features as paramount...

    • 11 Harold Innis and the Paradox of Press Freedom
      (pp. 227-244)

      In the late 1940s and early 1950s economic historian Harold Adams Innis (1894–1952) – Canada’s pre-eminent scholar of the twentieth century – helped inaugurate the now burgeoning field of media studies. According to American media scholar James W. Carey, Innis ‘founded the modern studies that now exist under the banner of media imperialism.’¹ Likewise, Paul Heyer proposes that ‘Innis should be considered the “father” of what has become known as “medium theory.”’² Similarly, Marshall McLuhan attested that his own breakthrough book,The Gutenberg Galaxy,was but ‘a footnote to the observations of Innis.’³

      Surprisingly, given such resounding praise, Innis’s work remains...

    • 12 The Communication Thought of Herbert Marshall McLuhan
      (pp. 245-285)

      Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on 21 July 1911, and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Radio broadcasting was in its infancy in the 1920s, but even then McLuhan was fascinated by electric communication. He built a crystal set to which he and his brother listened each evening while drifting off to sleep.¹

      In 1934 McLuhan was awarded a MA in English from the University of Manitoba. The next year, pursuing a second MA at Cambridge, he became imbued with the writings of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wyndam Lewis, and James Joyce – none of whom evidently merited a...

    • 13 Red Toryism: George Grant’s Communication Philosophy
      (pp. 286-292)

      Although virtually unknown abroad, within Canada George Grant, who died in 1988, remains by far the best known of indigenous philosophers. His fame arose not solely from the quality of his prose. Grant appeared frequently on radio and television, and indeed two of his books under review here(Philosophy in the Mass AgeandTime as History),as well as David Cayley’s interviews, were originally prepared for broadcast on CBC radio. Together withLament for a Nation,these short works provide a fine introduction to, and résumé of, the thought of this distinguished Canadian philosopher, communication scholar, and critic of...


    • Introduction to Part Four
      (pp. 295-302)

      The intersection between culture and economics remains one of the most important locations for the study of the social and political conditions of society. For many years, Robert Babe has defined this location and offered explanations that enhance our understanding and promote thinking about its practical consequences. He has done so with a grounding in the history of numerous efforts in economics and cultural studies, for instance, to come to terms with the underlying idea of communication as an existential force in the ecological life of society. Indeed, a consideration of specific economic and cultural practices is inconceivable without a...

    • 14 Economics and Information: Toward a New (and More Sustainable) World View
      (pp. 303-313)

      Economists regard markets as information-generating, -distributing, and -processing systems. Markets produce information in the form of prices. Prices, economists believe, are money indicators of relative social value that, when combined with knowledge possessed by parties prior to exchange, normally suffice to coordinate smoothly the activities of multitudinous economic agents.

      Mainstream (neoclassical) economists acknowledge that economic agents enter markets possessing certain types of non-price knowledge. Households, for example, know both their own ‘initial holdings of goods (including labor power),’ as well as ‘the satisfactions [they] can derive from different combinations of goods acquired and consumed.’¹ Firms, likewise, know the technological alternatives...

    • 15 Innis, Environment, and New Media
      (pp. 314-335)

      Canadian communication thought began with Harold Innis (1894–1952). Innis, of course, lived prior to the onset of the modern environmental movement, often ascribed to publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring.Hence there are few direct allusions in Innis’s work to the human impact on the environment’s capacity to sustain life. His concern, rather, was largely confined to the recursive impact of culture on material surroundings, and of material surroundings on culture.

      In this regard, Innis developed two ‘theses’ –the staples thesisto which he devoted the largest portion of his career, and thecommunication thesison which...

    • 16 The Political Economy of Knowledge: Neglecting Political Economy in the Age of Fast Capitalism (as Before)
      (pp. 336-359)

      In some ways postmodernist/poststructuralist thought is the ontology best supporting and depicting today’s fast capitalism. Fast capitalism denotes, after all, an increasing volume, speed, and territorial expanse of digitalized communication networks, a reduced time for product cycles, accelerating speeds of style and model changes, and perhaps most importantly imagery embedding mythic meanings onto the banality of mass-produced consumer items. Postmodernist/poststructuralist thought, likewise, addresses and presumes the fluidity, speed, exponential growth in, and easy transformation of symbolic structures in a digital age.

      Many maintain that postmodernist/poststructuralist thought, which began entering the mainstream of many American disciplines in the early 1980s, constitutes...

    • 17 Cultural Studies, Poststructuralism, Political Economy
      (pp. 360-387)

      John Hartley begins his book on the history of cultural studies with the following, possibly perplexing, observation: ‘There is little agreement about what counts as cultural studies … The field is riven by fundamental disagreements about what cultural studies is for, in whose interests it is done, what theories, methods and objects of study are proper to it, and where to set its limits.’¹

      Some definers of cultural studies cast their nets far and wide. An entry in Wikipedia, for instance, suggests that cultural studies ‘combines political economy, communication, sociology, social theory, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology,...

    • 18 Political Economy of Economics
      (pp. 388-394)

      It is now nearly fifty years since Milton Friedman famously (and controversially) claimed that economics is and should be a ‘positive’ social science. Friedman distinguished between ‘positive’ and ‘normative’ economics, the former describing how things are, the latter how they should be. He elaborated that positive economics is ‘in principle independent of any particular ethical position,’² that it is scientific, objective, value-neutral, and predictive. Most neoclassical economists today claim that their marginalist approach to understanding economic phenomena is ‘positive’ and scientific. This is a claim I intend to dispute.

      Economics is concerned with prices. Indeed the discipline is sometimes defined...


    • 19 Political Language: The Political Economy of Knowledge
      (pp. 397-416)

      Philosophical realism satisfies, for some people, at least two concerns. For those whose mindset requires determinacy and closure, philosophical realism assures them that there really is something ‘out there,’ given and transcendental. Those with this mindset consider, or at least hope, that philosophical realism will defeat philosophical idealism. These thinkers have several goals: One is to identify the given and transcendental. Another is to establish philosophical realism not as just another mindset but as the actual definition of reality. The third is to preclude or overrun philosophical idealism, in part because they identify with the status quo, however selectively perceived...

    • 20 Robert Babe, Personal Reflections
      (pp. 417-420)

      Following in the footsteps of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and Dallas Smythe, Robert Babe has now clearly established himself as Canada’s foremost communications scholar. To Bob’s credit, he’s much easier to understand than was Innis, and not at all glib or uncritical in the way that McLuhan sometimes could be. As for Smythe, commenting on Babe’sTelecommunications in Canada,he wrote, ‘[Babe] has done what will be the definitive analysis of [this] subject for a long time to come. And there is nothing of comparable scope and depth for any other country, as far as I am aware.’¹

      As a...

  12. Influential Writings Selected by Robert E. Babe
    (pp. 421-426)
  13. Publications and Conference Papers by Robert E. Babe
    (pp. 427-436)