Politics of International Communication: Session 1


Purpose today is to look at the interaction of communications factors that have shaped the emergence of the mediation and re-mediation of people's lives.



What is mediation and what is re-mediation?


Why is it


a) evolutionary? the opening and  of humans to the very possibility of communications and the actual empirical unfolding of re-mediation


How? FtF; technologically; via new transportation structures; across cultures; via languages that encode messages...



Historical: McLuhan -


six ages: the cry; symbols; print; electrical; TV/Radio; Global comms

 Extending Man's Senses.

The Medium is the Message

Media Hot and Cool

The Global Village.




Theory of Communication: (Grice, 1948)


A intends that B recognise that A intends to communicate 'X' to B


 Let us complicate matters a little as Grice is primarily concerned with the sender and not the receiver


The emergence of mediation and remediation - (Boulter/Grusin, 2003)

 as a receiver:


a) that we communicate directly or indirectly to receive and respond to information

 b) that we have not previously possessed in such and such a situation

 c) that may have relevance to us and may affect our activities

 d) in some way that may be predictable or anticipatable by the sender

 e) but which may get filtered by re-mediation or whole or partial communication failure


 But as the sender then:

 a) we communicate (signal) directly or indirectly (to you) to convey directly or indirectly some information

 b) that I/we believe you have not previously been aware of

c) or that is now a restatement (as a reminder/to increase significance)

d) that I anticipate you will (are oriented to) take notice of and respond to

 e) in some way that should be predictable and anticipatable by the sender (meaning functional)

 f) but which may get filtered by re-mediation or whole or partial communication failure for relevant reasons that may be understood by the sender.


The importance of an 'alphabet' - a standardised form of symbolic communications that are recognised across the culture which in effect creates an empire of discourse


Discussion: why does all this matter when it comes to IR and Comms?


How do leaders communicate?


How do matters of foreign policy get reported/re-cycled by the media? With what effect?


What happens when instability of  the alphabet occurs i.e. in a multi-media age?


Problems of Culture and Communication: the Ong thesis.

"...For anyone who has a sense of what words are in a primary oral culture, or a culture not far removed from primary orality, it is not surprising that the Hebrew term dabar means ‘word’ and ‘event’. Malinowski (1923, pp. 45 1, 470-81) has made the point that among ‘primitive’ (oral) peoples generally language is a mode of action and not simply a countersign of thought.


Neither is it surprising that oral peoples commonly, and probably universally, consider words to have great power. Sound cannot be sounding without the use of power. A hunter can see a buffalo, smell, taste, and touch a buffalo when the buffalo is completely inert, even dead, but if he hears a buffalo, he had better watch out: something is going on. In this sense, all sound, and especially oral utterance, whichcomes from inside living organisms, is ‘dynamic’.

The fact that oral peoples commonly and in all likelihood universally consider words to have magical potency is clearly tied in, at least unconsciously, with their sense of the word as necessarily spoken, sounded, and hence power-driven. Deeply typographic folk forget to think of words as primarily oral, as events, and hence as necessarily powered: for them, words tend rather to be assimilated to
things, ‘out there’ on a flat surface.

Oral peoples commonly think of names (one kind of words) as conveying power over things. Names do give human beings power over what they name: without learning a vast store of names, one is  simply powerless to understand, for example, chemistry and to practice  chemical engineering. And so with all other intellectual knowledge. 

...In a primary oral culture, to solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking
in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence. Your thought must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions
or antitheses, in alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions, in standard thematic settings (the assembly, the meal, the duel, the hero’s ‘helper’, and so on), in proverbs which are constantly heard by everyone so that they come to mind readily

and which themselves are patterned for retention and ready recall, or in other mnemonic form. Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems.

....Redundancy is also favored by the physical conditions of oral expression before a large audience, where redundancy is in fact more marked
than in most face-to-face conversation. Not everyone in a large audience understands every word a speaker utters, if only because of acoustical
problems. It is advantageous for the speaker to say the same thing, or equivalently the same thing, two or three times.

Since in a primary oral culture conceptualized knowledge that is not repeated aloud soon vanishes, oral societies must invest great energy in
saying over and over again what has been learned arduously over the ages. This need establishes a highly traditionalist or conservative set of mind that with good reason inhibits intellectual experimentation.

Knowledge is hard to come by and precious, and society regards highly
those wise old men and women who specialize in conserving it, who know and can tell the stories of the days of old. By storing knowledge outside the mind, writing and, even more, print downgrade the figures of the wise old man and the wise old woman, repeaters of the past, in favor of younger discoverers of something new.

...For an oral culture learning or knowing means achieving close, empathetic, communal identification with the known (Havelock 1963, pp. 145–6), ‘getting with it’. Writing separates the knower from the known and thus sets up conditions for ‘objectivity’...

...By contrast with literate societies, oral societies can be characterized as homeostatic (Goody and Watt 1968, pp. 31–4). That is to say, oral
societies live very much in a present which keeps itself in equilibrium or homeostasis by sloughing off memories which no longer have present relevance.

Much in the foregoing account of orality can be used to identify what can be called ‘verbomotor’ cultures, that is, cultures in which, by contrast
with high-technology cultures, courses of action and attitudes toward issues depend significantly more on effective use of words, and
thus on human interaction, and significantly less on non-verbal, often largely visual input from the ‘objective’ world of things.

The cultures which we are here styling verbomotor are likely to strike technological man as making all too much of speech itself, as overvaluing and certainly overpracticing rhetoric. It is a series of verbal (and somatic) maneuvers, a polite duel, a contest of wits, an operation in oral agonistic.

Primary orality fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those
common among literates. Oral communication unites people in groups. Writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche
back on itself.


 More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness. Writing establishes what has been called ‘context-free’ language
(Hirsch 1977, pp. 21–3, 26) or ‘autonomous’ discourse (Olson 1980a), discourse which cannot be directly questioned or contested as oral speech can be because written discourse has been detached from its author.

The book relays an utterance from a source, the one who really ‘said’ or wrote the book. The author might be challenged if only he or she could be reached, but the author cannot be reached in any book. There is no way directly to refute a text. After absolutely total and devastating refutation, it says exactly the same thing as before. This is one reason why ‘the book says’ is popularly tantamount to ‘it is true’. It is also one reason why books have been burnt. A text stating what the whole world knows is false will state falsehood forever, so long as the text exists.

Writing, Plato has Socrates say in the Phaedrus, is inhuman, pretending to establish outside the mind what in reality canbe only in the mind. It is a thing, a manufactured product. The same of course is said of computers.

Secondly, Plato’s Socrates urges, writing destroys memory.

Plato’s Socrates also holds it against writing that the written word cannot defend
itself as the natural spoken word can: real speech and thought always exist essentially in a context of give-and-take between real persons.

 Writing and print and the computer are all ways of technologizing the word. Once the word is technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology has done with it without the aid of the highest technology available.


 Writing heightens consciousness. Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life. To live
and to understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance. This writing provides for consciousness as nothing else does.


The Idea of communications revolution

The communications revolution has been used for war and has generated conflict even as it has increased inter-national communications and understanding. The innovations of the nineteenth century became central to modern warfare.


One consequence of the new technologies was that they increased the scale and scope of political and military control.  All European states pursued these efforts to control communications in newly conquered territory.


The managerial revolution made possible by telecommunications also transformed the battlefield. Information was the key to consolidating and controlling warfare. Armies laid cables as they marched forward in the nineteenth century. Battlefields could be orchestrated by generals in the rear holding large amounts of information.  Field-marshall von Schlieffen, would direct the battle from a roomy office where telegraph, telephone, and wireless signaling apparatus are at hand.



The centrality of communication to national security meant that each communications technology became an arena of Great Power competition and rivalry. Telegraphy initially emerged during a period of relative Great Power peace.13 States were willing to allow this important medium of communication to be controlled by others (specifically by Britain, which also controlled the seas through which the cables were laid). But as Great Power rivalry reemerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century, competition in telegraph communications was one domain for that rivalry. The possibility of attacks on lines of communication, and the prospect of censorship and espionage, led France and Germany to build their own subsidized cable network


Communications reduce the reaction time of governments and increase the pressures on central decision makers. Rapid communications can exacerbate international conflict. Tensions anywhere around the globe get instantaneously transmitted and magnified and are more difficult to allay. Instantaneous communications reduce the diplomatic room for maneuver, make it difficult if not impossible to wait for the course of events, and increase the costs and certainly the visibility of the costs of conflict.