One of the most influential books ever published in Canada, Harold A. Innis’s The Bias of Communication has played a major part in reshaping our. Fifty years after his death, Harold Innis remains one of the most widely cited but least understood of communication theorists. This is particularly. PROFESSOR INNIS has written a pioneering book and made a serious contrib nology, we can discover the specific “bias of communication” in each perio.

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European guns used in war and conquest, for example, enabled the indigenous peoples to hunt more efficiently, but led to the rapid destruction of their food supply and of the beaver they depended on to obtain European goods. My library Help Advanced Book Search.

Harold Innis’ bias of communications – a starting point, not a foundation

Those cultures made powerful through their former monopolies of knowledge based on film, print, or television become vulnerable to the attacks of cultures which make use of new communications technologies. In the beginning, which for Innis means Mesopotamia, there was clay, the reed stylus used to write on it, and the wedge-shaped cuneiform script. Comparatively, the media that have supported the military conquering of space have been lighter, so that the constraints of long distances could be lessened.

He helped develop the staples thesiswhich holds that Canada’s culture, political history and economy have been decisively influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of staples such as fur, fish, wood, wheat, mined metals and fossil fuels.

The Dark Vision of Harold Innis. The second model is religious and concerned with the conquest of time. The conquest of Egypt by Rome gave access to supplies of papyrus, which became the basis of a large administrative empire. In his presidential address to the Royal Society of CanadaInnis remarked: Paper is such a medium; it is readily transported, but has a relatively short lifespan.

Bjas examined each empire to discover how time-binding and space-binding media contributed to the necessary balance between power and knowledge and among ruling groups — communicatjon, political and military.

Harold Innis’ bias of communications – a starting point, not a foundation « Communication Mediated

Some of his ideas were taken up and extended by Marshall McLuhan. When fascism comes to America, it will come in bisa form of democracy.


The new media allow those on the periphery to develop and inns power, and ultimately to challenge the authority of the centre. Mastery of Complexity creates a hierarchy of professionals and amateurs. The torch of empire then passed from Greece to Rome.

His reflections harole in separate chapters in his book Empire and Communications along with additional chapters on the combined effects of parchment and paper in the Middle Agesand paper and the printing press in the development of modern societies.

The bias of communication Harold Adams Innis Snippet view – Societies that depend solely on time-biased media are oral and tribal. Biographer John Watson writes that “the United States represents to Innis something akin to cultural apocalypse.

The Bias of Communication – Harold Adams Innis – Google Books

Innis would, for example, be fascinated by the Nisga’a treaty negotiations in British Columbia, where a time-biased, marginalized and predominantly oral culture is attempting to communicate with a space-biased culture transfixed by the rule of written law. Characteristically, Innis summarizes the far-reaching implications of the new medium of paper in a single paragraph that starts with the Middle Ages and ends with the modern United States:.

One of the most influential books ever published in Canada, Harold A.

To find out more, including how to control cookies, see here: Harold Adams Innis November 5, — November 8, was a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on Canadian economic history and on media and communication theory. New media threaten to displace the previous monopolies of knowledge, unless those media can be enlisted in the service of the previous power structures.

They literally spoke the language of the masses, effectively penetrating popular consciousness and shaping public opinion. Notify me of new comments via email. Place and placelessness Harolc. During his work on political economy, Innis developed the staples thesiswhich asserted that the Canadian economy tended to rely on the production of single commodities: Each medium has its bias, a bias which changes in relation to the significance of the others in the consciousness of cultures.

Innis is telling us that if a sociopolitical harlld is shaped to be effective in its control over, say, space, its problem becomes time; it is threatened by discontinuity. Short cuts of magic and religion were entrenched in writing as the occupation of a respectable learned profession in the ruling class. He approaches each of these forms of organized power as exercising a particular kind of force upon each of the other components in the complex.


For them memory is of crucial importance; they revere the wisdom of elders and favour concrete over abstract forms of thought. Finally, however, monopolies of knowledge promote tendencies toward instability.

What forms of power do they encourage?

Thus we learn from Innis that all great empires are most vulnerable in the moment of their over-reaching. New allegiances are formed. Control of Raw Materials for Media: How do specific communication technologies operate? He divided media into time-biased and space-biased types.

The adaptability of the alphabet to large-scale machine industry became the basis of literacy, advertising and trade. The heavy materials are suited to the development of architecture and sculpture. In the United States, the dominance of the newspaper led to large-scale development of monopolies of communication in terms of space and implied a neglect of problems of time. It will develop a concern or a bias toward time. We can further refine our study of media by focusing on the monopolies of knowledge within any empire, and the potential for marginalized cultures to adopt new technologies in order to gain some leverage against more powerful nations.

Nuclear proliferation is one such example of this instability. But the space-binding medium of paper imported from China, Innis wrote, facilitated challenges from Islam and later from a rising commercial class. The result is an “interface”– “the interaction of substances in a kind mutual irritation,” according to McLuhan.

Attempts of kings to escape were defeated by the power of monopoly. Their entrenched positions involve a continuous, systematic, ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity. Introduction to Communication Theory. Monopolies of knowledge encourage centralization of power.

Any empire or society is generally concerned with duration over time and extension in space. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.