Marshall McLuhan & Harold Innis Conference, University of Augsburg, Germany


Marshall McLuhan & Harold A. Innis: Communication Theory (for a Multicultural World) ‘à la canadienne’?

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Institute for Canadian Studies, 14.06.2012-15.06.2012, Augsburg

“Marshall McLuhan and Harold A. Innis: Communication Theory (for a Multicultural World) ‘à la canadienne’” – that was the title of an interdisciplinary workshop held by the Institute for Canadian Studies (University of Augsburg) on June 14 and 15, 2012. One of the reasons for choosing this topic for an international workshop was the 100th birthday of the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan that took place in 2011. Together with Harold Innis he is considered the founder of the Toronto School of Communication which was one of the first to examine the impact of medial and technological development on societal changes, as PHILIPP GASSERT (Augsburg), Chair for Transatlantic Cultural History, outlined in his opening remarks. Recent developments in the Western and in the Arab World being closely linked with the use of social media made the issue even more prevailing. Discussions during the workshop thus often came back to the issue of democracy and the influences new media evoke on its performance – in a positive as well as in a negative manner. Another focus was put onto the special Canadian context in which McLuhan and Innis had developed their theoretical approaches. The way they were influenced by what one might call Canadian identity and the way in which they themselves influenced the perception of Canadian society and politics through communication means played a crucial role in the presentations given during the workshop.

Harold Innis

In his keynote address “Communicative Abundance and Democracy: New Probes inspired by the Writings of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan” JOHN KEANE (Sydney) painted a rather positive picture of the role of new media in democratization processes as they have recently taken place in several Arab countries. Other than the “old media”, Keane outlined, the internet re-unified text, sound, and image; therefore, the differentiation that McLuhan once had made between hot and cool media – cool media require greater effort by the consumer to understand the content whereas hot media only require little involvement – was obsolete. Furthermore, Keane characterized the internet as a “distributed network”, contrary to the former centralized and decentralized structures of communication. Caused by the “communicative abundance”, Keane pointed out that we find ourselves today in a new revolutionary age. He demonstrated this on four trends: First, the internet has led to a democratization of information. It enables citizens to inform themselves by having cost-free or very cheap access to information collected in huge databases. Second, the internet constantly blurs the difference between the private and the public sphere. This, of course, also leads us to the normative question of what should be private and what should be public. Strongly related to that trend is the third one, which he subsumes under the label “new mug raking”. Through the invention of the internet a new level of revelation and exposure of public persons, especially politicians that have to resign due to these revelations has been reached. As a fourth trend, Keane pointed out the phenomenon of unelected representatives. Their credibility and their persuasive power often make them a symbol for a whole group of people. More at .

Conference Overview:                                                                                                        Keynote Address John Keane (Sydney): Communicative Abundance and Democracy: New Probes inspired by the Writings of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.               Klaus Benesch (Munich): US-Canadian Myth-Criticism: A Comparative Look at Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan and Leo Marx.                                                              Michèle Martin (Ottawa): The Canadian School of Communication: Innis’, McLuhan’s, Grant’s and Smythe’s contribution to the field of communication and mass media in Canada and elsewhere.                                                                                    Henrik G. Bastiansen (Volda, Norway): From Harold Innis to Marshall McLuhan and Beyond: The Toronto School of Communication and the Rise of Research in Media History.                                                                                                                                        Ralf Lindner (Karlsruhe / Berlin): The transformative potential of new media: between hype and reality.           

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