Paul Jones

AUSTRALIA

Beyond 'Ages' and 'Eras': avoiding societal 'projections' by typologising ICTs.

NOTA BENE

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the text in which he first announced the exhaustion of utopian political ideologies: The end of ideology is not . 1999). I have relied heavily on what I hope are self-explanatory tabular representations of their key features. Chief amongst these for me is the relatively unknown late sociological project within the work of Raymond Williams.should not be .1 In order to discuss a number of quite complex schema succinctly. The rationale for the post-industrial thesis was announced in Bell’s The End of Ideology.the end of utopia as well. ... I refer here of course to Daniel Bell’s post-industrial society thesis (Bell. . Paul Jones Introduction I start from the premiss that one means of challenging the hegemony of the information society thesis and related ‘projections’ is to establish a plausible alternative based in social theory. 1 This paper thus builds on Jones (1998) and Jones (2000) and also draws on Jones (forthcoming). This paper considers several attempts to pursue this goal by improving on the sociological typologisations of ICT’s that underlay the information society and related theses.Beyond ‘Ages’ and ‘Eras’: avoiding societal ‘projections’ by typologising ICTs. Sociology’s own complicity in the information society thesis is considerable.

405) In other words. 89) The role of the technicnological determinism here is not only the usual positivist one of social forecasting of social change. undoubtedly informed by a technological determinism. ‘The Social Framework of the Information Society’. Each revolution is associated with a distinctive. . and some realization of and justification for the determination of who is to pay. But this social forecasting is. the costs of the enterprise. technologically-based. printing and now telecommunication. Despite his protestations that his project did not require that the technological infrastructure should determine societal forms (1980b.There is now. (Bell 1989. Garnham. 573). an instrumentalized utopia. as others have noted. There’s a further dimension best captured by Raymond Williams’s term. thus: Human societies have seen four distinct revolutions in the character of social interchange: speech. some need for utopia. way of life.as they always have needed .some vision of their potential. how to get there. (Lacroix and Tremblay. 1962. projection – ie an unwarranted extrapolation of a characterisation of a whole social order from an account of a quite limited social phenomenon. (Bell. some manner of fusing passion with intelligence. writing. Bell displayed an active interest in the relations between nineteenth century utopian thought and what he would later call ‘social forecasting’. 2000). Yet the ladder to the City of Heaven can no longer be a “faith ladder”. but an empirical one: a utopia has to specify where one wants to go. more than ever. in the sense that men need . Bell opens one of his later articles. 1997. Accordingly.

Contrary to common belief. Williams wrestled for many years with the implications of extending a Marxian production paradigm to the field of culture in general (Jones. 2002). His own view appears to have been that Marx underutilised the potential of this concept.However. especially in its capacity as ‘cultural productive force’ (Williams.e. Williams applies this term not to Bell. although he was to later challenge the post-industrial society thesis (Williams. he did not abandon the Marxian base and superstructure metaphor but revised it by – amongst other revisions . Raymond Williams and ‘Negative Social Theory’ Williams’s late work has much in common with a critical theory of the culture industries or a critical political economy. 1989a). 1. labour plus these varying means of production) Means of ‘general’ production ‘cultural’ Means of cultural production including means of communication and cultural forms Table 1 Williams’s Cultural Duplication of ‘the Forces of Production’ Accordingly. Indeed. .‘culturally duplicating’ the components of ‘the base’. The result includes this treatment of ‘forces of production’: ‘general’ Forces of production (i. a key component of his late project was an investigation of the status of the concept of ‘means of cultural production’. but McLuhan. 1983).

negatively. Bell has recently reiterated this position while simultaneously denying its technologically determinist consequences. from literary criticism and linguistics to psychology and anthropology. and especially its most powerful internal directions.It is not insignificnat that this leads Williams in precisely the opposite theoretical direction from Bell here.‘the medium is the message’ was a simple formalism.. 126-128) ..‘the medium is the massage’ . has a further dimension that directly informs Williams’s conception of ‘negative social theory’: The work of McLuhan was a particular culmination of an aesthetic theory which became. but which acquired its most significant popular influence in an isolating theory of ‘the media’. But here too we find that Williams’s critique of McLuhan. It is an apparently sophisticated technological determinism which has the significant effect of indicating a social and cultural determinism: a determinism. 1999b). a social theory: a development and elaboration of a formalism which can be seen in many fields. Bell’s technological determinist tendencies largely result form his deliberate uncoupling of Marx’s forces and relations of production. which ratifies the society and culture we now have.is a direct and functioning ideology. 1974. (Bell. 1990). Here Williams arguably moves beyond the usual concerns today of a critical political economy or culture industry theory. …. the “global village”. But Williams also shares with Adorno a recognition of cultural forms as cultural productive forces (Márkus. (Williams. that is to say. The initial formulation . The subsequent formulation . usually recognized as a critique solely of his technological determinism. . But it is then interesting that from this wholly unhistorical and asocial base McLuhan projects certain images of society: “retribalization” by the “electronic age”.

Now this separation of the technological determinist from the formalist dimensions of McLuhan is crucial to Williams’s case. rationality re-tribalization McLuhan’s Societal Typology Based in ‘The Media’ (cf McLuhan. rather than project an information society thesis pace Bell. McLuhan projected from his aesthetic formalism his famous revised version of Innis’s extension thesis which functioned as form of philosophy of history. Formalism broadly refers to a projection from an asocial formal literary/cultural base rather than a mechanico-technical one. visual. That is. 1967a & 1967b) We might then usefully contrast Bell and McLuhan thus: Bell Mode of Technological Reduction/Projection Determinism ‘Projection’ McLuhan Aesthetic Formalism (revising Innis’s extension thesis) Global Village/Retribalization ‘Elect(ron)ic Age’ Post-industrial Society Thesis (later integrated with Information Society thesis) Table 3 Bell’s and McLuhan’s ‘Projections’ . as summarised below: Dominant ‘Sensory Balance’ ‘Hot/Cool’ ‘Medium’ (aka (sense ratio) ‘technology’) Speech ‘audile’ cool (stable) writing based in phonetic alphabet mechanical printing ‘electric’ technology visual (unstable) hot Resulting Society Tribal Scribal visual hotter (unstable) audile-tactile coolest (envisioned new stabilization) Table 2 ‘typographic man’ linear.

I suggest such ‘projection’ is the basic mechanism of information ‘ages’ and ‘eras’ propositions. Williams recognizes that McLuhan’s . It is not unreasonable. However.Table 3 deliberately exaggerates the differences between Bell and McLuhan. as we shall see. Accordingly. 158-164). to see Bell and McLuhan as each as having ‘uncoupled’ one of Williams’s and Adorno’s two cultural productive forces – means of cultural production and cultural forms respectively – from the social relations of cultural production and from what Williams would call ‘general’ forces and relations of production. He rejects ‘media’ because he believes it denies the social relations embedded in what McLuhan calls media (Williams. starting (at least) with the technological determinism of Bell’s post-industrial society thesis (from 1967). McLuhan is equally open to a charge of technological determinism. however. his frequent conflation of cultural forms and technologies under the category of ‘medium’ renders the distinction between the two difficult. Williams explicitly rejected McLuhan’s category of ‘medium’ methodologically for ‘mediation’ (largely derived from Adorno). ‘projection’ could be further defined as the de facto development of social theories devoid of social mediations from either technologically determinist or ‘formalist’ assumptions. as Williams makes plain in the citation above. Of course. Likewise for Williams. 1977. However. technological determinism and ‘formalism’ are regarded as ‘ideological blocks’ to the development of an adequate social theory of means of communication.

These mediations are: (a) cultural institutions (b) means of cultural production (including means of communication) and cultural forms ie cultural productive forces (cf Adorno) (c) intellectual ‘formations’ (movements) and ‘cultural producers’. Williams’s sociological task becomes that of restoring the missing ‘positive’ social mediations in both technological determinism and formalism. using material from his Television (Williams. 1974). The latter of these is supplanted in Williams by what can be crudely summarised as a ‘social shaping’ approach in both cases as presented in Table 4. Williams’s solution(s). However. . At a ‘middle range’ level then. 2.formalism also functions as a means of recognizing a legitimate social ‘determinacy’ by means of communication. he also sets out to provide specifically related solutions designed to undo the conflations of: (a) medium and and technology (McLuhan) and (b) techniques and technologies.

websites. these exercises should not be seen as the solution to the problem of projection posed by Williams. online newspapers etc ‘The internet’ Table 4 Williams’s Distinction between Technique. My extrapolation from Williams in Table 4 is more modest and simply attempts a preliminary application of his distinction between techniques. technologies and cultural forms. However.television’s visuality as ‘medium’ Email.Technique/technical invention Characterization Technique . This has in turn been glosssed by Flanigan et al as ‘the assumptions or social and cultural values that become manifest in technical design’.Genre forms . Technology and Cultural Form There is a strong resemblance between Williams’s social shaping approach to technologies and Andrew Feenberg’s more recent conception of a hegemonic but contested ‘technical code’. Flanigan et al. Case of Technical inventions Television required for television with broadcasting as goal (modelled on radio precedent) Extrapolation to Digitalisation of case of Internet ‘data’ and related (PJ) means of global transmission/reception Technology Systemic social institution of specific technical skills and devices via ‘bodies of knowledge’ ‘Broadcasting’ Cultural forms Understood via ‘social formalist’ rather than structuralist premisses .a skill or application of a skill. ie they do not constitute valid theories of whole societies to be counterposed to the ‘negative social theories’ that constitute societal projections. Flanigan et al have recently attempted to apply Feenberg’s work to the case of the internet (Feenberg. 2000).‘flow’ . 1999. Technical inventiona development of a skill or one of its devices. Instead they might be seen as preventative ‘middle range’ exercises .

While such myths/ideologies may be revealed to mask corporate interests and powerplays by an unmasking ideology critique. it had also attempted to capture changing forms of social interaction genuinely brought about by the new means of communication. Emancipatory critique acknowledges a dimension within the ideology that might be . (iii) Direct/Indirect Social Relations To this point Williams’s position still resembles that of a critical political economy or culture industry theory. he there recognized that McLuhan’s formalism – unlike his technoloigcal determinsim – could not be fully redresssed by the schema in Table 4. However. 2002).an emancipatory immanent ideology critique (Márkus. For McLuhan’s formalism had not merely conflated cultural forms and technologies. their utopian promise need not therefore be set aside. Williams moved on to a fuller typlogy of means of communication as means of production in his later work (Williams. 1995). it is important to stress a methodological distinction here. A different form of critique is here required which can be called . 1980) . Indeed. However. the relevant sections of Television rely heavily on the political economy of Herb Schiller. Williams ‘unmasks’ the role of technological determinist acccounts of television in much the way that Vincent Mosco unmasked myths of cyberspace at this conference (Mosco.which provide more adequate social theoretical accounts of the phenomena that inspire McLuhanists and others towards advancing their unwarranted projections. Accordingly.following Habermas and others .

In Television he condemned McLuhan in terms closely resembling Mosco’s: It gives the gloss of avant-garde theory to the crudest versions of … existing interests and practices. Bell’s instrumentalized utopia becomes feasible again. for instance. in the heartland of the most dominative and aggressive communications institutions in the world. These for Williams indicate a further set of social relations that his production paradigm does not quite capture. not alternatives. 1974. and as speculation on human essence. This is basically Habermas’s technique in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Thus what began as pure formalism.redeemed. It is the changes to these social relations – forms of social interaction – to which the mythologists of the information society also speak. Without that utopian redemptive dimension. and assigns all their critics to preelectronic irrelevance. ends as operative social theory and practice. It is the promise of detailing the social . 128) And yet the gains McLuhan’s work constituted over positivist functionalist accounts of means of communication also rendered it suitable to immanent critical reconstruction. I stress that emancipatory and unmasking ideology critique are complementary techniques. (Williams. Williams employs both emancipatory and unmasking critiques upon McLuhan. Williams was clearly inspired by McLuhan’s linkage of technical innovation in means of communication with the relationship between orality and literacy and his related extension thesis.

1980).consequences of ‘interactivity’ that contributes to the continuing revivals of McLuhan. a/v editing Yes yes for writing no for broadcasting Table 5 Williams: Means of Communication as Means of ‘Communicative Production’.2 Williams constructs the typology in Table 5 in his ‘Means of Communication as Means of Production’ (Williams.physical (i) amplificatory (ii) durative (iii) instrumentally alternative (to human physical) ie material signifying systems Indirect requirement of further intermediate labour eg writing. 2 Williams nonetheless goes on referring to these social phenomena as . Type of ‘communicative resource’ Means of communication Direct/indirect Communication human-physical Voice human-physical Body non-human material transformed by (i) amplificatory human labour but ‘modally (ii) durative correspondent with’ human.physical Direct (eg spoken language) Direct (eg non-verbal gesture) ‘appearance of direct communication’ Eg broadcast of speech and gesture Required level of skill for effective social access to means of composition ‘primary’ social communication Dependent on role eg acting As Above ‘Technical’ division of labour necessary in production? no Specialized receptive skills necessary? no No no No no non-human material transformed by human labour but not ‘modally correspondent with’ human.

1996.in his influential No Sense of Place (Meyrowitz. . especially the post-literate alternative systems. In column three we can see that Williams also introduces a further criterion of direct vs indirect communication. he is interested in the co-presence of these different communicative systems and the possible institutional changes that might encourage social distribution of the means of communication. Rather. the implications of the co-presence of traditional and mediated forms of social interaction. This much is consistent with the production paradigm. The lack of a requirement of something like literacy in radio and television signified for Williams a diminishing of a possible role for a critical education which might aim the formation of a critical public and critical cultural producers. 1985). 1999). he deliberately rejects any naïve celebration of ‘community’ or ‘primitive directness’. Meyrowitz works with a similar focus to Williams’s i. He continues to offer this ‘medium’ theory as the sociological dimension missing from much previous discussion (Meyrowitz.As the top row suggests.e. Williams thus considerably anticipates elements of Joshua Meyrowitz’s conception of para-social interaction – and related notions of ‘media friends’ etc . ‘communicative production’. However. this typology is normatively informed by Williams’s concerns for a broadening of social access to cultural production and critical cultural reception. Meyrowitz.

P. extended extended availability availability in time and in time and space space narrowing narrowing of range of of range of symbolic symbolic cues cues Oriented oriented towards towards an specific indefinite others range of potential recipients Dialogical Monological books newspapers (broadcast) radio & TV ‘Networked’ mediated (quasi-) interaction Separation of contexts. Interactional Face-to-face Characteristics interaction Space-time constitution Context of co-presence. contexts.But the direct/indirect distinction moves Williams closer to the work of John Thompson and Craig Calhoun which is summarised in my final two tables. it is compatible with the distinctions Williams began to draw between ‘primary’ forms of social access to communication and mediated ones. Calhoun’s analysis isn’t as . As can be seen. extended availability in time and space narrowing of range of symbolic cues oriented towards specific others oriented towards a specified range of potential recipients Dialogical Dialogical Email oriented towards an indefinite range of potential recipients Monological face-to-face Letters conversation telephone list-server ‘broadcast’ discussion websites group Table 6 Thompson’s Types of Interaction (adapted from Thompson 1995.1]) (my additions in bold –PJ. 85 [Table 3. shared spatiotemporal reference system Multiplicity of symbolic cues Oriented towards specific Others Mediated interaction Range of symbolic cues Action orientation Dialogical/ Monological Example Dialogical Mediated quasiinteraction Separation Separation of of contexts. cf Jones. [2000]) Thompson’s elaborates further here an ‘action’ model of the implications of the copresence of face-to-face-based and other systems of communication.

To this point we can make the same claim for these schemas as for Williams’s – that these are middle range ‘preventative’ exercises.sophisticated at a micrological level as Thompson’s but in some ways it is more compatible with Williams’s as it builds explicitly upon Cooley’s distinction between primary and secondary social relations. Primary (from Cooley) Characterization Affective ties Secondary (from Cooley) Impersonal groups Tertiary Quaternary Direct/indirect Example Direct Family/friendship groups Direct Committees No physical copresence. ‘Mediated’ but parties aware of relationship Indirect The corporation Correspondence Information technology One party unaware of relationship Indirect Surveillance Via info technology Table 4 Calhoun’s Four Types of Social Relationship (derived from Calhoun. 1992) Indirect social relations are so broadened by Calhoun to include the market and the corporation and even Marx’s conception of commodity fetishism. But both these social theorists do .is thus located as merely one further stage in the historically increasing role of indirect social relations. Calhoun also tries harder to draw in a broader range of social institutions than Thompson’s method here permits. Social change clearly takes precedence here over technical change. Information technology – albeit only roughly schematized .

scale and importance of indirect social relationships. . I would certainly argue that neither Thompson nor Calhoun practise such reductivism. All three of these theorists provide adequate mediating determinants that immunize them from a charge of ‘projection’. Yet the sociological conception of modernity does certainly have an ‘epochal’ historical reach. 97-131. Calhoun suggests Bell tries to base a theory of society on what is no more than a technologically determinist conception of industrial change.have a ‘societal’ vision as well – modernity. Williams’s chief reservation about the Marxian base and superstructure metaphor (in its ‘1859 Preface’ version) was its tendency to reduce micrological social developments to mere functions of an epoch. Calhoun quite specifically defends ‘modernity’ against any suggestion of a postmodern social order based in such developments as ‘new media’.3 Rather modernity itslef is partly distinguished by the increasing frequency. Yet it is doubtful whether Williams would have seen the category of ‘modernity’ as an adequate one here. 1995. Williams was undoubtedly a supporter of the Enlightenment ‘project of modernity’ and his reference to McLuhan’s avant-gardism prefigured the terms of his own 3 See also Calhoun. These form Calhoun’s ‘infrastructure of modernity’. Calhoun also provides an explicit critique of Bell that it is remarkably compatible with Williams’s conception of projection. Calhoun also follows Meyrowitz in stressing that indirect relationships do not eliminate direct ones but rather change their meaning and their sociological significance.

To this extent Williams’s social theoretical requirements have been met. 1989b). so providing one more ‘resource of hope’ to place against the proffered instrumentalized utopias. Nonetheless. I would suggest. At the very least. he would have turned to his own highly elaborated development of Gramsci’s conception of hegemony as a necessary further mediation required to assess the forms of social struggle within each of these forms of interaction. I suggest that with these recent developments we have acquired a theoretical repertoire that allows a definitive alternative to the mere projections of ‘ages and eras’. Yet. he would have undoubtedly questioned their epochal frame. most obviously in the struggle over the design of new communications technologies.uncompleted critique of postmodernism (Williams. . faced with Calhoun’s and Thompson’s projects.

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