Saturday, March 19, 2011

Williams - Means of Communication as Means of Production

Williams, Raymond. "Means of Communication as Means of Production." From Culture and Materialism: Selected Essays. London: Verso, 2005.

First published: 1978

Williams argues for a Marxist perspective on communications theory, concluding with a socialist remedy for the hegemonic situation inherent in capitalist communications systems.

Three Ideological Theories of Communications
  1. bourgeois - communications are studied in terms of media, devices for sending and receiving messages and information. People are abstracted from their social situation, seen only as senders or receivers.
  2. Partially viewing means of communication as means of production. This differentiates between natural communication and mass communication which uses technology. This doesn't work, says Williams, because all communication uses some form of "natural" communication, ie language. Also, mass communications theory conceives uncritically of a mass audience. McCluhan's contribution to this ideology is somewhat helpful in emphasizing the specific differences between media, but then sees social relationships to the message as locally determined by the media.
  3. Marxist - means of communication as means of production. The communication only happens once the productive and socio-material relationships have already been determined. It is important to conceive the reception of communication within historical context because of the recent developments in technology.
Three types of transformation of non-human communication material
  1. amplificatory - megaphone, radio, TV
  2. durative - stored communications
  3. alternative - the use of signs to communicate (writing, visual action, etc.)
Williams notes the increasing skill needed to send and receive alternative communications: writing, reading, understanding signs of lesser or greater complexity. Technical developments are making access simpler, but nonetheless there is still a hierarchy over who is allowed to be a sender: ex. journalists can write stories but printers merely create the newspaper without comment.

The socialist solution, then, is to educate, as well as foster universal access to the means of communication.

Williams epitomizes the Marxist approach to communications theory, which was complicated in the decade after this was written with a greater sensitivity to the ways communications are received by the audience.

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