Thussu, Daya Kishan. International Communication: Continuity and Change.
This book is a good introductory overview of international communication in the respected tradition of the political economy of communication. It is critical without being doctrinaire, carefully researched and documented without being pedantic, and concise without being superficial. Still, it suffers from two problems. First, the book was finished before the world changed on 9/11 and, second, it was written at the height of the technology bubble in 1999-2000. Neither problem, however, is life-threatening as the overall argument and data in the book give it a validity that entirely justifies the subtitle of "continuity and change."
We find in the book the theme of the subtitle set forth repeatedly: the more things change (as in the digital revolution that has affected all forms of international communication), the more they remain the same (this revolution and its consequences are still in most of the same hands, i.e., the U.S. and other western economies).
The advantage for students using this book is that it provides a comprehensive overview of most of the main elements for understanding contemporary international communication: historical context (Chapter 1), theories (Chapter 2), communication infrastructures (Chapter 3), commercialization (Chapter 4), culture and globalization (Chapter 5), contraflows from the South (Chapter 6) and the Internet (Chapter 7). For those inclined to do follow-up research on any of these topics, it has a series of well constructed appendices including websites, references, and meticulous author and subject indices. One additional heuristic advantage is a series of 16 case studies that are inserted into the chapters to provide detailed illustrations for more abstract points made in the main body of the text. In short, it would be a useful book for university students and others getting acquainted with the phenomenon of international communication.
The treatment of the historical context in Chapter 1 suggests that connection between communication and empire that Harold Innis first theorized 50 years ago. It follows the developments of the telegraph, news agencies, film, and radio while making relevant connections with the functioning of 19th century European empires. It continues into the 20th century with the development of radio and television and into the context of the Cold War era that ended only in 1990, when two modern empires faced off over the world's hearts and minds. There is a nod given to communication and development and the New World Information and Communication Order debates, but treatment is necessarily brief. This chapter though concise is, nevertheless, a key to understanding the theme of the book: "Though the technologies employed for transmission of messages across international borders have changed ... the main actors ... have remained the same" (p. 6).
The chapter on theory is less satisfactory because it simply lines up and quickly describes a number of theories without relating them to the book's argument. And, indeed, with the exception of what the author calls "a critical political-economy for the 21st century," they do not play a role in understanding other parts of the book. Chapter 3 makes a good contribution to our understanding of the material base for global communication by providing a brief but compelling history of the deployment of underwater cables for the expansion of 19th century telegraphy with continuity into the critical development and expansion of communication satellites and the other end-of-the-century telecommunication technologies that made the Internet a force in contemporary international communication. This infrastructure was the sine qua non for both government and business in their roles in expanding the global communication system.
Chapter 4 continues the thrust of the previous chapter by showing how the deregulation and liberalization of this infrastructure has led to the concentration of a variety of media industries in the hands of a few global companies, most based in the U.S. and a few other western powers. The problem with the chapter is that it has to deal with a number of important media industries in very brief compass. Ample references, tables and case studies do provide leads to other sources for those who would become better informed.
The final three chapters of the book seem a little less satisfactory, not because of any lapse in argument or scholarship but because the themes of each could well be a book in themselves. The chapter on cultural globalization (Chapter 5) reviews some of the latest figures on flows of cultural products from the North to South, continuing a trend that is at least three decades old. The new aspect to the flow, however, is in the latter part of the chapter where Thussu gives some figures on regionalization that is perhaps of more recent origin. Chapter 7 on contraflow from South to North primarily reflects on the older versions of Spanish and Portuguese programming (mainly telenovelas) reaching Latino/a audiences in the U.S. but also on the newer possibilities introduced by Direct to Home satellite technology that makes diaspora audiences around the world able to keep in touch with home through programming direct from national territories. The added interest is also from satellite programs, like Al-Jezeera, that challenge both Middle-Eastern national news slants as well as those from the West concerning events and their meanings from Muslim countries. The final chapter is perhaps the least satisfactory because it deals with the Internet and mobile technology that in 1999 was far from what it is today. That is not the fault of the author, but it makes for less interesting reading.
Overall, the book is not only solidly researched and carefully written, but it provides a useful and important overview of the new global reality of communication study. It should be a stimulus to university students today to understand their world better and motivate them to become full members of a new generation of global actors--and activists!
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|Publication:||Communication Research Trends|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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