Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Communication and Social and Political Change

In the previous post, Alexia discussed how the printing press gave power to the people by allowing them to communicate and disseminate information. Previously, the Catholic Church had almost total control over book production, with information made available in Latin to the literate elite. The rise of the printing press disrupted this information network and soon a variety of reading materials became available, spreading scientific and religious ideas that contrasted with those of the Catholic Church. This aided the Protestant Reformation as pamphlets and vernacular translations of the Bible became available.

Printed communication later became instrumental in the establishment of empires, giving power to the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French as they regulated and controlled economic and political aspects of their colonies.

Yet as Hanson points out, “from its crude beginning the press was an arena of political conflict, revealing its power to challenge authority and influence public opinion” (16). Printed pamphlets would later play a role in both the French and American revolutions.

And just as the distribution of print materials played a key role in religious and political movements in the West, the use of radio eventually allowed for a greater dissemination of dissenting views in developing countries, as information could quickly reach illiterate publics. Radio, developed in 1902, was dominated by the developed world, putting less-developed countries at a disadvantage. This new technology was employed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union for its power to influence domestic and international public opinion, beliefs, and values (Thussu 15). But the power of radio was also recognized by anticolonial movements such as the Front National de Libération in Algeria. The Voice of Algeria allowed the FNL to gather support against the French authorities (Thussu 24-25).

Today, the internet is allowing for a faster, more personal way of distributing information. The Twitter Revolution in Iran is one example of how citizen journalism affects international opinion. But as we discussed in class, there are limits to the power of technology to influence social and political change. In Iran, the World Bank estimates that only 32% of the population has access to the internet, though usage is increasing (2008). If only a third of the population uses this technology, then the information distributed via Twitter and other sources is not reaching the majority of the Iranian public.


Hanson, Elizabeth C. The Information Revolution and World Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Thussu, Daya. International Communication: Continuity and Change. New York: Oxford University Press,2006.

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