Communication’s Power

In our last class, Professor Hayden asked us, “Can a government be taken down by communication alone?” It made me think… beyond recent examples of opposition movements spurred through social media, and towards the relationship between communication and governments.

In our study of the history of international communication, reiterated in each text is the idea that communication is a key part of building and maintaining an empire.  Further, as Hanson presents in her book The Information Revolution and World Politics (taking from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities), communication technologies were the driving force behind the rise of the nation-state.  The invention of the printing press and the “logic of print capitalism” – the economics of mass production that forced printers to standardize the many vernacular languages at that time into a few languages that could be understood by the most people – created new political boundaries. Thanks to the printing press, administrative centers could disseminate information to a large group of people over distance and build a national identity surrounding this shared language and shared communication.

So, what could most strongly challenge this model? Maybe a loss of the sense of nationalism, a loss of connection to your administrative center (government)?  If that bond is broken, then theoretically why couldn’t the government lose power?  If communication is the foundation of the building of that nation-state then taking out its foundation should be strong enough to topple it.  History certainly provides an example of the power of communication in taking down a ruling force with the challenge to the Catholic Church posed by the diffusion of influential opposing ideas powered by communication technology, the printing press.

Communication’s role in maintaining an empire is evident with the controversy surrounding nations and their ability to communicate their message and perspective. For example, teleSUR network in Venezuela was developed to offer news and entertainment from a Latin American perspective, in an effort to promote Latin American integration and move away from the US-based entertainment that dominates the region. And the US views this network as a threat.  It doesn’t seem like there would be much concern for allowing a free flow of information if governments didn’t feel threatened by what opposing information flows could cause. Or Iran in its own battle against the US has launched , HispanTV, a Spanish-language network meant to better represent the Middle East to Latin Americans.  It is clear these countries recognize the power of communicating their perspective to their people and reaching out to others, in an effort to keep them together and maintain control. It also appears that these countries recognize that communication poses their largest threat – in transmitting an opposing perspective to enough people and convincing enough people of that message that they choose not to follow that authority.

I think it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep people united under the standard nation-state structure. With each advance in communications technology there is an increased and freer flow of communication across political boundaries. So, in line with Hanson’s idea, could it be that with an increased flow comes an increased desire by the nation state to carefully control that flow because it is disruptive to the bonds of nationalism? If citizens have access to so many different sources and perspectives, how will the sense of shared experience, of nationalism, be maintained? What will bond those citizens to their nation and its government?



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