Canadian Communication Thought: Ten Foundational Writers


448 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7949-0
DDC 302.23'092'271




Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


Canadians should be reminded, as Robert E. Babe suggests in Canadian
Communication Thought, that communication theory has produced a
disproportionately large number of big thinkers in this country.
Witness, for example, some of the illustrious names that make up his
study: Harold Adams Innis, C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, Northrop Frye,
and Marshall McLuhan.

Although it is sadly neglected among Canadian intellectuals, the work
of Innis anticipates the spirit of postmodern cultural analysis,
particularly as it orbits around the hot-button word
“globalization.” Like many sceptical thinkers, Innis views the
market as a communicational device and warns that its “penetrative
powers” can undermine our sense of community and social cohesion. This
is in part because the seemingly neutral arbiters of the market—he
refers mainly to “time-binding” modes of transportation, but today
these include such “space-binding” forms as “transparent” online
trading to Instant Messaging—have their own “bias,” which Babe,
referring to Innis’s 1951 The Bias of Communication, defines as a
tendency “towards some condition or mode of organization.” As our
material environment is organized, in other words, so too is our
symbolic and mental environment.

Like Innis, C.B. Macpherson sees the revolution in technology as a
culture rather than simply economic matter. It can alter, indeed
“impede,” our “ontology” or notion of what it is to be human,
most notably in the sense that those who control industrial and
communicatory systems aim to convince us that our self-image as infinite
accumulators and desirers is a natural fact rather than a cultural
artifact. As he explains in his 1962 masterpiece, The Political Theory
of Possessive Individualism, behind this trend lurks an ever-narrowing
conception of the “person” as “an owner of himself.” Although he
recognizes that advances in communications technology are prerequisites
for democratic reforms, unlike most contemporary cyber-gurus he laments
that technology, which is always marketed as a form of communal
connectedness, instils little sense of “community” or “common

It is important, particularly in an age when cultural and media are
absolutely necessary to economic growth, to turn our attention, both as
Canadians and as participants in a rapidly globalizing world market, to
the problematic relationship between communication and community.
Babe’s comprehensive and learned survey provides an excellent ground
from which to engage with this issue.


Babe, Robert E., “Canadian Communication Thought: Ten Foundational Writers,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,