Canadian Studies in Mass Communication

Asgher Fathi

This book consists of seven published and unpublished papers written from within the functionalist perspective in the sociology of mass communication. These papers are partitioned into three separate sections: Section I on "predecessors to modern media" (two unpublished papers, 1988, 1976); Section II on "mass media and social control" (two unpublished papers, 1973, 1974); and Section III on "news diffusion studies" (one unpublished paper, 1969; two papers each published in 1973). In the Preface and Introduction, the author offers the rationale behind combining these disparate papers into one volume, namely, the unique features some of these papers are presumed to contain relative to established knowledge about Canadian mass communication, and the desire to ensure that works presented and published in obscure places receive appropriate attention by Canadian communication scholars.

As a whole, there are many aspects to this book which merit close attention by theorists and researchers in Canadian mass communications. Without doubt, the two unpublished papers presented in Section I deserve the closest attention by media scholars and perhaps contain the strongest research potential of all the studies in this volume. These papers represent an absolutely fascinating historical trek into the role first of the Catholic pulpit in pre-Confederation Québec and then of the Puritan pulpit during the American Revolution. Here the pulpit is treated as structurally congruent to modern mass media especially in terms of the role it played (still plays?) in societal development, mainly by promoting effective if indirect interchange between social members and their leaders. Says Fathi, not only was the pulpit a "functional alternative to the modern mass media..." (p. 8) but it was also recognized as an effective and powerful system of "public communication" by both citizens and authorities in those early societies even after the introduction of news sheets and newspapers. Among other things, Fathi's "pulpit" papers force us to rethink narrow conceptualizations of "mass media," how they operate, and with what social consequences. In doing so, he aptly demonstrates the continuing usefulness of supposedly passé macrostructural perspectives for the study of contemporary systems of mass communications.

Fathi's pulpit papers also contain another major strength which is reproduced in all of the other studies in this book, namely, an unfailing critical proclivity. Time and time again, Fathi engages in direct empirical challenges to previous claims in the established theoretical and empirical literature on mass communications. For example, the pulpit papers themselves in part represent a significant interrogation of the claim that traditional societies lacked a "real" system of mass communication. Again, in the paper in Section II on exposure to Arabic shortwave radio broadcasts by a small number of Moslem and Christian Arab western Canadians, Fathi succeeds in challenging the standard sociological claim that urban industrial society is entangled in an irreversible state of "massification," populated by isolated and largely conformist individuals with few primary social ties and shared values and engaging in "mass" behaviour partly directed by a complicitous and omnipotent mass media. Quite to the contrary, says Fathi, improvements in communication technology on balance actually increase the likelihood for survival of distinct ethnic communities and cultural values. However, it is curious that in the next paper of this section, about the influence of interpersonal and social factors on the acquisition of "high culture" versus "mass culture" musical preferences among a sample of university students, Fathi essentially embraces the very "mass society" concept previously rejected.

Again in Section III on news diffusion, Fathi repudiates orthodox claims at the time about the central role of males and interpersonal communication in initial learning about news events. It turns out that females tend to play a greater role than males and mass media a more significant role than interpersonal communication in the process of news diffusion. Challenging even further, Fathi shows that news diffusion pattern and velocity is more strongly influenced by social and social psychological characteristics of event learners than by the so-called "news value" of the event itself, such as gender and ego-involvement. In fact, Fathi concludes this section and the book by exposing the unexamined problems which plagued indices of "news value" at the time. If nothing else, all of these successful challenges demonstrate to contemporary media scholars the necessity and value of maintaining a healthy scepticism towards "accepted" theory and research.

Although most of these studies are nearly two decades old, written from within a largely unself-critical functionalist perspective, closely modeled on earlier American research, and extremely restricted in methodology, taken together they possess considerable historical and theoretical integrity and constitute a significant contribution to the field of mass communications in Canada even as presently constituted. Perhaps not insignificantly, collectively these studies demonstrate the value of both cross-cultural comparative research and the unique contributions to the literature on mass communications which can be forged by a Canadian review and replication of foreign media research.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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