“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once quipped (quoted in Caroselli, 2000, p. 71). Whether Shaw was being silly or snarky, the impossible exchange of meaning and messages is troublesome for communicators and communication scholars alike. Critiquing the standard Shannon and Weaver model of communication, Jean Baudrillard (1981) wrote, “We must understand communication as something other than the simple transmission-reception of a message, whether or not the latter is considered reversible through feedback” (p. 169). The model was originally published by Shannon in 1948 in the July and October issues of the Bell System Technical Journal (and the next year in his book with Weaver), yet it still lingers in communication studies theories, textbooks, and other models.
In Remodelling Communication: From WWII to the WWW (University of Toronto Press, 2012), Gary Genosko tackles the Shannon and Weaver model as well as just about every other widely accepted model of communication. Stuart Hall, Roman Jakobson, and Umberto Eco undergo the pressure of scrutiny as well. Genosko also uses Baudrillard to critique other communication theory, from McLuhan and Marx to Deleuze and Guattari. “For Baudrillard,” he writes, “technology’s role is to ‘operationalize’ everything, including philosophical concepts, so that ‘nothing ever really takes place, since everything is already calculated, audited, and realized in advance’” (p. 82). Like the promise of so-called “big data” turned against us, we just become fields in a spreadsheet, bits in a box. Dominic Pettman (2013) terms it a “claustrophically overcoded – thus predictable – world” (p. 63), from which he suggests using a rabbit totem to escape. These collected concerns – of technology obscuring even the possibility of communication – illustrate just how outmoded the models we’ve been using have become.
With my own remodeling aspirations close at hand, I read this book with intense interest. Having read two of Genosko’s previous books, Undisciplined Theory (Sage, 1998) and McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion (Routledge, 1999), I knew this would be a wide-ranging and deeply thoughtful text. I often find the indecipherable academese of Genosko’s forebears (e.g., Félix Guattari has been the topic of several of Genosko’s books in the meantime) needlessly complex and often downright annoying. Even Baudrillard, whom I rather enjoy, frequently fails at being anything close to clear. Genosko avoids that here for the most part, but, for instance, he writes in his concluding chapter,
The historico-technological arc from WWII to the WWW sketched the transit into a post-representational configuration of communication in a controlled encounter with what might seem to be chaotically de-territorializing, but that ensured no easy recourse to the metaphysical certainties of existing communication models (p. 131).
I realize that sentence is taken out of context, but I can’t help but think there’s a simpler way to articulate those same ideas. This is a book about communication. As lively and interesting as it is, the book falls short of remodeling much of anything. It does, however, provide an excellent survey and critique of existing communication models and a mostly clear parsing of some rather dense communication theory. Genosko is not for the faint of mind, but Remodelling Communication is a perfect introduction to his substantial and growing body of work.
Baudrillard, Jean. (1981). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. St. Louis, MO: Telos Press.
Caroselli, Marlene. (2000). Leadership Skills for Managers. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Genosko, Gary. (2012). Remodelling Communication: From WWII to the WWW. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Pettman, Dominic. (2013). Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology. Ropley Hants, UK: Zer0 Books.
Shannon, Claude E. & Weaver, Warren. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Is the double-L in “remodelling” here the Canadian spelling?