Martin Shaw

Majid Tehranian, Global Communication and World Politics

Lynne Reiner, 1999, 212 pp, Index, 1-55587-373-1 and 1-55587-708-7

 from International Affairs 1999

This is an impressively wide-ranging set of essays, mostly reprinted from journal articles, on communication, in the broadest sense, in world politics. What is valuable about this book is that it attempts to integrate communication into a perspective on social and political transformations. Tehranian marshalls a very large set of materials in some very lucid, inspiring pieces of writing, examining the consequences of combined globalization and fragmentation. The book’s principle thesis is that the latest phase of domination in world politics is ‘informatic imperialism’, in which the control of knowledge industries and information channels are keys to power. At the same time, however, the author argues that global communication offers means of ‘cultural and political resistance against globalist hegemonies’, so that there is a recognition of the contradictory nature of media transformation.

The book is a work of classification and synthesis, with an almost bewildering array of typologies and diagrams. In my view, the tendency towards schematic summaries inhibits close and reflective development of the argument; I was never quite certain how strongly the major thesis is intended. Nevertheless, here is a series of simplified accounts of historical developments and theoretical debates, together with a considerable amount of information, which could make it a useful textbook resource for both media and international politics students. In places, too, the breathlessness of the arguments about contemporary ‘pancapitalism’ gives way to clear discussions of particular problems, notably of the Iranian revolution and political Islam, which many will find valuable.

Given the very limited discussion of global communication in international relations, this book is a breath of fresh air; but the basic weakness of the field also means that we need a more measured, even pedestrian, overview of communications developments and of their theoretical significance than this book provides.