Book Reviews -- Mapping World Communication: War, Progress, Culture by Armand Mattelart

Article excerpt

Mattelart, Armand, Mapping World Communication: War, Progress, Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. 294 pp. $18.95

In Mapping World Communication, French media scholar Armand Mattelart advances a decidedly global approach "to reconstruct the genealogy of the sphere of world communication." The thesis of his book, a translation and update of the French edition first published in 1991, is that media institutions and industries are as powerfully shaped by global as domestic events. In particular, argues Mattelart that war-as well as the universal forces of progress and culture-shape media development in fundamental and profound ways.

Mattelart's history of global media begins with an examination of the emergence of "technical networks" in the late eighteenth century and how they affected the balance of power in Europe. The first semaphore telegraph, connecting Paris and Lille in 1793, initially served largely a military clientele. By the time the new communication system was accessible for civilian and private use in the mid-nineteenth century, it already had helped unify the French state, giving rise to various forms of standardization within France.

Taking a global perspective to media history causes Mattelart to look at forces in places most media historians ignore. For example, media histories that focus on single nations have paid little or no attention to international expositions that began in the late eighteenth century. Mattelart argues that "for a historian of communication, the expositions organized in this period . . initiated a new form of communication by placing science, industry, scientific research, and technical innovation on display."

Students of media history can better understand the context for media development in one country by understanding that it sprang forth from forces clearly reflected in such expositions, which promoted the "grand narratives of civilization-as-progress," which is the view that technological progress was a reflection, and natural component, of civilization. But even more important than appreciating the impact of such forces on any one country, Mattelart argues, is gaining an understanding of how they helped--indeed demanded--the internationalization of the technical networks and the agreements that governed them. …