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Hypermedia: modes of communication in world order transformation Deibert, Ronald James


Despite that we are in the midst of profound changes in communications technologies, there is a remarkable gap in the International Relations literature devoted to exploring the implications of these changes. In part, this can be attributed to the discipline’s conservative tendencies; generally, International Relations theorists have resisted studying major discontinuity in the international system. The few studies that do attempt to account for change typically focus on modes of production or destruction as determinant variables. Though there are rare exceptions, many of them also tend towards a form of mono-causal reductionism. When considered at all, communications technologies are viewed through the prism of, or are reduced to, these other factors. This study seeks to remedy this gap by examining the relationship between large-scale shifts in modes of communication and “world order” transformation -- the structure or architecture of political authority at a world-level. Drawing from the work of various “medium theory” scholars, such as Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, the study outlines an open-ended, non-reductive theory at the core of which is the argument that changes in modes of communication facilitate and constrain social forces and ideas latent in society. This hypothesized process can be likened to the interaction between species and a changing natural environment: new communications environments “favour” certain social forces and ideas by means of a functional bias towards some and not others, much the same as environments determine which species prosper by “selecting” for certain physical characteristics. In other words, social forces and ideas survive differentially according to their “fitness” or match with the new communications environment -- a process that is both open ended and contingent. The study is organized into two parts: Part one examines the relationship between printing and the medieval to modem world order transformation in Europe; Part two examines the relationship between new digital-electronic-telecommunications (called “hypermedia”) and the modem to postmodern world order transformation. The study suggests that the hypermedia communications environment is contributing to the dissolution of modern world order by facilitating the transnationalization of production, the globalization of finance, the rise of complex, non-territorial social networks, and the de-massification of “national” identities. The hypermedia environment is also helping to re-focus security concerns from an inter-national to an intra-planetary context. While it is far too early to provide a clear outline of the emerging postmodern world order, the trends that are unearthed in this study point away from single mass identities, linear political boundaries, and exclusive jurisdictions centred on territorial spaces, and towards multiple identities and non-territorial communities, overlapping boundaries, and non-exclusive jurisdictions.

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