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Reviewed by:
  • How Canadians Communicate
  • Sara-Jane Finlay (bio)
David Taras, Frits Pannekoek, and Maria Bakardjieva , editors. How Canadians Communicate University of Calgary Press2003. i, 332. $34.95

During my undergraduate years, I studied Canadian communication and found it a subject that, while worthy and earnest, was largely a collection of dull policy and dry facts. Twenty years later, I was intrigued to be offered the opportunity to review a book that looked at how Canadians communicate in the new millennium. I was surprised to find that much of the material examining Canadian communication might still be described by some of these same adjectives.

The goal of the collection is 'to describe how Canadians communicate with each other and with the world in the widest possible sense.' The book collects and examines the developments that have occurred in policy, corporate strategy, and creative communities across a wide range of media, from newspapers, TV, and film to the Internet, libraries, music, and book publishing. The perspective of many of the contributors seems to be one of pessimism. In examining the 'tensions that exist between power and influence of global media and the needs of citizens and local communities,' it appears that the contributors think it is local Canadian communities and Canadian identity which will suffer. The remedy proposed by the editors is 'that Canadians need to take decisive action in order to understand and master these new technologies so that our homes, our workplaces, our cultural life, and our public places can become more open, democratic, and humane.'

One of the reasons for this negative perspective is that many of the chapters assume a unified Canadian identity. For instance, in 'Canadian Memory Institutions and the Revolution: The Last Five Years,' Frits Pannekoek raises questions about the relationship between 'memory institutions' (e.g., museums, libraries, and archives) and the digital revolution. The author argues that the 'Web world' can marginalize 'fragile' cultures like Canada's and that the ongoing digitization of Canadian materials will result in an 'information deficit nation' with a narrow, incomplete definition of 'Canadianness.' Some contradictions are evident in these assumptions; for instance, while historically the Web has been a largely Western and middle-class world, it is increasingly expanding. The digitization of archives, libraries, and museums will open up 'Canadian identity' to a much broader audience, reflecting more accurately the contested and evolving nature of our sense of ourselves. In addition, these processes do not destroy the artefacts which they represent but instead provide access to these items for those who may not have the ability or means to visit the museums, libraries, or archives where they are housed.

Alternatively, Malek Khouri's section on the Canadian film industry challenges attempts to consider the Canadian identity as unified. He argues [End Page 191] for an understanding of the processes of film production that incorporates the nature and role of popular and mass culture with the way in which film production occurs. As a result, the chapter presents a much more critical appraisal of Canadian communication and Canadian identity, and allows the author to conclude that cultural struggle and the acknowledgment of a heterogeneous Canadian identity are central to the creation of a Canadian film industry.

One particularly important section of the book focuses on new media and Canadian identity. Contributions here examine the use of the Internet in the home, the use of information and communication technologies in the delivery of health care, and the implications for teleworking. These chapters are refreshing in examining an area of media where research is only beginning to emerge. In particular, Maria Bakardjieva's chapter on the everyday use of the Internet in the home attempts to understand and assess social and cultural implications of the Internet from the perspective of the users.

In its extensive range of topics, this book will make a good textbook for students in media or communication studies, and like its predecessors it is a worthy and earnest contribution to the field. In its tone and (largely) uncritical approach to Canadian identity, it may leave these students feeling the same way that I did about the field of Canadian communication. [End Page 192]

Sara-Jane Finlay



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pp. 191-192
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