Works-in-Progress session: “Orality, Writing, and Authentication”

Wednesday, February 2, 2022
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

by Rebecca Jean Emigh (Professor of Sociology, UCLA)

Zoom event

When speaking to a person face-to-face—which Berger and Luckmann consider to be “prototypical” communication—authenticity, truth, and social position can be judged by seeing, listening, and speaking. Seeing and listening allows individuals to judge a person’s appearance and demeanor, and thus understand their intentionality and positionality. Speaking allows individuals to ask questions, to clarify, and to probe. How are authenticity, truth, and social position judged in disembodied forms of communication, such as writing or digital formats? I am currently writing a book on this topic, using the empirical topics of news media, academia, and music as examples. I explore the three mediums of manuscripts, book, and the internet. Orality, literacy, and visuality are related to each other; they are simply different aspects of communication that are almost always combined for deeper and fuller understanding of any topic. The relationship among them changes over time. The internet “re-embodies” speech transmitted over space and time in a way that a picture in a book or manuscript cannot. Thus, the internet changes the relationship among orality, literacy, and visuality, without necessarily making one more important than another. For my “works-in-progress” session, I would propose to present a piece of this work on early modern news, and the way in which technologies of paragraphs and copy reimbodied messengers’ oral presentations of early centuries. I will place this in the historical context of news development overall—the broad historical trajectory of oral news, shifting to written news, then changing into the partially reimbodied formats of TV, radio, and social media.

Rebecca Jean Emigh is Professor of Sociology at UCLA. She authored numerous books and articles on comparative and historical sociology, focusing on long-term processes of social change. She was chair of the Comparative/Historical Section of the American Sociological Association and is co-editor of Social Science History.