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

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

by Rebecca Jean Emigh (Professor of Sociology, UCLA)

Presented online via Zoom meeting. Please register to attend:

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? From this perspective, these disembodied forms need to develop mechanisms of authentication that substitute for face-to-face communication.

This talk considers how some of these mechanisms developed over time with respect to books and print news (e.g., bylines, title pages, editorial review, etc.). This research shows how 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. This perspective is an important alternative to one that considers literacy a superior and historically linear replacement to orality (e.g., Goody). These considerations are also crucial for understanding historical forms of media (manuscripts, incunable, books, avvisi, periodicals, and newspapers) as well as social and digital media, all of which generally combined orality and literacy in different ways.

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.