Information Technologies and Social Orders
The history of human society, as Carl Couch recounts it in his speculative final book, is a history of successive, sometimes overlapping information technologies used to process the varied symbolic representations that inform particular social contexts. Couch departs from earlier "media" theorists who ignored these contexts in order to concentrate on the technologies themselves. Here, instead, he adopts a consistent theory of interpersonal and intergroup relations to depict the essential interface between the technologies and the social contexts. He emphasizes the dynamic and formative capacities of such technologies, and places them within the major institutional relations of societies of any size. Social orders are viewed in these pages as inherently and reflexively shaped by the information technologies that participants in the institutions use to carry out their work. The manuscript was nearly complete in draft at the time of Couch's death. He has left a bold, synthetic statement, reclaiming the common ground of sociology and communication studies and articulating the indispensability of each for the other. With admirable scope, across historical epochs and cultures, he shows in detail the transformative power of information technologies. While the author hopes that a humane vision comes with each technological advance, he nonetheless describes the numerous instances of mass brutality and oppression that have resulted from the oligarchic control of those technologies. Couch's theory and substantive analysis speak directly to the interests of historians, sociologists, and communication scholars. In its review, Contemporary Sociology said: "The volume is full of smart insights and valuable information, a fitting final effort for a scholar of great distinction."