Marshall McLuhan Essay

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Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton and passed away in Toronto on the cusp of the 1980s. He took his doctorate in English literature at Cambridge. McLuhan taught at the University of Toronto from 1946 until his death. McLuhan’s name is associated with the imagined Toronto School” of communications that includes Harold Innis and Eric Havelock.

McLuhan came to prominence with his book on popular American culture, The Mechanical Bride (1951). While this placed McLuhan in the global company of scholars as diverse as Roland Barthes, Richard Hoggart, and Reuel Denny all of whom worked in a nascent cultural studies, McLuhan felt that his early work was unduly critical and moralizing.

The triphasal civilizational change outlined in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) confirmed the label of technological determinist that has stuck. Massive historical swathes distinguish the passage from a multisensory, predominantly oral, universe which gave way with the invention of movable type to typographic culture marked by linearity, visuality and specialization; this phase is surpassed by the new tribalism of television and electric, ultimately electronic, communications in a new global village of simultaneity, non-linearity, and integrated cosmic consciousness.

McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964) is a key cultural text of the twentieth century that contains his most famous conceptual distinctions: hot and cool media (radio versus television); explosion and implosion (fragmented versus integrating); and the medium is the message,” a formalist statement that rejects content and the social science research paradigm, and instead studies the social effects of media technologies the content of which is a previous medium. It is also a mystical book in which the human sensorium is outered into the wired world and worn as a universal skin in a collective harmony realized in the passage of pure informatic flows. This endeared McLuhan to cybercultural theorists and played a key role in his 1990s resurrection.


  • Genosko, G. (2005) Marshall McLuhan: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory, vols. 1, 2, & 3. Routledge, London.

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