The Winnipeg School
The Winnipeg School of Communication is an interdisciplinary collective of media researchers, scholars, and activists who advocate for a Deep Green Media Ecology approach to understanding the current situation on planet Earth. With the rapid transformation in communication systems on a global scale throughout the 20th century, and the accelerating evolution of digital communication systems in the 21st, we stand on a perilous precipice with few options for moving forward. We are at the proverbial fork in the road, like that made famous by the poetry of Robert Frost. We can carry on as we are and junk the planet by 2050, or perhaps, instead, choose an enlightened path that will lead us out of the current gridlock with which our planetary postindustrial society is grappling. Of course, “junking the planet” means a total destruction of the biosphere, the realm of life that has flourished on the surface of Earth for millennia. If it goes, we go. The third stone from the sun will still be here, with its plethora of minerals, metals, and matter, but life as we know it may encounter a setback not seen since the extinction event faced by the dinosaurs.
What is at the root of this perilous situation? Human beings, and more to the point, human beings acting as a massive super species extended, augmented, and amplified by the clever use of technology, tools, and most importantly… media. The Winnipeg School believes in educating students about media—specifically their use and abuse, their often-invisible side effects, and especially their unintended consequences. Canada has produced a plethora of media visionaries, trailblazers who—when taken together as a whole—have created one of the best approaches yet to be developed to perceive said effects. Even more astounding is that a great number of these “big guns,” who are not often mentioned together in the same breath, broke out of Winnipeg between 1920 and 1940. One thing they all share is that they were educated at the Broadway Campus of the University of Manitoba.
“One could say that Winnipeg is ground zero of the Global Village”
The Group of Nine
The Winnipeg School has gathered these inspirational individuals together and given them a name, the “Group of Nine.” You may have heard of them before, but never like this! Horace Noel Fieldhouse, Rupert Clendon Lodge, and Henry Wilkes Wright were all professors at the University of Manitoba between 1920 and 1944. Fieldhouse taught history, Lodge philosophy, and Wright psychology. World-renowned figures in communication, such as Graham Spry, instrumental in starting the CBC, studied history, and prominent semanticist, S.I. Hayakawa, majored in English at the Broadway Campus; in the late 1930s, famed sociologist Erving Goffman studied chemistry before leaving the University of Manitoba to work for the National Film Board in Ottawa. From 1928 to 1934, three friends—better known for their work in Toronto on the infamous journal Explorations—took their undergraduate degrees at the Broadway Campus: Marshall McLuhan, Thomas Easterbrook, and David Carlton Williams. If what later became known as the Toronto School of Communication can be thought of as simply representing the Explorations group, then it should be acknowledged that the majority of its members were from Winnipeg, making the so-called Toronto School very much a satellite operation of the nation’s prairie capital. Winnipeg is a city literally living in medias res. Located in the middle of nowhere and the centre of everywhere, one could say that Winnipeg is ground zero of the Global Village.
Birk Sproxton has offered the best explanation we’ve heard to date in answer to the “Why Winnipeg?” question. In The Winnipeg Connection he says Winnipegers “have a habit of making their own culture; they know they are physically distant from other metropolitan centres; they do not depend on others to make culture for them.” In other words, we make our own culture because we have to, and we are proud to share the fruits of our labours with world.