‘Has Johann Gutenberg’s moveable printing press been the key influencer in reshaping communication’

Johann Gutenberg invented the moveable printing press in 1440 this began the motions of change and reshaped print communication. Benedict Anderson had a theory called ‘imagined communities’ which is a nation that is imagined because the members

Johann Gutenberg himself. Reference below.

of the community never knew the other members and didn’t communicate face to face.  Their formation as a community was in their imaginations. Their communication is through the media and Benedict believes that this is possible through the nation state with the emergence of print capitalism.   Print capitalism is produced with the development of Johann Gutenberg’s moveable printing press and therefore without the moveable printing press Benedict’s theory would not be possible as there would be no circulation of information and communication.


Johann Gutenberg’s moveable printing press was a massive part of the print culture until the internet.  With the invention of the printing press there are now things like newspapers, magazines, books   which are all types of ways to communicate. Business Source Premier (2015) states that Gutenberg’s printing press changes up the print culture from the use of the metal printing block. Hirst and Harrison (2007) explain the other cultural and social effects of the printing press: “encouraged literacy, spread ideas rapidly, promoted greater standardisation of texts which had previously been copied by hand”. (2007, p.32)

Business Source Premier (2015) also uses a quote from Mark Twain to describe the impact of the moveable printing press “What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg.” This displays how much of a big deal the printing press was and how much it has impacted socially and also politically.  Before the moveable printing press everything was communicated in person, now with the printing press advertisements

Gutenberg’s printing press at work. Reference below

whether it was associated with politics or social events could be distributed and displayed to the public through: posters, flyers, pamphlets and other forms of information and communication.

 Hirst and Harrison (2007) also explain how the printing press had an effect on religious culture and religious politics, it allowed the protestants “to print posters, handbills and other propaganda to promote their cause”.  (2007, p.32). Also discussed is Upton Sinclair a journalist and political activist who wrote 92 books and 29 political pamphlets and was an important factor in the American and world political landscape which wouldn’t have been possible without the printing press as print wouldn’t have been invented and journalists and socialists would not have been developed. (2007, p.88) A theorist named Elizabeth Eisenstein (1980) states that the printing press effected art culture as it helped “map publishers, reckon-masters, and instrument makers to serve public knowledge by making their inventions known and attracting people to shops” (1980, p.106). This statement shows how the printing press also impacted the economic sector. The printing press according to Hirst and Harrison (2007) was also an influencer on the war effort, as people were in panic and the war propaganda helped in response to that without the propaganda brought by print people’s attitude and war morale would suffer greatly. (2007, p.88).

The book where the theory is discussed. Reference Below

Conboy & Steel (2008) discuss how the production of newspapers had an impact on the parliament. “the restoration of the monarchy of 1660 saw more control on the publication of news and as a consequence the reporting of political debate in parliament on a regular basis was to wait over 100 years to be permitted” (2008, p.651) this shows another aspect of how print capitalism has reshaped communication.

It is evident that the print press has played a significant role in print capitalism and influenced and reshaped print communication. Thus having an effect on Benedict Anderson’s theory of ‘’imagined communities” where a community is formed without even meeting one another. They communicate through media such as print which has been enabled with the printing press. Without the use of the printing press Benedict’s theory is challenged if the printing press is not invented.  UNESCO quotes Davis (1997) who defines a nation state: A nation state is defined as a sovereign state where citizens are united by factors which define a nation, such as language or common descent. Anderson (1994) believes that “the convergence of capitalism and print technology on the diversity of human language created an ‘imagined community’ morphing into a nation state… the population uses the national language in conversation or on paper” (1994, p.95). A nation state socially forms on factors which help define a nation like print capitalism generates an “imagined community” like Benedict’s theory and was developed through the use of the printing press. Anderson (1994) also explains how at least 20

Original Gutenberg printing press. Reference below

,000 books had already been published in 1500 as “print lived by reproducibility and dissemination” and quotes Francis Bacon who said that “print has changed the appearance and state of the world” (1994, p.90).   This shows how the printing press has reshaped the print communication and influenced Benedict’s theory of “imagined communities”.

The printing press had a particular purpose for the citizens of the nation state. It affected social relationships within the “imagined community” in regards to distributing information and it altered the culture as the printing press increased reading, writing and ideas and helped them grow. The printing press helped change up how citizens received information, distributed information and produced information through different creative forms like posters, pamphlets, books, newspapers, magazines etc. The printing press also reorganised and established structures of power through religion, politics, parliament and war through propaganda and distribution of different pri
nt forms like newspapers etc. allowing citizens to communicate with each other and be informed and united like a nation state, like an “imagined community”.

In conclusion, it is evident that Johann Gutenberg’s printing press was a key influencer in reshaping communication, especially in print. Without printing presses the circulation of information and the distribution and production of that information would be difficult. Benedict Anderson’s theory of “imagined communities” has been effected with the use of the printing press as a way of communicating to one another as a nation state.


  • Eisentein, L.E (1980), ‘The Emergence of print culture in the west’, Journal of communication , Vol.3091), pp.99-106
  • Hirst,M & Harrison M (2007), ‘Communication and New Media : from broadcast to narrowcast’ , Oxford, Oxford University Press


Vignesha L. MAS110 Major Assignment






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