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Harold Innis in the New Century

Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 456
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    Harold Innis in the New Century
    Book Description:

    The book is divided into three sections: "Reflections on Innis" provides a historical reassessment of Innis, "Gaps and Silences" considers the limitations of both Innis's thought and his interpreters, and "Innis and Cultural Theory" offers speculations on his influence on cultural analysis. The interpretations offered reflect the changing landscape of intellectual life as boundaries between traditional disciplines blur and new interdisciplinary fields emerge.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6726-9
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
  4. Contributors (pp. xi-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Harold Innis: A Genealogy of Contesting Portraits (pp. 3-28)

    In a letter to his long-time friend and former mentor, Frank H. Knight, dictated from a hospital bed while fighting the cancer that would claim him some six months later, Harold Innis remarked: “I do think that some civilizations or even generations think, e.g., as regards time, in quite different ways than others and that they work under conditions which assume that time is different to them than to others. I could say the same about space but am not up to an elaborate reply.”¹ Responding to Knight’s reflections on the “one-sidednessof communication” as a “partial clue to the...

    • 1 Innis’s Conception of Freedom (pp. 31-45)

      My intention in this paper is to expound Harold Innis’s conception of freedom and to offer an interpretation of its significance for his thinking about politics and culture. I want to claim that Innis regarded freedom as a substantive or defining value of Canadian society, and one that was, along with Canada itself, under threat in what he termed the “modern crisis” of Western civilization. For Innis, Canada’s continued existence as a democracy and a nation depended on its ability to preserve and foster freedom through its cultural and political institutions. This paper explores what Innis meant by the term...

    • 2 Innis in the Canadian Dialectical Tradition (pp. 46-66)

      In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Canadian universities taught two sorts of philosophies: Scottish Common Sense and Hegelian dialectics. The former was dominant until the 1870s and continued to be taught until past the turn of the century. The latter became prominent after 1875 and remained so into the 1920s.

      Continuity between the schools of thought was provided by two elements. The first was a homogeneous, overtly Protestant culture, strengthened in academe by a reverence for philosophy - until the First World War, a required subject at all Canadian universities.¹ The second was the large number of Scottish and...

    • 3 “The Expected Tradition”: Innis, State Rationality, and the Governmentalization of Communication (pp. 67-80)

      What appears below is an argument about the historical origins of Canadian state formation and their influence on the present. The argument orients itself in relation to certain observations of Harold Innis, particularly in his writings of the mid-1940s concerning the relation between church and state in Canada -that is to say, on the delimitation of the realm of the symbolic order in a society and on the control exercised by institutional bodies, such as church and state, over the extent of the symbolic order. In texts such as “The Church in Canada” (in 1956a)¹ andPolitical Economy in the...

    • 4 Innis ‘in’ Chicago: Hope as the Sire of Discovery (pp. 81-104)

      When Marshall McLuhan described Harold Innis as the preeminent descendant of Robert Park and the Chicago school of urban sociology, he clearly got it wrong (McLuhan 1964a, xvi). As I have argued elsewhere (Carey 1989), such a designation diminished Innis’s achievement; he was much too original a scholar to be anyone’s direct descendant. Still, none of us writes in a vacuum, and, as Whitehead remarked, everything of importance has been said before by someone who did not invent it. So where do we situate Innis? As the quotation from R.D. McKenzie makes apparent, Innis-like statements can be found throughout the...

    • 5 Economic History and Economic Theory: Innis’s Insights (pp. 105-113)

      Since I had the privilege of working with Harold Innis for a number of years, I have been asked to record my memories of him as a person and as a colleague. My first and overwhelming impression is of how hard he worked. After a full day at the university, he would take home a bundle of books and arrive next morning having mastered their contents.

      He expected his colleagues and his students to work equally hard. This accounts in part for the difficulty many of us had with his lectures. He assumed that everyone would have done all the...

    • 6 The Public Role of the Intellectual (pp. 114-134)

      It is rare today to hear discussions about the public role of the intellectual. Yet this theme, which was taken up extensively by Innis, does echo in contemporary debates. It is cast in a new language, captured by such phrases as “the relevance of the university,” “the popularization of science,” and “the use of science for policy making.” Would Innis have recognized such treatments as reflecting his own preoccupations? We think not. This paper explores what Innis meant by the public role of the intellectual, comparing it with current variations on his theme and offering a commentary on their shortcomings....

    • 7 Harold Innis and the Canadian Social Science Research Council: An Experiment in Boundary Work (pp. 135-158)

      The boundary analysed in this paper was established in 1941 with the creation of the Canadian Social Science Research Council (CSSRC).² This self-defined boundary separated the new “corps of social scientists” from the humanist tradition in which they had been housed (Ferguson and Owram 1980-81, 4). The council was the first national organization claiming to represent all the social sciences. Through a process of demarcation, the social sciences were separated from the humanities, the natural sciences, and, professional fields of study. The narrative begins in the early 1930s but focuses primarily on the period between 1938 and 1945. Throughout this...

    • 8 Monopoles du savoir ou critique culturelle journalistique? Innis et Victor Barbeau discutent la presse, le nationalisme, et les pratiques intellectuelles (pp. 159-174)

      Les travaux de Victor Barbeau et Harold Adams Innis ont atteint, chacun a leur manière, un statut quasi iconique dans les milieux francophones et anglophones respectivement. En même temps, les travaux de Innis ont été très peu influents au Québec et l’oeuvre de Barbeau est probablement encore moins connu au Canada anglais. Get article essaie de juxtaposer quelques-unes de leurs idées sur la culture, le nationalisme, la presse, et le journalisme dans le but d’encourager une réflexion sur les différences et convergences des traditions intellectuelles canadiennes-françaises et canadiennes-anglaises.

      De prime abord, il semble exister très peu de points commun entre...

    • 9 From Silence to communication? What Innisians Might Learn by Analysing Gender Relations (pp. 177-195)

      This chapter could be very short.¹ Harold Innis was stonily silent about matters of women and gender relations. Like most of his generation, he never wondered about women’s place in political economy. Nor did his life-long assault on oppressive social institutions extend to examining the ways in which the inequalities of gender power shape and reinforce markets, trade, development, or communication. WhereasThe Fur Trade in Canada(1956b, 4-5) devotes full attention to the beavers’ mating habits (monogamous), family structure (multi-generational cohabitation), and rearing of the young (weaned at two weeks; independent of mother at a year), this classic work is...

    • 10 Innis and Quebec: The Paradigm That Would Not Be (pp. 196-208)

      To many Canadian intellectuals and social critics,¹ Harold Innis still stands today as an incontrovertible reference point, as somewhat of a historical figure, larger than life. Curiously -and disappointingly, some might add -the resonance of his work in Quebec is virtually non-existent. One has to look quite far in the deepest recesses of Quebec scholarship to find the trace of Innis’s influence. Except for economic historian Albert Faucher, whose own work borrows directly from Innis’s emphasis on technological and geographical factors (Faucher 1970; 1973; Faucher and Lamontagne 1953), and Alain-G. Gagnon and MaryBeth Montcalm’s analysis of Quebec’s economic peripheralization (Gagnon...

    • 11 Innis in Quebec: Conjectures and Conjunctures (pp. 209-224)

      The Innisian approach has attracted littte attention among social scientists in Quebec. Contrary to the situation in English Canada, where it is considered one of the dominant themes of Canadian economic historiography, the work of Harold Innis has been spread only recently and rather modestly across Québécois academic circles. Indeed, it was only in the 1950s, when Albert Faucher returned from Toronto to teach at the Université Laval, that economic history began to be studied more systematically and that political economy became a legitimate analytical framework in Quebec.

      The centenary of Innis’s birth seems a most propitious time to examine...

    • 12 Too Long in Exile: Innis and Maritime Political Economy (pp. 225-240)

      Harold Innis’sThe Cod Fisheries(1940) was an immense historical study, spanning several countries and centuries, and marked the end of the second stage of Innis’s scholarly work. (It came a decade after the publication ofThe Fur Trade(1930), a product of the first stage of his career.) During the 1930s Innis spent a great deal of time and energy researching the history and economic problems of Atlantic Canada, especially Nova Scotia. His work on the region was rewarded not only by the recognition accorded to him by his fellow academics, but by that very Canadian tribute sometimes paid...

    • 13 Histories of Place and Power: Innis in Canadian Cultural Studies (pp. 243-260)

      Without a doubt, there has been a minor industry of Innis interpretation; Daniel Drache has even coined the term “Innisology” to refer to it (1982., 35).¹ The intellectual mapping of Innis has involved charting his impact on an array of disciplines, including communications, economics, history, and Canadian studies. Generally, there are enormous stakes in the process of situating ideas; in so doing, one constructs a theoretical context, however provisional, in which the work then speaks to other works and sets of questions. For Innis, various disciplinary contexts grant his writings a series of incarnations, and in turn allow disciplinary frameworks...

    • 14 No Future: Innis, Time Sense, and Postmodernity (pp. 261-280)

      We would be remiss in a reflection on Innis’s thinking about time on the occasion of his centenary not to note the ambiguity of such an occasion. With Innis looking over our shoulders, we are prompted to recognize that all the commemorative activity is not only (in aspiration) an active moment within a living intellectual tradition, but also a complex of commerce, status competition, and advertising at the interface of academe and the publishing industry. Its link to the decimalized solar calendar -an emblem at once for nature, for tradition, for social time, and for machine rationality -allows the first...

    • 15 Space at the Margins: Critical Theory and Colonial Space after Innis (pp. 281-308)

      The 1994 centenary of the birth of one of Canada’s most influential intellectuals, economic historian and communication theorist Harold Innis, has stimulated scholars from many regions and disciplines to enter into dialogue with his work and with one another. For those of us writing about culture, revisiting Innis has also been informed by the emergence of a major body of writing in critical cultural theory that focuses on the cultural and spatial strategies of European colonization and their ongoing effects in the trend subsequently termed “globalization.” Among the significant works in this oeuvre, which began to appear in the late...

    • 16 Postmodern Themes in Innis’s Works (pp. 309-321)

      Harold Innis may be considered a “radical conservative” (Parker 1977, 553) or a moderate thinker advocating “balance and proportion” and thereby falling somewhere between George Grant’s pessimism and the uncritical optimism of a Marshall McLuhan (Kroker 1984, 87-124). Such interpretations reflect the general understanding of Innis’s work within the vanguard of communications studies. They suggest that, unlike his writings in economic history, his work in communication studies has inspired little in the way of controversy.

      Over the years, this uncritical acceptance has slowly developed into a cult of personality (Aitken 1977, 96), which, while flattering to Innis’s memory, has nevertheless...

    • 17 The Bias of Space Revisited: The Internet and the Information Highway through Women’s Eyes (pp. 322-338)

      Innis’s insights on communication are useful in critically assessing the global networks of digital communication associated with the internet and the information highway.¹ They are particularly helpful in questioning whether marginalized groups that have been innovators here can use the new media to break existing monopolies of knowledge and power associated with commercial capitalism. They are equally useful in considering an alternative possibility: a reconsolidation of the bias of space in global corporate networks of “flexible accumulation,” in which the erstwhile citizens of a revised democracy movement become so many teleworkers and teleconsumers in virtual workplaces and shopping malls plugged...

    • 18 Early Innis and the Post-Massey Era in Canadian Culture (pp. 339-354)

      Reflecting on the Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (Massey Report) of 1951 (Canada 1951), Harold Innis (1952a, 15) wrote that “the overwhelming pressure of mechanization in the newspaper and the magazine has led to the creation of vast monopolies of communication. Their entrenched positions involve a continuous, systematic, ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity.” The net effect of mechanization was, in Innis’s terms, to upset the balance between space and time in favour of space and therefore to erode the historical continuity necessary for the production of...

    • 19 The Dilettante’s Dilemma: Speaking for the Arts in Canadian Cultural Policy (pp. 355-368)

      Plato wanted to exclude poets from his republic because of the damage they do to reason. What does it mean for us that Canadians are faced by poets every time they turn a corner or look in a mirror. Poets (Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje) are the public face of the country, poets have infiltrated the law and government (Frank Scott, Gérald Godin). Musical poets are on MuchMusic (Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell). Poets make politics of private experience and will not keep their bodies out of public affairs (Evelyn Lau, Nicole Brossard). But Platonists are not so easily foiled. If they...

    • 20 An Index of Power: Innis, Aesthetics, and Technology (pp. 369-386)

      Harold Innis never penned an essay uniquely dedicated to aesthetics, but his historical studies of the social implications of communications technology indicate a definite interest in cultural practices such as literature, sculpture, painting, music, and, most prominently, architecture.² As in his work on communications, Innis divides the arts into those dependent on the eye, such as painting, sculpture, and drawing, and those dependent on the ear, such as poetry and music. He did not separate the arts from science and technology but rather stressed their many points of contact as well as their mutual connection to the circulation of power....

  9. Works Cited (pp. 387-418)
  10. Index (pp. 419-435)