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James W. Carey and Communication Research

Reputation at the University’s Margins

Jefferson D. Pooley

Winner of the 2017 James W. Carey Media Research Award

James W. Carey, by the time of his death in 2006, was a towering figure in communication research in the U.S. In this book, Pooley provides a critical introduction to Carey’s work, tracing the evolution of his media theorizing from his graduate school years through to the publication in 1989, of his landmark Communication as Culture. The book is an attempt to understand the unusual if also undeniable significance that Carey holds for so many communication scholars, as well as making his work accessible to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students.

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Chapter 2. Innis in Urbana


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As a new assistant professor, Carey was asked to help organize the Institute’s first-year doctoral proseminar in the fall of 1963. The assignment was more daunting than standalone teaching. The proseminar, after all, was a semi-public display of intellectual identity. Nearly all of the Institute faculty rotated in for a week’s session, with the idea that students would receive a survey-by-example of an expansive field. Given Illinois’ prominence and the still-infant state of communication research, the proseminar served as a surrogate textbook. In that sense the self-understanding of the department—and by extension the field—was at stake. At first Carey’s seat at the seminar table was just a seat. But he wanted more than that; he wanted, in fact, to revise the textbook.

Carey’s strategy was to coin a phrase, “cultural studies”, to designate his new section of the proseminar. The “cultural studies” label, adapted from Max Weber’s “cultural sciences” (Kulturwissenschaft) put a legitimating name to the motley band of thinkers Carey had embraced in the preface of his dissertation. The local context was crucial: in a department dominated by quantitative behavioralists like Charles Osgood and Marxists like Dallas Smythe, Carey sought to carve out a distinctive intellectual space, a third way all his own.

This chapter traces his first attempt to clear a new path. For more than a decade, he devoted his attention to technology: its history, its contempo ← 41 | 42 → rary consequences, and above...

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