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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 4. A Plea for Public Life


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In the balance of the 1970s Carey turned to John Dewey and the Chicago School of sociology to articulate a sweeping indictment of journalism and communication research. Both fields, he came to argue, were complicit in the decline of public life. Dewey and the Chicago School furnished Carey with a native-born, reformist alternative to what he viewed as the corrosive professionalism of journalism and social science. The eclipse of the public, by the early 1980s, had become Carey’s animating theme.

Of course Dewey and the Chicago sociologists had already appeared in Carey’s previous writings, notably 1975’s “A Cultural Approach”. Still, Carey’s embrace of American pragmatism, especially by the early 1980s, had become much more explicit and all-encompassing. Even the picture of Dewey that he painted in this period was new. The philosopher Richard Rorty was Carey’s main source.

As I described in the last chapter, Carey had argued for an interpretivist alternative to the field’s prevailing scientism. Epistemology and the world-affirming character of culture were, in the mid-1970s, the main focus. In the balance of the decade, however, Carey devoted a number of articles to a different project: a critique of journalistic professionalism, with a renewed emphasis on Innis and technology. This second project placed the decline of public life, ← 117 | 118 → rather than the failures of scientism, in the foreground. Though Carey invoked Dewey and the Chicago School in both projects, the two lines of...

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