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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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Conclusion. Reputation at the University’s Margins



Reputation at the University’s Margins

From the beginning Carey was a reluctant partner in the making of Communication as Culture, the 1989 essay collection that certified him as a leading media scholar of his generation. He had to be cajoled to sign onto the project and remained for some time skeptical of its merits. A few of the volume’s eight essays were originally published more than 15 years earlier. His own thought, never systematic anyway, had shifted in material ways. How could the scabrous critic of the electronic sublime be brought into alignment with the pragmatist redeemer of a usable American past? These were time-frozen dispatches that, set side-by-side, would betray their discrete origins.

Despite this fear, Carey was convinced to bring the essays together. In fact the publication of Communication as Culture was an unalloyed triumph. No longer slotted away in often-obscure periodicals, his essays gained a new, wide readership. The pre-publication editing did not eliminate contradiction and inconsistency—the book itself was tellingly divided between the first four “culture” essays and four technology-oriented pieces—but the book’s writerly poise and thematic continuities made it coherent enough. The graceful flow of the four culture essays, in particular, sealed Carey’s reputation as the U.S. field’s philosopher-critic.

David Thorburn, an MIT literature professor already known for his humanist readings of American television, was the collection’s instigator. Carey had invited Thorburn to Illinois to lead the College of Communication’s Seibert Seminars in early...

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