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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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Preface

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This book began with a puzzle. Asked to speak at a 2007 memorial conference in James W. Carey’s honor, I wrestled for months with his oddly shaped reputation. Unquestionably prominent within the American field of communication research, he was virtually unknown beyond its borders. For communication scholars Carey remained, in C. Wright Mills’ sense, a name that needs no explanation. For everyone else—even researchers in allied fields like film studies or the sociology of culture—his writing barely registered.

For me the puzzle was direct and personal. I was one of Carey’s graduate students—his last, in fact. He chaired my dissertation defense the month before he died. Because he was ailing in his final years, I rarely saw him, but felt his presence in the gauzier sense I evoke in the book. As for so many others, I have a hard time accounting for the particulars of his influence. Surely his career-long preoccupation with the history of the field left an imprint, though even here my interest centered on his disciplinary story-telling, rather than his historian’s craft as such.

In a way, then, this book is an attempt to understand the unusual if also undeniable significance that Carey holds for so many communication scholars, myself included. Another way of saying this is that the book—which traces Carey’s thought from his graduate school days through to the 1989 publication ← vii | viii → of his reputation-sealing collection Communication as Culture—is an extended tribute...

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