Godfather of communication studies reconsidered

Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions was launched May 11 in a fitting setting for a book about a revered Canadian scholar, the McCord Museum of Canadian History.

Edited by Communication Studies Professor Charles Acland and William Buxton, the book was inspired by the events surrounding the celebration in 1994 of the centenary of Innis's birth, including a conference at Concordia.

If Marshall McLuhan was the father of communication studies, Innis was the godfather, but he has had short shrift in the nearly 50 years since his death. In an introduction, the editors recall that scholars have tended to emphasize his early work as a political economist, but in fact, his final years were preoccupied by the state of North American culture.

Increasingly concerned about the state of education and technological change, Innis thought of the communications media as "the stronghold of a dogma." In 1952, as he helped his father prepare for a conference, Donald Innis paraphrased his views this way:

"It is only in specialized fields that professors can act as authorities. For the body of culture which is common to all citizens there are no authorities and all opinions are of equal value. No matter how carefully and objectively a study of society may be done, anyone is free to dismiss it as just another idea. The freedom of thought which is so dearly loved in America can become freedom from thought."

This book, published by McGill-Queen's University Press, brings together essays on Innis as a cultural and economic theorist by 20 scholars, including several by Concordians: the editors; Ray Charron, who lectures in Communication Studies and on the effects of technology in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science; Daniel Salée, principal of the School of Community and Public Affairs; and Kim Sawchuk, professor of Communication Studies. It also includes a contribution by economist Irene M. Spry, to whose memory the book is dedicated. - BB



Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.