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Marginal Man

Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 480
  • Book Info
    Marginal Man
    Book Description:

    WithMarginal Man, Alexander John Watson provides the first in-depth intellectual biography of Harold Adams Innis (1894-1952), the great Canadian economic historian and communications guru. Melding biography and analysis, Watson presents, in unprecedented detail, the links between key events in Innis' life and scholarly influences, and the intellectual synthesis that Innis produced.

    Watson illustrates and reconciles the great thinker's movement from rural Ontario to the centre of Canadian and international scholarship, followed by his relegation to the margin by scholars who did not understand his political project and the essential consistency of his scholarship and vision. Based on exhaustive research including interviews and reviews of archival sources, the book's methodology reflects that of Innis himself, emphasizing oral tradition and 'dirt' research.

    Innis' thought is remarkably relevant to today's world, andMarginal Mandiscusses his foresight with regards to technological changes - such as the arrival of the internet - as well as historical changes including the end of the Cold War and the beginnings of today's unipolar world order. This book is an extraordinary work of scholarship in its own right, as well as an essential companion to the work of its subject, one of Canada's most important minds.

    Works by Harold A. Innis

    History of the Fur Trade in CanadaThe Bias of Communication

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8454-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: The Innisian Puzzle
    (pp. 3-24)

    ‘Who the hell is Harold Innis?’ So goes the school song of the Toronto college named after Canada’s first internationally recognized postcolonial intellectual.² Innis would have chuckled at the irony of the students’ cheekiness. This scholarly pioneer of Canadian economic history and communications theory had a dry wit which carried him through an extraordinary life touched by poverty and comfort, loneliness and public accolades, peace and war, religious zeal and the loss of faith, the passions of nationalism and internationalism, the joy and anguish of love gained and lost, the awe and puzzlement of colleagues and students, intellectual brilliance and...

  5. Part One: From the Margin, 1894–1939

    • CHAPTER ONE The ‘Herald’ of Otterville, 1894–1913
      (pp. 27-60)

      Harold Adams Innis remains very much an enigma despite a significant amount of biographical work done on him. While the figure of the man has been sketched out, its relationship to its ‘ground’ has either been overlooked or oversimplified.² His wife, Mary Quayle Innis, identified precisely this area of the figure/ground relationship as one of the upsetting aspects of the biographical treatments of her husband.³ She protested, for instance, that those attempting to understand Innis made too much of his rural background. ‘After all’ she would remark hyperbolically, ‘didn’t everyone come from the farm in those days?’⁴ By this she...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Great War, 1914–1918
      (pp. 61-93)

      For a young man from the margin, attendance at McMaster Universit. in Toronto was a revelation. The university was run by the Baptist Church, but this did not mean that issues and claims of faith went unexamined. In fact, the theology professors at this school were intellectually driven to articulate a philosophical basis for faith.

      When Innis entered McMaster in October 1913, it was a lonely time for him. He was given advanced standing based on his examination results at Woodstock; entering at the second-year level meant that he missed the first-year activities so important in developing undergraduate friendship networks....

    • CHAPTER THREE One of the Veterans, 1919–1923
      (pp. 94-117)

      In 1918 Innis moved to the University of Chicago to continue his studies. Given the encouragement of his professors, their openness to a Canadian research topic – the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) – and the income he could obtain through teaching, residence duties, and marking, Innis decided to pursue a PhD in political economy. And there, too, he met the woman who would become his lifelong partner – Mary Quayle. It is difficult to imagine that Innis could have succeeded in his career without the unfailing encouragement and psychological support that Mary Quayle provided to her physically and mentally damaged...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Search for a New Paradigm, 1920–1929
      (pp. 118-163)

      During the 1920s, as a young professor at the University of Toronto, Innis concentrated on grounding himself in a knowledge of Canada. Focusing on the fur trade and the river systems along which it was pursued, he came to view Canada as a country that was developed because of – not in spite of – geography. He spent long hours in the archives reviewing historical documents. Beyond this, he undertook many trips to often remote parts of the country, frequently travelling under difficult circumstances. Throughout his travels, he made use of the skills he had developed in the smoking car on the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Great Betrayal, 1930–1940
      (pp. 164-218)

      The 1930s marked a new phase in Innis’s career. The previous decade had required him to work in relative isolation as he built up his knowledge of Canada through ‘dirt’ research. In the 1930s, by contrast, he was recognized as an authority on the Canadian economy, and his expertise was called on by a wide range of individuals and institutions; this led him to play much more of a role as a leader and shaper.

      This recognition was partly the result of the growth and increase in stature of the political economy department in the decade of the Great Depression,...

  6. Part Two: To the Margin, 1940–1952

    • CHAPTER SIX Hunting the Snark
      (pp. 221-255)

      An extraordinary parody of Innis’s scholarly project is found in his favourite Lewis Carroll book,The Hunting of the Snark.This hunt serves neatly as a metaphor for the efforts of Canadians to develop an indigenous approach to social science. The story begins with a bizarre group of characters setting off in search of a creature that is both rare and somehow profoundly significant. Their strength is the blank map that serves as their guide. A beaver ensures their arrival at the hunting ground, and once there it seals a friendship with a scribbling butcher who is keen on numbers....

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER SEVEN A Telegram to Australia: Innis’s Working Methods
      (pp. 256-284)

      In the portraits of the graduating class of 1916 in theMcMaster Monthly,Innis’s entry describes his ‘ambition’ as ‘to invent a new loose-leaf system.’ This early concern with how the content of research was processed through index and file systems remained a lifelong obsession. From the early 1920s, we find Mary Quayle Innis being drafted to work on an index-card system to give order to the mass of material being generated by his research. In the communications period, Innis’s methodology for processing the content of his research changed significantly – so much so that it is difficult to grapple with...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Innis and the Classicists: Imperial Balance and Social-Science Objectivity
      (pp. 285-319)

      Innis’s shift to communications studies is usually described in two ways: in terms of the internal logic of the research path of the individual intellectual (that is, Innis’s pursuit of the staples approach until he came to consideration of the implications of pulp and paper), and in terms of the influence of the Depression and war on the Canadian academic world.

      Although there is a great deal of truth in these interpretations, I believe that they are only partial explanations, for they have a metropolitan bias that tends to overlook the importance of collective efforts originating in the periphery. We...

    • CHAPTER NINE Time, Space, and the Oral Tradition: Towards a Theory of Consciousness
      (pp. 320-365)

      The traditional view of Innis as a media determinist is deficient because it badly misrepresents his political position. A belief that the characteristics of a medium directly determine the fate of the empire with which the medium is associated seems tailor-made for a totalitarian spirit. This kind of rigid determinism calls up the image of a pessimistic anarchist railing against technological inevitability. Innis has been cast as both totalitarian and pessimistic, but these descriptions are fundamentally flawed.

      In the communications works, Innis was engaged in a precocious attempt to rejuvenate the badly battered ideological foundations of liberal, pluralist society. In...

    • CHAPTER TEN At the Edge of the Precipice: The Mechanization of the Vernacular and Cultural Collapse
      (pp. 366-393)

      The communications works should be seen as an intensely political undertaking – but in a very narrow sense. Innis’s political goal was the reconstitution of a critical perspective in the social sciences that could be brought to bear on the most profound conundrums of the present era. His obsessive form of research was the opposite of antiquarianism. In order to understand the myopia of our contemporary mentality, he concentrated on past societies and how their way of thinking about their world was structured. Similarly, he supported the ivory tower concept of the university because only such an institution could support the...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Cassandra’s Curse
      (pp. 394-416)

      At the beginning of this book, I made the case for viewing Innis’s lifelong work as a political project with multiple levels and distinct phases. From the start it was a precocious project, involving not only the educational research path of an individual scholar but also a commitment to building scholarly institutions and having a policy impact on the country’s development from colony to nation. In the normal scheme of things, a scholarly career plan would become more focused and specialized as time went on. Not so for Innis. His research continually led him to broaden his interests to new...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 417-430)

    After finishing the initial research on this project, I had the opportunity of managing a major development project in newly independent Zimbabwe. This was the beginning of a career in international development: I never returned to the university. Instead, for the last seventeen years, I have been leading one of Canada’s major overseas charities, CARE Canada. This has provided me with the opportunity to travel widely in the Third World and the Balkans, often working in countries wracked by war and famine. Along the way, I have also had the good fortune to go from being a bachelor to being...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 431-494)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 495-508)
  10. Index
    (pp. 509-525)