The work of Harold Adams Innis offers important contributions to the recent “infrastructural” turn in media, communication, and cultural studies. While Innis’s late communication studies texts are widely read, few outside Canada engage with his earlier economic histories and the “dirt research” (fieldwork) that produced them. The early texts offer the clearest presentation of Innis’s infrastructural orientation. The author traces the development of this orientation by focusing on three aspects of his work often remarked upon but infrequently explored: dirt, beavers, and documents. Each is paradigmatic of Innis’s methodological, conceptual, and discursive contributions, respectively, and through them, he speaks very differently than we are used to hearing. Infrastructural approaches to contemporary media networks and environments are a recursion of Innis’s earlier contributions. Integrating Innis into these debates allows us, the author argues, to move beyond the limits of his mid-twentieth-century work, and to expand the horizons of what John Durham Peters calls “infrastructuralism.”
Innis’s Infrastructure: Dirt, Beavers, and Documents in Material Media Theory
Liam Cole Young is a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, where he writes and teaches on media theory and digital media industries. His first book, List Cultures: Knowledge and Poetics from Mesopotamia to BuzzFeed (forthcoming), explores the list as a cultural technique of administration and imagination.
Liam Cole Young; Innis’s Infrastructure: Dirt, Beavers, and Documents in Material Media Theory. Cultural Politics 1 July 2017; 13 (2): 227–249. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-4129161
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