Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

Article excerpt

Charles R. Acland and William J. Buxton, eds, Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999, 435 pp.

Harold Innis in the New Century is a collection of twenty essays that were originally presented at a conference at Concordia University celebrating the 1994 centenary of Harold Innis's birth. The contributors were selected to represent a diversity of engagements and engagement sites. Yet, the book reads as an integrated whole--in part because the contributors share a common focus on Innis as a public intellectual and in part because they share a model of historiography that restores Innis's writings to their context while allowing contributors to use their reflections on Innis to explore the place of intellectual practice in the twenty-first century. Read in this way, the "work of Innis becomes less like a repository to be mined for ideas than a theoretical shunting point for refracting and juxtaposing various perspectives" (p. 25).

Like Innis before them, the contributors to this collection reflect on the impact of ideas produced by academics on social and cultural transformation. And, like those of Innis, these reflections must be read against the backdrop of the very different intellectual and social contexts in which they were written. It is no surprise, then, that this reflection on Innis's legacy challenges past interpretations, including the view that his most lasting legacy would be his work on political economy and economic history, especially Canadian economic history (e.g., The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History, The Cod Fisheries: The History of an International Economy) and the "early" Innis/"late" Innis approach to understanding his intellectual legacy that privileges discontinuities over continuities. In their place this book offers an assessment of the meaning and relevance of Innis's writings for today's world that highlights his concern with the role of the intellectual in the crisis of co ntemporary culture. By focusing attention on Innis's understanding of connections among the intellectual, culture, communications, monopolies of knowledge, and intellectual present-mindedness, these essays accomplish the two goals set out in the book's subtitle: They detail how Innis influenced intellectual practice and organization in Canada and they identify key points where his ideas, appropriately extended, continue to engage intellectuals and social activists.

The book is divided into three parts. The eight essays of Part One, "Reflections on Innis," examine the development of his thought, the changing climate for the reception of his ideas, and his approach to intellectual practice. …