The Canadian Communication Tradition


Canadian Communication Thought

1In his book, Canadian Communication Thought, Robert Babe argues for the recognition of a distinctly Canadian paradigm of communication studies.1Grounding his observations in the scholarship of “ten foundational thinkers” – particularly Dallas Smythe, Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan – Babe describes ‘Canadian Communication Thought’ as being inherently dialectical, critical, holistic, ontological, oriented towards political economy, and concerned with mediation, power, democracy and dynamic change.2

2Dialectics and critical theory are at the forefront of this Canadian paradigm, representing the country’s unique political and geographic terrain. Its dialectical predispositions stem from several factors including the country’s embrace of British conservatism and a spirit of “collectivity and commonality;” its proximity to the United States and the differences between a “garrison mentality” of “communitarianism” in Canada and a frontier mentality of individualism in the US; and a geographic landscape that engenders both “bleakness” and “imagination.”3 The push and pull between languages (English and French), cultures (a multicultural society with a visible First Nations population), and normative concerns for democracy, equality, and power further underscore a dialectical and critical tradition of hermeneutic inquiry. Accordingly,

…foundational Canadian communication thought emphasizes the importance and the power of the human imagination, and it studies how our imaginations are moulded, or at least influenced, by prevailing institutions, by predominant media of communication, by our stories or myths, by our educational system, and by our place in the world.4

3Proximity to the United States is another contributing factor to this dialectic Canadian identity as: “Canadians are normally immersed in American media, and so are quite aware of American perspectives, even while knowing that these perspectives do not necessarily represent accurately the Canadian situation.”5 In concert, these aforementioned characteristics demarcate the Canadian communication research and scholarly experience and tradition as different and separate from that of the United States. Communications research in America (according to Babe) grew out of a tradition of studying ‘transmission;’ what Harold Lasswell called “administrative research,” and exhibited an attitude that eschewed critical interrogation of the media industries which generate huge sums of individual and corporate capital in the country.6 In countenance to the United States, as Babe further observes, “for Canadians, democracy in part means resistance to hegemonic incursions from outside the country so of course Canadian scholarship, even in the mainstream, is more critical.”7


  • 1 Robert E. Babe,Canadian Communication Thought: Ten Foundational Writers(Toronto: University of To (…)
  • 2 Hamilton (2010) makes the important rebuttal that we must be careful not to take such claims at fac (…)
  • 3 Babe, Canadian Communication Thought, Chapter 1. 
  • 4 Babe, Canadian Communication Thought, 32. 
  • 5 Robert E. Babe, “Innis and the Emergence of Canadian Communication/Media Studies,” Global Media Jou (…)
  • 6 Babe, “Innis and the Emergence of Canadian Communication/Media Studies,” 19. 
  • 7 Babe, “Innis and the Emergence of Canadian Communication/Media Studies,” 19.

Source (the rest of this article is a review of the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Communications Association (CCA) held in Victoria, British Columbia, in June 2013.)

White Pine - Art Card White Pine by A.J. Casson

“I perceive communication to be the value of Canada, the highest good of a state where understanding and misunderstanding, conciliatory conversation and vitriol, where constant negotiation and the limits of language, coexist. We have had to learn how to contact one another over an enormous land space, across five and a half time zones, in what was once a wilderness of scattered settlements, in what is now a sprawl of suburban edge cities and satellite towns. Technology forges connections and disconnections here.” – Bruce Powe, “a tremendous Canada of light” (1993), revised & republished as “ Towards a Canada of Light” (2006)

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