Biography of Harold Adam Innis

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Harold Adam Innis, a Canadian professor of political economy, was born in 1894 in Southwestern Ontario in Oxford County. Harold’s parents practiced farming and were association Baptists. Harold started his schooling in Sunday college and the local one-room public school. His high college career began at Otterville High School proceeded his university life at Woodstock Collegiate Institute. Innis joined McMaster University, which back then served as a neighborhood Church College in Toronto. Shortly after his degree in 1916, the outbreak of World War I forced him to be a part of the army at the age of 21 years. After the war, Harold returned to Canada where He completed an M.A degree and enrolled at the University of Chicago to study his Ph.D. In 1920, Innis joined the University of Toronto as a lecturer in Political Economy and in 1921; he got married to Quayle (Drache, 1982). His theory is very important especially to economies interested in growing their economies.
Theories of Harold
The Staple Theory
Harold’s doctoral thesis introduction chapter, A History of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1923), was about Canadian capitalism. In an attempt to explain the distinct differences between the economy of Canada and that of United States, Innis wrote about the Staple Approach. He described the diverse political culture and argued about an economy that specialized in exporting staples to imperial metropolis (Stanford & Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2014). Harold explains that the Canadian economy relies on the production of commodities such as mining, agriculture, energy, fur, and lumbering. Consequently, Canada is dependent on manufacturing countries like Britain and the U.S.
Harold’s Staple Theory advanced between the years the 1920 and 1930 at a period during which Canada used to be the sole exporter of raw materials to Europe (Hayter & Barnes, 1990). According to Harold, economic and civil relationships emanated from the Toronto-Montreal urban corridors particularly at the ends of western, eastern, and northern regions. Innis continued to argue that with the dominance of the Toronto-Montreal corridor over the eastern, western, and northern peripherals, a special relationship grew. Innis described the relationship between the two states as that of a heartland and that of a hinterland (Watkins, 1963). The heart needed the accumulation of staples to propel their economy and political power by exploiting the hinterland. Harold gives an example of the fur trade, which determined Canadian boundaries by far resulting in the northern half of the continent remaining British. Although Canada gained independence from the colonial power, Britain continued as its trade partner.
While Canada was producing raw materials, it had to import finished goods leading to growth of trade. More search for staples increased the need for institutes and an increase for political power of the nation and its regions (Drache, 1982). However, the greatest challenge was to unite Canada across a large geographic area. The building of the railroad served as the political and economic attempt to join the vast region. Not only did the technological nationalism fuel the construction of the railroad but the future of electronic communication in Canada (Creighton, 2016). The track acted as a national identity and served as a model for growth of broadcasting in Canada.
In general, the staple theory argues that staple production stirred European contact. Staples determined the forms of economic output and the extent of settlement in an area. For example, farming let to food industries while fisheries led to shipbuilding (Innis & Ward, 1956). In conclusion, this theory explains that the patterns of settlement and economic development in the few exports from Canada shaped the nation.
Communication Theories
Comer, 2001 explains that Innis believed that the relative stability of cultures relies on the media’s balance and proportion. His inquiry begins with; how specific communication technologies operate, the assumptions they take and contribute to society, and forms of power they encourage. Communication media should often be the key to development and duration over time and extension in space should be a concern. More so, space biased media tends to be light and portable making it easy to transport over a vast distance. Such media leads to an expansion of empire over space since it is associated with national and secular societies. A newspaper is an example of this type of media, which is highly transportable but has rather a short lifespan, (McLuhan and Others on Innis, 1990).
According to the Patterson (1990), time-biased media like clay and stone are durable but cumbersome. Such media discourages territorial expansion since the materials are heavy to move. Harold associated the media with the sacred, the customary, and the moral models and viewed speech as a time-biased media. Examples of hierarchies that developed because of time-based media include the ancient Egypt.
The organization of empires followed two main models as explained by Innis; one was militarism while the other was a religious model. Innis continues to argue that primary concern of the war is the conquest of space while the media focuses on the conquest of time (Comor, 2001). Rather, media-supporting conquest of space by the military is lighter lessening the limitations of long distance. Besides, theoretical empires have comparative durability as a major component to sustain the concept of eternal life and endless dynasties.
Innis was convinced that stable societies had a balance between time and space-biased communication media. Since people at the margins developed their media invariably, Innis believed that change came from the margins of the society and media allowed for power consolidation for those on edge and eventually challenge the Centre Authority (Comor, 2001). Innis perceived speech as time-based since it called for the stability of the community to establish face-to-face contact. He explained in his writing, that oral tradition is fundamentally more flexible and humanly than written tradition which apparently is rigid and impersonal.
c. An example of Harold’s Theory at Work
The Bitumen production in Alberta and development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from BC serve as an example of the Staple Theory at work Jordaan, 2012). Predictions show that oil production shall double by the year 2020 and least five new facilities will see a three-fold increase in output of natural gas by 2020 (Speight, 2012). According to Environment Canada 2013, while staple boom in oil production is thrilling, environmental implications are shocking. Greenhouse effect from this oil project will increase three-fold. Other emissions may have a great impact on air, land, and water and by not undertaking the project; Canadian greenhouse effect would drop by 5.1% (Speight, 2012). Weighing the pros and cons of the oil sands development project the society suffers a net loss.
Although the environmental impact might be a negative thing, more profit will be realizable with time and in the long run, growth occurs. The new sands oil project can generate 2.1 trillion dollars in economic activities and close to a million person years of employment between the years 2012 to 2035, which he assumes to be beneficial (Watkins, 1977). Consequently, the government of the United States is hiring workers to build units that can process the outputs from oil and sand projects. Most supplies to create the Oil Sands Project and almost all goods to build the project will come from the U.S soil. The scenario creates a perfect back link from the staples theory where heartland and hinterland depended on each other.
d. Pros and Cons of the Theory
Despite the cons of the Staple theory, many advantages are enjoyed by exercising this approach. These benefits range from infrastructure development, industrial growth, and environmental conservation among others (Gunton, 2003) Because of settlements that emerge in the stable producing regions, infrastructure like roads, railway, clean water, and electricity are built to serve both the people and the industries. More roads and more rails laid to transport staples from their production regions to the market increase connectivity. Environment issue has been on the rise, with fewer industries in the staple producing regions, pollution is less in the production zones. More so, in the staple producing areas and the heartland, there is an increase in industrial growth.
Globally, standard industries rely on the multinational corporations who buy the products for manufacturing. Such companies control the overall staple market acquiring entire economic and political dynamics. More so, leadership role shift to the corporations, which do not necessarily serve the interests of the mother economy from which the staples originate. In addition, due to the large size of companies buying the staples, small and medium, enterprises are left out creating an oligopoly type of business (McNally, 1981). Such a scenario gives these major companies control over natural resources. As a result, the economy is unable to capture the surplus produce due to the dominant position of the national corporations. The staple economy develops into depressed industrialized economies because of depending on corporations for trade and sale of the staples. Countries end up being caught up in the staple trap and as a result, economic de-growth and de-industrialization take place (staple theory, 2014). More so, instead of fully developed broader economic diversification, staple theory involves strengthening productive branches and undertakings within the peripheral industrial regions._x000c_References
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (n.d.). Retrieved From
Comor, E. (2001). Harold Innis and ‘The Bias of Communication. Information, Communication & Society, 4(2), 274-294. Doi:10.1080/13691180122822
Creighton, D. G. (2016). Harold Adams Innis: Portrait of a Scholar.
Creighton, D. G. (1957). Harold Adams Innis: Portrait of a Scholar. University of Toronto Press.
Drache, D. (1982). Harold Innis and Canadian Capitalist Development. Ctheory, 6(1-2), 35-60.
Gunton, T. (2003). Natural Resources and Regional Development: An Assessment of Dependency and Comparative Advantage Paradigms. Economic Geography, 79(1), 67-94.
Hayter, R., & Barnes, T. (1990). Innis’ Staple Theory, Exports, and Recession: British Columbia, 1981_x0096_86. Economic Geography, 66(2), 156-173.
Innis, H. A., Buxton, W., Cheney, M. R., & Heyer, P. (2016). Harold Innis Reflects: Memoir and WWI Writings-Correspondence.
Innis, H. A., & Ward, J. (1956). A History of Communications: An Incomplete and Unrevised Manuscript. Toronto: Microfilming Service.
Jordaan, S. M. (2012). Land and Water Impacts of Oil Sands Production in Alberta.
Mcluhan and Others on Innis. (1990). History and Communication. Doi:10.3138/9781442664807-003
Mcnally, D. (1981). Staple Theory as Commodity Fetishism: Marx, Innis and Canadian Political Economy. Studies in Political Economy, 6(1), 35-63.
Neill, R. (1972). A New Theory of Value: The Canadian Economics of HA Innis (Vol. 120). [Toronto; Buffalo]: University of Toronto Press.
Patterson, G. (1990). History and Communications: Harold Innis, Marshall Mcluhan: The Interpretation of History.
Stanford, J., & Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (2014). The Staple Theory @ 50: Reflections on The Lasting Significance of Mel Watkins’ “A Staple Theory of Economic Growth”.
Speight, J. G. (2012). Petroleum Petroleum and Oil Sands Oil Sand Exploration Oil Sand Exploration Petroleum Exploration and Production Petroleum Production Oil Sand Production. Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology, 7797-7821. Doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-0851-3_99
Staple Theory: (2014). Policy Alternatives. Retrieved From
Watkins, M. H. (1963). A Staple Theory Oof Economic Growth. Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science/Revue Canadienne De Economiques Et Science Politique, 29(02), 141-158.
Watkins, M. (1977). The Staple Theory Revisited. Journal of Canadian Studies, 12(5), 83-95.

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