• Richard Cavell, The Explorations of Edmund Snow Carpenter: Anthropology Upside Down

(Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, [Fall] 2024)

 The first study of the media scholar who turned anthropology on its head.

Edmund Snow Carpenter (1922–2011), shaped by an early encounter with Marshall McLuhan, was a renegade anthropologist who would plumb the connection between anthropology and media studies over a thoroughly unconventional career.

As co-conspirators in the founding of the legendary journal Explorations (1953–59), Carpenter and McLuhan established the groundwork for media studies. After ten years teaching anthropology at the University of Toronto, hosting radio and television shows on the CBC, and doing major research in the Arctic, Carpenter left Toronto and became an itinerant anthropologist. He took up a position in Papua New Guinea, where he countered anthropological practice by handing his camera to the Papuans. Carpenter’s marriage to the artist and heiress Adelaide de Menil made him a truly independent scholar. With the support of the Rock Foundation, founded by de Menil, he collected ethnographical art, curated exhibitions, and edited the materials for a twelve-volume study of social symbolism based on the massive archives created by Carl Schuster. Richard Cavell shows Carpenter – austere, generous, and unpredictable – to also be unwavering in working throughout his career within the framework established by Explorations, culminating in the ground- breaking installation at the Musée Quai Branly, Upside Down: Les Arctiques (2008-9).

The anthropological impetus for media studies has largely been forgotten. This study restores that memory, tracing Carpenter’s work in media and in anthropology over a lifetime of cultural achievements and intellectual convolutions.


  • Jay Caspian Kang, “Arguing Ourselves to Death: To a Degree that We Have Yet Fully to Grasp, What Rules Our Age is the Ideology of the Internet,” The New Yorker (8 March 2024)

    “[Neil Postman’s] ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death,’ at its core, was a polemic against television, which, at the time of the book’s publication, in 1985, was cruising along in its “Dynasty,” “Dallas,” and “Hill Street Blues” era. Postman, an acolyte of the influential Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, argued that if McLuhan’s most famous postulation was correct—that the medium is the message—then television was a uniquely destructive and obscurantist force that had already ruined American discourse. Politics had become a show dictated by ratings and the aesthetics of mass media; politicians were now judged by how they looked and performed on television. Under the totalitarian paradigm of television, Postman suggested, words and their associations no longer really mattered.”

    “So what is the ideology of the Internet? An optimist might invoke the idea of democratization, pointing to the medium’s ability to amplify otherwise silent voices, in ways both good and bad. But the Internet is not so much a forum as a language unto itself, one with its own history, predilections, and prejudices. In the early days of online life, there were “flame wars,” performatively absurd and vitriolic debates among the people who posted messages on various bulletin boards. These endless arguments prompted efforts to better moderate discussion. The resulting desire, on the part of posters, to depose the moderators, or “mods,” has been a constant of the Internet’s existence ever since—on Usenet groups, on Reddit, and on every form of social media.”

    “Who are the mods? The big ones are establishment institutions that aim to govern and to regulate, to maintain credentials and decorum. The mainstream press, obviously, which includes me and my employer, is a mod, and we are the target of endless ire, often rightly. The academy—particularly its most élite schools, the Harvards and the Yales—is another mod. But the mods have been weakening for some time, a trend that was dramatically accelerated by the pandemic. When the covid-19 lockdowns began, it soon became clear that the C.D.C. would be regarded as a mod, and its recommendations and warnings would be seen by many as mere attempts to control. The mod media, which, for the most part, trusted the science of the C.D.C., had little power to enforce any consensus, even when millions of lives were on the line.”







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