Charles Horton Cooley and the Origins of U.S. Communication Study in Political Economy


  • Peter Simonson University of Colorado


This paper argues that, contrary to received wisdom, political economy lay at the core of the project of communication study at its originating academic moment in North America. It makes that case by reconstructing persistent political economic dimensions in the work of Charles Horton Cooley, who more than anyone else de-serves to be called the intellectual founder of communication study in the U.S. Drawing out previously neglected aspects of Cooley’s thought, it sketches how his pragmatist, social democratic brand of political economics took a holis-tic, historically informed view of the communicative constitution and social or-ganization of selves, institutions, and political cultures. Cooley provides a starting point for a revised understanding of the history of political economic thinking about communication and ways that it has intersected with sociology, cultural study, and democratic theory

Author Biography

Peter Simonson, University of Colorado

Peter Simonson is associate professor in the Department of Communication at the Univer-sity of Colorado, Boulder. He has authored or edited a number of works on the intellectual and social history of communication and communication studies, including Refiguring Mass Communication (2010), Politics, Social Networks, and the History of Mass Communication Research (2006), and, with John Durham Peters, Mass Communication and American Social Thought: Key Texts (2004), in addition to co-producing a documentary film on women pio-neers in the field, Out of the Question: Women, Media, and the Art of Inquiry (






Critical Concepts