Interdisciplinarity in Communication Studies: A symposium-3

Centre for Culture, Media & Governance organized a symposium on Interdisciplinarity in Communication Studies on 6 November 2013 at Tagore Hall, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. The following scholars made presentations in the symposium:

1. Prof. David Deacon, Professor of Communication and Media Analysis and Head of Department for Social Sciences, Loughborough University, UK

2. Dr.  Laura Stein, Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-TV-Film, University of Texas, Austin, US.

3. Prof. Biswajit DasProfessor and Director, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

4. Prof. Graham Murdock, Professor of Culture and Economy, Loughborough University, UK

5. Dr. Emily Keightley, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University, UK

6. Prof. John Downey, Professor of Comparative Media, Loughborough University, UK 

7. Dr. Pradip Ninan Thomas, Associate Professor and Co-Director, Centre for Communication and Social Change, University of Queensland, Australia

8. Prof. Bishnu Mohapatra, Professor, Azim Premji University, India

The Indian Medialogue presents transcript of the proceedings moderated by Dr. Pradip Ninan Thomas. Below is the third part. (The first part can be accessed here whie the second here.)

 Prof. Biswajit Das

Professor and Director, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

???????????????????????????????Thanks to Emily, David and Laura for giving such wide coverage and exposure to the topic of interdisicplinarity and communication in the US and England. There is, of course, a rich history and tradition in the US and UK to the way scholarship on communication and culture has emerged. But we are probably still struggling with the idea of interdisciplinarity in India. I will try to broadly posit it within three historical contexts, namely the intellectual, institutional and biographical in India. I will also try to assess the extent of contribution from these three contexts.

Historical contexts

To start from the lower end, that is, the biographical, I do not find much scholarship in the whole of the literature available in the field of biographical writing or critique. One mostly finds the memoirs of former administrators writing on their experiences and their association with mediums such as All India Radio. But rarely do we see scholarship where people have reflected on their own experience in order to explain communication as a field of inquiry or a discipline and to spell out how it emerged in the Indian context. So that is where there is a completely missing link. But at the same time, I think we had a very rich intellectual tradition of communication, but probably there is a re-use of imagination along with an institutionalisation of communication. I would like to emphasize the shift in our intellectual contribution: the day we tried to institutionalise communication, we probably made a complete re-use of imagination.

The idea of intellectual tradition was very vibrant and strong. We could probably go back to before 1947. In the 1950s, we find a sort of culmination which includes all the developmental programme schemes, and simultaneously disciplines like Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology and History reflect how scholarship came out with immense ways to contribute to communication. When we talk about caste and communication, or the networks of communication – subjects we talk about so much: aspects of communication in the social structure – you find there is a remarkable contribution that started with the planned developmental programme. But prior to that, I think it has been immensely written about during the colonial period, where you find scholars trying to write about the movements we talk about, which historians are currently rediscovering as they try to go back to this scholarship and writing. Probably this is where you find that interdisciplinarity has been on the rise in recent years, with scholars across disciplines contributing towards understanding how communication played a very important role, such as in the freedom movement. There is a lot of scholarship going on at the moment on the idea of history, which is very important and was a completely missing link along with the institutionalisation of communication.

Institutionalisation of communication

When I speak of the institutionalisation of communication, I mean the role of leading bodies such as the University Grants Commission, which try to define the contours of the discipline. It appears that we have shifted from Communication to Journalism to Mass Communication, and now we talk about new media, and so on. We seem to [have organised the discipline] according to mediums rather than the sort of themes Emily was speaking about. We never talk about thematic growth and development; rather, we speak of electronic media, print media and new media. With regard to new media, the term is highly contested. We do not have a very old history of the media: it is just 200 to 300 years old – so how can we use terms such as ”old” or ”new”? We have never debated or questioned this, but have just accepted terms that have been imposed on us. This is where we currently locate ourselves, and where you find how institutions in India have tried to demarcate the boundaries of the discipline. So that is where, from a larger interdisciplinarity we have moved towards the sense of a discipline trying to find its coherent boundaries. We have been caught within what you might call institutional academic trappings.

We have been trying to expand the discipline, and today, in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, the government is encouraging interdisciplinarity in India. They have probably realised that [the current organisation of the discipline], as seen in how courses are structured across universities, has not resulted in [theoretical] questions. Rather, everybody is talking about application. I tried to submit a report and my presentation is based on the findings of that report.

There are a few key questions which we must start with.

  • How do we address changes in the media-enabled environment within the existing discipline of media?
  • Is the discipline equipped to engage with the changing scenario within the existing pedagogical and research set-up?
  • What research questions are posed within the existing disciplinary set-up?
  • Is the teaching of media comfortable with an interdisciplinary orientation?
  • How do we visualise the transition from Mass Communication to Communication Studies as an interdisciplinary or a multidisciplinary query?

As I mentioned about the history of the field, programmes were short-lived and interdisciplinarity came about via committees rather than as an institutionalised effort to develop the interdisciplinary texture of the discipline. This also takes me back to the US where, as Laura mentioned, eminent sociologists flourished, but the day the discipline was institutionalised there was a complete re-use of imagination and of a sense of interdisciplinarity. I think that has an advantage as well as disadvantage: it has actually contributed to Mass Communication, but has also re-used our imagination of interdisciplinarity.

Culture was a missing link in communication programmes

But all throughout, we find that culture was a missing link in communication programmes. Culture was always in the front seat throughout the freedom movement, as we see in the literature generated from the movement. But suddenly, we realise, our plans for development are completely silent on questions of culture. That is where we delete culture, and as a result there is an alternative critique or movement which is completely side-lined in our entire debate on communication. Culture was completely side-lined. P.C. Joshi, an Indian communication scholar, talks about how culture, which was in the hotbed of the Indian freedom movement through literature and the Indian People’s Theatre Association, suddenly found it could not contribute to planned development, and was completely side-lined. Rather, we started talking about development, and about how to reinforce the nation. That is also when we talk about the identity of the nation, and how communication can reinforce the nation as a community.

P.C. Joshi, an Indian communication scholar, talks about how culture, which was in the hotbed of the Indian freedom movement through literature and the Indian People’s Theatre Association, suddenly found it could not contribute to planned development, and was completely side-lined.

In the 1960s, too, we find that as a growing nation we need more skilled manpower, and we see the UN recommending the building of more and more institutions, because a growing nation requires more manpower, and this includes film producers and journalists. We got caught up in a larger process of modernisation in our effort to move from the developing world to the developed one. And so the  Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) came up. It is a very strange paradox, but the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has nothing to do with education, so why then was it involved in introducing the IIMC and the Film and Television Institute of India? Its entire focus is on expanding the communication industry and market in India, and for this it is necessary to produce more and more professionals, but it should not handle academic institutions. That explains the state of affairs in these institutions today: they have not grown much. In recent years, there has been an effort to modernise them and raise them to international standards.

But the question with respect to all our institutions is this: we are still very sceptical as to their standards. Do they have the potential for us to even speak of internationalisation or international standards? They have never grown, except when it comes to teaching journalism, and even that did not result in true journalistic education. We never speak of journalistic education, but only about professional journalistic training. You get trained and are then thrown into the market. Where is the education? Our institutions have not contributed substantially enough to the country, and the last 60 years of compartmentalising the discipline have not resulted in the growth of knowledge. There is therefore a complete knowledge deficit in our institutions.

Policy engagements

Now, regarding policy questions, today we are quite serious about the way policies are moving. Policies are no longer controlled by nation-states in a world of transnational boundaries. Our policy engagement, which started in the 1950s, has not resulted in a policy community. Policy is no longer the preserve of social scientists, and has been thrown to management schools. MBAs and technocrats now address the issue of policy. I do not know how they do this, but we in social science are very comfortable with questions of culture because we do not think we can go beyond it. We think culture is our monopoly, and so we discuss media and culture. And so we find that in 30 years, we have not grown much. Even the way we understand culture has not grown much. We always take a protectionist stand and speak of an invasion by foreign media or satellite television – a metaphor we derive from Military Studies. What I am trying to say is that we have not seriously realised that culture is a dynamic concept. Gandhi said he wanted the winds of different cultures to blow about him, but at the same time he refused to be swept off his feet by any of them. I think we have suddenly become extremely protectionist about culture, even though we know that cultural exclusion has never worked in the world. French cultural exclusion, for instance, did not work. So we talk about more and more about diversity, and so on.

…we have not seriously realised that culture is a dynamic concept. Gandhi said he wanted the winds of different cultures to blow about him, but at the same time he refused to be swept off his feet by any of them. I think we have suddenly become extremely protectionist about culture, even though we know that cultural exclusion has never worked in the world.

With respect to the different traditions within the media or academia, let us consider the journalistic tradition: journalism has made its contribution but we have not recorded or sufficiently studied journalistic practices in the country. Broadly, there has always been a divide between practitioners and theoreticians. Similarly, the 1990s saw the advent of Cultural Studies – and these Cultural Studies are not the earlier brand of cultural critique of the 1950s, where there was at least a sense of literature created from looking at the resistance. But here everything becomes a popular culture icon. In the context of television, popular culture was a completely alien concept that was imposed. For instance, we speak of Indian Idol as an example of popular culture. The term needs to be grounded in an Indian context. I think historians have done amazing work.

Because we lack conversations with other disciplines, there is a complete missing link, and as a result there is more and more of a sense of ghettoization within the discipline. No one quotes you, no one reads your work – there is complete ghettoization. The field is fragmented: it is now an intellectual ghetto with a knowledge deficit. There is a lack of association, a lack of scholarly and peer-reviewed journals, and a lack of research training and collaboration. And so we find that there is lack of any link between the quantitative expansion of media courses and their ability to address challenges posed by various actors – the state, industry and civil society – to the expanding mediascape in India.

Proliferation of specialisation

The growth of the media has intensified the need for specialised practice-oriented courses. To suit the requirement of the industry, Media Studies now comprises capsules of practical skills in journalism, cinema or broadcasting, each demanding a separate curriculum based on skills specific to the medium. This has resulted in the fragmentation of knowledge and interdisciplinarity has been a casualty. As the field has expanding horizontally rather than vertically, its growth reflects the proliferation of specialisation. Media courses face a knowledge problem as they are caught between practitioners and academicians lacking theoretical engagement and reflection. The emphasis on teaching stems from the dynamics of demand and supply in the media industry.

Finally, I would like to dwell upon where we stand today in terms of research output and publications. I think we are at our worst. We do not contribute much by way of written scholarship. During the year 2010, only 17 Indian articles were published in 30 selected journals [refers to slide]. Indian scholars have published in 11 out of the selected 30 journals during this period. Very few of their papers have attracted citations. The conclusion one can draw from publication activity is that researchers from India are limiting their scope and are not communicating enough. That is what I would like to say. Thank you.


(To be continued)

This entry was published on April 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm. It’s filed under Communication Studies, Media Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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