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 Das, Professor 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
Prof. Graham Murdock
Professor of Culture and Economy, Loughborough University, UK
[Prof. Murdock gave an online intervention which regrettably was not recorded due to a technical issue. We apologise for not including his comments here, and thank him for his valuable intervention.]
Prof. John Downey
Professor of Comparative Media, Loughborough University, UK
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. I am going to take issue a little bit with what my colleagues David and Emily have talked about, and also with what Laura said. I felt that you agree there is a push towards interdisciplinarity in the field, a sort of building up of momentum and this is a good thing. I would rather pick up on the line of thought Biswajit was talking about: the lack of interdisciplinarity in India, and the ghettoization of Communication Studies. I would actually see this is part of a global process, and would like to expand a little bit on that.
So to start off by talking a little bit about me, I am by training a sociologist. I did my graduate and postgraduate degrees in the Department for Social and Political Sciences, which is famous for being heavy on social theory – a very theoretical department. I have been teaching in communication departments for 20 years, and so I now identify more as a communication scholar than as a sociologist. But I still have some sociological roots, and so I shall mention Max Weber, because what he says about the rationalisation of complex society is very interesting. When we have greater complexity in society, we tend to rationalise and professionalise, and everyone occupies smaller and smaller specialist spaces. I think we can apply this to the field of Communication Studies. And I would actually say that what we witnessing is a nichefication of the field: I wouldn’t call it ghettoization; I prefer the term nichefication. I think that because of the history of the field, because we started off as an interdisciplinary field, people came from Sociology, like myself, and from Literature, like Laura, and took up jobs in communication departments. Most communication departments started off with undergraduate degrees and postgraduate degrees, and now we have a new generation of people who haven’t studied Sociology or Literature but actually study Communication. And they became Communication graduates and then Communication professors, and I think something might have been lost in that process of specialisation and professionalisation of the field.
When we have greater complexity in society, we tend to rationalise and professionalise, and everyone occupies smaller and smaller specialist spaces. I think we can apply this to the field of Communication Studies. And I would actually say that what we witnessing is a nichefication of the field: I wouldn’t call it ghettoization; I prefer the term nichefication. I think that because of the history of the field, because we started off as an interdisciplinary field
By way of evidence, let me talk about my experience in the UK and Europe. Let us look at the various associations we have there [refers to slide]. We have the British Sociological Association in the UK, which has a media section, and we also have the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA). Do the same people go to the same conferences? No. There is very little cross-over between the two. Last year, the British Sociological Association conference had only Nick Couldry, who teaches media and communication, and Nick doesn’t tend to go to MeCCSA. This is not just a British phenomenon, it is a European one. I am a member of the media research network in the European Sociological Association, and among the people who go to that conference, there is no cross-over. They are very distinct constituencies.
Now, the problem with this is that we are in danger of producing a proliferation of journals and subfields that do not necessarily engage with each other very well. Laura mentioned a couple of cases, and there has been a tremendous amount of work. The fields of alternative media or media activism are relatively unexplored areas, but there has been an explosion of great work in the last ten to fifteen years. There is some great work going on and we have some great source material as well. But is there a dialogue between people working in communication and media activism with social movement studies? They rarely publish anything on the media: there is a whole special issue on the occupation, but nothing on the media. So it is not just the fault of communication scholars; there has to be dialogue both ways. If we look at Political Communication, we find that at least Political Communication scholars have a greater dialogue with Political Science than they do with either their colleagues in Communication Studies or in Sociology. If you have a look at the people who go to the Political Communication section of the ICA, they are quite a distinct group. Not to mention Health Communication: it is difficult to find a lot of political scholarship in that area. Health is a political issue, but the research that gets published is often from a narrow sociological and apolitical perspective. There could be much greater engagement with political or even Technological Studies.
To study popular culture, I have been reviewing a number of books on class in contemporary British popular culture. This is something I very much welcome, because class as an issue has famously dropped out of the academic world. The people writing these books are discussing representations of class without engaging with the recent sociological conceptions of class. Indeed, in political economy, which tends to be the section that I go to when I attend conferences, there is a tendency to look within Political Communication as a subfield, but not look for new political economies that have been developed outside of the field. I think that could really enrich what we do. So I would say there is a lack of engagement between the professionalised new field of communications and other disciplines.
There are clear divisions within the field, with ICA people being critical of the work of IAMCR, and so on. And not only do we have these international associations, we also have a proliferation of groups within the international associations. There are more and more groups specialising in Health Communication or Political Communication or Political Economy or the Philosophy of Communication. To my mind, this is a nichefication of the field, and in many ways I think interdisciplinarity would be good, but more often it is used as a convenient niche.
Then, let us look at the institutions of the field. Laura mentioned the ICA, and there is also the IAMCR. They both had a couple of conferences in Western Europe this year: the ICA in London and the IAMCR in Dublin. They fall down to each other in principle to allow people to go to both. But actually there isn’t that much of a crossover – they are, of course, incredibly expensive conferences – but the ICA is governed by North American scholars, while the IAMCR is less so. There are clear divisions within the field, with ICA people being critical of the work of IAMCR, and so on. And not only do we have these international associations, we also have a proliferation of groups within the international associations. There are more and more groups specialising in Health Communication or Political Communication or Political Economy or the Philosophy of Communication. To my mind, this is a nichefication of the field, and in many ways I think interdisciplinarity would be good, but more often it is used as a convenient niche. I think the grants that have been put forward in the recent years have helped interdisciplinarity, but when the money turns up people go off to their separate fields and do their research there. So, I would say yes to interdisciplinarity – I don’t think we have enough of it. But I don’t see that we are actually moving that way; I think we are moving in the opposite direction.
(To be continued)