Cleaning the House: Testing critical concepts on communication and society
Academic debates on the role of communication in society revolve around a set of critical concepts that link researchers and ideas together and provide common ground for theoretical development. Some of these concepts have longer history, while others go in and out of popularity following academic and intellectual trends or broader societal changes.
Shared concepts and paradigms are in many ways necessary and serve a purpose. They provide a common reference point for researchers and students and reinforce the unity of the academic discipline. The flipside of their generality, however, involves that the meaning of such concepts often remains vague and open to many interpretations. Key concepts also carry a set of implicit assumptions about the relevance of different research questions and perspectives. Fashionable terms thus have implications for what questions receive attention and what perspectives become prevalent in our research. This makes the status and definition of such key concepts subject to continuous contestation.
The aim of this preconference is to critically scrutinize contemporary key concepts and paradigms in communication research. We invite papers that aim to identify such concepts and their status, assess their usefulness to theoretical development and empirical work, and/or critique the theoretical/normative assumptions they carry.
Contributions are particularly welcomed around the three thematic sessions of the preconference:
(1) Mediatization: Are we mediatized?
The notion of mediatization has emerged as one of the central concepts or theoretical frameworks in communication research. Despite its popularity, there remain different definitions and interpretations of the term and its relationship to associated notions, such as mediation, media logic or media society. Papers addressing this theme can examine, for example, different definitions of mediatization, its history and uses, and the question of its usefulness in various research areas. How does mediatization relate to earlier theoretical paradigms in communication studies, such as medium theory, or other broad terms that highlight the role of media and communication in contemporary society, such as information society or network society? Does mediatization represent a new paradigm for understanding communication and society, or is it just another buzzword? Are we – indeed – mediatized?
(2) Inequality: Are media a cause or a solution to social inequality?
The media, and the internet in particular, have always been associated with both hopes and fears regarding social inequality and exclusion. New media technologies raise hopes of revitalizing democracy and citizen participation, but also concerns over new forms of digital exclusion and concentrations of power. In the past few decades, worries of digital inequality and exclusion have mostly been discussed under the concept of the digital divide. Beyond questions of connectivity and skills, do these debates capture the most essential dimensions of exclusion and inequality? Do alternative terms like media justice, democratization, or communication rights help advance understanding of media and social inequality, or is there a need for new terminologies or paradigms? And how do questions of inequality and exclusion figure into current media and communication policies? To what degree media policy should be assessed as a dimension of social policy? Can policy tools, such as public service media, net neutrality or universal access policies, help promoting social justice, and how should such aims be conceptualized?
(3) Normativity and activism: What role for communication academics in society?
Many of the central concepts of communication studies – e.g. the public sphere, democracy, equality, freedom, participation – are inherently normative. Are these underlying ideals universally valid or do they unnecessarily limit the perspectives of communication research? It is easy to argue that researchers should be reflective and open about the concepts they use and assumptions they entail. But is it ever possible to be completely free of normative assumptions?. Should we make a distinction between purely analytical and more activist-oriented research in communication studies? What does it mean to be reflective, normative, or critical in contemporary communication research? And who are researchers accountable to in the end?
We welcome paper proposals that approach the above-mentioned, or closely related, themes from a variety of perspectives. Key concepts and paradigms of communication research can be approached, for example, by tracing their intellectual history, comparing their uses across different languages or research areas, evaluating their usefulness for specific empirical research questions, or by proposing more developed concepts or theoretical frameworks.
The call for abstracts has ended.
A maximum of 15 papers will be selected for presentation at the preconference. The submitters will be informed of acceptance by the end of August, 2016.
The initial programme, including the confirmed speakers, can be found here.