I have just returned from my first experience attending the ANZCA (Australian New Zealand Communication Association) in Sydney, Australia, hosted by University of Sydney Communication faculty members Gerard Goggin, Fiona Martin, and Jonathon Hutchinson. It was eye opening to learn of common communication dynamics and problematics experienced in Oceania -- ranging from cyber-violence and mainstream media crises, to urban housing problems, and marginalized indigenous voices. Being “down under,” scholars pointed to the particular, local histories and cultures from which these problems arise, and yet, strikingly, the conditions supporting these problems are shared globally. It became clear that, in many ways, Australia mirrors dynamics in other part of the world, where ongoing class, racial, and gender inequity are fueled by a range of factors, particularly neoliberalism and globalization.
While in Sydney, I was struck by international reporting on the European refugee crisis. BBC reported the current refugee crisis in Italy, a country overwhelmed by an average of 80,000 migrants annually, most from Africa, who often arrive via precarious means. By this July, Italy had already received 80,000 migrants, and was asking for increased financial assistance from the European Union, framing the crisis as a continental issue. In my address at the conference, I pointed to refugee crises as another similarity shared by particular continents, noting the low rates of migrant resettlement (in North America and most of Europe) in contrast to the massive flows from northern African and Syria. Germany responded to the Italian plea in July, arguing that the EC must help their migrant “neighbours,” while Poland refused, arguing they hadn’t fomented the problem and positioned these migrants as outside the neighbourhood.
Taking in migrants is of course a highly political decision for nation states. Migration statics show that countries with far less infrastructure and space, and far lower GNPs take in a far greater number of migrants than the US, Canada, Australia or Britain, for example. Instead, countries in the “neighbourhood” of migrants take a substantially greater numbers of migrants—countries like Turkey, Italy, Greece, Kenya, and even Germany. Canada is an example; my country accepted 35,500 Syrian refugees in 2015 -- mostly middle class families whom they anticipate will integrate quickly and efficiently into the Canadian multicultural experiment and cause little disruption or political pushback. This suggests that nation state interests (e.g. how much cultural difference a nation state can bear) tend to take priority over the human misery experienced by migrants. We could call this a “path of least resistance” approach to the migration crisis—committing some resources and yet not redirecting too much funding, or taking in too many culturally “different” migrants as to upset the national applecart.
What does this have to do with ICA? It is just these kinds of ethical questions—who belongs, who is a neighbor, who is responsible for inclusion and integration-- that ICA has been tackling the past few years as we have worked to internationalize our membership and our leadership. This requires that we reach out and facilitate access for scholars from countries who have not been centrally involved in ICA in the past—regardless of the GNP or cultural makeup of their countries. As well, culturally ICA must continue our work to expand who is welcomed and appreciated in the neighbourhood. In my ANZCA address, I linked these ideas via a lens of ethical commitment, noting that our critical communication scholarship on borders, and migration crises translates into relevant ethical dynamics that ICA must continue to address at the organizational and the cultural level. Borders are often read as things that keep people out, but in recognizing our organizational structure as spaces that can encourage entry and support, we continue our work to expand and sustain ICA as a diverse neighbourhood.