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Highlights From San Diego

Posted By Paula Gardner, ICA President, McMaster U, Monday, July 3, 2017
ICA San Diego is just past us and I find myself reflecting upon the countless interventions that impressed me—more than I can mention here.  Many members have commented to me that the quality of academic papers and dialogues was particularly strong this year and left them feeling newly invigorated by ICA’s cutting edge scholarship that is crucial in this global moment. I’ll offer just a few highlights that struck me, knowing that I can’t do justice to the rich work offered over those five days.    
Participants from the ICA Africa regional conference attended (in person and via Skype!) from Nairobi. This rich array of research covered topics that are deeply underrepresented in ICA. Lando, Kombo and Bowen discussed sexual predatory practices against refugees working as intermittent home cleaners (termed “Kuvua” in Swahili). Jarop and Kendago discussed how a well-intentioned national programme to fund girls’ feminine hygiene products in fact falls short, resulting in greater insecurity and illness for girls. Njoya reminded us of key African scholars of communication who are not often referenced by young Africa scholars.  We look forward to more engagements with this important scholarship at our Uganda publishing and research workshop in October of 2017. 
Our sponsored panel on global populist movements provided us with crucial insights into regional histories and dynamics that complicate any universal theory of how populism arises and plays out around the world. Wasserman called for readings beyond “media centric” analyses, noting that populism in South Africa can only be understood with careful attention to local histories and realities- he notes. Rao concurred, noting that Indian populism can only be understood via globalisation, corporatism, and specific regional economic crises.  It was generally agreed that ‘there is no neat narrative.’  This is only a snapshot from the conference of the numerous papers citing “populism”- which was clearly one of the top key words this year.  
We had a rigorous debate regarding ICA’s policy on political statements which was adopted years back, but has never been used for various reasons. The policy notes that the board can choose to issue political statements in support of ICA’s mission – e.g. to protect the free flow of academic discourse in the field of communication. Some panelists were concerned that the entire ICA community might not be in favour of any such political statement, others suggested statements were not enough and that actions were often in order.  Some worried that political statements could potentially imperil local academics in the noted region.  We heard about IAMCR’s process for developing political statements that is handled by a special internal clearing house. A few key suggestions to augment our policy were offered; these included working with human rights lawyers on the ground to ensure that we have a keen and informed reading of the region and/or allowing ICA members to add their name individually to any statement.  There will be more to come on this issue that I will report in future columns.

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