“Where do we go from here?”
Such was the wrap-up question posed at the “Rethinking Theories and Concepts of Mediated Communication” conference held last month in Barcelona. Cosponsored by the U of Missouri, Ludwig Maximilian U of Munich, and Nanyang Technological U, the conference was a two-day meeting of theorizing and conceptualizing. Paper presenters had been instructed to avoid data, so what emerged were much-needed higher-level discussions about… theories and concepts.
In his opening remarks, conference organizer Tim Vos (U of Missouri) articulated a few tensions that arise from our conceptualization and theorization. He spoke about the role that specific vs. middle range vs. general theories play in growing our discipline. He discussed how our scholarship is defined by local vs. global, timely vs. timeless, and literal vs. metaphorical theories and concepts. And he addressed how the is vs. ought tension reflects our study of the world as it exists as well as our interest in addressing the normative. Altogether, his remarks provided a strong leitmotif for the conference as discussants responded to a broad swath of papers.
Tim’s remarks revolved around theorizing at large, and it was easy to extrapolate from concepts to our discipline and professional associations. After all, our field comprises scholars and practitioners who fall into all camps, and ICA’s 32 Divisions and Interest Groups are a testament to that. Many faculty work in broad-spectrum units with colleagues whose articles include phrases like “(the data) reveal,” “(the data) indicate,” “(the data) show,” and “(the data) find,” as well as colleagues whose articles include verbs such as “rupture,” “interrogate,” “coopt,” and “complicate.” A cursory look at ICA’s journals points easily to such differences. These vocabularies, articles, and essays reflect our field’s numerous epistemologies, theoretical orientations, and methodological approaches, and they make the field – and ICA – an exciting place to be.
Most of us have a specific intellectual milieu and gravitate toward one of the above camps. As individual scholars, our work is generally well-delineated by intellectual interests, skill sets, and resources. But establishing oneself in an area as a junior scholar is not always easy; nor is the transition from one research domain to another always smooth, regardless of how advanced one might be in one’s career.
ICA’s annual conference already boasts a number of preconferences oriented around graduate-student research, with senior scholars offering feedback on works in progress. Similarly, several Divisions and Interest Groups offer “elevator sessions” or mentoring sessions that connect junior with senior scholars. Such conference sessions certainly have been well-received. As you can see from President-Elect Terry Flew’s (Queensland U of Technology) column this month, some respondents to the post-conference survey offered suggestions as to what activities and sessions in Washington, DC they would find useful.
But ICA is more than its annual conference.
How can ICA help you as a scholar? How can the organization help you get where you want to go? What can we bring to you outside of the annual conference?
Your feedback is critical as the Executive Committee discusses the crafting of a strategic plan and thinking more broadly about how to best support individual scholars and the discipline more generally. With increased membership and geographical diversity as well as broadening areas of inquiry, we need to ask ourselves, “Where do we go from here?”