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President’s Column: Engagement in its Many Forms

Posted By Patricia Moy (U of Washington), Friday, November 2, 2018

Engagement remains a longstanding concept for the communication discipline. As researchers, we might be interested in how individuals engage in myriad types of social interactions, how groups engage in and champion specific sociocultural or political causes, or how people express their opinions in markedly different contexts. From #MeToo to populist movements around the globe that have impacted citizens, government, and social, economic, and democratic life, there is no shortage of grist for our intellectual mill.

But as members of ICA, how do we engage with the organization and the discipline? For the vast majority of members, engagement comes in the context of its annual conference – writing papers for submission, reviewing papers, serving as a chair or discussant, and/or attending the meeting. A sizable number each year also will have engaged with ICA journals, as readers, authors, or anonymous reviewers (those unsung heros!).

Engagement is crucial to the short- and long-term health of any organization and fortunately, ICA members have regular, if not continuous, opportunities to engage with the association.

Consider, for instance, the ICA elections that ended mid-October. In figures that have remained somewhat stable in recent years, turnout stood at 17% for this year’s association-wide races and ranged from 8 to 26% (averaging 16%) for the 27 divisions and interest groups that held elections. While turnout can always be higher, it is always exciting to consider how the leadership of a division or interest group might spearhead new initiatives or advance current ones, whether they relate to student mentorship, conference travel, or research support. As well, that divisions and interest groups do not seem to lack for candidates is heartening; it signals the desire for members to engage with their intellectual community and support it institutionally.

Engagement also takes place behind the scenes. In a response to an open call for suggestions and concerns, Catrin Johannson (Mid Sweden U) wrote to share many positive aspects of ICA: the hospitality and collegiality of the Organizational Communication Division; her growing ties to other divisions – Public Relations, Language and Social Interaction, and more recently, Environmental Communication; and the great opportunities afforded by the annual conference to meet with and learn from other scholars through collaborative efforts.

Catrin’s reaching out, however, was motivated by Naomi Klein’s (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In fact, Catrin was so inspired by that book that she led a grassroots movement at Mid Sweden U dealing with sustainable development. Her focus on sustainability prompted her to express her bifurcated feelings about submitting to next year’s conference: “One part of me wants to write as many papers as possible and go and see all my colleagues and friends in May next year, while the other part does not want to fly to Washington at all because of the negative impact that would have on the climate. Global warming is continuously accelerating. So: Where do I go, and where does ICA go from here?”

Catrin proceeded to offer a series of suggestions that she hopes ICA might consider trying out on a limited basis. She and ICA Executive Director Laura Sawyer engaged in a set of communications about the organization’s current efforts and policies related to sustainability. ICA’s Sustainability Committee, which works each year to keep the organization green, will be reaching out to Catrin to further discuss some of her creative ideas.

As we gear up for next year’s conference, many members are undertaking efforts to engage the discipline in pressing issues. Paula Chakravartty and Charlton McIlwain, both of New York U, have secured from President-Elect and conference chair Terry Flew (Queensland U of Technology) an ICA-sponsored session dealing with race and representation in our field. A follow-up to “#CommunicationSoWhite,” a 2018 article in Journal of Communication, the panel will address a host of issues including: how to center racial inequality; racial analytics in publishing; mobility across borders; and professional socialization.

Engagement comes in many guises, and regardless of where you are in your career or which corner(s) of the discipline you inhabit, it’s always worthwhile to consider what it means to you.

Tags:  November 2018 

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