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President’s Column

Posted By Terry Flew (Queensland U of Technology), Monday, August 5, 2019

In light of the ICA Executive Committee’s statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) in all aspects of the Association’s activities, and the debates about inequities in communications research and scholarship arising from #CommunicationSoWhite and other debates, it is worth identifying trends over time in who gets published in ICA journals. Fortunately, a great deal of analysis of this question has been undertaken by Silvio Waisbord (George Washington U), in his recent book Communication: A Post-Discipline (Polity, 2019). The trends are both encouraging yet troubling.

In the book, Waisbord considers the difficulties in achieving a shared definition of the communication discipline, the resulting tendencies towards fragmentation of the field, and the impact of digital technologies in reshaping all aspects of communication. It is the chapter on globalization, and whether there has been any substantive ‘de-Westernization’ of the field, where publications data has been gathered. 

What appears in the book is a summary of the data (pp. 96-98), but I had the good fortune to be able to view a draft that contained more detailed information. The trends in authorship from 2000-2017 are shown below:

US lead authors as % of total 2000-2009

US lead authors as % of total 2010-2017

Journal of Communication



Communication, Culture & Critique *


Human Communication Research



Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication



Communication Theory



* Indexed in 2012

The data shows that, over time, the number of published papers with a U.S.-based first author has been declining across all journals. At the same time, U.S.-based authors continue to constitute over half of all first authors for all journals other than Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

There is some evidence of the globalization of the communication field found in trends in papers published in ICA journals. But this comes with important qualifiers. All but one percent of papers without a U.S.-based first author came from one of 16 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, and Switzerland. There are notable gaps with regards to Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, and East Asia beyond China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. As Waisbord observes ‘institutional globalization has not levelled the playing field’, and ‘a globalized field of communication studies continues to speak with a strong western accent’ (p. 106).

There thus continues to be an ‘epistemic culture’ in communication that systematically favors Western scholarship. Measures that ICA has been taking to address these imbalances include moving from regionally-based representation on the ICA Executive Board towards seeking membership from under-represented regions (Kenya and The Philippines, for instance, rather than Germany or Australia), ensuring geographical diversity of representation on ICA Committees and Task Forces, and the role played by Regional Conferences in enabling participation in regions where attendance at the annual ICA conference has been historically low. There are ongoing challenges around implicit biases in the refereeing of academic papers and submissions to the ICA conference, issues arising from English being the primary language of the ICA, and costs associated with attending ICA conferences in the Global South. Tensions around the granting of visa entry into the United States following the election of Donald Trump have exacerbated such issues. 

The ICA recognizes that claims around merit or excellence in communication research ring hollow in the absence of measures to actively promote diversity, address global and regional inequities in access to resources, and support scholarship in the Global South. As an international association, we affirm our commitment to such principles, and welcome further ideas as to how this can be undertaken more effectively. 

Tags:  August 2019 

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