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Candidate Statement for ICA Presidential Election: Noshir Contractor

Posted By Noshir Contractor (Northwestern U), Tuesday, September 8, 2020

I am honored to be considered as a candidate for President of the International Communication Association. ICA has been my intellectual home since 1985. I attended my first ICA conference in Hawaii as a graduate student.  I have seen ICA play a key role in helping nurture the community of communication scholars as well as conveying the significance of communication scholarship to the broader scholarly community, policy makers, and publics at large. During this period, I have had the privilege to contribute to the Association’s efforts formally and informally. At the Association level, I served as Chair of the Nominating Committee, the Development Task Force, the External Research Funding Task Force, and as a Member of the ICA Fellows’ Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion. At the Division level, I served as Chair of the Organizational Communication Division. I have also contributed to ICA as Associate Editor of ICA’s Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and by serving on the editorial boards of 3 ICA journals: Journal of CommunicationCommunication Theory and Human Communication Research

My passion for Communication was awakened as an undergraduate Electrical Engineering student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. As a summer intern, I researched Indians’ reactions as they congregated in village halls to watch - for the first time - a TV connected to a satellite dish streaming “prosocial programming.” Shaped by those early experiences, the dominant theme of my research as a graduate student at the University of Southern California and a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and now at Northwestern University, has been to understand how communication networks, often enabled by technology, help us organize in a wide variety of contexts. These include natural disasters, combating climate change and global health issues, reducing HIV disparities in racial, ethnic and sexual minority populations, and working in isolated confined environments here on earth (during COVID-19) and as we prepare for missions to Mars. The nature of my research, funded by agencies in the US and abroad, has given me the opportunity to forge collaborations on all 7 continents (including Antarctica), across ICA, as well as across disciplines. It has also given me the opportunity to build communities in three areas adjacent to Communication: Computational Social Science, Network Science and Web Science. My experiences (http://bit.ly/Noshir-CV) have helped me reflect on areas where ICA has made progress as well as identify challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

Today, as we navigate seismic inflection points and socio-cultural global reckonings, we have an opportunity, and indeed a moral obligation, to reimagine ICA’s efforts by building on our progress in three key areas: Internationalization, Cross-Divisional Scholarship for Social Impact, and Professional & Pedagogical Development. The efforts of the current ICA leadership on implementing the charter of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) Taskforce offer a framing to collectively pursue this reimagining. As the ICA Executive Committee’s statement reminds us “merit and diversity are not mutually exclusive principles.” Hence, as we reimagine ICA, principles of IDEA can serve as guideposts by which we envision, execute, and evaluate our progress. 

Reimagining Internationalization: ICA has made great strides in increasing international membership and convening Regional Conferences, including in the Global South. But we still have far less proportional representation of ICA membership from various constituencies. Publications in ICA journals do not equitably reflect these constituents pointing to the need for decentering communication scholarship. Based on principles of IDEA, we need to reimagine how ICA can sustain global engagement: (1) Establish regional presence, including in the Global South is one approach. (2) Restructure ICA conferences, perhaps, as distributed concurrent “hub events” at multiple world locations; each hosting a community of scholars from the region while participating live in events with other hubs. (3) Reconfigure convenings for scholars to engage in global scholarship showcased in ICA/affiliate journals. The upcoming special issue of Communication Theory on “Theorizing Communication from the South” illustrates the feasibility of that goal. Reimagining internationalization is crucial in developing sustained networks to promote community and foster mutual listening and learning globally. 

Reimagining Cross-Divisional Scholarship for Social Impact: ICA has witnessed the creation of several Divisions/Interest Groups in response to emerging intellectual innovations and societal developments. However, the challenges of our era, such as social justice, climate change and the pandemic, do not align with ICA Divisional boundaries. In response, we have witnessed an increase in ad hoc cross-divisional pre/post conference workshops, cross-listing sessions across Divisions and one-off themed/plenary sessions. Now is the time to reimagine a more sustained commitment towards cross-divisional scholarship. These could include instituting new and exciting fora at ICA conferences to help address systemic social challenges and explore intellectual questions that transcend Divisional boundaries. Reimagining cross-divisional scholarship is crucial to promote dialogue, nurture networks and (re)build communities around societal problems and intellectual questions. 

Reimagining Professional & Pedagogical Development: In recent years, there has been a rise in professional and pedagogical workshops and consortia focused on graduate students, junior faculty, and scholars of specific identity groups. Informed by the principles of IDEA, and leveraging technology, it is time for us to reimagine ICA offering development unfettered by time and space. We can ramp up our efforts via digital offerings such as webinars and podcasts which have an increasingly low barrier of entry. In addition to the information conveyed, these offerings also serve as gateways to help create and sustain collegial and mentoring matchmaking networks across the producers and consumers of these offerings. 

Reimagining internationalization, cross-divisional scholarship, and development dovetail with ongoing ICA initiatives such as social justice and open access. In all of these efforts, ICA needs to develop mechanisms that will help us evaluate our progress and provide us greater transparency. We live at a moment where the relevance of Communication to understand and address societal challenges is unassailable. We have the intellectual abilities and the societal will to rise to the occasion. I would be excited to have this opportunity to help ICA creatively and inclusively mobilize our collective resolve for a better tomorrow.

Tags:  September 2020 

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