Noshir Contractor: The noise you just heard is the sound of the "interrobang." A nonstandard punctuation mark, the interrobang’s appearance is its explanation – an exclamation mark superimposed directly on a question mark. The theme for the 2022 International Communication Association conference – "One World, One Network‽" – ends with an interrobang.The symbol simultaneously celebrates and problematizes the "one-ness" in the modern age of global communication. This podcast series features episodes hosted by the six co-chairs of the conference theme. In this episode, one of the co-chairs, Professor Jack Qiu hosts a discussion with a panel of hand-selected guests about the future of networks through their experiences as scholars and educators in the field of communication. Here’s Jack.
Jack Qiu: Welcome everyone. This episode is part of our podcast series for ICA Paris 2022, whose conference theme will be One World One Network‽ Today we discuss networks beyond the future by which we understand issues related to sustainability and justice, both through our research on media and communication and through our teaching and pedagogy.
My name is Jack Qiu, and I'm a professor at the National University of Singapore. Truly thrilled I am to have three esteemed colleagues joining us today from Japan, China, and the UK. They are Professor Shin Mizukoshi of Tokyo University, Professor Chen Changfeng of Tsinghua University, and Professor Myria Georgiou from London School of Economics and Political Science. I’ve known all three of you for many years, but maybe you can share a bit more about who you are and what have you been working on these days. Professor Chen, please.
Chen Changfeng: I'm from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. I'm Executive Dean in the School of Journalism and Communication. I was the President of the only national level association in the area of journalism and communication in China. My academic interest is the media ethics in the AI age. Now I'm in charge of a national project about the AI journalism ethics in media.
Myria Georgiou: I am Myria Georgiou. I am Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and I'm also the research director in my department. So paradoxically, the best way for me to address the question of digital technologies is through the human. And I've recently actually become very preoccupied with the question of the human, especially how we think and understand the human at times of intense digitization. In our field, we tend to think a lot about what data, AI, platforms, the digital economy, do to the humans. But what do humans actually do or are expected to do with technology? This is the question that preoccupies me.
Shin Mizukoshi: My name is Shin Mizukoshi, the Professor of the Media Studies and Media Literacy in the Interfaculty Initiatives in Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. I have been working with civil society and the media industry on various media practices and in the process, thinking about media theory. My particular focus has been on media literacy, and in recent years, I have been working on the new literacy for media platforms and infrastructures. As an extension of this, my current interest is in robot literacy. By producing learning programs to develop robot literacy in the general public, my team is now trying to create a new relativity theory and the new media theory.
Jack Qiu: So today we sit together to discuss networks beyond the future, and this is a very special moment when so many people feel there's no future. This is not just a pandemic but also a tendency for scholars to only focus on the present. So how do you think our studies of communication technologies can contribute to justice, thereby to social and environmental sustainability in the long run?
Shin Mizukoshi: The communication research in disaster, it's different from my own robot literacy matters, but it's very important research in Japan. And it means that the communication research in disaster, such as earthquakes and tsunami, and I think disaster closely related to the pandemics and the environmental issues. During the 80s, Japan disaster communication research developed as one of the essential fields. At first, most of the studies were based on surveys of the impact of mass media on people during disasters. However, with the development of the media technology and the growing understanding that disasters are not just natural phenomena but also social phenomena, the field has developed in an interdisciplinary way of working with many social sectors.
Jack Qiu: What do you think, Myria?
Myria Georgiou: I think that the bad news at the moment is that we live at times of perpetual crisis: economic, environmental, epidemiological. The good news, though, is that, even if we might fail to see too far into the future, we see publics across the world that started doing so and we see a rising public awareness and mobilization against the current status quo. Interestingly, for us, I think, as communications scholars, is that we can see at these times of uncertainty, digitization becomes a key battlefield, where contesting forces make these competing claims for humanities and the planet’s future. I think it's very important in our research to become aware, reflexive and committed to make visible, both those alternative and less often researched uses of communication technologies as much as the former contributing in that way, I think, in knowledge production that recognizes voices and practices that contest the inevitability of a grim future for humanity and the planet.
Jack Qiu: So how are things in China now? And can media communication research make a difference for sustainable development in China, and if so, how?
Chen Changfeng: There's a new trend in communication studies in China that's the engagement of different subjects to the communication studies. Another trend is the theory rebuilding in media studies. There are many changes in the communication studies now, and the young scholars are very eager to join the globalization trend just like they want to create new topics in this area.
Jack Qiu: Yes, our next question also will be especially for our young colleagues, young scholars, including students. What are the most challenging moments that you have encountered as a communication scholar, and do you have any tips to younger colleagues on how to overcome these challenges to translate our research for social change and environmental sustainability?
Myria Georgiou: It's a question I can identify with because throughout my career, I tried to contribute to scholarship by thinking of questions of marginalization of people at different peripheries and to see what are the consequences of actually silencing their communicative experiences and voices. So I consider this research as being important to revealing the extreme inequalities of our social world, but of course it does come with challenges. Tips for overcoming these challenges: find kindred spirits, engage in collaborative research and cross-border research with colleagues who share similar ethical and research priority, develop a transnational vision for communication studies, think outside of that very immediate and familiar environment, produce always the best research you can, and of course persevere because if you think your research makes a contribution and it counts, you should continue doing it and you will find that recognition in time.
Jack Qiu: Thank you, Myria. Changfeng.
Chen Changfeng: First off, I think the challenges come from the theory limitation. Another is the problem of the data. It's easy to collect the data then use some tools to analyze the data and then they get a very simple conclusion, but there isn't the theory base. That's the big problem now. Another one is the emergence of the different subjects, different disciplines, their system and the gap between these different subjects. So I think now, to young scholars, they should have more literacy of the philosophy. Their thoughts should come from the original human being’s problem, not just from data or from technology.
Shin Mizukoshi: My answer is not only for the scholarly matter, but the social problem. The problem is inequality. I’ve been working on media literacy for more than two decades, but I still get mixed feelings when I use the term media literacy because media literacy opens people up to a new world, but the opportunity to run it is not equal to everyone. It tends to be offered only to those with a certain income and educational label. However, I am now working on two things. One is to extend the scope of media literacy beyond media text to include platform and infrastructure. I think media literacy should look more at the cultural and political characters of media materials and assistance. So that’s one thing. Another is a bottom up community based strategy, and we need to create small groups in communities, workplace, and online spaces for people to learn about media. And I believe these will help us to address the problem of inequality, little by little. But, frankly speaking I am not so optimistic.
Jack Qiu: Well I think that’s our thinking. Always have a mixture, blending optimism and pessimism. One place we would apply what we were talking about — Of course we're all educators, and today when we talk about sustainability beyond the immediate future, we need to also think about intergenerational networks and the communicating with future scholars and the future ICA membership. So how do you see ICA’s role in the professional growth of your students and junior colleagues? And Shin, I’ll ask you first.
Shin Mizukoshi: I think that ICA should have a better function as an umbrella association for related worldwide societies. In other words, it should respect the characteristics of each national and regional society, such as Scandinavia and East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and so on. So rather than turning everything into ICA, ICA should respect the diversity of society and create a hybrid network worldwidely and that kind of thing invite young scholars or students as a result.
Myria Georgiou: When I first joined ICA actually, I was very happy and proud to be one of the people who established the Ethnicity and Race in Communication Division. I think that was a turning point to engage with this open space for recognizing the different kinds of scholarship and the different and important questions that we should be asking in an international communication organization. So I think this moment and my experience at ICA since taught me that ICA is an important scholarly home. Taking that this is an international organization is also very important — a space to build on cross border collaborations, to identify and push forward a commitment to scholarly work that recognizes how important communication is in social and cultural struggles. To think also about academic work as always work in progress and grab those opportunities that ICA presents I think to scholars both senior and junior to develop networks and to develop meaningful collaborations for challenging research beyond our conference rooms.
Jack Qiu: Thank you, Myria. Changfeng, can you tell us about your ICA experience and observations?
Chen Changfeng: I think in China more young scholars are interested in ICA and the folks at the annual conference are eager to attend the ICA. I think it's very different between the younger and the senior because the younger scholars could use the different languages, such as English or Spanish, very well now so they are more active now in ICA. In China, this is a very honorable thing to attend the ICA.
Jack Qiu: Alright so my next question. We can think more broadly, not only about ICA but our everyday teaching and pedagogy. I want to improve my own teaching — How to teach our students to ask big questions.
Chen Changfeng: We encourage our students to study broader disciplines. They need to have a second discipline during the post graduate and PhD candidate studies. We have some projects to give them a chance to practice.
Jack Qiu: Shin, have you tried something else?
Shin Mizukoshi: I think that why the students can only do the small questions or so I think it's not so much the quality of the students that make them small but the learning environment is very important, and asking big questions tends not to be tolerated in an environment that is too specialized. But our Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies has maintained a cross-border environment for more than 20 years and students from robotics to history survive all in the same single major. This major is like a chaotic tropical jungle, but in it, they are allowed to ask big questions.
Myria Georgiou: In many ways, I am privileged to work in an environment where both colleagues and students ask that big question, and I think that big question is the question of “Why does it matter?” But of course we also see that students are becoming more skeptical around theory and they think this is not a coincidence and it's a response, I think, to the rising anti-intellectualism that is all around us. I think it's very important also not to think only about the theory but also about the multiplicity of theories and concepts that we need to produce knowledge that matter. And I think this is a reminder, both to ourselves and to our students, that we have to think beyond the theories that they're really easily accessible and visible to us but to think about the many different ways in which to open that pandora's box to answer the big question of “Why does it matter?”
Jack Qiu: My last question will be not only about the big questions but about the very small details in our scholarship, which is about citation. How to encourage our students to cite more globally beyond the West and also cite scholars of various cultures and genders.
Myria Georgiou: Instead of just asking students to say that you have to cite from different places, I think it's important to communicate with them why this matters. So what I try to do at the beginning of my classes is to speak about positionality, first with myself and then I ask students to do the same. The question that I ask myself and I ask my students is “How do media and communications look like if we start looking at them from the periphery instead of the center?” Remind students that their literature review is also research. They have to go out there and find resources that do justice to scholarship beyond what they already know. And I think that pushes them to think of academic literature as something they have to discover but also to question. Not to take for granted what's out there, but to think of how to contribute to understanding all the different multiplicities of scholarly work that is out there available to us.
Jack Qiu: Professor Chen, do you have anything else to add to this point?
Chen Changfeng: In our class, we have some structuralized literature review including the different continents, from different cultures. But as you know, it's difficult because we only have some literature review from the English language so we can't get more literature. So the language is the most important thing, I think. So it's why the citation I think it's a big problem to us. But we really have some translation books, but it's still limited, so we can’t use the wider citation now. But we really want students to have a structure, such as including the different continent literatures, including different culture. But the linguistic problem is a big problem now.
Shin Mizukoshi: There is a Japanese equivalent of the ICA, the Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication. But this year, it will be changing its name and organization totally to Japan Association for Media Journalism and Communication Studies. And this new one aims to globalize Japan’s media and communication studies and, especially, aims to promote regional collaboration in East Asia. And also seeks to overcome the persistent gender inequality and develop a more active link with civil society. The academic society's environment changing it will be something for the younger generation to do the active, interesting research. And this kind of thing as a result introduces very multi-sided rich literature reading or deep pondering in marginalistic situations.
Jack Qiu: Yes, I’m very glad to hear this new development about the new platform and maybe this is another opportunity where our Japanese colleagues can also work with APCA, the Asia Pacific Communication Alliance, for which Professor Chen is now the president. It's also about regional platforms, so ICA is the global platform, but of course ICA also has these hubs, where we have ICA Paris. There could be many other local, national context.
Thank you so much, I have learned a great deal today, and I trust it's the same for our audiences. See you in the near future, beyond the future, hopefully in person in Paris at ICA 2022, how splendid that will be. Until then please take care and enjoy your research. Bye.
Noshir Contractor: This podcast series is presented by the International Communication Association in the lead up to the 2022 annual conference in May. One World One Network ‽ is sponsored by the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication at both the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.This episode was produced by Jacqueline Colarusso. Our executive producer is Aldo Diaz Caballero. The theme music is by Jon Presstone. For more information about our participants on this episode, as well as our sponsor, as well as the history behind the interrobang, be sure to check the show notes in the episode description. In the next episode, we will continue exploring the conference’s theme – “One World, One Network‽” – from the perspectives of the conference theme’s other co-chairs. Thanks for listening.