[Air-L] ICA Pre-conference on "Bridging Scholar/Activist Divides in the Field of Communications" May 22, 2008, Montreal

Rik Panganiban panganiban at ssrc.org
Wed Oct 3 11:34:41 PDT 2007

Bridging Scholar/Activist Divides in the Field of Communications 

ICA Half-Day Pre-Conference Call for Participants 
Thursday, May 22, 2008 
Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association 
Le Centre Sheraton Montreal 
Montreal, Canada 

Organized by: 
Becky Lentz, Visiting Scholar, New York University and Senior Ford
Foundation Fellow 
Philip M. Napoli, Director, Donald McGannon Communication Research
Milton Mueller, Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse
Joe Karaganis, Social Science Research Council and Director of the
Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Sphere Program 

Deadline for submissions: 5pm EST on November 1st 

"Communicating social impacts" requires deliberate attention to the role
that scholarship plays in affecting social change. This pre-conference
for the annual meeting of the International Communication Association
addresses divides between research and advocacy in the field of
communications in issue areas such as public health, media diversity,
communications policy, global communications and Internet governance,
journalism, technology usage and diffusion, and political communication.

When it comes to connecting research and advocacy, the field of
communications often seems riven by contradictory impulses. On the one
hand, the field has long lamented its historically marginalized position
in the academy and in policymaking relative to economics, sociology,
political science, and other established disciplines. Yet communications
scholars often share a hesitancy to engage with policymakers or policy
advocates out of fear of sacrificing academic objectivity, or out of a
desire to avoid "applied" scholarship, though foundational scholars in
the field, ranging from Harold Lasswell to James Carey, have
consistently advocated more public engagement by communications
researchers - particularly in relation to policy issues. And in
communications policy, the size and diversity of the issue advocacy
community in the U.S. and internationally has increased considerably in
recent years, as have the needs of this community for high quality
research to ground their claims for a more democratic and just media. 

The intensification of activism around communication-information policy
issues suggests that scholars conducting research on those issues have
exciting opportunities to link up with advocacy communities or to
directly engage with journalists, government and industry policymakers
with research that proposes or supports particular policy solutions.
There are, however, a range of practical and institutional impediments
that prevent such linkages and discourage scholars from advocating
policy positions derived from their work. These impediments include
institutional disincentives within academia (particularly within the
social sciences) for "applied" or "engaged" scholarship; a dearth of
fora and communication channels linking advocacy and academic
communities; and sometimes divergent perspectives among scholars,
advocates, and policymakers, on the appropriate role and function of
research in policymaking. 

This pre-conference -- which is part of the annual meeting of the
International Communication Association in Montreal (www.icahdq.org) --
seeks to build upon recent successes forging tighter linkages between
researchers and advocates (see, for example, Robert McChesney's work via
Free Press; the National Consortium for Media Policy Studies [COMPASS],
the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere project at the
Social Science Research Council; the Global Internet Governance Academic
Network, or GigaNet; the Collective Behavior and Social Movements
division of the American Sociological Association; Sociologists Without
Borders, the Civil Society Practitioner Program at the Oxford Internet
Institute, the post-graduate diploma in Media Advocacy being offered by
the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance in New Delhi, and other
organized forms of engaged scholarship), with an eye toward developing
concrete solutions that could contribute to an environment in which
researchers and advocates are better able to engage in mutually
beneficial collaborations, and in which, ideally, the traditional
distinctions that have existed between scholars and advocates can be

We encourage participation from individuals or groups in academe,
journalism, industry, government, and civil society who are engaged with
advocacy issues or conducting research on those issues. The goal is to
coalesce a set of concrete proposals for institutional change that can
lead to tighter linkages between research and issue advocacy. 

The tentative plan is for the meeting to be organized along three

Track 1: Bridging Organizational Cultures 
What aspects of the cultures of advocacy groups and academic researchers
inhibit stronger linkages between research and advocacy? What specific
institutional changes are needed to facilitate changes in these
organizational cultures? Are there lessons to be derived from specific
disciplines, or from specific national contexts, that can illuminate
possible approaches to bridging research and advocacy? Can the overlaps
and distinctions between "applied," "engaged," and "public" scholarship
as they relate to communications research be clarified in ways that
could reduce scholars' inhibitions related to engaging in
advocacy-related work? Can graduate programs be implemented in ways that
better incentivize and acculturate researchers on how their research can
have social impact? Are there other forms of training/certification that
could be implemented to nurture scholar/advocate hybrids? Findings from
the SSRC's Collaborative Grants project and other systematic efforts at
bridging research and advocacy will be shared. 

Track 2: Mapping Research Needed for Social Impacts 
What are the key policy questions (local, national, regional, global)
being addressed by advocates and movement leaders that would be helped
by research attention? What mechanisms currently in place have
successfully facilitated the kind of information exchanges, networking
and coordination that would create a strategic complementarity between
research scholars and advocacy communities? When has this relationship
failed to work properly and why? Are there new types of bridging
organizations that are - or that should be - in place to facilitate this

Track 3: Engaging in Public Scholarship: Communicating Social Impacts 
What strategies and tactics can best move the results of scholarship out
of the academy and into the hands of decision makers? What are the key
barriers to communicating scholarship to various constituencies (the
press, policymakers, NGOs, industry, funders/donors, the specific
constituencies, etc.) that need to be overcome? Are there particular
exemplars in terms of institutional structures or programs that can
inform and guide efforts in the communications research field? 

* * * *

Those interested in participating in this pre-conference are asked to
submit an abstract of no more than 500 words addressing one of the three
tracks outlined above that includes how the participant intends to
address one or more of the questions outlined in one of the three track
descriptions. Included with this abstract should be a background
statement of no more than 300 words about the participant that includes
a brief summary of any recent or ongoing activities/research by the
participant that address the subject matter of the relevant track.
Scholars researching social movements in the field of communications are
encouraged to submit abstracts. 

This half-day pre-conference will take a workshop format, with selected
participants asked to give very brief, informal presentations that
trigger active conversation and informed discussion related both to
their presentation and to the presentations of the other conference
participants across all three tracks. 

Participants will also be asked to contribute to a process of issue
mapping and sharing of models and ideas ahead of the meeting, via a wiki
and/or other tools such as the SSRC's Media Research Hub
(http://mediaresearchhub.ssrc.org). This will be hosted by the SSRC, as
part of its 'Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere'
program. If there is independent interest in continuing these
conversations, these services can be maintained (or spun off). 

Deadline for submission is 5pm EST on November 1st. Abstracts should be
submitted electronically (as a Word attachment) to Jessica Crowell of
the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University
at mcgctr at fordham.edu. Please include "ICA Pre-Conference Submission" in
the subject line. 

* * * *

About the Pre-Conference Organizers
Becky Lentz is a Visiting Scholar at New York University and a Senior
Ford Foundation Fellow. She was the founding program officer of the Ford
Foundation's Electronic Media Policy portfolio, which has sought to
forge tighter linkages between researchers and advocates in the
communications policy arena. (rgl241 at nyu.edu) 

Philip M. Napoli is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of
Business and Director of the Donald McGannon Communication Research
Center at Fordham University. The McGannon Center has long-served as a
research partner and resource for the public interest and advocacy
communities. (pnapoli at fordham.edu) 

Joe Karaganis is a Program Officer in the Social Science Research
Council and Director of the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public
Sphere program, which is dedicated to enhancing the role that research
plays in a wide range of issue areas related to communications, culture,
and the democratic process. (karaganis at ssrc.org) 

Milton Mueller is a Professor in the School of Information and
Co-Director and Founder of the Convergence Center at Syracuse
University. He is a partner in the Internet Governance Project, an
interdisciplinary consortium of academics that conducts research and
advocacy work in the areas of international governance and Internet
policy. (mueller at syr.edu)

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