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Establishing Networks between Russian and Non-Russian Communication Educators and Researchers

Steven A. Beebe
Southwest Texas State University, USA

Olga Matyash
Indiana University Purdue University, USA

Electronic conference proceedings: "Communication and Culture in a Networked World." World Communication Association 17th Biennial Conference, July, 2003, Haninge (Stockholm). Blind refereed.

    This paper chronicles the development and evolution of the study of communication in Russia. The development of communication studies is summarized from both historical and contemporary perspectives. At least four cultural and historical factors are presented which help explain why communication studies is not a distinct and integral component of the Russian academic and educational tradition. The recently formed Russian Communication Association offers much promise in facilitating the development of communication studies in Russia. Opportunities for both Russian and non-Russian scholars and educators are presented which can help establish global links to further enhance the development of communication studies in Russia.


There are few, if any, places on the globe where instruction about human communication does not occur. Although the framework for discussing human communication is vast and varied, and may not always resemble typical Western approaches to communication education, there is nonetheless evidence that some form of communication instruction is extant in most contemporary cultures (Berry, 1961; Dewine, 1995; Ekachai, 1994; Engleberg, 1988; Flordo, 1989; Greenberg & Lau, 1990; Hadwiger, Smith, & Geissner, 1972; James, 1990; Jellicorse, 1994; Oliver, 1956; Rolls, 1992; Scarfe, 1962; UNESCO, 1989; Weitzel, 1990; Wise, 1963; and Yonghua, 1988).

Communication instruction encompasses a multitude of methodological approaches and content that reflect the context and educational tradition of a given country, culture, or institution. Regardless of communication's methodological or cultural paradigms, it is evident that how we make sense out of our world and share that sense with others is an ancient art as well as a contemporary science with a ubiquitous presence in higher education instruction.

The purpose of this paper is to chronicle the development and evolution of the study of communication in Russia with special emphasis given to the past decade. It is important to document the history while the evolving study of communication in Russia is in its formative stage. The paper will describe efforts made by several individuals and organizations to develop collaborative ties with Russian communication educators since the end of the Soviet period in Russia. In addition, we explicate opportunities to develop new collaborative relationships with Russian communication educators. The paper issues a call for communication educators and scholars to develop collaborative partnerships with Russian educators; the opportunity for mutual learning and personal and corporate enrichment is significant. Specific programs and partnerships between the newly emerging Russian Communication Association and other communication experts hold much promise for the future.

The iron curtain has rusted; it is now possible to develop mutually rewarding partnerships between Russian educators and communication educators throughout the world that only a decade and a half ago were difficult, if not impossible, to forge. The beneficiaries of new partnerships will be all of those who participate in strengthening the ties between Russian and non-Russian educators. This paper documents the progress that has occurred in developing communication programs in Russia during the recent past, outlines the possibilities for additional collaboration, and the describes the benefits of those collaborations for the future.

A Brief Chronicle of Russian Communication Education

A cultural context for studying communication that has, until recently, been shrouded in mystery, from the perspective of Western European and North American communication educators, is the study of human communication in the former Soviet Union. Until the 1990's, there were no widely available description or summary of the nature of communication education in Russia or in the other countries that comprised the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Western educators knew little about how communication was studied and the role formal communication instruction played in Soviet institutions of higher learning. Although it is evident that there was instruction in mass communication due to the active media presence in the countries that comprised the former Soviet Union, there is no such evidence that instruction in other areas of communication studies was present in elementary, secondary and higher education.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had a wide-ranging impact on Russian education. One of the most notable effects on education was the solidifying of the central control of higher educational institutions; this centralized governance continues today, though to a somewhat lesser degree.

The Russian revolution occurred at approximately the same time U.S. teachers of English broke away from elocutionist's influences and formed the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking in 1914 (which today is known as the National Communication Association). The Russian educational system was undergoing a radical reformation, introducing a great deal of experimental and pioneering innovations in its curriculum, which formed a foundation for what later became known as the model of comprehensive and all-rounded education. Viewed from a contemporary vantage point, the standards and quality of the Soviet curriculum are perceived as high. Unfortunately, however, this curriculum did not include the field of speech, speech communication, or communication studies. According to Nikolai Nikandrov (1996), President of the Russian Academy of Education, there was virtually no speech instruction integrated into Russian or Soviet education curricula. The closest to communication education would be the elements of proper behavior (etiket) studied at elementary and secondary schools as a part of socialization.

Instruction in content areas related to public speaking, such as debate and group discussion, evolved in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s (Cohen, 1994). There was, however, no corollary development of instruction in these subjects in the Soviet Union during the Soviet era (Nikandrov, 1996). As noted by Beebe, Kharcheva and Kharcheva (1998), following the 1917 revolution, "The tradition of Russian oratory ended. Instruction in the art and science of public speaking existed primarily in High Communist Party Schools for only a few individuals in which principles and skills of persuasion were marshaled to promote a specific cause-Marxist philosophy to achieve Communist objectives" (p. 262). In addition to the direct political control of higher education, there are additional reasons why speech or communication instruction has not been incorporated into the Soviet curriculum. In Soviet Russia, the "methodological foundation" of the social studies was traditionally and prevalently based on Marxist philosophy. That philosophical and ideological paradigm was based on the principle of economic determinism, that is, the driving force of material, over "spiritual," production. The Marxist political, economic, or philosophical paradigm did not view language-in-use, or communication as a primary source or force of social formation (Matyash, 2001; 2002a).

It would be inaccurate, however, if we explained the absence of the formal inclusion of communication education in the Soviet Union only because of ideological and political factors (Matyash, 2002a). At least four other cultural and historical factors, in our view, help explain why communication studies and communication education in Russia does not enjoy a distinct and integral component of the academic and educational tradition.

    1.Russian educational, cultural and intellectual traditions emphasize broad conceptualization and philosophical understanding rather than a pragmatic, applied approach.

It can be argued that historically the U.S. culture places greater emphasis on what can be called practical or pragmatic qualities (effectiveness and measurability of results) than does the Russian cultural heritage. Social science perspectives in the U.S. have also had a strong tradition of applied research, focusing on specific problems and on how to enhance their understanding in a particular context (public speaking, group communication, or interpersonal communication); such was not the case in Russia. The Russian intellectual and educational tradition (including art and literature) has historically valued a broad and comprehensive understanding of issues, as well as a broad philosophical worldview (Weltanschauung). The U.S. educational tradition has more comfortably accommodated an emphasis on the development of skill, technique, and competence. Communication studies, a discipline that has often emphasized applications of communication principles, fits well into this cultural tradition. The Soviet Russian educational system viewed the intellectual development of a person (among other areas of a well-rounded personality) as a primary educational aim and placed an emphasis on developing general conceptual abilities and analytical skills. In that light, communication studies with its focus on practical skills and pragmatic values did not seem to have a direct place in that intellectual paradigm.

    2.The Soviet Russian economic culture, structure and principles created little incentive for developing customer- or consumer-oriented communication skills.

The Soviet Russian economy was traditionally based on the principles of centralized planning, funded by the government, and driven for the most part by the "production" requirements, rather than consumers' needs. Consequently, there was ironically little concern for needs and interests of a "real live customer." Marketing and rhetorical adaptation were not academic areas that were viewed as important or necessary. Since the public and social services (including retail shops, banks, post offices, and healthcare institutions) were controlled by the government, there was no economic incentive to "do a better job to serve a customer." The slogan "the customer is always right," which could often be seen on the walls of Soviet establishments, was turned into an ironic paradox and served as a source of various jokes among Russian consumers. In that economic system, there was no economic basis or stimulus for training service professionals in their interpersonal, sales or business communication skills and competencies.

    3.The Soviet Russian tradition emphasized a public speaking paradigm that was different from more market-driven economies; the Soviet Russians were speaker-centered rather than audience-centered.

Although the Western tradition of public speaking as reflected in public speaking pedagogy can be characterized as traditionally audience-centered, drawing on classical rhetorical principles of Aristotle (Beebe & Beebe, 2003), the Soviet Russian tradition of public speaking can be characterized as speaker-centered. In Russia, a public speaker, by the mere function of delivering some kind of knowledge or information, was viewed in a position of authority. It was the responsibility of the audience to comprehend, engage, and benefit from what the speaker had to say. It was commonplace to deliver a formal speech without "embellishments" simply by reading the text, using dry and formal cliches, technical terminology, or unfamiliar jargon. If audience members missed relating to the information delivered, it could be readily claimed to be their own fault: The problem was not with the speaker or message, the problem was the audience; if the message was not accurately received the listeners were perceived to lack understanding or the ability to comprehend what the speaker had to say. With the prevalence of such a paradigm, strong public speaking skills centered on the ability to engage the audience were not a concern for scholars or educators.

    4.Soviet Russia emphasized a cultural and educational tradition of textual analysis rather than speech interaction, communication transaction, or language-in-use analysis and application.

Traditionally, the structures of most Russian universities and humanities-oriented institutions (e.g. pedagogical institutes) has included programs and departments which concentrate on language studies such as Russian language and literature, general language studies (Yazikoznanie), linguistics, and Roman-Germanic philology. Each of these programs emphasizes written text analysis (literary analysis, stylistic analysis, critical analysis, and translation) as an essential part of professional training. While those traditions have been broadly accepted and reinforced, the study of pragmatics, language in action or use, as well as the study of "lived meanings" have not been common in the Russian educational tradition.

Despite the fact that there were no departments bearing the name "communication," "speech communication," or "speech," it would be an error to assume that Russian scholars as well as other educators in the former Soviet Union did not study communication or communication principles and theory. Elements of communication theory were certainly included in the study of mass communication in journalism, which has been viewed among the most prestigious specializations (or majors) in Russia.

According to the Dean of the Moscow State University Department of Journalism, there are approximately 50 departments of journalism in Russia or commonwealths of the former Soviet Union (Zassoursky, 1996). The development of departments of journalism in the former Soviet Union mirrored the inauguration of radio and television as well as the maturing of print media. As noted earlier (Matyash, 2002a), a rich tradition in linguistics, general language studies, and philology has existed in Russia for decades. Suffice it to name such scholars as Mikhail Bakhtin and Roman Jacobson whose intellectual heritage has been actively incorporated into the Western school of linguistic thought; their work continues to inspire modern communication scholars around the world. One cannot underestimate the international scope of influence of Soviet Russian psychologists (e.g., Vygotsky) on understanding the role of language and speech in human development. Frank E. X. Dance (1967) has drawn heavily from the writings of several Russian scholars, specialists and theorists, including Mikhail Bakhtin, to describe the role and function of speech as a uniquely human form of expression. Among the more contemporary scholars, G. V. Kolshansky is a Russian linguist whose book, Communication Function and Structure (1984a), as well as his research on communicative language signs (1984b), has made an important contribution to the study of communication in the Russian tradition. Sociology has been another area related to communication studies. Several Russian universities, including Moscow State University and Novosibirsk State University, have prominent research-oriented departments of sociology. Political science is yet another discipline in Russia where communication theories are embedded, especially the discussion of conflict management on the macro level. Economic theory also encompasses theories related to the management of resources including the conflict management process. The rich and internationally influential tradition of theatre, acting, and performance arts (e.g. Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko) contributed immensely to performative studies and instruction in the expression of emotions. Anthropologists' study of culture, including ethnic groups, their rituals, and folklore, is another discipline in which the study of human communication is extant although not labeled "communication" or "communication theory " per se.

The fact that communication education was not practiced on a systematic basis as a part of formal Soviet curriculum did have its long-term effect on the training of Russian scholars and educators. Until recently educators from a wide variety of disciplines had a comparatively vague understanding of what the discipline of communication studies encompasses. A survey conducted by Beebe, Kharcheva, and Kharcheva (1998) suggests that Russian educators were largely unfamiliar with the way in which speech communication was studied or organized in the West. Twelve percent of the 2,200 Russian educators surveyed stated that they were aware of the existence of communication departments in their country. While 12 percent is a relatively small percentage, it is nonetheless a surprisingly large percentage for Russian respondents, considering that there were no known departments of speech communication, speech, communication, or communication studies in existence at the time this survey was administered. One explanation for these results is that respondents may have considered departments in Psychology or Social Psychological with a psychological emphasis on communication (implying the Russian word "obshenie" as opposed to another Russian word "kommunikatsia") when they responded to the survey. Or, they may have interpreted the question to mean the existence of speech communication departments in any university, including Western universities. In addition, some respondents may simply have been in error in claiming that they were aware of the existence of speech communication departments. Seven percent of the respondents indicated that they had taken a course that included instruction in speech communication. Again, even though a relatively small number, it is surprising in that no departments or approved curriculum of speech communication existed in the mid 1990s in Russia. Generally, the respondents were unaware of the speech communication discipline or the existence of communication programs in institutions of higher education in Russia. Although the respondents were not familiar with the existence of speech communication instruction, when given a description of the elements of speech communication curriculum, many were interested in pursuing communication study or thought that speech communication had a role to play in the Russian curriculum (Beebe, Kharcheva, and Kharcheva, 1998).

The second author, who is Russian and has worked for many years as a teacher and professor in the Russian system of education, has had first-hand experience which illustrates the extent communication studies was considered a "foreign" concept in educational and scholarly circles in Russia. During the early nineties while I was in the U.S. studying speech communication at Syracuse University, it was difficult and challenging to explain to my Russian colleagues what my graduate program was about. My Russian colleagues were primarily educators from the disciplines of pedagogy, philology, and psychology. Whenever having a discussion about the nature or focus of speech communication study, my colleagues and I did not seem to have a "common language" to understand each other to our mutual satisfaction. The closest paradigm they finally chose to associate speech communication with was an interractional school within social psychology. In 2000, when I was meeting with some established scholars from the Department of Psychology and Personality at Moscow State University, one of them asked me how I would translate "speech communication" into Russian. This example can be viewed, ironically speaking, as a direct manifestation of linguistic determinism emphasizing the reflexivity between language and cultural practices. Because the academic practice did not include speech communication as a distinct disciplinary component, there were no words in the Russian language that could be used to name it, and thereby make it recognizable for users of the Russian language.

Although we can conclude that the theoretical and descriptive study of human communication variables were incorporated into the Soviet education curriculum in some form, the study of speech and communication was not an area of study that mirrored the parameters of the emerging discipline as organized in the United States and other Western countries. As a result, Russian scholars and educators were generally unfamiliar with the discipline, its structure, content and existing programs as they function in the West.

The Current Status of Communication Studies in Russia

Today, the status of communication education in Russia has evolved and requires new approaches to strengthen its academic vitality. In the context of current socio-economic changes that are taking place in Russia (decentralization, new non-governmental property, and the development of democratic practices and institutions) language and communication are becoming a primary force of creating, making sense, and legitimizing new practices and realities in several professional and educational contexts. The communication competence of professionals and the areas of communication education and training are increasingly being viewed as a necessary component of education (Matyash, 2003, 2001; Bergelson, 1998, 1999).

In particular, there are growing needs for communication education and training in the following areas:

  • Businesses and organizational relations: There are needs for providing services (financial, merchandising, marketing, healthcare, travel), as well as management and customer training. Working with the customer, satisfying the customer's needs is imperative for economic growth and success in contemporary Russia. Interpersonal communication skills in organizational and professional environments already are, and will continue to be, a growing demand.
  • Political communication and public relations: There is a need for stronger persuasion skills and the ability to give a speech by using real-life, factual, rather than highly formalized and alienating language. Audience-centered messages are becoming a must in delivering messages and "winning the audience."
  • Professional relations: There is a need for training, particularly in the sphere of professions requiring "people skills,"; communication education and training become a high priority for teachers and school administrators, sales persons, doctors, nurses, business administrators, executives, and managers.
  • International and intercultural relations: With high Russian interest in being further integrated in the world community, intercultural communication skills and cultural awareness have become another requirement of the present social and professional dynamic. Already the programs of foreign language studies have become more practical and beneficial; introducing students not just to a different language system, but also into a new culture is also vital (Matyash, 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003).

According to a Professor from the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Moscow State University (Bergelson, 2003), in the 1990's it was the study of foreign languages, especially English that served as a catalyst in increasing interest in intercultural communication and thus started shaping the non-existent specialization of communication studies in Russian higher education. Also, at an economically difficult time of survival of many educational programs and schools, faculty depended on using educational programs for applied practical purposes such as professional development and continuing education. The need to be entrepreneurial gave rise to various training sessions and workshops that provided applied, or practically oriented knowledge and skills; such skills were in short supply or missing from the traditional higher education Russian curriculum. Traditional college courses were re-worked into shorter and more applied courses. Repackaging and distilling practical communication skills continues to be quite popular and has played a role in helping to develop communication studies in its applied, practical aspect (Bergelson, 1998)

Since the mid 1990's, when the Beebe, Kharcheva and Kharcheva (1998) study was administered, there has been significant progress toward the development of communication curricula in Russian institutions of higher education.

In 2000, the Russian Ministry of Education introduced new curricula in intercultural communication, known as a new State Educational Standard in "Linguistics and Intercultural Communication," which implied that a new specialization will be introduced in Russian universities at the national level. The prescribed curriculum includes curricular elements that are found in traditional communication studies programs in the U.S. Its particular emphasis is on translation and intercultural communication instruction. Other most salient components include course work in semiotics, cultural anthropology, socio-linguistics, psycho-linguistics, social psychology, and some study of nonverbal communication. There is also a very scant attention to interpersonal communication. Overall, the State Educational Standard can be characterized as a curriculum that represents "applied linguistics."

Considering that linguistics is among the strongest scholarly traditions in Russia, a linguistic dominance in communication-related studies, including intercultural communication, is not a surprise. As Leontovich (2002) notes, intercultural communication is a fast growing area of scholarly investigation in Russia, however, " . . . the present state of intercultural communication research [in Russia] is characterized by a lack of general methodological foundations and common conceptual approaches" (p. 44). She also notes that the study of intercultural communication in Russia places greater emphasis on such interdisciplinary areas as: lingo-country study, ethnolinguistics, ethnopsycholinguistics and linguosociopsychology, and cultural linguistics than does typical intercultural communication study in the United States. The greater emphasis on linguistics and applied sociolinguistics is a distinctive feature of Russian intercultural communication scholarship and pedagogy (Leontovich, 2002).

Although some traditional areas of communication are present in the emerging Russian communication curriculum, other areas of study are not as well represented. There is scant evidence for example, that such classic communication skills as public speaking, interpersonal relationship skills, and group collaboration skills are pervasively included in the educational curricula in today's Russia. Such courses and programs exist, but they are fragmentary, based on the curriculum design efforts of individual departments and scholars, rather than being a part of centralized educational policy. For many Russian scholars and educators, the traditional areas of communication studies, including interpersonal, organizational, business, group communication, political communication, and health communication would, even today, would be insubstantial and barely recognizable as elements of contemporary curricula. Conceptually, many of today's Russian educators continue to have difficulty explaining what the study of communication entails and why it should be a distinct discipline since many communication issues seem to be addressed by linguistics, language studies and psychology. In addition, when discussing communication, it is often viewed as a simple sender-receiver process. As noted by Beebe, Kharcheva and Kharcheva (1998), "The research perspective of these [Russian] scholars is primarily descriptive; communication is typically viewed as a linear, interactive event" (p. 262).

Introducing an Educational Standard in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication is an important start, but the socio-economic situation of a transforming society indicates a growing need for a wider communication education and training, with more than intercultural skills involved. Further, the areas that we believe will be in even more demand in Russian society include the following:

  • Organizational and business communication
  • Interpersonal communication
  • New communication technologies
  • Philosophical and meta-theoretical issues of communication theory (e.g., conceptualizing how a communication perspective is distinct from linguistics, social psychology, anthropology, and other social science perspectives)
  • Research methodology in communication

The tendency for communication to be both embraced but also not understood in Russia suggests that there is a need to introduce communication as an important applied as well as theoretical area of study. We suggest that communication studies should be part of a standard Russian education; Russian scholars and educators should renew their efforts to integrate it into the existing curriculum. The recently established professional association, the Russian Communication Association, can and should play a leadership role in this process (Matyash, 2002a, 2003).

The Contribution of Western Communication Scholars and Institutions to Developing Partnerships with Russian Counterparts

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the increased need for information and education exchange on both sides of the ocean, scholars in a variety of disciplines, including English, sociology, political science and linguistics from Moscow State University and other institutions pursued partnerships and study of human communication. Since 1990, several individual contacts made through the Fulbright Fellowship program (Randall, 1997), People to People program (Leathers, 1993), as well as individual contacts (Beebe, 1994, 1995, 2001) have helped to enhance the programmatic development of communication studies in Russia.

Professional communication associations in the United States have initiated outreach efforts to develop some collaborative partnerships. In 1991, the Legislative Council of the Speech Communication Association (now the National Communication Association) passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a communication conference in Russia. The Speech Communication Association International Research Colloquium was held in Moscow in 1996, co-sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Human Values (Matskovsky, 1996) and Moscow State University. There was special interest in studying public relations and advertising as competition emerged in the Russian market place (Beebe, Kharcheva and Kharcheva 1998). In 1995, the State Committee of Higher Education for the Russian Federation announced plans to establish the first departments in speech communication in Russia. Resources have been limited, however, which have prohibited the development of such new programs. However, as previously noted, the process of shaping a new area of study slowly but surely continues to take place.

The Russian Communication Association: A New Opportunity for Collaboration

A significant new development in the evolution of communication instruction in Russia is the existence of the recently established Russian Communication Association (RCA). The RCA's activities and pursuits are focused around three basic goals:

  • The recognition, development and popularization of the theory and practice of human communication as a special field and discipline
  • A concentration of efforts to develop communication study in the secondary and higher education curricula in Russian
  • The development and dissemination of worthwhile experiences and traditions in the area of communication education in Russia and abroad by developing partnerships and collaboration with organizations that have similar goals and strategies. (Constitution, RCA, 2000).

The first conference of the RCA was held in early June 2002 in Pyatigorsk, Russia; it brought together over fifty Russian educators interested in communication instruction and research. The next RCA conference is planned for Rostov-on-Don during the summer of 2004. Members of both the National Communication Association and the World Communication Association are involved in providing support and leadership for the new association. The RCA received official approval as an affiliated organization of the National Communication Association in 2002. The RCA is pursuing formal affiliation with the World Communication Association.

Members of the RCA include a wide range of excellent communication scholars who come from traditions of linguistics, education, pedagogy, business, psychology, sociology, and English. Conference papers at the first RCA conference included a wide range of communication topics including communication theory with an emphasis on intercultural communication (see Proceeding of the Russian Communication Association International Conference "Communicating Across Differences," Volumes 1 and 2, 2002).

Along with the RCA, other Russian institutions are developing a tradition of communication discussions and forums including St-Petersburg State University, St-Petersburg Electrotechnical University, St. Petersburg Institute for Art and Culture, Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, Moscow State University, Rostov-on-Don Institute of Management, Business, and Law, Volgograd State Pedagogical University, and Novosibirsk State University.

Despite progress in establishing communication studies as a respected discipline in Russia, there are nonetheless significant obstacles. One of the factors that serves as a mediating factor in the expansion of communication studies is the strong linguistic tradition or paradigm in cultural and language-related studies. An issue that developed during the process of establishing the RCA illustrates that dominance. When the RCA founders were developing the initial network and then debating the question of how to name the new organization, some interested scholars, who were established linguists, viewed the new association as an extension of linguistics and insisted on naming it the association of communication linguistics. The newly formed RCA leadership had to struggle to "win the battle" and to establish communication as a unique discipline distinct from linguistics (though at the cost of losing a support of some prominent linguists).

Another considerable difficulty that impedes the development of the RCA is a sometimes low level of involvement and participation from its members in RCA projects. For example, there has been some effort to establish an interactive RCA email-grouplist, or listserve. Despite ongoing efforts of the RCA leaders to activate the exchange of professional ideas through this listserve, it remains a one-way process: the information is being posted, but virtually no feedback is being received, and very few subscribers have expressed their point of view on suggested questions. In addition, a number of projects that have been planned by the RCA leadership with an intention to get voluntary contributions of personal time and energy, did not get any support as well. This problem of "passivity" can be certainly accounted for by many reasons, including the absence or lack of social practices of a larger scope that would create a belief that everyone's investment and participation might make a difference, as well as a lack of tradition in creating and managing electronic methods of interacting. Thus, the difficulties that the RCA's leadership is experiencing in organizational growth are intricately interconnected with cultural behavioral patterns.

Other stories reported by some current RCA members show how the struggle continues on a more personal level. For example, an RCA member who received his degree in communication in the United States reports that scholars who receive a Ph.D. in the United States or from another Western country often find the need to gain further credentials; a Russian Ph.D.; a Doctor of Science degree (which is more prestigious in Russian academic circles than a Western Ph.D.) is often preferred to a foreign doctorate in some Russian institutions (Morozov, 2003). In addition, because communication study, as a separate field or discipline, is not well understood in the Russian academy, some scholars report significant hurdles to overcome in developing new programs in communication. A bias against communication study continues to exist. One Russian scholar reports that, after teaching a seminar in communication theory, one of his senior colleagues opined, "This [course] is just taking a piece of every science, but is not a science in itself" (Morozov, 2003). Of course, the study of communication in the United States is not without its critics. (One colleague of the first author who worked at a prominent Southeastern university once described the study of communication as "an air pie sliced thinner and thinner.") The Russian scholar who sought to establish a new communication curriculum in Russia was forbidden from using the term "communication" ("Kommunikatsia") because he was informed that "such a discipline did not exist." Many Russian non-communication scholars perceive the study of communication to be a discipline "placed under the roof of some other major science" (Morozov, 2003). It has also been noted that some approaches to communication are not contemporary. The Shannon and Weaver model of communication is presented as offering a current approach to communication.

Strengthening Global Links with Russian Communication Educators and Researchers

The pioneering efforts of the members and leaders of the Russian Communication Association offer promising impetus to the enhanced development of communication study in Russia. Tremendous opportunities exist for partnerships between Russian communication scholars and teachers and their non-Russian contemporaries. The success of the RCA in establishing a network of Russian educators is evidence of the power of collaboration. Much more needs to be done to strengthen the network of communication study in Russia. Specific opportunities for collaboration include partnerships with individuals and departments as well as establishing links between universities; there has been a special interest in establishing contacts with linguistic universities.

First, and fairly easily given the widespread availability of the Internet, there should be an organized exchange of curricula, course syllabi, and other instructional materials between Russian scholars and others interested in communication study. One of the challenges facing Russian communication scholars is finding individual faculty members outside Russia who are interested in establishing a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and resources. Russian faculty members in departments of pedagogy, sociology, psychology, journalism, business, English, philosophy, and philology are eager for curriculum exchanges. The RCA can play an important role in facilitating such curricular exchanges.

A major obstacle in developing exchanges are the necessary resources to fuel such exchanges. Russian higher education institutions have faced an economic crisis during the past few years that compounds the difficulty of implementing curricular change and reform. The economic downturn of the early twenty-first century has resulted in economic challenges for U.S. colleges and universities as well. Nonetheless, it is important to find creative ways to both establish and continue educational partnerships.

Russian State Universities, Pedagogical Universities (particularly Foreign Languages Departments), and Linguistic Universities offer special promise and opportunity for exchange and partnerships. Because those universities typically specialize in teaching English, the language barrier between Russian and English-speaking scholars is reduced if not eliminated. The university faculty and administrators are often eager to expose their students to English-speaking faculty. An interesting model in this respect has been developed at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Moscow State University, running a joint program with the International College of the University of Colorado at Denver. Among other institutions actively developing their international collaboration programs are Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University and Volgograd State Pedagogical University. The major areas of interest for faculty and students in those universities would be aimed at but not restricted to interpersonal communication (including teacher-student communication), presentational skills and public speaking, and intercultural communication.

Other partnerships can be pursued with universities which specialize in economics, business administration, and management. For example, the Rostov Institute of Management, Business, and Law currently develops and runs, together with its western partners, a number of programs and courses that focus on organizational communication, business and professional communication, leadership, and group communication.

Based on discussions with Russian scholars and educators, their highest priority needs include materials that would assist them in developing courses and communication curricula. Specifically, they express a need for:

  • Greater access to existing research and theories in the communication discipline
  • Access to communication books and literature including textbooks and research journals
  • Joint projects which would result in developing courses and teaching those courses. A suggested model could involve American and Russian specialists working together in an American university for a few weeks on a joint course; then an American colleague would come to a Russian university where the course could be offered as a short series of lectures to faculty, who will serve as trainers of other Russian scholars.
  • Instructional resources such as instructor's manuals and teaching materials
  • Opportunities for mentorship and individual professional training in teaching communication

The recently formed Russian Communication Association can play a vital role in energizing study of human communication in Russia. The RCA, as a non-profit, all volunteer organization, is in need of resources to help achieve its mission of promoting the study of human communication in Russia. Specifically, the RCA is in need of resources (both financial and human) to develop the following projects:

  • Assistance with the RCA web site (translators are especially needed in addition to scholars who can offer research assistance, classification and annotation of significant professional links, communication publications, and other resources).
  • Books and communication instructional materials. Just the past spring, for example, faculty members from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) sent over 80 books to Volgograd Pedagogical State. Additional departments are needed to emulate the leadership of IUPUI.
  • Assistance in writing grant proposals to support RCA organizational development (including resources for sponsoring RCA conferences and Summer educational programs)
  • Individual scholars and educators as well as departments who would be interested in developing exchange programs and/or internship programs with interested Russian scholars and educators.

This paper has chronicled the emergence of the study of communication in Russia. As with any disciplinary perspective, the present is shaped by the past. The unique elements that make the study of communication in Russia interesting are of inherent value to non-Russian students and scholars of communication. Russian educators are eager for information, ideas, and collaborative partnerships. They hunger for knowledge and resources. Non-Russian communication educators can benefit from such partnerships. A synergy can be developed which enriches all who teach and learn; collaboration can by a catalytic process to change both those who share and those who receive information and ideas. The goal of collaboration is not to merely export the discipline of communication, as organized and practiced in non-Russian institutions to Russia. Such ethnocentric practice would not be in the best interests of both Russian or non-Russian communication educators and scholars. Rather, sharing information, ideas, theory, and practice about human communication can result in a new understanding about communication in the tradition of a "third culture" approach to bridging differences between cultural traditions.

We invite others to form global links with our Russian scholars. The time for enriching our study of communication has never been more acute. The context for building on the foundations already established with our Russian colleagues is important for the world society of scholars and educators as we seek to enhance human understanding through communication.


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    About authors:

    Olga Matyash, Ph.D.,
    President, Russian Communication Association
    Communication Studies
    Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, USA
    e-mail: oimatyas@ori.net

    Steven BEEBE
    Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Studies Southwest Texas U,
    Associate Dean, College of Fine Arts and Communication
    Small Group Communication, Interpersonal Communication,
    Family Communication,
    Communication Training and Development,
    Instructional Communication;
    B.S.Ed., M.A., Central Missouri State University;
    Ph.D., University of Missouri-Columbia.


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