III International Russian Communication Association Conference-2006
"COMMUNICATION AND (RE) MAKING SOCIAL WORLDS"
PANEL PROPOSAL 2
DEFINING THE COMMUNICATION DISCIPLINE IN RUSSIA
Throughout most of Western history, a typical classical and medieval education would focus in large part on rhetoric, grammar, and logic, and learning the arts of effective communication played a central role in the education of political leaders, including statesmen, preachers, and lawyers. However, with the rise of market societies, the consequent decline of active political citizenship, and the simultaneous rise of disciplinary specialization, the arts of argumentation, eloquence, and critical political deliberation fell into decline. Education no longer primarily served as a vehicle for broad humanist training in the arts of critical thinking, democratic citizenship, and political wisdom, but instead served to provide people with marketable skills in the service of capital.
In Europe, rhetoric programs are still rare, and the study of "speech" re-emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century out of English Departments. Today, in the US one can still study "rhetoric" in English and Communication departments: the former focusing on literary theory, composition, and grammar, and the latter focusing on the history of oratory, public speaking, rhetorical theory, and an extraordinary array of topics including, but not limited to, interpersonal, small group, organizational, and intercultural communication, performance studies, cultural studies, theater, journalism/mass media studies, and new media studies.
Adding to the complexity of what the "field" of communication entails is the fact that logic, grammar, and rhetoric are areas of study applicable to all other disciplines, making communication a truly "trans-disciplinary" and "inter-disciplinary" field of study. Also, the field of communication in the United States, particularly after the Second World War, was co-opted by industry and the military in problematic ways, resulting in an over-focus on quantitative attempts to "manage" public opinion, rather than its usual historical focus on eloquence, statecraft, virtue, and wise deliberation.
Given the spread of "democracy" around the globe, many former communist countries - most of which are also attempting the transition from planned to market economies - are beginning to investigate the importance of Communication as a field of study. However, given the wide range of ways in which "communication" is understood, that investigation is anything but simple. For example, what is the distinction between, say, applied linguistics, English, discourse analysis, marketing, public relations, psychology/social psychology, and "communication"? Should "communication" studies focus on advertising, public relations, marketing, opinion management, propaganda studies, journalism, and other "applied" areas? Should "communication" focus on linguistics, literary theory, grammar and writing, or logic? Should "communication" focus on rhetoric, public persuasion, identity theory (e.g. the social construction of race, gender, class, and national identity), statecraft, virtue, debate and wise deliberation? Since "communication" today, in various departments, attempts to tackle each of these areas, what are the approaches of education planners to these questions in "countries in transition"?
This call for participants is based on the premise that a seminar should be held by interested scholars in Russia and the United States to discuss what the field of communication is generally conceived to be, and, perhaps more important, to discuss the political, socio-cultural, and economic consequences of different foci. Scholars interested in developing the most effective forms of "communication studies" in today's Russia are especially encouraged to participate. It is hoped that a healthy debate will ensue between those who would prefer to see communication studies focus on applied arts appropriate for market societies and those who are critical of such a focus; that is, the perfect seminar would include those who believe that communication should primarily focus on, say, public relations, customer relations, business communication, image management, quantitative analysis of media effects, polling, marketing, applied linguistics, etc. (apparently the preferred trend, since "skill building" communication courses remain relatively rare in Russia's universities), and others, such as myself, arguing that the primary focus should be on the critique of such practices, the arts of statecraft, eloquence, debate, etc., with a secondary focus on skills training.
Which direction is right for Russia? Can an artful combination of the various approaches be achieved, and if so at what cost? What IS communication as a field anyway? What, in this call, has been left out of what a proper definition of communication should be? What roles can different approaches to communication realistically expect to play, or what is even pedagogically possible in the new Russia? Can various dimensions of the Western tradition of communication studies be brought to bear in a productive way for today's Russian society? If so, how?
Scholars interested in participating in such a seminar should contact Professor Michael Lane Bruner at the address below no later than 1 March 2006.
M. Lane Bruner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Critical Political Communication
Graduate Director, Doctoral Program in Public Communication
Department of Communication
Georgia State University
1052 One Park Place
Atlanta, GA 30303-4000