IAMCR making history

IAMCR Newsletter | December 2014

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This is the second part of recounting IAMCR history by Profs. Cees Hamelink and Kaarle Nordenstreng.

The list of IAMCR conferences throughout its 57 years of history demonstrates the impressive geographical spread of our Association. IAMCR has met in all continents, and although most of the venues have been in Europe, the list includes also several developing countries of the South, beginning with Argentina in 1972. The first 30 years of our history were under the Cold War conditions when IAMCR played a special role in facilitating East-West contacts and exchanges. 

Michael Meyen has recently published an article on IAMCR in the East-West battlefield, exposing the East German attempts to use the Association as an instrument in Cold War politics. As pointed out in Nordenstreng’s comment to the article, this was only a side affair in the big picture whereby IAMCR served as a constructive and ecumenical platform for scholarly contact across political and cultural divides.

A full history of IAMCR remains to be written – the project has been on our agenda since the 1990s – but it is obvious that the Association has provided an opportunity for many emerging ideas to be articulated and internationally promoted in the field. For example, the gender approach was pushed to the agenda in Caracas in 1980, leading to a working group on “Sex Roles within Mass Media” which in 1990 became the Section of Gender and Communication. IAMCR has been fairly open to allow silent signals in the field to be tried and mobilized, while not allowing the mainstream to enjoy hegemony. 

On the other hand, the phenomenal expansion and diversification of our field over the past few decades has made it impossible to accommodate all special interests in the scholarship within one international association. Some of them have found it more practical to establish their own institutional homes outside IAMCR (and ICA) – such as scholars of Internet or of literary journalism. Particular aspects of communication, theoretical approaches and cultural as well as geopolitical areas are too varied to allow any longer a nice architecture within a single organization – it is more and more a hybrid world of communication research. 

Yet a universal interest has not become obsolete. Along with diversification of the field and with increasing networking of scholars around the world there is even greater need for worldwide platforms. Therefore the original mission of IAMCR is still very much valid: “provide a forum where researchers and others involved in media and communication can meet and exchange information about their work” (Statutes Article 2.1.1.).

It is important to remember that in addition to serving as a “forum”, the Association has throughout its history been inspired by the notion of communications as a  human right  and a concern for the social relevance of academic research. From its pre-history that begins with the 1948 UN Conference on Freedom of Information to its involvement in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in the early 21st century, the Association has pursued issues of free speech, participation in cultural life, sharing of knowledge, and the right to communicate. Late president Jim Halloran used to urge fellow scholars to not conduct research with the back to the world and the face towards the books. In this spirit of seeking academic and social relevance the Association’s openness to East/West conversations and to interaction with the global South and its regional associations has to be understood. 

Following from its unique history the Association is bound to continue its role in global scholarship since there are still great questions ahead of us in the field of media and communication studies. We face enormous challenges in the area of theoretical reflection and in particular in de-westernizing and de-colonizing conventional mind-sets. We need to find creative approaches to the science/policy encounter, to the researcher/practitioner confrontation and to gender and ethnic issues. It is also of critical importance that we engage with future studies: our very meaningful past gives us promising prospects for dealing with the future of public communication in both global and local perspective.

For some of us – who were affiliated with the Association for more years than we care to remember – the IAMCR offered a fascinating habitat of essential academic and personal friendships. Participating in its global platform for deep exchange, formidable disagreements and permanent learning in a non-fundamentalist ambiance made our professional and personal lives incredibly rich experiences.