Political Economy Section History

The Political Economy Section examines the role of power in the production, distribution and exchange of mediated communication. Drawing from the rich history of political economic theory, section members study social relations in their totality, consider how they have developed historically, evaluate them according to standards of social justice, and intervene to bring about a more just and democratic world.

The research interests of section members include developing a richer theoretical foundation in communication research by incorporating an understanding of how structures of power operate, particularly in the process of transforming messages into commodities. Specifically, this means research on the global political economy which is centrally dependent on communication for its growth and on transnational media companies, which are increasingly in control of communication systems. It also includes research on how this global political economy is constituted out of various national corporate and government institutions as well as class formations that mediate global and local power.

Research interests also include the conflicts that arise over who benefits from control over communication resources. This research documents the interventions of workers, particularly over the consequences of an increasingly sophisticated international division of communication labour, and of women and racial minorities who seek to redress fundamental imbalances in global communication power. Recently, this research has expanded to include social movements in the communication arena, the state of the public sphere in an increasingly privatized audio-visual space, and the status of citizenship in a world that addresses people primarily as consumers.

Political economy has an historic commitment to praxis or the unity of research and social intervention. As a result, it has attracted members with a wide range of commitments to social change. Over the years this has always included involvement in the movements to bring about a New World Information and Communication Order, now focused on the McBride Roundtable process. In addition, the section has attracted members with commitments to the rights of workers in the communication industries and of citizens to the fullest access to the means of communication.

In recent years the section has worked to support its commitment to multidisciplinary research by organizing joint sessions with other IAMCR sections on the topics of gender, race, ethnicity, and cultural studies. The section recognizes the need to engage questions about the relationship between social class, historically a central coordinate on the map of political economy, and gender, race, and nationality. It is also committed to examining how political economy, and its particular understanding of power as embedded in markets and institutions, relates to the field of cultural studies and its focus on the social construction of meaning in texts and of power at work in the micro relations of social life.

The section recognizes the need to take up these new challenges even as it addresses its historic mission of research and social intervention on the manifold dimensions of a global political economy increasingly shaped by the power of transnational communication and information companies.

— Prepared by Vincent Mosco, former Section Head