What is Communication? (2021)

Photo (cc) flickr user https://www.flickr.com/photos/thecampbell/

IAMCR is co-sponsoring the eleventh annual “What is…?" conference, to be held online as a Speaker Series during April and May, 2021. What is Communication? will investigate instantiations and permutations of communication via models of exchange, modes of inquiry, and meanings of community. While communication has been conceptualized as models of transportation, transmission, and ritual, communication is also characterized by modes of sharing, imparting, connecting, and participating. These characteristics can contribute to democracy, as well as facilitating the commons and community/fellowship.

Communication is sensorial, including the auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and interoceptive, and can involve humans, nonhumans, plants, and/or machines. Most importantly, communication imbues meanings—experiences/cultures, languages/ideas, feelings/emotions, interactions/transactions, politics/economics, situations/contexts, and networks/environments.

This year’s event takes a problem-solving approach to communication by examining systems of networks and flows, gender and ICT4D, surveillance and algorithms, platforms and democracies, familial commonalities and ecological interdependencies.

Further information about the conference and the keynote speakers can be found at whatis.uoregon.edu.

What is Communication? (2021) builds on the previous two years’ gatherings. What is Technology? (2019) examined practical arts and tools, techniques and processes, moral knowledge and imagination, as well as technology as intelligent inquiry and problem-solving. What is Information? (2020) investigated tapestries, temperaments, and topologies of the mathematical and semantic, physical and biological, cultural and environmental, economic and political, as well as information’s transformational æffects. This year marks the eleventh annual What is...? and the sixth collaboration with scholars from the natural sciences, social sciences and arts. The series continues to enact a collaborative network of transdisciplinary research, cultivating communication as the heart of nature and society.


  • Monday, April 19, 2021 • 9:00-10:00am PT [NOTE: Different day of week and time than others below.]
    Elihu Katz, Sociology and Anthropology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Yonatan Fialkoff, Smart Family Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
    “How Did Mass Become Network?”
  • Thursday, April 22, 2021 • 12:00-1:00pm PT 
    H. Leslie Steeves, African Studies/Media Studies, University of Oregon, and Janet D. Kwami, Communication/Film/Center for Sustainability, Furman University
    “Power, Voice & Influence Through ICTs: Reflections on Digital Inequalities in the Global South”
  • Thursday, May 6, 2021 • 12:00-1:00pm PT
    Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Information & Society/Communication, University of Pennsylvania
    “Algorithmic Manipulation: How Shall We Respond to the Threats and Challenges Before Us?”
  • Thursday, May 13, 2021 • 12:00-1:00pm PT 
    Kathryn C. Montgomery, Communication, American University, and Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy
    “Understanding and Regulating the Commercial Surveillance System”
  • Thursday, May 20, 2021 • 12:00-1:00pm PT 
    Suzanne Simard, Forest & Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia, Canada *
    “Trees Communicate Through Networks in Complex Adaptive Systems”

* in cooperation with UO Women in Graduate Science