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Harold Innis is one of the foundational theorists of media and communications studies. In the mid-20th century, he developed his concept of media bias (also called the bias of communication). It remains Innis’s most cited concept, but it is also significantly misunderstood. For example, since his death in 1952, bias has often been applied in ways that are akin to a form of technological or media determinism. This has been an ongoing problem despite the fact that Innis developed his concept as a means of compelling analysts to reject such mechanistic formulations. Indeed, his goal was to promote more self-reflective modes of scholarship and, by extension, a recognition that such intellectual capacities—which he believed were essential for civilization’s survival—would be lost if they were not recognized and defended. More generally, Innis contextualized his work regarding media bias in terms of interrelated historical conditions involving political economic dynamics. Through his application of the concept to over 4000 years of history, he sought to provide his contemporaries with the reflective perspective needed to comprehend the underpinnings of modern biases that stressed present-mindedness and spatial control to the neglect of creativity and duration. Bias was derived from Innis’s studies on Canadian economic development involving the exploitation of its resources (an approach to history called the staples thesis). Several of the insights he garnered in those studies need to be recognized if we are to fully understand his subsequent communications research. Also, tracing the origins of his concept of bias enables us to fully assess the nature of Innis’s supposed media determinism. Typical uses of bias today focus on the spatial or temporal orientations that many assume are compelled through the use of a specific medium or set of media technologies. This misreading, inspired mainly by Marshall McLuhan’s representations of Innis, has led to assumptions regarding Innis’s determinism and a general neglect of the complexity of his original work. To repeat, Innis developed bias in order to redress the mechanistic and unreflective thinking of his day and always conceptualized it in terms of factors that are salient to the place and time being examined. Moreover, he applied bias alongside now largely forgotten concepts ranging from unused capacity to classic power–knowledge dialectics. Lastly, he situated the development and implications of a particular medium in relation to both old and new media (not just technologies, but organizations and institutions also). In sum, to comprehend Innis’s concept of bias, its intellectual and political underpinnings need to be acknowledged, the political economic dynamics of its development and application understood, and the implications of McLuhan’s influence recognized.

Article

The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies refers to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), which was housed at Birmingham University from 1964 to 2002. The shorthand “Birmingham School” refers to a site, a moment, a movement, and a method. Emerging alongside other intellectual and activist currents in the British New Left, it posed a radical democratic alternative to traditional higher education and the available methods and methodologies of communication and media studies. Centre researchers expanded the possible objects worthy of critical academic research—arguing it was imperative that we look at the products of the mass media or so-called popular arts—as well as the means through which those objects and their potential effects were understood. Central to the methodological approach espoused by CCCS scholars is the need to look at the way the meanings and values of cultural texts are articulated to and through a “cultural circuit”: A text emerges from a context, and its meanings are contingent on the frameworks of ideology and experience of both that context and audiences that read it. Under the leadership of Stuart Hall, and then Richard Johnson, the CCCS developed pathbreaking research into cultural politics more generally, looking at the way identities and subjectivity were developed, reinforced, and lived, and intersecting with emergent theories from and research in postcolonialism, poststructuralism, nationalism, feminism, gender and sexuality studies, science and technology studies, studies of race and ethnicity, and a variety of other subfields in the humanities and social sciences. Despite the closure of the Centre, these tendencies and emphases remain important, especially to the many academic monographs, journals, and conferences in cultural studies each year.

Article

The field of cultural studies in Latin America has had a long history and a series of both productive and convoluted developments. Today, its widespread academic commodification and institutionalization in graduate programs deter incisive, critical, and politically daring works that question the limits of the field. Even when there has never been just one way of understanding and practicing cultural studies—its internal differences are mainly due to its local geo-cultural and sociohistoric contextualization—cultural studies in Latin America cannot be understood without the transnational circulation of knowledge, hegemonized by Anglo-Saxon—British as well as American—influences and overdeterminations. Four specific and abridged transformations help sieve through this complex history intricately enmeshed in specific sociopolitical, economic, and cultural processes vis-à-vis epistemic and hermeneutic theoretical projects. These moments are unraveled from the specific articulations built from local traditions of critical thinking mixed with exogenous theories and discourses from the time when self-reflexive postmodern irony and globalization began materializing in a qualitative higher degree around the globe to its critically silent acquiescence.

Article

Tara Ross

Pacific media are viewed here as the media of the Pacific region, an area that covers vast cultural, economic, and geographic differences. Like the region, Pacific media are diverse, ranging from large media systems in the bigger island groups to little more than government-produced newsletters in smaller island states. Pacific media face unique challenges, with their small yet diverse and often scattered audiences, which, inevitably, influence both their media practices and content. Like all media, they also face the contemporary challenges of rapid technological change and shifts in audience tastes. There has been relatively little research on Pacific media (at least compared with media elsewhere), but what there is demonstrates a range of media systems, where radio is important and web and social media are growing in influence. Checks on media freedom have been an issue in some Pacific states, as has the influence of foreign ownership and content. Cultural norms around community and social obligation appear to be influential in shaping both the structure of some Pacific media (which are notable for their commercial/community hybridity) and a close relationship with their audiences. In terms of academic scholarship, there is a need for more empirical research to build on earlier works—to fill gaps in understanding about Pacific audiences and their evolving transnational media practices, and the mediascapes of underexplored island states, and to map contemporary media practices in the face of rapid change. There is also a need for more research that can build local theory about Pacific media, particularly research by Pacific researchers that is grounded in Indigenous Pacific perspectives.

Article

Colonization and decolonization continue to be debated both in terms of their meaning and their efficacy in Communication Studies scholarship and across related fields of inquiry. Colonization is part of ongoing processes of subjugation that are linked to other forms of oppression including labor, occupation, and resource extraction. Inquiries about processes of colonization also involve examining corresponding efforts in decolonization processes. Decolonization entails an effort to critically reflect on colonialism and its impact upon colonized people and environments, it involves processes entangled with issues of sovereignty, self-determination, and territory, and so on. Indigenous Studies scholarship helps to foreground Indigeneity as a place from which broader inquiries on colonization and decolonization may be launched. The legitimacy of colonialism and its communicative dimensions has been a concern for scholars. Within the field of Communication, it notes particular contexts of colonization inquiry that overlap across topics and various areas of the discipline. Research on colonialism and its influence spans throughout rhetorical theory and critical/cultural studies to organizational communication and global communication. This scholarship has employed expansive methodologies from applied research to theoretical work and considered a wide range of issues from domestic, international, and transnational perspectives. The study of these powerful structures in rhetoric draws on interdisciplinary fields and raises challenges to intellectual traditions of the West, which have maintained the rhetoric canon. Rhetorical scholars call for the need to examine artifacts that exist at the “margins” and “outside” the imperial centers. They have theorized methods of rhetorical analysis that attend to the colonial and decolonial elements of discourse, power, and identity.

Article

Sara Ahmed is a feminist philosopher specializing in how the cultural politics of language use and discourse mediate social and embodied encounters with difference. She has published field-shaping contributions to queer and feminist theory, critical race and postcolonial theory, affect and emotion studies, and phenomenology. Since the publication of Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism in 1998, her work has epitomized the value of contemporary feminist cultural studies to speak to and against the masculinist traditions of continental philosophy. Unequivocally inserting feminist politics into the rarified air of academic theory, it crosses the sexist boundary which corrals feminist thought into the category of “studies” while opposing it to male-authored philosophy—the latter automatically authorized to speak on the social and material “Real.” In doing so, her work sits squarely within discourse-analytical traditions that seek to expose how various epistemic scenes – activism, the media, and academia, to name a few -- sediment false authority on such issues as happiness, utility, and the good. Moreover, in contesting New Materialism’s search for some monist “matter” beneath experience, she traces how those linguistic moves impose insidiously singular concepts of what social “reality” is, and how it unfolds, for real people. As a field, communication studies concerns itself centrally with matters of social influence, scale, and power, such as the electoral effects of political speech, or the ability of a message to morph as it reaches new audiences. Turning a critical eye upon the (re)production of cultural norms and social structure through interpersonal and institutional encounters, Ahmed’s oeuvre explores the discursive logics and speech acts that sediment or transform the social meanings of race, gender, and other differences.

Article

Internet freedom is a process. Internet freedom takes place through a myriad of practices, such as technology development, media production, and policy work, through which various actors, existing within historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts, continuously seek to determine its meaning. Some of these practices take place within traditional Internet governance structures, yet others take place outside of these. Crypto-discourse refers to a partially fixed instance of the process in which actors seek to construct the meaning of Internet freedom that mainly takes place outside of traditional Internet governance structures. Crypto-discourse describes a process in which specific communities of crypto-advocates (groups of cryptographers, hackers, online privacy advocates, and technology journalists) attempt to define Internet freedom through community practices such as technological development and descriptive portrayals of encryption within interconnected communities that seek to develop and define encryption software, as well as through the dissemination of these developments and portrayals within and outside of these communities. The discursive work of the cypherpunks, interrelated discourse communities, and related technology journalism is at the core of crypto-discourse. Through crypto-discourse, crypto-advocates employ encryption software as an arena of negotiation. The representation of encryption software serves as a battlefield in a larger discursive struggle to define the meaning of Internet freedom. Crypto-discourse illustrates how social practices have normative implications for Internet governance debates regarding Internet freedom and in particular expectations for state authorities to uphold online rights. The relationship between freedom and the state that these crypto-advocates articulate as a response to specific events excludes other possible positive notions of Internet freedom in which the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of online rights.

Article

Partha Chatterjee (b. 1947) is one of the most widely read social scientists working in South Asia today. His work, located at the intersection of history, political theory, and anthropology, has been influential in cultural and literary studies as well as history and political theory. He was one of the founding members of the Subaltern Studies group, which undertook new research into colonial society and culture with a focus on peasant consciousness. Chatterjee’s major publications in the 1980s and early 1990s dealt with peasantry and politics, but also explored the domain of elite culture and ideology. An important concern in this phase was nationhood and community, with Gramsci’s idea of passive revolution providing a conceptual grid. Chatterjee emerged as a major theorist of nationalism in the wake of his books on the subject. Since the 1990s, he has attempted to conceptualize the new turn in Indian politics after the Emergency (1975–1977). The Foucauldian idea of “governmentality” has played a central role in this work. The concept of “political society” that he has developed in this phase has made a major contribution to the discourse on Indian democracy. Alongside, he has continued his research in the history of empire and colonialism, extending his investigations to the “early modern” period in Indian history. A critique of Western liberal political thought runs through all his recent work, uniting historical, cultural, and political explorations.

Article

The decolonization of nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in the late 20th century made possible the arrival of postcolonial academics who engaged in a critical and thoroughgoing analysis of the ways in which colonial histories have affected and continue to influence not only our understanding of phenomena, such as culture, but have influenced the very frames and processes of the creation and dissemination of knowledge about phenomena such as culture. While this work was initiated by postcolonial scholars of literature, postcolonial theory and frameworks have been adopted by several allied fields, including the communication field. Since the 1990s, communication scholars have been using postcolonial frameworks to deconstruct the colonial and neocolonial representations and tropes present in news and popular culture discourses. They have also brought communication theory to bear upon key concepts within postcolonial study, such as hybridity and diaspora. In the mid-1990s communication scholars joined the larger debate on the continued relevance of the postcolonial framework, and as with postcolonial scholars in other fields, they have continued to insist that the interruptive and political impetus of postcolonial theory provides an important entry point for the study of a world still shot through with colonial and neocolonial power relations. Although there is still a lot of scope to make the postcolonial approach more central to the communication field and its subfields, communication scholars have continued to use postcolonial theory to shed important insight on several vital communication issues. Feminist scholars of communication have been at the forefront of the effort to increase awareness and use of postcolonial frameworks for the study of communication.

Article

Gust A. Yep, Ryan M. Lescure, and Sage E. Russo

Queer intercultural communication is an emerging and vibrant area of the communication discipline. The examination of this developing area of inquiry, the preliminary mapping of the field of queer intercultural communication, and its potential guidelines for future research deserves our attention. To do so, there are three sections for examination. First is an integrative view of queer intercultural communication by identifying fundamental components of its major contexts – macro, meso, and micro – and a model for understanding this research. Second is the exploration and examination of these major contexts in terms of theoretical, methodological, and political issues and concerns. Lastly, potential guidelines for research in queer intercultural communication are needed.