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A History of International Communication Studies  

Elizabeth C. Hanson

The intellectual impetus for international communication research has come from a variety of disciplines, notably political science, sociology, psychology, social psychology, linguistics, anthropology, and, of course, communication science and international relations. Although highly diverse in content, international communication scholarship, past and current, falls into distinct research traditions or areas of inquiry. The content and focus of these have changed over time in response to innovations in communication technologies and to the political environment. The development and spread of radio and film in the 1920s and 1930s increased public awareness and scholarly interest in the phenomenon of the mass media and in issues regarding the impact on public opinion. The extensive use of propaganda as an instrument of policy by all sides in World War I, and the participation of social scientists in the development of this instrument, provided an impetus for the development of both mass communication and international communication studies. There was a heavy emphasis on the micro level effects, the process of persuasion. Strategic considerations prior to and during World War II reinforced this emphasis. World War II became an important catalyst for research in mass communication. Analytical tools of communication research were applied to the tasks of mobilizing domestic public support for the war, understanding enemy propaganda, and developing psychological warfare techniques to influence the morale and opinion of allied and enemy populations. During the Cold War, U.S foreign policy goals continued to shape the direction of much research in international communication, notably “winning hearts and minds” of strategically important populations in the context of the East-West conflict. As new states began to emerge from colonial empires, communication became an important component of research on development. “Development research” emphasized the role of the mass media in guiding and accelerating development. This paradigm shaped both national and international development programs throughout the 1960’s. It resurfaced in the 1980s with a focus on telecommunication, and again in the 1990s, in modified form under the comprehensive label “information and communication technologies for development.” Development communication met serious criticism in the 1970s as the more general modernization paradigm was challenged. The emergence of new information and communication technologies in the 1990s inspired a vast literature on their impact on the global economy, foreign policy, the nation state and, more broadly, on their impact on power structures and social change. The beginning of the 21st century marks a transition point as the scholarship begins to respond to multiple new forms of communication and to new directions taken by the technologies that developed and spread in the latter part of the previous century


Conflict and Nationalist Frames  

Marie-Eve Desrosiers

In the context of nationalist and ethnic struggles, framing refers to strategic communication aimed at changing perceptions and behavior, such as persuading members of a group to unite and fight or their opponents to demobilize. The concept and theory behind framing stem from sociology, and in particular American social movements theory, where they have helped reconcile an interest in the construction of identities and “meaning work” with the study of structures that favor participation in collective endeavors. Framing not only unpacks the processes behind this form of strategic communication through notions such as alignment and resonance, but it has also produced extensive scholarship on types of frames that foster mobilization and the socio-psychological keys they play upon in so doing. Framing theory has also focused on some of the elements contributing to the success—or lack thereof—of communication aimed at persuasion. Considering that participation in crises and conflicts is an extreme form of mobilization, framing has, since the mid-2000s, made headway in conflict studies, where scholars have turned to framing processes to shed light on how people can be convinced to rally around the nationalist or ethnic flag and even take up arms in their group’s name. More recently, framing-centric approaches have been used to shed light on frames deployed in conflicts of a religious nature, as well as in the study of radicalization and the ideological or ideational framing behind it. The future of framing theory with regards to identity-based conflicts depends, however, on scholars’ ability to produce framing concepts and theoretical insights specific to conflict studies able to federate the community or researchers adopting the approach to study armed violence. As growing research on armed conflict turns to understanding the links between national and local realities, framing theorists may in addition benefit from greater attention to local frames and framing dynamics, and how they relate to the broader, elite-driven frames more commonly focused on in the study of armed violence. Finally, though so far little explored, framing proponents may stand to gain from engaging with literature using survey experiments or other promising quantitative approaches that have also sought to generate insights into ethnic relations or government representation and policy regarding crises and war.


Public Perceptions of International Terrorism  

Nazli Avdan

Terrorist violence appeals to and pivots on the creation and dissemination of fear. In that respect, it hinges on public perceptions and threat manufacturing to have policy impact. Scholars have long recognized that terrorist actors appeal to multiple audiences, including the public audience. By sowing fear, actors hope that the public will put pressure on the target regime to enact policy concessions to militants or that policymakers, fearing the erosion of public support, will bend to the terrorists’ demands. Recognizing this, it behooves scholars to delineate the mechanisms that shape perceptions and parse the different types of emotional and cognitive responses that terrorist violence arouses. Violence inculcates a range of public responses, most notably, anxiety, fear, anger, and perceptions of threat. These responses may vary with individual demographics, such as gender and age, but are also guided by the political environment in which individuals are embedded. Variegated emotive responses have important policy consequences as distinct emotions are associated with different policy demands. On the whole, psychological reactions to terrorism underlie the effectiveness of terrorism and have downstream social, political, and cultural ramifications.