Communications: The Discipline and its Transformation (1)

Brief Overview — Strategic Approaches to the Study of Communications. The following list is not intended to be comprehensive, rather it articulates some of the many (too many?) debates and ideas that circulate within the study of communications. The discipline has become so broad because of a misconceived idea of multi-disciplinarity to the point where it is unclear what the boundaries are between different areas of study. Perhaps, the very notion of a discipline needs to be rethought. Or, perhaps the evolution of Communications into something far greater than the term itself can contain, suggests that the work of the next few years will be around meaning, creativity and classification. Think of it this way, the taking of digital photographs is less and less about aesthetically rich images and more about organizing large amounts of information into meaningful patterns. The software that we use to organize our images is dependent on a tagging system that is above all else semantic and is driven by language, by what we say about the photos and less by the photos themselves. The danger is that as classification becomes central and as the sheer bulk of images increases that it will be more and more difficult to frame and critique what is being produced. This is a difficult challenge to the development of disciplines because it implies a continuous and evolving fluidity that institutions in particular have a hard time containing.



Literary, Legal and Historical Inquiries into the Press —
News as Information — Growth of Print Culture



Intersection of Sociological and Institutional Analysis — Electrification —
Telegraph — Telephone — Radio — Cinema



Broadcasting — Audience Research — Social Sciences
provide main model
for analysis — Empirical Methodology



Frankfurt School — Cultural Analysis — Popular Culture as Category —
Models of Consumption and Commodity Fetishism — Intersection of Psychoanalytic,
Sociological and Anthropological approaches —
Language as Paradigm for all modes of Communication



Television — Mass Communication Studies — Relationship to Policy —
Communications and Development — Questions of Economic and Political Control — Ownership of Media — Democratic Control



Paradigms from Literary Study — Applications of Textuality — Homology
between written and visual-oral texts Structuralist claims with
respect to the Production of Meaning —
Efforts to link Media Analysis with Semiotics and Deconstruction— Intersections with Ethnographic Research — Shifts in Anthropology and Sociology



Ideology — Cultural Analysis — Marxist and
Post-Structural Models —
Reconfiguration of Institutional Analysis — Reaction to Positivist Empiricism —
Dissolution of Base-Superstructure Paradigm for the Explanation of Cultural Processes —
Links between literary analysis and
development of Communications and Media Studies



Feminist Reconfiguration of Communications and Cultural Studies Paradigm
Shift in Concerns for Audience to notions of Reading, Spectatorship —
Post-Colonial Discourses — Challenges to the hegemony
of 1st world views



Postmodernism — Redefinitions of the theory—practice dichotomy—Move
to Discourse models—Shift in Language Paradigm—Shift from Representation
to Simulation



Virtual Reality—Hyperreality—Cyberpunk—Cyberspace—Reconfiguration of Computer—C.D. Rom—Notions of Infinite Memory—Multi-Media



The above taxonomy and the way in which I have separated its historical constituents should be seen as entirely heuristic. My aim is to show the inherent intersection of concerns between the humanities and the social sciences, but also to talk about the way in which communications has colonised many different areas of research and thought over the last twenty years.

This process of boundary creation and dissolution — the inherent weakness of any attempt to lock boundaries into place — has produced an almost non-stop integration of disciplines into communications with the result that what we may need to examine at moment is a redefinition of the very notion of a field of study or a discipline. The presumptions which guided the creation and installation of disciplines in universities up until the early 1980's may be in need of serious revision.

Let me explore this a bit further. It can be argued that any attempt to define the domain of communications study runs into a classic confrontation — the vested interests of the humanities and social sciences both converge and diverge. Though the latter has taken the mantle of leadership upon itself, the most interesting research of the moment is going on in cultural studies, games, computer-human interaction, digital communities and design. But even as I say this, the disciplinary framework of cultural studies represents a challenge of its own because it is so very fluid as to definition and even more so as to direction. The question of what constitutes cultural studies finds itself in precisely the same crisis of definition as communications. Is this because of the nature of the phenomena under examination?

(End.....part one)