Past Symposia for the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication

Digital Culture
The digital environment’s impact on culture–and culture’s impact on the digital environment–permeate most aspects of everyday life, but often in unrecognized or unarticulated ways. This symposium tracks some of the key platforms on which digital culture takes shape — data formation, images, commerce and politics. Offering a close examination of these intersections where digitization and culture meet, the symposium considers how digital impulses add and detract from existing cultural formations and under which circumstances digital culture most fruitfully asserts its presence. ​

Media Activism
How d​o we make sense of the theories, histories, politics, ideologies, tactics and aesthetics underlying various types of media activism? The growing sub-field of media activism studies has gained wide attention in recent years, but little consensus exists regarding its central questions and concerns. Discussion often focuses on large events or processes related to mobilization. This conference will take a more expansive view to explore varieties of activism mediated through communication technologies, activists’ strategies for changing the structures of media systems as well as government efforts to regulate or police media activism. From memes to zines, hactivism to artivism, we will consider activist practices involving both older kinds of media and newer digital, social and network-based forms. The conference welcomes studies of activists using media to make political interventions in different historical periods and at the local, national and global levels. ​

Context Collapse: Reassembling the Spatial 
Context Collapse describes repeated shocks to settled notions of time and space that flow from changes in technologies of travel and communication. It is manifest in recalibrations of social distance, the emergence of unanticipated forms of power and vulnerability, and altered moral geographies. Though context collapse does not begin with digitization, its effects prod us to engage the spatial turn in new and challenging ways. Where is agency in rapidly shifting spatial contexts? What is at stake in new capacities for surveillance of disparate terrains? What consequences flow from the dematerialized spatial? What are the implications of thinking through space as assemblage, as mediator, as flow, as world substratum, as topologically folded and scaled, as networks of actants and intensities, as heterogeneous imaginaries? How does context collapse unsettle familiar frames of reference and habits of investigation? Spaces of occupation and refuge, spaces of mediation and resistance, dematerialized and distributed spaces, spaces that are legible or opaque, non-spaces, composite, interrupted and ephemeral spaces, persisting and haunted spaces, spaces of production and representation, spaces of distant suffering, spaces that are repurposed and spaces that are wholly invented, spaces that shatter and are reconstituted: these and others will be open to consideration.

Images, Ethics, Technology 
Images Matter. What we see, and how we make sense of it, matters. There are ethical stakes to, and considerations around, the deployment of images in a variety of domains. This symposium pays attention to the non-transparent nature of images and the complicated ethical issues raised by their use as illustration, as evidence, as product, as creative endeavor. We ask questions around the interplay between technology, media, apparatus and image, what about that interplay has changed and what has stayed constant in the digital era. We think carefully about manipulation and the ways in which its possibilities have obscured always already present problems of meaning and mechanical objectivity. We explore the nature of image consumption and effects from a variety of disciplinary approaches, thinking together about how to make sense of images and when they should and should not be used.

Theorizing Production/Producing Theory 
It is easy for academic research (including and, especially, research on mass media) to fall into the trap of reifying traditional divisions between “theory” and “practice,” between criticism/analysis and craft, even as we champion the idea that “practice” is always constituted by implicit or explicit theories of political, social and cultural reality. But what would it mean to think more robustly about how theory and practice are inextricably linked in our contemporary media moment? Are there better (and worse) ways to conceptualize (and teach) the interrelatedness between theory and practice/production today? Moreover, in what ways are media makers producing work (films, podcasts, comic books, PowerPoint presentations, original webisodes, apps, content for social networking sites, etc.) that is predicated on powerful theories of identity and sociality, especially as they try to reach dispersed audiences constituted by assumed commonalities of affect, identity, history, and/or politics? This symposium attempts to create a critical conversation about how scholars might (and have already attempted to) re-theorize media-making/-makers given the various ways in which production processes are becoming increasingly non-linear, deterritorialized, and self-consciously derivative of other genres, stories, and platforms.

Orders and Borders: Communication and Power in the Global Era 
The state of global communication scholarship remains in flux more than half a century after the emergence of international communication as a field of study. This symposium uses the trope of “orders and borders” tore-visit how we think about communication and power in the global era, to take stock of the last fifty years of scholarship in that field, to map key patterns and concepts, and to set an agenda for theory and research. Questions we will address include: How do we capture the important social and political implications of global market forces while eschewing a monolithic understanding of neo-liberalism that flattens contextual specificity and cultural difference? How are national and cultural identities re-fashioned and expressed in the global era? How can we best understand the emergence of multiple and sometimes antagonistic modernities worldwide? How are political struggles fought and communicated on the local-national-global nexus? How do we integrate emerging media environments in global communication studies?

Making the University Matter 
Making the University Matter investigates how academics situate themselves simultaneously in the university and the world, and how doing so affects the viability of the university setting. The university stands at the intersection of two sets of interests, needing to be at one with the world while aspiring to stand apart from it. In an era that promises intensified political instability, growing administrative pressures, dwindling economic returns and questions about economic viability, lower enrollments and shrinking programs, can the university continue to matter into the future? And if so, in which way? What will help it survive as an honest broker? What are the mechanisms for ensuring its independent voice? This two-day symposium considers a multiplicity of answers from across the curriculum on making the university matter, including critical scholarship, interdisciplinarity, curricular blends of the humanities and social sciences, practical training and policy work.

Real Worlds: Global Perspectives on the Politics of Reality Television 
Reality television is global. Transnational television companies and international distribution networks facilitate the worldwide circulation of popular shows; the 1990s in particular saw the growth of media companies that specialize in the development of reality television forms that are easily adaptable to local variations. While the industrial history of the global migrations of reality television is well established, there has been less consideration of the theoretical and methodological implications of this expansion. This symposium encompasses an international selection of expert contributions which consider the specific ways these migrations test our understanding of, and means of investigating, reality television across the globe. It addresses a wide range of topics including: the global circulation and local adaptation of reality television formats and franchises; the production of fame and celebrity around hitherto “ordinary” people; the transformation of self under the public eye; the tensions between fierce loyalties to local representatives and imagined communities boding across regional and ethnic divides; the struggle over the meanings and values of reality television across a range of national, regional, gender, class and religious contexts. The symposium proposes ways in which we can think through the international dimensions of reality television in the context of highly mobile media, politics and publics. It offers a global, comparative examination of reality television alongside empirical research about the genre, its producers and consumers. 

The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tradition, Tabloidization, Technology and Truthiness 
The changing faces of journalism have been part of the journalistic landscape since the inception of news. From early forms of oral delivery to the most recent online exchanges of information, journalism has always been multiple, multi-dimensional, multi-directional and multiply-faceted, and its multiplicity has become more pronounced as journalism has necessarily mutated across region and locale. Despite journalism’s variety, however, scholarly inquiry on news has proceeded largely without its recognition. For various reasons associated with the shape of inquiry itself, scholars have tended to favor uniform, undimensional and unidirectional notions of how journalism works, which over time have moved further out of touch from the forms that the news has taken on the ground. The results of this disconnected have become multiple themselves, generating tensions between journalism’s centers and its margins, fights for legitimacy over new tools of information relay, resistance towards new models of newsmaking, and a somewhat stubborn recalcitrance about journalism’s necessary attempts to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. 

Back to the Future: Explorations in Communication and History 
When and how do communication and history impact each other? How do disciplinary perspectives affect what we know? This symposium addressed the link between what we know and how we know it by tracking the intersection of communication and history. Asking how each discipline has enhanced and hindered our understanding of the other, the book considers what happens to what we know when disciplines engage. Through a critical collection of essays written by top scholars, the book addresses the engagement or communication and history as it applies to the study of technology, audiences and journalism. Driven by fundamental questions about disciplinary knowledge and boundary-marking, such as how communication and history change what the other notices about the world, how particular platforms encourage scholars to look beyond their disciplinary boundaries, and which cues encourage them to reject old paradigms and embrace new ones, we navigate the terrain connecting communication and history and raise meta-questions about its shaping. In so doing, it elaborates our understand of what communication and history have to give each other, how they build off of each other’s strengths and often subvert each other’s weaknesses, and what we can expect from the future of disciplinary engagement.