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Exclusions/Exclusiones: The Role for History in the Field’s Reckoning

Published onJun 22, 2022
Exclusions/Exclusiones: The Role for History in the Field’s Reckoning

versión en español


In this introduction for the special section on “Exclusions in the History of Media Studies,” we begin by calling attention to the constituting role that exclusion has played in the historiography of media studies. Exclusions linked to gender, race, language, colonialism, geopolitical location, and institutionally sanctioned privilege play substantial roles in shaping formal and informal accounts of our fields’ pasts. The project of reversal and recovery builds on postcolonial and decolonial thought, Afrocentric and racial critiques, feminist scholarship, and geopolitically informed critique. One aim is to provincialize much of the historiography of media studies. Drawing inspiration from the deeply inter-animating contemporary critical movements, we identify four pressing tasks for the history of media studies: 1) to throw the present state of academic fields into sharper historical relief, 2) to build international collaborations that refigure what have been taken to be the “centers” and “peripheries” in media studies, 3) to find ways to resist the growing hegemony of English in the global knowledge system, and 4) to support an open and nonprofit publishing infrastructure. We propose that a historiography informed by constitutive and contingent understandings of exclusion represents an important way forward for the history of media studies.

The histories and present realities of academic fields are mutually constituting. Patterns of exclusion we inherit from our pasts have pernicious ways of persisting in our current practices as scholars, teachers, administrators, and colleagues. They take both familiar and newer forms, even as agents of change do the hard work of calling attention to them and finding new, more inclusive ways forward. This applies across academic practices, but in this introduction and the special section that follows, we want to focus on one set of exclusions: those tied to collective memories of our fields’ pasts and to the formal histories written about them. Without conscious efforts, exclusions linked to gender, race, language, colonialism, geopolitical location, and institutionally sanctioned privilege all reproduce themselves in formal and informal accounts of our fields’ pasts. Moreover, if we are to understand the inequities that shape contemporary academic fields, we need to do more to illuminate how they were set in motion and perpetuated historically, and we need to focus more attention on locations, people, and topics that have been marginalized in our collective memories. That was the aim of a virtual preconference of the International Communication Association (ICA) held in May 2021, “Exclusions in the History and Historiography of Communication Studies,” where early versions of the seven essays published here were read and discussed. This introduction aims to throw that preconference and related efforts into historical perspective and to situate the essays within the recent historiography of media and communication studies.

The 2021 gathering reflected a larger moment in the history of the social sciences and humanities (SSH), which are of course always embedded within the broader societies that shape them. That moment, whose history will one day be told, is marked by widespread reckonings with the hegemonies and systemic inequities in academic work. The key word is widespread. Members of marginalized groups within the SSH disciplines have always experienced inequity, as exposed by pointed critiques since at least the 1960s and 1970s. These longstanding interventions have interrogated multiple targets. What topics, methods, and paradigms are considered central and which ones ignored or marginalized? How do scholars and scholarship from the US and other countries in the Global North accumulate systematic advantages that marginalize or outright ignore the Global South? How do scholars minoritized by gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, language, and other means in turn accumulate systematic disadvantages?1 How are they marginalized in the social networks of well-placed white men, burdened with extra and typically unrecognized labor, thrown into realms of knowledge where people like them have been excluded from canons of classic texts and “founding fathers” of the field, and relegated to publishing work that is uncited or otherwise ignored? As we will sketch, these are all social practices that have been exposed and critiqued for more than half a century, yet too few had ears to hear them. Recently, however, critical interventions have gathered new force—intertwined with one another and all but impossible for those occupying the fields’ hegemonic centers to ignore.

A Brief Genealogy of the Present

It is important to highlight the lines of intervention that have brought us to this juncture, in part because they have been rarely acknowledged in the current reckonings. One vector consists of geopolitical critiques of the social sciences and humanities first articulated in the late 1960s and 1970s. Accounts of academic imperialism, neo-colonialism, and dependency drew upon broader versions of dependency theory and refutations of dominant understandings of modernization.2 These paralleled efforts in the Global South to develop “indigenous” social science, referring to knowledge built from epistemologies developed through local cultural traditions, rather than refracted through the dominant paradigms of the North.3 When media scholars in Western Europe and the US made efforts in the 1990s and 2000s to “de-Westernize” and “internationalize” media studies, they rarely connected their efforts to these broader traditions. As Wendy Willems has observed, their aims were “more about extending the coverage of academic inquiry on media and communication to countries not ordinarily included in the Western canon than about questioning the centrality of Western theory.”4 One ironic consequence of calls to “de-Westernize” the field was to occlude existing intellectual traditions in Africa and elsewhere. When they come from advantaged scholars in the Global North, calls to de-Westernize risk erasing local histories in ways that reproduce longstanding colonial patterns. We are aware, indeed, that this Introduction could fall into the same pattern, a danger we have in front of mind.

In recent decades, geopolitical critiques of global social science and humanities have gathered considerable momentum outside communication and media studies and, more recently, within it. Postcolonial and decolonial thinkers have provincialized the universal aspirations of European modernity, including its standards of rationality and knowledge, connecting them to “the broader histories of colonialism, empire, and enslavement,” as Gurminder Bhambra writes.5 These critiques overlap with established and growing Indigenous intellectual traditions of activism, critical analysis, and forms of knowledge and culture that stand as counter-hegemonic alternatives to Western, colonial thought.6 Decolonial and Indigenous thinking have also informed a new wave of academic dependency theory.7 That wave has joined the chorus of voices calling out the impacts of neoliberal globalization on academic production and geopolitical status hierarchies. As multiple studies have shown, global rankings of universities, journals, and impact factors all favor the US and Western Europe.8 Those rankings are also tied to the hegemony of English as the lingua franca for international social science and the attendant pressures to publish in English, the target of growing but still too-limited scrutiny.9 Large-scale quantitative network-analysis methods have aided these recent efforts by providing new tools for illuminating systemic inequities among global centers and peripheries in publishing, citation rates, editorial board membership, and international professional associations.10

Intersecting with these global geopolitical critiques, Black scholars began developing Afrocentric and other racial critiques of dominant, Euro-North American forms of knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s. In the US, Black Studies programs were established in the late 1960s at both Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and at predominantly white institutions.11 Their founding was driven by a mix of intellectual and political opposition to dominant epistemologies and methodologies, commitment to a theory of knowledge as a vehicle for social change, and a demand that higher education better serve Black communities.12 The Atlanta-based Institute for a Black World, for example, drew together intellectuals from the Black diaspora, including the Caribbean scholars Sylvia Wynter and C. L. R. James. The Institute advanced a transnational effort that aligned with Franz Fanon’s 1965 call to “work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”13 The concept of an African diaspora, which had roots in the pan-Africanisms of Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, emerged from a 1965 meeting in Tanzania of the International Congress of African Historians.14 The movement took hold in US speech communication, where African American scholars formed a Black Caucus in the Speech Association of America in 1968 and held a Black Communication Conference in 1972.15 In the 1980s, some of its members would organize World Congresses on Black Communication that drew an international array of scholars. One of the leaders of the Black Caucus was Arthur L. Smith, who adopted the name Molefi Asante while visiting the University of Ghana in 1973, and developed some of the earliest and most influential Afrocentric critiques of Western theories of communication.16 Beyond communication studies, the critic and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter, the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, and the philosopher Charles W. Mills all published work in the 1980s and ’90s that would prove foundational to the next generation of racial critiques of dominant, European forms of knowledge and the academic communities that perpetuated them.17

Arising from other social and intellectual quarters, feminist scholars exposed systems of exclusion in the social sciences and humanities organized around gender, sexuality, and intersectionality. That story begins taking shape in the 1960s and 1970s, as women’s movements and second wave feminism took root around the world. Those developments unfolded differently across cultures and national contexts, and their global history in academia has not yet been written. In some contexts, women began entering the professoriate in increasing numbers in the 1970s. They formed women’s caucuses within professional associations, which along with emerging LGBTQ caucuses, began to challenge the gendering of academic conferences while providing supportive networks to share experiences of marginalization, inequity, and everyday struggle.18 In the 1970s and 1980s, feminists across the social sciences and humanities offered trenchant critiques of the taken-for-granted assumptions of their fields and began reorienting the objects and processes of knowing. This fed concerted attention to the social dynamics of knowledge production within academic fields, with concepts like Donna Haraway’s situated knowledges and Margaret Rossiter’s Matilda Effect providing powerful cross-disciplinary tools.19 Sue Curry Jansen drew upon these insights to open critical space for understanding gender not as incidental to, but constitutive of, the history of the communication fields and their dynamic (re)production of knowledge and power in the present.20 At the same time, in the late 1980s, building on what Patricia Hill Collins called the longstanding recognition of “the interlocking nature of race, gender, and class oppression” in Black feminist thought, Kimberlé Crenshaw formulated the concept of intersectionality that has been such a crucial lens for investigating the entanglements of gender, race, class, and other positionalities.21

How have geopolitical, racial, and feminist critiques of knowledge fields shaped written histories of media and communication studies? Slowly and indirectly. First, it is important to remember that, until the 1990s, there was no significant body of work on the history of those fields, only scattered efforts and a mythos of “founding fathers” and the critical sons who symbolically killed them.22 A systematic review of the English-language literature two decades later revealed an overwhelming geographical focus on people and ideas from the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany.23 The Global South and other regions barely registered for Anglophone scholars. While we don’t have a similarly systematic analysis of the gender and race of those featured in the extant writings, we can confidently conclude that the historical literature is even more overwhelmingly focused on white men of European descent. At the same time, we have a small but growing body of work on members of minoritized groups. The history of women and gender is best developed and dates to the 1990s, though the record is far from complete and in need of broader international and comparative focus.24 There is also a growing literature on the history of Black scholars and the racialized structures of communication and media studies, though again a great deal more work needs to be done.25

Until recently, geopolitical critiques have rarely been explicit guides for writing histories of the field, but there is a significant body of work that could aid the effort by reorienting our global imaginary beyond its traditional US center. Over the last two decades, there have been trends toward more transnational and even global frameworks for understanding the historical development of communication and media studies.26 These are of a piece with broader developments in the history and sociology of the social sciences and humanities.27 Transnational and global frameworks afford the possibilities to both map lines of post–World War II US hegemony and to provincialize the US version of the field. It is crucial to recognize that there have been alternative traditions of education and research on journalism, film, radio, television, and other forms of what in Latin America came to be called comunicación social. To designate communication an American field—a tendency of boosters and critics alike—is to ignore, for instance, German Zeitungswissenschaft and postwar European Publizistik, both of which provided alternative models with transnational reach.28 It is also to ignore Catholic traditions that have deeply shaped, among other things, Jesuit education in Latin America.29 There is, moreover, a long tradition of critical and Marxian-informed communication inquiry in Latin America, with intellectual roots in nineteenth-century independence movements, catalyzed by the 1959 Cuban Revolution and shaped in the 1960s and 1970s by readings of Gramsci and dependency theory.30 Though less developed than Latin America’s, there are analogous intellectual traditions in post-independence Africa and the Arab world, also forged through rejections of modernization paradigms, which advance alternatives in the name of indigenization, Africanization, and pan-Arab unity.31 UNESCO, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) all played global roles in circulating ideas and developing social networks among scholars from the Global South and leftist allies in the North. So too did the former German Democratic Republic, which like other countries from the former Soviet Bloc, maintained a strong presence in IAMCR during the Cold War and maintained their own distinct traditions in politically charged transnational dialogue, with new entanglements after 1989.32 If we are to develop more complex understandings of contemporary lines of geopolitical hegemony and exclusion in communication and media studies, we need to incorporate all that we know about the heterogeneous global histories of those fields, much of it not published in English.

The Current Reckoning

In the contemporary moment, the geopolitical, racial, and feminist and gender-based critiques that have circulated for decades have both entangled themselves together and become much more difficult for those in the hegemonic centers to ignore. Media and communication studies, along with many other academic fields, have faced a belated reckoning with the systemic patterns of exclusion and injustice that have helped constitute them. This has been driven in part by the ongoing development of longstanding lines of thought. While in earlier moments certain lines of geopolitical and racial critique could be inattentive to gender, and white feminisms inattentive to race, they have become deeply interanimating and enriched by other strands of critical social theory. Together they provide new vocabularies and intellectual sensibilities, but the reckoning of the field is driven by the much larger political reckonings that have occurred at the societal and global level. To note a few: the Black Lives Matter movement that began in the US in 2013 and grew into a global phenomenon by 2016 brought new attention to ongoing forms of systemic racism around the world and reached a new level with George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. In the spring of 2015, the #RhodesMustFall campaign was launched in South Africa, in protest of the continued legacy of colonialism in higher education. The campaign generated momentum for a growing, multi-pronged movement to decolonize and Indigenize knowledge around the world. The Women’s Marches of January 2017, held the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, galvanized worldwide attention on gender and new assaults on the rights and wellbeing of women and LGBTQ folks. By the fall of 2017, #MeToo, which Black activist Tarana Burke had started in 2006, took hold when white Hollywood actresses picked it up. It quickly went global, providing a rallying cry for efforts to publicize and combat the ubiquitous but often silenced phenomena of sexual abuse and harassment, together with the gendered systems of power that perpetuated it. Meanwhile, faced with renewed ethno-nationalisms and white supremacies tied to right-wing populisms, liberals and progressives turned new attention to the systemic power and privilege of whiteness.

These are some of the currents that have helped energize recent critiques of communication and media studies in relation to gender, race, sexuality, language, coloniality, and geopolitical location. They are too widespread to begin to summarize, but we note some key threads. In its latest “Ferment in the Field” issue, the Journal of Communication published the essay “#CommunicationSoWhite,” a critical analysis of racialized publishing patterns in the journals of the ICA and the US National Communication Association (NCA), which has galvanized conversations internationally.33 Others have scrutinized what Vicki Mayer and her co-authors call “the stubborn persistence of patriarchy in communication studies.”34 Latin Americans have led the way on decolonial critiques of the field, extending a tradition that dates back more than five decades.35 They are part of a recent wave of decolonizing efforts that traverse subfields of communication and media studies and extend across world regions, which in turn intersect with recent thinking about the “de-Westernization” project.36 The interventions take many forms, including renewed critical attention to the politics and exclusionary practices of conference locations and their privileging of scholars from wealthier institutions in the Global North.37 The efforts are manifold and growing.

Exigencies: The Needs of the Moment

In this multi-dimensional critical endeavor, which History of Media Studies fully supports, there are many kinds of work that remain to be done. In the broadest sense, we need to both expand our cosmopolitan imaginations and dwell in the particulars of fifty years of critique and activism that have thrown light on the inequities and epistemological violence of dominant systems of knowledge. This means recognizing how these inequities are re/produced in particular texts, encounters, and practices. At the same time, we should explore how those discrete instances are communicatively linked to—or find analogues in—other places and times. To do so will require that we recognize the connections between academic fields and society, with a fine-grained appreciation of the distinct normative orientations that emerge from each. The crisis of the present moment brings with it an uncommon opportunity to make adjustments at the most fundamental levels of practice. The work of historically Othered people, aided by allies, has brought the problems and possibilities of the moment to light. It is past time that more of us who are members of historically privileged groups do what we can to help move the process forward—recognizing the danger that, as we try, we may simply reconfigure traditional lines of power and privileged ignorance. There will need to be some kind of flexible division of labor in this work, linked to positionalities, institutional locations, expertise, and capacities.

We feel that, among the many needs of the present, there are four in particular that the 2021 preconference, this special section of essays, and the History of Media Studies journal have all tried (and are trying) to address. They do not begin to speak to the range of issues brought out by critiques based on geopolitics, coloniality, race, gender, sexuality, and disability. But we believe that they can contribute to the much broader effort in their own ways. They are: (1) the need to throw the present state of academic fields into sharper historical relief, (2) the need to build international collaborations that refigure what have been taken to be the “centers” and “peripheries” in media studies, (3) the need to find ways to resist the growing hegemony of English in the global knowledge system, and (4) the need to support an open and nonprofit publishing infrastructure. None of these needs is easily satisfied. Resistance to each is built into the practices and institutions that currently structure our fields. And none of them has received the attention that it deserves in the present moment of reckoning.

Historical Roots

First, the need to cast the present in fuller historical relief: While there are exceptions, recent critiques of the field, like the disciplines of communication and media research as a whole, are strikingly contemporary in their focus.38 This presentism, it should be noted, is not the timeless universalism of positivist and post-positivist social science, produced as it is by critical scholars broadly committed to dialectical and situated forms of historicity. The authors of recent interventions would agree that the phenomena they critique all trail histories that have shaped them. Yet, in general, their works have not carefully attended to the historical dynamics of exclusion and marginalization, as grounded in the media and communication fields’ emergence and evolution. One explanation for this neglect of history is the division of expert labor that characterizes the modern academy. Another is the pressing urgency of the present. The result is that otherwise persuasive critiques, in many cases, invoke two-dimensional accounts of the fields’ past that have populated textbooks since Wilbur Schramm advanced his “four founders” myth in the 1960s, followed by critical scholars’ symbolic slayings in the 1970s and 1980s.39 In other words, critics risk reinforcing the historiographical cliches that, in their misleading simplicity, have contributed to the fields’ narrow self-conceptions.

To counter this presentism, the current moment of reckoning requires at least three kinds of historical specificity. We need, first, to critically analyze the dynamics through which white Euro-American hetero-masculinity captured and maintained the hegemonic center of the field from the interwar period on. In addition, we need to do more to recover and center the experiences of minoritized members of the field, resisting totalizing collective memories that ironically occlude their complex negotiations of the white masculinist hegemony and contributions to the production of the field historically. Finally, we need to resist similarly totalizing narratives that call communication and media research “an American field” and fail to recognize the rich histories of inquiries in Latin America, Africa, East Asia, and Europe—with their own intellectual traditions and complex negotiations of the hegemony of US-style research. Revisionist historiography, as well as longer-standing accounts published in languages besides English, already furnish material for all three kinds of specificity, but we need more research on specific geopolitical locations and social groups, as well as their entanglements with histories that have been better told.

International Collaborations

Second, we should continue to build more robust and inclusive international collaborations. In contrast with the relative paucity of history within contemporary critiques, there are many examples of scholars working across national borders to scrutinize the gendered, racial, colonial, and geopolitical patterns that continue to structure our fields. We see important efforts within professional associations, large and smaller conferences, journal special issues, editorial boards, and individual research projects and publications. At the same time, there are longstanding habits and institutional structures that impede our efforts here. Unsurprisingly, some are particularly evident in the US field, a function of operating in the English-speaking geopolitical center (or so we think), with all the arrogance and obliviousness that carries. The relentlessly parochial National Communication Association (NCA) plays a significant role, with its unmarked name itself implying sole dominion over nation-based scholarly societies. To its members’ credit, NCA journals, conferences, listservs, and social media conversations have all done vital work in focusing attention on whiteness, race, gender, and to a certain extent, coloniality. Nevertheless, its members tend to be US-focused in their research and social networks, monolingual, and often unaware of how their own cultural particularity shapes their critical analyses. NCA journals are overwhelmingly populated by US-based scholars, on editorial boards and among authors.40 There are of course nation-based structuring mechanisms elsewhere in the world as well, organized through intellectual cultures, networks, and institutions. They too can impede international collaboration. There are, moreover, minoritized groups within every world region, excluded from full and equal participation by systems of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and dis/ability. The larger point is that we need to pool experience and expertise from around the world to understand the constitution of global knowledge systems, and we need to create more equitable space for minoritized scholars within world regions to write from their own places, on their own terms.

Against the Hegemony of English

Third, if we are to both advance the recent critical reckoning and develop a more equitable, cosmopolitan field globally, we need to find ways to push against the hegemony of English and English-language scholarship. This is of course one factor that limits more robust international collaborations, but it is more than that. As Afonso de Albuquerque argues, English has grown more powerful in global communication and media studies since the 1990s, tied to “the rise of a unipolar world order” and the acceleration of neoliberal globalization.41 As the language solidified its place as the unquestioned lingua franca of international social science, it elevated native English speakers, while also making space for scholars from wealthy Northern European countries and others privileged enough to know the language well.42 The linguistic hegemony adds another layer of power and privilege to the journals in the US and UK, with their English-speaking editorial boards, which dominate global rankings in communication and the social sciences.43 The accelerating dominance of English has helped render the robust tradition of Latin American communication scholarship virtually invisible in the US and Europe.44 The global hegemony of English can also be seen as a linguistic imperialism, tied to what linguists have termed linguicism—ideologically informed practices that perpetuate unequal divisions of resources and power among groups on the basis of language.45 We need to find ways to address linguistic imperialism without re-marginalizing those in English-speaking countries without the cultural capital to have learned second languages.

To take the dominance of Anglophone scholarship as an unalterable given is to concede too much. Translation and interpretation are necessary tools in the work we pursue. Though both can quickly become prohibitively expensive, new automated translation tools such as DeepL show great promise, and many software platforms that support real-time meetings (including Zoom) allow for simultaneous interpretation. There is of course no easy technical solution to the problem of linguicism, but one of the most substantial obstacles to overcoming this problem—the presumption that translation and interpretation are unnecessary or completely out of reach—is demonstrably false.

Open Access Publishing

Fourth and finally, we need to promote egalitarian access to scholarship, for readers and for authors. The scholarly publishing industry, dominated by a handful of giant firms from the Global North, has helped sharpen the geography of exclusion by restricting access to those who can pay the steep entrance fees. Nonprofit open access (OA) publishing, free of article charges, is an important response to this closed regime of knowledge. In this effort, the media and communication studies fields should follow the lead of the well-established Latin American tradition of OA journal publishing.46 European and North American institutions have enabled—wittingly or otherwise—the commercial publishers’ cynical cooptation of the OA movement.47 Their tack has been to swap out extortionate subscription fees for usurious article charges, erecting author paywalls in place of reader paywalls.48 Latin American scholars have led a global campaign against this corporate, fee-based OA regime, citing the $3,000+ article fees as a de facto exclusion of the Global South.49 The nonprofit, fee-free Latin American model is a robust and thriving alternative, supported by collective funding. Media and communication scholars from Latin America and elsewhere have recently issued field-specific pleas to reverse the momentum behind commercial, author-excluding open access, which promises to deepen global knowledge inequalities.50 One counter-move is to forge international, multi-lingual collaborations among no-fee OA journals, an idea that HMS is now piloting with Comunicación y Sociedad and MATRIZes.

Registers of Exclusion

Last year’s ICA Preconference was organized with these aims in mind: to chart exclusion and to continue the work of recovery. The two-day virtual gathering convened two dozen scholars from around the world for a dialogue on papers that, in revised form, appear in this special section. The preconference and journal were, from the beginning, meant to be linked. One goal was to make manifest our vision for History of Media Studies, as a site of historiographical broadening. The call for papers, issued in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, noted the aim to engage Latin American scholars and traditions in particular. Roughly half the papers were written in Spanish, the other half in English. Organizers used DeepL to generate very serviceable translations for participants to read ahead of time. The preconference event itself then included live, simultaneous interpreters supporting what was an electrifying, bilingual conversation. The vibrancy of the exchange was momentum-generating proof that the new journal could, with lots of work and collaboration, make de-centering the fields’ histories its editorial pillar. It was lost on no one that the virtual format was a crucial enabler of intellectual exchange. The high cost of conference travel, after all, is a major mechanism of exclusion, typically along South-North lines. Those costs were saved, with the result that grants and a modest, waivable conference fee could support the professional interpreters instead—whose work, in turn, depended on the low-cost conference software that brought the group together.

It was the example of the preconference that prompted History of Media Studies to launch as a multilingual journal, with manuscripts accepted in both Spanish and English. Guided by our international Editorial Board, we plan to support additional languages over time, with priority granted to linguistic literatures and traditions excluded by the fields’ accelerating English-language hegemony. Of the seven articles in this special section, three are published in Spanish, four in English, with this introduction appearing in both languages. The papers address a variety of exclusions, across geographies and intellectual domains. Crucial dimensions of exclusion and occlusion, notably along lines of race and gender, are treated only indirectly in this collection, which reflects the emphasis of papers that were submitted out of the preconference. In that respect, we view the special section as a first step, a promissory note of sorts, toward the inclusive historiography of the field that the journal seeks to incubate. Each of the papers, in its particular focus, represents the kind of work we aim to publish in future volumes—scholarship that brings historical sensitivity to bear on the field’s reckoning with its oversights and inequities.

Sarah Cordonnier’s contribution takes the field itself as the object of exclusion. Media, communication, and film studies were established, she observes, in diverse ways across the globe. The fields’ institutional and intellectual histories, accordingly, look strikingly different according to national and regional context. Yet these various media studies formations share the experience of marginality. Communication scholars, in one national field after another, have been relegated to the low-status periphery of their host universities. Cordonnier’s article registers this pattern of stigmatization, traceable in part to the fields’ rapid and late-arriving institutional growth. The paper issues a call for the fields to reverse their defensive posture—to embrace the very conditions, including proximity to everyday life and the sheer heterogeneity of knowledge practices, that have served to sap their legitimacy.

Daniel Horacio Cabrera Altieri’s article on the “textile imaginary” can be read as an extension, and also a deepening, of Cordonnier’s concluding point. Cabrera Altieri positions the practice and metaphor of weaving as a long-submerged and differently gendered alternative to the transport- and network-oriented conceptions of communication that have dominated the organized field. Communication theorists’ preoccupation with discursive rationality, and with the progressive unfolding of new media, has helped to obscure a rich alter-tradition, which Cabrera Altieri draws out through particular attention to Latin American Indigenous cultures. His project is to recover the memory, and to excavate subterranean traces, excluded by the fields’ “textile amnesia.” As a rival imaginary, the textile suggests a care-oriented ethic of interweaving, one which centers on the social fabric.

One long-suppressed source for alternative conceptions of communication, including the grounding metaphor of textile, is the Indigenous experience in Latin America. As María Magdalena Doyle describes in her contribution, Indigeneity was a neglected area of study within the emerging national disciplines of communication in the region—and, we would add, elsewhere in the world. Starting in the 1970s, Latin American scholars began to study Indigenous peoples’ communication and media practices, but typically through the dueling prisms of modernization or class struggle. Doyle charts a shift in scholarship around the mid-1980s, a reflection in part of the dawning recognition of Indigenous peoples’ distinctive identity, in national and international arenas. By the 1990s, a strand of work had begun to articulate a decolonial imaginary on the basis of Indigenous communication and political struggle, one that furnished—as a growing body of scholarship draws out—alternative epistemologies.

Emiliano Sánchez Narvarte’s paper follows another thread in Latin American communication research, the region’s engagement with international organizations and the transnational circulation of research. Beginning in the late 1970s, Venezuelan scholar Antonio Pasquali took on a series of posts at UNESCO. From this perch, and by way of his dense web of ties with other Latin American researchers, Pasquali helped to connect the region to institutions, like UNESCO and the International Association of Media & Communication Research (IAMCR), that were, at the time, engaged in challenging the unmarked parochialism of US communication research. Sánchez Narvarte draws out the politics of communication in Latin America between 1979 and 1989 and positions Pasquali as an intellectual mediator (mediador intelectual),51 whose connective role helped, in turn, to solidify the field’s regional consciousness in new spaces like the Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC).

In the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO and IAMCR helped braid critical scholars from around the world in what was, for some researchers at least, a self-conscious project to build alternatives to the US media effects tradition. In their article, Maria Löblich, Niklas Venema, and Elisa Pollack chronicle the rise and fall of critical research in the Cold War hothouse of West Berlin. In the wake of 1968, leftist students at Freie Universität helped support new hires and an overhauled curriculum that mixed critical theory with skills training. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology-of-science framework, Löblich, Venema, and Pollack recount how the charged politics and heightened rhetoric of anticommunism soon led the West Berlin government to engineer a restructuring, one that had the effect of shuttering the university’s short-lived critical tradition.

The politics of communication scholarship are Angela Xiao Wu’s focus too, in her account of the Chinese discipline’s distinctive embrace of cybernetics and systems theory in the post-Mao 1980s. Journalism scholars in particular joined cybernetics with Friedrich Engels’ dialectics-of-nature scientism into what Wu calls “systems journalism.” The measure of news was not correspondence to reality, but instead its contributions to the overall system’s stability. By the early 1990s, the Chinese field, xiwen chuanbo (“journalism communication study"), was anointed a first-tier discipline, partly owing to the improbable amalgam of Engels and systems theory—a creative adaptation, Wu shows, to complex local conditions. It bears pointing out that these local conditions pick up on just the kind of geographical and geopolitical contexts that have been excluded or marginalized in much of the extant historiography.

In the special section’s final contribution, Boris Mance and Sašo Slaček Brlek draw on a quantitative network analysis of eight English-language journals to chart the communication fields’ treatment of inequality. The topic, they show, has been relegated to the disciplines’ margins since World War II. The spare treatment of inequality, such as it was, has tended to track broader contexts beyond the field, including the Cold War contest or, later, the US government’s internet policy. Mance and Brlek conclude that inequality, as a research topic, has been domesticated, even de-fanged—a byproduct, they argue, of the mainstream field’s close ties to the administrative interests of powerful states like the US.

The papers collected here gesture at the double character of the fields’ exclusions. These patterns of omission and commission are, at one register, constitutive of the disciplinary formations that we have inherited and reproduced. Media, film, and communication studies were, in other words, shaped in fundamental ways by silencings, entitlements, forgettings, and contestations. The unmarked center and the excluded periphery have, in an important sense, co-created one another. At a second register, however, these exclusions represent contingent developments. There is no iron law of academic dependency, no pre-fated course of hegemonic overspread.

Informed by the preconference conversation and the articles gathered here, our view is that a historiography informed by both registers—the constitutive and the contingent—could contribute to the fields’ tentative reckoning with their pasts and presents. To frame these exclusions as constitutive is to head off any easy solutions in the form of mere inclusivity; rather, it is to invite us to consider all the ways in which these and other exclusions have functioned to center certain problems, theories, methods, languages, nations, social identities, and publication venues; and to exclude or marginalize others that are cast as differentially less valuable, lower status, Other, and more. To frame them as constitutive is also to draw attention to how those exclusions are performatively enacted on an ongoing basis through the full range of practices, social and epistemological, through which the field (re)produces itself.

The promise of the contingency frame, in turn, is to cultivate a sensitivity to the many alternative formations, literatures, and ways of knowing that have, from the fields’ various beginnings, always shadowed the better-funded, more visible, and linguistically privileged domains. In this second register, the historiography of media studies might help to head off an unintended consequence of some recent critical interventions. By repeating stock historical tropes, even with the aim of toppling them, the risk is that the fields’ many heterodox and oppositional traditions will remain invisible, buried by the patterned forgetting that this section’s papers seek to reverse. As we work to support a more inclusive canopy for the study of media, our fields’ histories could help fertilize the ground beneath. That work has only begun.


Thanks to Karen Lee Ashcraft for her insightful comments on an earlier draft of this Introduction, to Raúl Fuentes Navarro for guidance on Jesuit communication education in Latin America, and to Joëlle Cruz for suggestions on contextualizing Black Studies in the US in relation to intellectual developments in Africa.


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