© Media Watch 10 (2) 194–196, 2019
ISSN 0976-0911 e-ISSN 2249-8818
The Digital Turn in Media and Communication Studies
UMA SHANKAR PANDEY*
The disciplinary boundaries of media and communication studies, especially in the American and West European contexts have become quite amorphous with several divergent epistemological and ontological strands. A good indicator of the plurality of the theoretical domains and methodological approaches in media and communication studies is the diversity of sections and working groups in the premier associations in the field — the International Communication Association and the International Association for Media and Communication Research, for example. The foci of these sections and working groups are so wide-ranging that a scholar of inter-cultural studies, for example, may find Digital Divide studies to be unintelligible. Many have regarded this diversity of media and communication studies as its strength.
Influential scholars have argued that the diversity of communication theories is not a symptom of ‘disorientation’ in the field nor is the uncertainty regarding the disciplinary boundaries the reason for ever increasing theories in the field. It is a result of the general transformation of the human sciences (Craig, 1993).
A landmark study in the last decade identified ‘604 different theories, general scientific paradigms, and schools of thought’ in articles in three stalwart journals in five decades starting from the fifties (Bryant & Miron, 2004). Six out ten of these theories originated in the field of communication while the other theories were from Psychology, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, Cybernetics, Arts, Literature, Linguistics. Over two percent of these theories originated in Biology and Mathematics as well. Among the theories originating in communication studies, they could be neatly divided into six different areas- speech (or communication studies); general mass communication theories; media psychology or media sociology); media law and politics; media economics and programming theories.
On the other hand, western communication theories over the years have been defined by seven different traditions (Craig & Muller, 2007). For a very brief overview, the Rhetorical Tradition is related to the ancient Greek legal system where individuals had to argue their cases. The use of logos, ethos, and pathos was the standard method of persuasion. The Semiotic Tradition in communication research performs two different functions. It is treated as a methodology for examining signs through the framework of other theoretical concepts. At the same time, semiotics can be seen as a theoretical framework to understand images, psyches, etc. The Phenomenological Tradition in communication studies concerns itself with the study of conscious human experience. The Cybernetic Tradition for the study of cognitive and social systems rests on four ‘conceptual pillars’— circularity, information, process, and participation. The Sociopsychological Tradition concerns itself with the interaction of the individual with society. Contemporary theorists of the Sociocultural Tradition contend that reality is constructed through interaction in groups. In the Critical Tradition theorists critique capitalism and domination.
At the same time, Media and Communication studies in the non-Western context have concentrated on two distinct clusters. One, Platform or channel studies that have focused on peculiarities of channels such as newspapers, magazines, radio (including community radio), television, cinema, and internet. A major concern of these platform studies has been the impact of these media on the audiences and the content produced by these media. On the other hand, there have been ‘public communication’ studies— journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, etc.
Access to digital technology, in the last few decades, has not only changed communication, but social life is also hard to imagine without digital technology.
It is not an exaggeration to say; digitalization has irreversibly changed economics, politics, and society. Digital mediation is no longer the sole preserve of media and communication scholars. It is fair to say that in the present age, communication studies does not have any boundary since almost everything can be considered a ‘communicative process’ in the digitally networked society. It has spawned new specializations in other traditional fields- digital sociology, digital anthropology, digital economics, digital geography, etc. To compound matters for media and communication scholars, digital media is not defined by any singular media logic. There is no single construction of reality, but a multiplicity of constructions defined by the human-technology interactions.
The present issue of Media Watch provides a snapshot of the concerns regarding digital technology— in all its variations— among non-Western scholars. Three papers employ the Uses and Gratifications paradigm to trace the motives for the use of different social media platforms in diverse contexts. Arti et al. examine why female students at Kuwait University use Instagram and the different gratifications they get from Instagram. Elareshi et al. investigate the use of WhatsApp by Bahraini women. Fokina et al. analyze the differences in usage of VKontakte (InContact); Instagram; Facebook; Odnoklassniki (Classmates), and Twitter in Russia.
Three papers use the Framing theory to analyze content on the digital platform. Rai et al. analyze citizen journalism content on Bhutannewsservice.com while Nelson et al. analyze 30 news videos on YouTube from BBC, CNN, and Aljazeera regarding ISIS activities. Kalinina et al. analyze content from Russia Today, RIA Novosti, Ukrinform and Fox News Channel regarding Russian participation in the Syrian conflict.
Chernova et al. use the digital divide framework to analyze why certain groups do not utilize internet resources despite access to them. Many users regard their limited digital skills an impediment to proper use of the internet. Tretyakova et al.’s paper deal with digital media consumption habits in Russia.
Kabi and Nayak’s paper content analyses six newspapers published from Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur to see how the print reacts to conflict situations and peace processes in northeast India.
Al Ibrahim and Shi use the Critical Discourse Analysis method to deconstruct two ISIS propaganda films Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun and Flames of War until the Final Hour. The first film was aimed at its opponents in the global coalition while the second carried messages to its supporters and fighters.
Kushwaha’s paper analyses political cartoons while Chauhan deconstructs the fairness Ads in India. In the tenth-year of its publication, this issue of the Journal starts the Book Review section with Prof Kiran Thakur’s ‘Newspaper English’ reviewed by Mahesh Vijapurkar.
The diversity of the methods and theoretical frameworks in this issue is reflective of the global diversity in media and communication studies. These voices from the global south are an important addition to the intellectual globalization. Persuasion scholarship in this field has to counter several fresh challenges, especially with the advent of more sophisticated algorithms and access to tailor-made content. The humongous amount of digital content available has added different layers to an individual’s decision to choose the content. For instance, motivated reasoning and confirmation bias are important factors for one’s choice of content and perception of its credibility. Cognitive theorists explain motivated reasoning occurs when one’s attitudes are challenged; an affective judgment is called for; one’s attitude is strong; the consequences of being wrong are weak; the judgmental task is complex; objective information is not readily available and ‘counterarguments come easily to mind.’ In the digital ecosystem, media and communication studies appear very different to observers depending on their vantage position. In the worlds of (Waisbord, 2019) communication studies is truly in an age of post-disciplinarity.
Bryant, J., & Miron, D. (2004). Theory and Research in Mass Communication. Journal of Communication, 54(4), 662-704.
Craig, R. T. (1993). Why Are There So Many Communication Theories? Journal of Communication, 43(3), 26-33.
Craig, R. T., & Muller, H. L. (2007). Theorizing communication: Readings across traditions. Los
Dance, F. E. (1970). The “Concept” of Communication. Journal of Communication, 20(2), 201-210.
Waisbord, S. (2019). Communication: A Post-Discipline. Cambridge: Polity.
*Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Surendranath College for Women, University of Calcutta, India. He is the Editor of May 2019 issue of Media Watch. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org