After an intense and amazing week at the International Communication Association (ICA) Annual Conference in London, it’s time to recapitulate. I’ll try to do this in Q&A style.
What is ICA?
ICA is the biggest (?) association for media and communication research. They have a broad membership base from all around the world and are organized within specific topical sections. For example, there is a gender and communication section, one on children and media (CAM), one on communication and technology (CAT), one on political communication, and so on.
Why a conference?
Because researchers, like many other professions as well, need to come together once in a while to exchange ideas and present their work. It’s a good opportunity to find interesting stuff in one’s field, to meet new people, and keep in touch with the community. And – of course! – enjoying the intellectual climate of inspiring peers combined with free drinks and food at receptions are very appealing reasons for a conference, too.
Why in London?
I don’t know… But London’s actually quite cool. I like the city and it was a good place to have the conference.
What did I learn?
First of all, I visited a ton of highly interesting sessions and learnt a lot about ongoing research in my field (new/social media and their impact on society). In the communication and technology sessions, I saw cutting-edge research and some of the leading researchers, e.g. Noshir Contractor, Nicole Ellison, Kate Crawford etc. Within the empirically oriented sessions, I noticed a strong focus on (social)psychological aspects of social media. Topics such as narcissism, privacy concerns, social support, and reliance on the theory of planned behavior showed up throughout different panels. However, there were also more sociological approaches, focusing on social capital, trust, social interaction, or social networks. Not many of the sociological approaches used a “strong” theoretical backing in the form of established social and communication theories (Habermas, Bourdieu, Schütz, Luhmann, Foucault, or what have you). And the more theoretical panels I visited hardly relied on empirical data. In sum, I detected a gap between theory and empirical evidence. Or in other words, few presentations managed to connect empirical insights with the advancement and application of “strong” social theories. This is (still) a caveat of a lot of today’s social media research. Many findings are very dispersed and we lack a cumulative tradition as well as research agenda.
(expect more learnings and other Q&As to come in a subsequent post)