Sideshows at the IAMCR Montreal conference

By Philip Lee on July 17, 2015


Burgundian Combo, with Cees Hamelink on the accordion. Photo: Philip Lee.

This year’s conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), 12-16 July 2015, combined debate and conviviality.

A characteristic of the conference programme was the eclectic mix of academic presentations and informal sideshows.

One special session focused on the rise of populist politics in Europe, examining how media presence and advertising are used to persuade electorates.

The context for this discussion was the global economic crisis and immigration that are contributing to a revival of stereotypes and the instigation of policies inimical to multiculturalism.

For example, in mid-June 2015 the Hungarian government announced a plan to build a barrier that will run all the way along its 175km border with Serbia.

Some 54,000 refugees have entered Hungary since the beginning of 2015, a sharp rise from the 2,000 who entered the central European state in 2012.

“Populist advertising strategies during the 2014 European election campaign” was the topic of a presentation by Christina Holz-Bacha of Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

She identified a populist communication style consisting of references to “the people”, anti-elitism (against political actors, media, state, intellectuals, economists), and exclusion (stigmatization of specific segments labelled as not belonging to the people).

Karen Sanders, CEU San Pablo University, Spain, spoke about “Immigration and the framing of the other in populist policies” in Spain, one of only two countries in Europe where populist parties have not gained a significant portion of the vote.

She elaborated on declining level of trust in government, the phenomenon of the left-wing political party Podemos and the significant role played by social media in promoting its leader, Pablo Iglesias.

Epp Lauk, Professor of Journalism at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, described the situation in Estonia, where collective historical trauma, the imperfect social integration of ethnically and linguistically divided society, and the growing application of soft power by Russian Federation are creating a sense of panic.

With two societies in one state (Estonian and Russian), there are effectively two separate communication and information spaces. Russia conducts a public discourse against Estonia via television, news portals, NGOs financed by Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Scholarship award and publications

During the IAMCR conference, the 2015 award in memory of cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall was presented to Faith Kibere (photo left), a fourth-year PhD candidate at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom for her paper “The Politics of Representation in Kibera Slum, Kenya”.

In a unanimous decision, the selection committee wrote, “The winning paper by Faith Kibere is an outstanding reflection of the kind of scholarship of which Stuart Hall would be proud. It examines from the perspective of critical realism, the lived experiences and sense of alienation of the residents of the impoverished urban community of Kibera, five miles from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.”

The committee went on to say that, “Faith Kibere argues that adverse media representations of the community had a dual and contradictory impact: the usual negative stereotyping of people and their environment, but also, importantly, a positive effect of exposing the real felt needs of people living in Kibera.”

The Stuart Hall Award was established at IAMCR’s Hyderabad Conference to celebrate his lasting contribution to communications scholarship and to remember his work. Hall’s writings, inspirational mentoring and teaching, intellectual leadership, and political vision, shaped the study of communications in decisive ways.

The Journal of Alternative and Community Media edited by Chris Atton and Susan Forde was launched. Its aim is to ensure the publication of the highest quality theoretical and methodological work in what is a growing field of research.

The IAMCR conference also saw the publication of The International Political Economy of Communication: Media and Power in South America (Palgrave Macmillan), an edited volume that addresses current debates in the context of recent political and social transformations on the continent.

In addition, European Media in Crisis. Values, Risks and Policies (Routledge) has appeared from the Euromedia Research Group. It discuss the implications for journalism, public and commercial media, political communication, and gender equality.

Improvisation as a means of communication

Montreal hosts an annual International Festival of Jazz. This year’s event had concluded by the time conference participants reached the city, but no better place to hear a band from the Netherlands called Burgundian Combo and featuring IAMCR past-president, Cees Hamelink.

Cees Hamelink is well known to communicators worldwide. He studied theology and psychology, played double bass in the Louis van Dijk trio that won the 1961 Loosdrecht jazz price, worked as a journalist with Dutch broadcasting stations, as a researcher with international organisations in Geneva and Mexico City, and as advisor to national governments and international bodies (the UN among others).

As emeritus professor he continues to lecture worldwide and recently accepted new posts as honorary professor of the University of Queensland in Australia and at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam as Athena Professor for Human Rights and Public Health.

Professor Hamelink chairs the Dutch Human Rights League, is editor-in-chief of the academic journal the International Communication Gazette and honorary president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research.

Hamelink is on record as saying, “Music is a great teacher of ‘conviviality’. The concept ‘convivial’ denotes the combination of cheerfulness with helpfulness. The link is important, since we know from a range of social psychology experiments that people who are happy tend to be more helpful and cooperative.”

He has also made a plea for children to learn “conviviality” through music education that teaches them to listen to each other, particularly by playing jazz together in a big band and learning to improvise.

In Hamelink’s opinion, “We live on a dangerous and endangered planet and because we are the only species that makes music we have the responsibility to use this magic tool to make living on this planet meaningful.”

Burgundian Combo, a jazz ensemble of which Cees Hamelink is a member, practised this philosophy by holding a “musical conversation” with IAMCR participants.

A sideshow at the conference, the ensemble could easily have topped the bill!

By Philip Lee| July 17, 2015
Categories:  Features

About the Author

Philip Lee

Philip Lee

Currently WACC Deputy Director of Programmes and editor of the international journal Media Development. Recent publications include Communicating Peace: Entertaining Angels Unawares (ed.) (2008), and Public Memory, Public Media and the Politics of Justice (ed.) (2012).

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