Call for Papers

Hosted by the South African Research Chair in Science Communication

11 November 2022, Stellenbosch University

We take as a starting point the important provocations of Antonio Lopez in his 2021 book, Ecomedia Literacy. There, he compellingly argues that research and pedagogy in the field of media literacy in specific, and arguably in communications research broadly conceived, require a new theoretical language that integrates the ecological and environmental. Instead of studying media as part of culture and politics – that is, as constructions of human endeavour and society and thereby, as dualistic in relation to nature – they need to conceptualized as inherently part of it.

Ecomedia reframes media as ecological media; that is, media are a material reality that are in, and a part of, our environment in the broadest sense(s). There are no media that are inseparable from their material conditions and the environment that produced them (Lopez, 2021, p. 6).

From the communications studies perspective, the integration of the ecological into theories of the place of media technologies and texts in the world is nothing short of revolutionary. This move also signals the long way that ecologists and environmental scientists might need to go to fully consider the place of media and communications in their ontology and epistemology. Boundaries needed to be broken on both sides of the disciplinary divide, as media and communications researchers integrate the ecological into their worldviews, and environmental and ecological researchers integrate the communicative into theirs.

In the past two decades or so, media and communications scholars have demanded scholarly legitimacy for the field. Often caricatured as a “Mickey Mouse discipline” especially by those in the so-called “hard sciences”, media and communications studies have successfully staked a claim for the political, social, economic and cultural relevance of mediacentric social sciences research. This work has been interdisciplinary and has mostly drawn on a diversity of theory and methodology from within the humanities and social sciences, and has also resulted in a kind of strategic mediacentrism. Now, thanks to Lopez and others working in the domain of ecomedia, a new call stakes a claim for the ecological relevance of media and communications research. The corollary is that researchers working on the climate crisis, the environment, ecology and biodiversity and other natural sciences fields, seem to be increasingly recognising the importance of communications to their research. This is certainly true in a practical sense, as ecologists, conservationists, ornithologists, zoologists, oceanographers, hydrologists, entomologists and other scientists turn to social media platforms to share their research findings, or to recruit citizen scientists to help them gather data. How else – beside the practical tasks of dissemination and recruitment – do media and communications fit into their research, theoretically speaking?

Our aim is to invite a radically interdisciplinary, but also pragmatic, conversation between scientists who work on ecological issues about the role of media and communications in their work, and media and communications researchers to explicitly direct their attention to the role of the ecological in their work.

This symposium will bring together researchers actively working at the interface between ecology and communications research and practice, to explore the many theoretical, empirical and practical aspects that arise between these disciplinary orientations. We seek to understand how our specific contexts in South African and African settings may influence these tensions and intersections. The field of “ecomedia” is receiving growing attention in global north scholarship, yet there are many researchers working in and on African contexts and cases who are fruitfully mining the modalities of media and communications practice and research in their ecological, conservation and natural sciences research. Thus, there exists a huge opportunity to consider the nexus of eco-communications in greater theoretical and empirical detail from African perspectives. Further, we want to expand thinking on media to include a variety of forms of communication that may not have technology platforms at their heart, including face-to-face forms. Hence our framing for the symposium from the angle of Southern / African Eco-Communications.

We invite presentations from researchers and practitioners in South Africa and Africa, from any disciplinary orientation in response (but certainly not limited) to the following provocations:

  • How are ecological/environmental researchers using communication forms, strategies, or platforms to further the aims of their research projects?
  • What role in specific do social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter play in ecological research processes?
  • How are media and communications researchers tackling topics specific to the environmental and ecological?
  • What forms of citizen science in eco-research use what kinds of communicative modalities, and to what effect?
  • What forms of connection and participation, for “ordinary” people in eco-science research, do communicative technologies and strategies allow?
  • To what extent does eco-communication research resonate differently in urban and rural settings?
  • What values, ideologies or moral stances are produced through environmental communications?
  • How are citizens/consumers considered, constructed, and hailed in ecological communications?
  • How do powerful organisations, such as corporations and governments, use communications in relation to ecological issues and projects?
  • How do ecological scientists theorise media?
  • How do media researchers theorise ecology?
  • To what extent can communications be considered the bridge between scientists and citizens, and if so, how?
  • What forms of researcher reflexivity are demanded by an eco-communications framing?
  • What aspects of scientific ecological research are most conducive to the communications project? And which, in turn are not?
  • How might communications tools and formats be best deployed in service of ecological science research projects?
  • Are communications simply tools that should be deployed in service of a normative scientific agenda?
  • Do ecological and environmental scientists care about how to communicate their research to a broader public? Should they?
  • How might eco-communications practices, strategies, experiments and even failures construct different publics?
  • Who gets to create ecological or environmental communications campaigns, and what social, economic, political and cultural resources do they mobilise in this task?
  • Who receives, uses, enjoys or ignores eco-communications, how and why?

Please send a paper title, a 300-word abstract and a 100-word biography to Dr Corlia Meyer (corliameyer@sun.ac.za) by 30 September 2022. Invitations for selected abstracts will be made by 25 October 2022.

Location

The symposium will be hosted at Stellenbosch University on 11 November 2022.  There are no symposium or application fees. Unfortunately, no travel or accommodation stipends are available for the symposium.

Format

We hope to have an in-person symposium, but of course this will depend on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic and government travel rules and gathering mandates. We will plan for a blended online-offline event, and for virtual presentations to take place as needed, and will assess the need for such closer to the time of the symposium. Please communicate with us on submission of your abstract if you have strong preferences for either an in-person or online event. We will seek to accommodate all forms of participation, although we aspire to facilitate the kind of exchange and collaboration that comes from a face-to-face meeting as best we can.

Note: We also convene a monthly ecomedia reading group in Stellenbosch, over coffee. Email corliameyer@sun.ac.za if you would like to join.