Letter from the Editor
Curd Knüpfer, Freie Universität Berlin
The Political Communication Divisions of APSA and ICA are some of the largest and most influential of their respective associations. Their joint efforts and the high-impact journal Political Communication are the institutional backbone and center of what we might conceive as the academic field of “Political Communication.” This field is a prestigious one and much of its appeal lies in its cross-border cooperation. The international conferences are well-attended, and leadership teams often need to navigate various time zones when setting up their Zoom meetings. And yet, one can’t help but notice a particular pattern when it comes to which institutions and actors are truly represented here…
The American Political Science Association mainly draws members from the United States, rather than spanning the two American continents. Meanwhile, the International Communication Association is dominated by members from the so-called WEIRD states – and institutions affluent enough to pay for or at least subsidize membership fees, travel, and accommodation. Beyond membership and individual actors, there’s also the epistemic dimension to consider. As Cherian George or Patrícia Rossini reminded those present at ICA’s 2022 Political Communication Round Table discussion, much of what we refer to when speaking about “political communication” theory, was developed within Western contexts.
Despite ongoing efforts to internationalize, in personnel as well as in regard to epistemic content, the current center of the field of Political Communication tilts heavily towards Western institutions. And as this issue of the Political Communication Report aims to make clear: this diminishes the potential of what a more de-centralized field could look like. To make this case, we asked various members of our community to provide their perspectives on what it would mean to “de-Westernize PolComm”:
- Silvio Waisbord provides an initial overview of why and how to de-westernize Political Communication, linking the recognition of obstacles to very practically-oriented forms of action and prioritizing among these.
- Eugenia Mitchelstein takes stock of “imagined academic communities” in PolComm, noting current biases, and provides three observations pertaining to resources, norms, and the role of hegemonic language practices.
- Taberez Neyazi connects the “prevailing epistemological dominance of the quantitative tradition” to blind spots resulting from spatial hegemony. A central focus here is what the field could learn and gain by drawing in more knowledge stock from countries like Indonesia or India.
- Hanan Badr offers further illustration of this, in highlighting what she has learned from studying Arab context, including the challenges of different political context factors and what these might mean for epistemic inclusion.
- Paula Chakravartty and Srirupa Roy provide a slightly different perspective aimed at “questioning de-westernization” and point to the concept’s recent appropriation of nationalist actors in India in particular. Their piece is another forceful demonstration of what discussions in our field might miss, when not taking such developments and contexts into account.
In editing this issue, I immediately faced a very practical challenge: This relaunched publication format is still new to many in the field, and engaging colleagues requires personal connections. In soliciting contributions, I am essentially asking colleagues to commit precious time and energy to a novel (more or less) publication format. This underlines the importance of building a community and being able to tap into larger epistemic networks. De-westernization is a process, and as such, it requires work by actual people. I am so very grateful, both personally and as part of the political communication community, that these scholars took the time to provide us with their perspectives and insights.
In light of what I have learned from their essays, I would like to briefly reflect on my own positionality: my name is Curd Knüpfer, I am German, and work at a Central European university. My only work experience in a setting outside of Europe was in the US. I am, in many ways, not the right person to edit a publication issue focused on “De-westernizing” anything. In fact, de-westernizing PolComm will also entail that there need to be relatively fewer “Curd Knüpfers” hanging out at APSA or ICA receptions, shaking hands with one another, or writing editorials like this one. However, a shift in demographics does also demand efforts from institutions and individual actors, who are already part of the field. To this end, my own main takeaways are these:
- Reach out more actively to PolComm scholars from or working on or in non-Western political communication contexts, to build networks outside of those I regularly come into contact with.
- Apply whatever leverage I have to encourage institutions in Political Communication to support travel grants, mentorship programs, visa assistance, and diversify the topics and contexts given attention.
So if you are reading this issue thinking, ‘why wasn’t I, or so and so included?’ – please reach out to me and let me know! Connect me to other scholars to learn more about how we can introduce them to and position them better in the field of Political Communication. This collaboration will help me achieve the goals set out here and ensure I’m held accountable for them.
Beyond the essays on the issue’s main theme, be sure to also check out the “Awardee Interviews” section, as well as ICA’s PolComm Division Chair Frank Esser’s report on the state of ICA’s Political Communication Division.
What’s next? Two issues (Spring & Fall) are currently planned for 2024, the first of which will look at emerging challenges in researching elections and campaigns. The second will take stock of the role of normative positionalities in political communication research and theorizing. Ideally, both of these issues will also draw on insights that the current one provides.
Happy reading – and please consider distributing these texts via social media and other channels!
Curd Knüpfer, Fall 2023