on communication: musings on identity

These are random musings on the identity of the practitioners of the discipline I study and practice – communication – and, by extension, my own identity.

Warning: The following material may be incoherent, difficult to follow, and irrelevant, but mostly it will be boring. Feel free to read something else on this blog, or switch off your brain.

Those who read this entry to the end without falling into a coma induced by the inchoate ramblings of an overactive imagination obsessed with trivialities may or may not be rewarded with concepts for further discourse. Please feel free to post your comments, ideas, or violent objections. Thank you. The End.

Problem Statement: What is the most appropriate word or term that may be used to label students, scholars, and researchers in the academic discipline of communication?

Specific Objectives:

1. To describe the terms currently being used;

2. To discover other words or terms that may be used.

Review of Related Literature:

From semiotic theory, a word or symbol (signifier) is arbitrary and not necessarily related to the concept or thing  it is attached to (signified). As Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” In his Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare penned, “That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet”.

Communication scholars and academics may then call themselves whatever they like. The usual terms are “communication” + “researcher”, “scholar”, “professor”, and “theorist”, leading to unwieldy, two- or three-word terms to describe the person. Whereas scholars from the other sciences just add the suffix “ist” – anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist.

Twenty years ago, the identity of the communication field itself was in flux – was it part of the humanities, or the social sciences? It had the uncomfortable position of straddling both worlds. In recent years, though, there has been a paradigm shift in the field, in that it is being touted as a social science, and thus on par with the others.

In fact, some communication scholars go so far as to say that communication is the pre-eminent discipline in human studies, for, they say, communication is the glue that holds society together, and that no human interaction may take place without communication.

Young gentlemen engaged in mediated communication. The photo serves a model for the popular SMCRE communication model: source-message-channel-receiver-effect. (Img: Net)

So why can’t communication scholars/researchers be “-ists”?

“Communicationist” is ungrammatical and awkward, though some people do call themselves that. Other sectors of the discipline are promoting the use of the word “communicologist”. The International Communicology Institute defines communicology as “the science of human communication”. This refers to communication as “one of the human science disciplines”, using the “research methods of semiotics and phenomenology to explicate human consciousness and behavioral embodiment within global culture.”

But does it matter what communication scholars call themselves? “A rose by any other name…”

Taking into account the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, yes, it does matter. The hypothesis postulates that “a particular language’s nature influences the habitual thought of its speakers”; by extension, what a person calls himself may influence his self-perception, which could then impact his behaviors and actions.

Findings and Recommendations

Apart from “communicologist”, there do not seem to be other terms being proposed. However, use of the term has not caught on globally. In the Philippines, the term is being used by some Organizational Communication scholars at the University of the Philippines-Manila. As far as it is known, it is not used by those at the College of Mass Communication in UP-Diliman nor at the College of Development Communication at UP-Los Baños.

The terms “communicology” to refer to the discipline and “communicologist” to refer to its scholars and researchers has the advantages of being simple, easy to remember, easy to spell, and convenient. It has the added value of, by use of the suffix “-ist”, of putting at par by implication the discipline of communication with the other social sciences where it belongs, according to communication scholars themselves. Therefore, it seems only logical and reasonable to adopt these terms.

In the Philippine context, adoption of these terms may be facilitated through the consensus of the communication departments in universities and colleges across the country. But because there is no association of communication scholars in the country (such as the United States’ National Communication Association or the global International Communication Association) it is difficult to see how issues such as this may be addressed.

Philippine communicologists should therefore seriously consider establishing such an association, not only to accommodate and promote discourse among themselves but also among scholars from other countries.

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