Congress 2010: Academics Unite

The 2010 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences officially kicked off today in Montreal. The largest academic party in Canada, Congress brings together several thousand scholars, students, practitioners and policy makers to share ideas, debate current issues and events, and advance and promote new research.

It is also a hell of a good time (yes, we academics can be fun…sometimes). Congress provides a venue for nerds like me to meet up with old grad school buddies and former colleagues who have since scattered across Canada and internationally to take up positions in universities, research institutes, government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Congress hosts the annual meetings of more than 70 associations representing a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, from art history and classics to journalism studies and political science. I’m a member of two associations, the Canadian Communication Association and the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research. Our meetings are scheduled for next week, which puts me in Montreal from June 1-4. Until then I’m busily preparing the slides and speaking notes for the 3 talks I have agreed to give. Here’s a very brief summary:

June 1 – Talk of the Enemy: Adversarial Framing and Climate Change Discourse

This paper was written with my collaborator Graham Knight (McMaster University). Our interest is in exploring the communication strategies of activists and counter-movements who are locked into contentious struggles over policy, public opinion and media attention. In particular we look at the rise of adversarial framing in the debate over global climate change. Adversarial framing is a form of reputational assault — it’s a rhetorical strategy designed to vilify and malign the moral character, competence, credentials and associations of one’s opponents and adversaries. The debate about climate change provides a fascinating laboratory for exploring the claims-making practices of global warming realists and climate change skeptics and our paper focuses on two high profile Canadian examples from each camp.

June 3 – Reframing Social Justice

I was invited by Concordia University’s Leslie Shade to participate in a roundtable discussion with other scholars and public interest activists to discuss strategies and tactics for increasing a “Connected Understanding” of vital social justice issues. This connectivity means many things and we will be discussing the following questions: first, how do we develop diverse modes of research dissemination that will impact policy outcomes for the public interest; second, should we engage in scholarly-activist activity through our research and teaching (and if so how should this be done); and third, what steps (if any) can be made to build a sustainable infrastructure and network of academic-activists who might work collaboratively on research topics of mutual interest that can impact and influence public discourse and policy?

June 4 – Communicating Homelessness and Social Housing in Canada

I have convened this special roundtable to discuss the intersections of policy advocacy and media discourse about homelessness in Canada. Acting as both moderator and speaker, I will discuss some of the findings of a longitudinal analysis of media coverage about homelessness in four Canadian cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa) on which I served as principal investigator. My doctoral student, Gina Grosenick, will present some of the findings of her dissertation research, which explores how nonprofit organizations in these cities have developed advocacy strategies through a ‘negotiation’ of the opportunities and constraints for communicative action. I’m also looking forward to the contributions of two professionals whom I hold in very high esteem: Kate Heartfield, a member of the editorial board at the Ottawa Citizen, will discuss the production pressures newsmakers face in reporting on complex social policy issues; and Michael Shapcott, Director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at The Wellesley Institute in Toronto, will speak to the implications of media representations for social justice advocacy.

In addition to the above presentations I am also looking forward to meeting up with my good friend and collaborator Charlene Elliott from the University of Calgary. Our textbook, Communication in Question, has sold very well and our publisher has requested a second volume. A lot has changed in the world of media and communication studies the past 3 years and we will be updating some of the existing chapters and rounding out the book with exciting new content. Stay tuned!

If you find yourself in Montreal next week, please drop me a note and come say hello. I will also be live-tweeting at the other sessions I attend. You can find me on Twitter here.

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Filed under climate change, Higher Education, Research

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