This October did not only bring colder weather and colorful autumn landscapes, but also an opportunity to connect and re-connect with activists and scholars including several MARC members as we met in beautiful Copenhagen to engage with questions of political agency and digital media. The occasion was the biennial conference of the Communication and Democracy Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA). The purpose was to discuss civic culture, social movements, protest spaces and digital activism. The great response to the call for papers allowed us to set up a program that was diverse and focused at the same time: more than 100 presentations, three keynotes and three special events engaged the 160 participants in vivid and thought-provoking discussions. Some of the highlights were the excellent keynotes delivered by Nick Couldry (“The Changing Topology of Public Engagement”), Anastasia Kavada (“Rethinking the Collective in the Digital Age”) and Guobin Yang (“Activism: An Ambiguous Word for an Ambivalent Age”).
Another highlight was the workshop on “Politics in Academia: On the (Im)Possibility of Activist Scholarship and Scholarly Activism” organized by Tina Askanius for the Young Scholars Network within ECREA. The YECREA workshop addressed the possibilities and challenges of combining academia and activism by raising questions such as: How political can be in your research? How open do you want to be with your political sympathies? Will it help or harm you if you are known to be a leftist for example? What research ethical challenges does activist scholarship entail? What kind of criticisms will you face from other academics and external actors such as funders? How do you tackle internal peer pressure to adhere to hegemonic norms of epistemological objectivity? What are the personal security risks associated with certain forms of activist engagement such as the risk of attacks, arrest and subjecting yourself to state monitoring? How is it possible to juggle the time-consuming and “slow” research process of engaged community research and the output expectations in a ‘publish or perish’ environment? How is the neoliberal university making activist engagement harder for academics? The workshop featured Anastasia Kavada, Tobias Linné and Vasilis Galis, who presented their takes on activism in academia and academia in activism.
And the show is not over yet: Not only do we – as the management team and organizers of the event – hope that lasting connections were built during the conference leading towards new and inspiring connections within in the field of communication and democracy, we are also preparing a special issue with the open access journal Media & Communication which will include some of the best contributions presented in Copenhagen. And, not least, there is Prague and the European Communication Conference (ECC) in November 2016. ECREA will convene in the Czech capital and we are hoping for at least the same amount and quality of submissions to the Communication & Democracy section to continue these exchanges.
Anne Kaun, Maria Kyriakidou, and Julie Uldam, ECREA Communication and Democracy Section Chairs