May 27, 2009

Observations from the ICA meetinng

On May 22-23 I was in Chicago at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association. Below are my informal observations from this meeting.

  • It is a fun crowd. It was my first time at this conference and even though I didn't know people, I understood what people were talking about and could relate to that. It'd be nice to end up at a communication department (long shot though).

  • The conference is huge, almost 2000 people registered. This size has its own pros and cons. On the pro side, there were lots of interesting sessions. I tried to drop in into those that talked about unfamiliar topics and learned a lot. For example, about the agenda-setting theory. Big conferences with multiple sessions are good for expanding one's horizons. On the con side, the conference was packed and there was no time for discussions during sessions and panels. I guess most discussions happen during breaks, but it is hard for someone like me who doesn't know anybody.

  • The conference format is outdated. There is too much information, too little time, lots of problems with equipment. Besides, writing the whole paper as a submission and then presenting it for 15 min without getting a publication is a waste of time. It certainly affected the quality of some papers at this conference. Something should change to match existing trends in information, communication, and technology.

  • There is fear of theory in the qualitative camp. I already sensed it before at the ALISE conference, where I was interviewing for a job. Here I also heard people talking again about how Habermas is hard to understand and how Foucault is hard to apply. Several people proudly stated (including those from the podium) that they are *trying* to apply contemporary theory to their work. And others nodded with sympathy and understanding. What is up with all that? No wonder quant people look down on us. Not only we're slow to come up with theories, we also don't want to use them in our work.

  • The most successful presentations show, not tell. They don't even try to present research. They provide some examples and talk about them, engaging the audience and making people laugh. So my presentation with proper intro-methodology-findings-conclusion was boring.

  • Conferences are certainly for fun. At the beginning I tried to listen to talks as I'd be reading papers - to learn about people's research. But it's impossible to do in 15 min. All you can do is get a sense of what people are doing and then either approach them to talk more, or think about your own stuff and generate ideas. That's what I was doing mostly.