Reimagining Sustainability: Communication and Media Research in a Changing World

Also see the Call for proposals

IAMCR conferences address a wide diversity of topics defined by our 31 thematic sections and working groups. We also propose a single central theme to be explored throughout the conference with the aim of generating and exploring multiple perspectives on a shared set of issues. This is accomplished through plenary and special sessions, and in the meetings of the sections and working groups. For IAMCR 2018, the central theme is Reimagining Sustainability: Communication and Media Research in a Changing World.

As part of its Sustainable Development Agenda, the United Nations defines sustainability as harmonizing three core elements, environmental protection, social inclusion, and economic growth, so as to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It calls for concerted efforts towards building an equitable and resilient future for people and planet.

There is an immediate need to promote responsible and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that incorporate local and global reflection and action. This inevitably raises urgent issues of entrenched power, social justice, democracy, and the need to eradicate poverty, raise basic living standards, and address the present climate crisis.

This ambition is currently under attack. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence, climate change denial is used to build public support for unsustainable environmental practices and policies while corporate greenwashing promotes the perception that these practices and policies are in fact environmentally friendly. Encouraged by the rise of populism and ever-smaller media bubbles, intolerance is on the upswing around the world. Inequality is outpacing economic growth. Wealth is ever more concentrated.

We find it imperative in these times that IAMCR and its members expand and extend our understanding of current and emerging models of sustainability, the struggles that surround them, and their multiple relationships with communication and media.

We encourage proposals that address these intersections by revising and remixing theories, practices, and institutions that move beyond merely sustaining—towards thriving societies and cultures. How are they contended, globally, nationally and locally, by actors that include governments, industry, advocacy organisations, community groups, and the environmental justice movement? The State of Oregon, for example, has a history of commitment to sustainability and the environment. When the current administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by 194 other countries, Oregon, along with 23 US states and territories representing more than 50% of the country’s population and responsible for 40% of its CO2 emissions, broke with the federal government and committed to supporting the agreement. Worldwide grassroots community groups and activists are coming together in an emerging environmental justice movement committed to sustainability, but also to social change.

The role of communication and media in both promoting and impeding sustainability has increasingly been the focus of commentary and research. Material communication systems consume energy in their manufacture and use and contribute to problems of pollution and waste. In their dominant commercial forms, they support and encourage a general culture of unsustainable hyperconsumption. What alternatives would advance the full and equal access to diverse information and comprehensive knowledge bases that UNESCO and others advocate as central to achieving sustainable societies?

We encourage participants to address these issues, in relation to both prevailing systems of communication and the systems now emerging around the application of artificial intelligence, the rise of automation and robotics, and the internet of things. We also welcome analysis that reassesses and reimagines sustainability in relation to openness, transparency, accessibility, and the recomposition of power, as we continue to explore the implications of media and communication in an interconnected world.