Tuesday, December 09, 2008

self-interview with a geographer

Q: What good is geography to the study of mass communication?
R: Geography offers tremendous value to the study of mass communication. Geography is theoretically rich and provides a number of conceptual tools that can be applied to particular topics in many other disciplines. Our analytic tools of space, place, scale, bordering, and landscape provide insightful ways of looking at traditional problems. For example, studying the impacts of advertising on consumer identity may greatly benefit from a spatial analysis of different demographic groups or retail businesses. Telecommunications patterns take on different meanings when analyzed at different scales and scalar resolutions. Geography’s rich notion of place draws on existentialist humanism to understand human agency and meaning in the world, topics crucial for mass communication study.

The strength of geography is that, like history and mass communication, it draws many critical interconnections between times, places, and events that usually fall under specialized academic disciplines. Geography prides itself on its interdisciplinary tendencies and can offer mass communication geographical insight into social, political, economic, and environmental processes. There is a synthesis of ideas in geography, not simply a borrowing from other disciplines. In this sense geography is not narrowly-defined, but takes on a full range of phenomena … there is no subject matter that geography doesn’t want to engage with. Aside from the ‘everything happens somewhere’ acknowledgement, thinking geographically involves particular ways of looking at the world that, though similar to other social sciences and theories, are value-added. Said another way, we don’t study social processes (which is what sociologists should be studying). We study geographic processes.

Q: Then why shouldn’t mass communication students just become geographers?
R: Oh I think they should. Don't get me wrong, I think mass communication is pretty sweet. But geography’s a little more marginalized of a discipline, giving it some edge right now as it gains theoretical momentum in the development of post-post-structuralism.

Q: Get outta here!
R: No, really. And maps are sweet too.

Q: Okay … does geography have something to gain from mass communication?
R: Sure, if there’s a geography specifically focused on communication-related topics, say the diffusion of information technologies or the consumption of particular forms of broadcast media, geography will want to incorporate mass comm. research into its analysis. The phenomenon of mass communication plays an enormous role in shaping the American landscape, individual and collective senses of place, and the political/economic/cultural context within which human practice occurs. It would be foolish of geographers to ignore it.

Q: So the two disciplines can collaborate well together?
R: Absolutely not. Geography simply kicks ass, and mass communication is destined to become its handmaiden.


Brian E said...

Well, I'm disappointed to find out my discipline will become a mere handmaiden, but I guess that's how it goes.

Besides that, one sentence really stood out to me..."Geography is theoretically rich and provides a number of conceptual tools that can be applied to particular topics in many other disciplines." I often think of communication as a very broad field that latches itself onto other disciplines. We have mass comm people who are quasi-political scientists, quasi-psychologists, quasi-sociologists, quasi-linquists and so on. So maybe one cool thing about both geography and mass comm is that they provide useful "conceptual" and "analytic" tools and can really enhance our collective understanding of a variety of different phenomena. But maybe that's why they are both marginalized as social sciences...they both have trouble standing on their own without leaning on other disciplines. I don't know if that's really the case for geography (or mass comm for that matter) but it's just a thought.

Chris Rencontre said...

Richard, I loved your post. It made me laugh out loud! Aside from the handmaiden comment, I beleive you are absolutely right. Geography [metaphorically speaking] is the difference between watching the ending of the last Harry Potter movie in 3D and watching it on your IPod. I now consider everything I read in terms of geography. My world will never be the same.