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Reframing global communication studies

The transformation of the global media and communication landscape, including the rise of the BRICS countries, challenges the analytical frameworks of communication theories, which remain deeply embedded within a Eurocentric discourse. During the ideologically driven Cold War years, such formulations as the ‘authoritarian’ versus ‘liberal’ theory debate shaped the academic discourse, failing to notice that large civilizational powers such as China (the Sino-Soviet rift had taken place in the 1950s) and India (a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement) did not fit into such a neat bipolar division of the world.

The BRICS nations could contribute significantly towards building a more inclusive theory of global communication that takes on board the extraordinary changes in large countries with long histories and rising economic and cultural power (Thussu, 2009; Hobson, 2012). Ignoring non-European modernities, philosophies, history and culture is a blind-spot in mainstream communication research and in other fields, including International Relations, as two leading scholars note: ‘IR has been largely built on the assumptions that Western history or Western political theory are world history and world political theory’ (Acharya and Buzan, 2019: 3, emphasis in the original).

One key reason for such absences in the field of communication studies stems from the fact that the intellectual markers in terms of research agendas, publications, grants and projects, are hugely influenced by Western, or more specifically, US elite universities, as well as US-based professional organizations such as the International Communication Association (Wiedemann and Meyen, 2016). As post-modern, identity-inspired discourses and data-driven scholarship have been globalized, a Western-centric epistemology has received a new lease of life, evoking debates among many scholars (Thussu, 2009; Christians and Nordenstreng, 2014; Lee, 2015; Wasserman, 2018).

At the same time, expanding and internationalizing media and communication studies has been necessitated by the transformation of media and communication in Asia (Gunaratne, 2010; Chen, 2010; Wang, 2011; Chan and Lee, 2017). In Brazil, scholars see‘BRICS an appropriate standpoint for discussing the problem of multipolarity’and‘challenging Western centrism in international media studies’ (de Albuquerque and Lycariào, 2018: 2884). In South Africa, the need for the ‘decolonization’ of media and communication studies has been pointed out (Nyamnjoh, 2011; Wasserman, 2018). However, legitimate and much-needed critiques of the supposed universalization of Western theories should not lead scholars into the parochialism of the local and the national. Lee recommends that they adopt ‘epistemological autonomy’ to make their mark on global or cosmopolitan theory (Lee, 2015).

While sensitivity to cultural specificity and a firm grasp of historical continuities are important, a keen sense of understanding global trends and cultural interactions are even more critical in order to comprehend the emerging world order. Calls have also been made for ‘a higher degree of self-reflexivity among media and communication scholars’ in the West about their ‘own potential complicity in the marginalization of knowledge from elsewhere’ (Willems, 2014: 428). However, within the BRICS countries there is very limited intercultural communication or media exchange: all five are largely dependent for their international-oriented content on US-supplied media, as well as for the main theoretical approaches to the study of media and communication. Comparative studies among BRICS nations - for example, India and China (Jeffrey and Sen, 2015); China and Russia (Meng and Rantanen, 2015) and South Africa and India (Rao and Wasserman, 2015) - remain few and far between. Nevertheless, BRICS nations have the potential to reframe global communication research and thus contribute to the democratization of global media in a polycentric world. This collection is a modest contribution to fill the gap.

Outlining the chapters

The book is divided into four parts: Part I - Challenging dominant discourses in a new world order - frames the discussion about the contribution the BRICS nations have made in helping to shape a new world order. In Part II - Media and communication structures and systems - the focus is on the media and communication systems of the five BRICS countries, which are essential to an understanding of how media function in a given nation and indeed internationally. The chapters in Part III of the book - BRICS and global strategic communication - evaluate the role of communication in the soft power promotion of the five nations. Part IV of the book - BRICS and changing communication practices - examines three key aspects of BRICS communication - journalism, entertainment and the Internet. Rather than looking at individual countries, as in the previous two parts of the book, this part takes a pan-BRICS perspective to analyze key media and communication trends.

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