Monday, June 20, 2011

Roadmap Draft of Centre for Media Research, JNU

Centre for Media Research, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Considering the very significant space media occupies in contemporary Indian life, the study of media requires all the analytical rigour that can be brought into it. It provides both information and ideas across time and space, and the conceptual tools to process them. The influence of the information and ideas flowing from the media is far-reaching, and perhaps materially and conceptually instrumental in the creation of the frames of understanding within which we live our lives. This is true of all media that surrounds us; the more traditional forms of print, television, film and radio, and the newer ones dealing with computers and the internet.

The twin-fold project of research and pedagogy in the area of media in India is a complex enterprise, that needs to keep multiple factors in focus. A meeting was held on the 24th of March, 2011, at JNU under the chairmanship of the Hon'ble Vice-Chancellor. It  discussed the planned Centre for Media Research at JNU, pointing to the significant research issues in Indian media, and bringing forward the concerns, in the current environment, that any informed engagement with an understanding of media must take into account.

  • Media plays a very important part in a democracy, being part of the fabric of decision-making in the public sphere. Both mainstream and alternate points of view come to us through the media.  A centre of study for media in contemporary India needs to have a critical-analytical focus, in order to be able interrogate each kind of approach on its own merits.

  •  This would also be in keeping with the tradition in JNU to conduct high-quality critical-analytical research.

  • The central problem in the field of media studies in India is that it is viewed as a vocational field. Concomitantly, research in the field tends to be both descriptive and fragmented. So while there exist excellent centres to learn specific praxis-oriented skills, there is no centre of higher learning in the country that approaches the study of media from an analytical point of view, with a focus on original research.

  • The very factors that make media a watchdog of democracy, are also those that make it vulnerable to cooption by various interests that compete for a good word in the ears of the consuming world. Therefore it is necessary and important to conduct empirical and text-based studies of the multiple factors that influence the production, dissemination, and consumption of media. This could range from micro-studies about news stories, to macro-studies about the multiple factors that influence the narrative. The Centre was advised to focus on meta analysis rather than on skill-based journalism.

  • A centre such as the proposed CMR at JNU should be able to train people to conduct research in these fields, and hence has to focus on the learning of methodologies and theoretical orientations that can be used to conduct research in the area.

  • The actors, institutions and networks that make up the media exist in a complex web of interests and competing understandings of the role of human beings as the co- producers and co-receivers of communication in the world. These have to be studied, not just as cases or individual practices, but as larger patterns across regional, national and international barriers. The capacity to conduct comparative studies in the media is necessary for any centre for inquiry into media processes and outcomes.

  • Media is a vibrant field of research internationally, and understandings of media's role in, response to, and effects on the world are being thought and written about in cultures and contexts across the globe. CMR should engage with these frameworks of understanding from around the world, in order to draw from them theoretical approaches, methodological innovations and informational comparison points. All these kinds of knowledge are necessary.

  • Because media is a subject of such immediate concern, it is sometimes easy to forget that the study of media needs a sense of historicity. Communication, and the use of media to communicate have been around a very long time. Contemporary understandings of media need to be placed in this historical-theoretical context. It is important that CMR keep this in mind, both in terms of teaching and the designing of syllabus, and research goals.

  • The study of media has used concepts, theories, methodologies and methods from fields such as communication, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and psychology, among others. The study of media in India should keep this in mind, and draw on all these fields, as well as others that would seem relevant in the Indian context. The balance of humanities and social science approaches is important, as is the ability to flexibly use the methods and toolkits of related fields. Interdisciplinarity should be an important feature of the study of the media, and such collaborations could take place within JNU, with other schools and centres, such as sociology or languages.

  • Areas specifically pointed to for study include: Ideology and journalism; Traditional media; Understanding the role of technology in media; Understanding the role of policy in media; The ethics of media; Media and state policy; A series of studies on the role of class, caste, gender and nation, as they play out in the media;  media and science; media and sports; Electronic media: blogging,  social networking, and the entertainment industry.

  • The study of communication/s is regarded as a macro-field from which the study of media  draws materially. Orientations and approaches used in the field of communication also cross over into the study of the media. CMR at JNU would need to draw from these orientations and approaches, used in the field of communication/s

  • This connection is considered to be close enough that there were two suggestions for renaming the proposed CMR – 'Centre for Media and Communications Research' (CMCR), and 'Centre for Media and Mass Communication' (CMMC). The latter was judged to suggest too narrow a focus, for a proposed centre taking a critical-analytical approach to the study of media.

  • An important task CMR could take on would be to build an archive or documentation unit on media related research in India. The area is very fragmented in this country, and no one has had the wherewithal or scholarly orientation to gather together existent work in the area, archive it, and make it available to scholars in this and other fields. Considering the newness of the field in India, it would be a good idea to start such an exercise now, and have it grow over the years.

  • Should also look for sources of external funding, to support various activities. Possible funders would possibly be interested in different aspects of CMR interest, so for example, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may be interested in funding a particular kind of project, while projects investigating the role of technology in media would have other funders. It may take a while to build capacity to the point that external projects can be solicited.

  • In terms of timeline, take time to build resources and capacity, could start in 2012.

  • Later, as resources permit, it could: (a) start a working paper series; (b) Initiate a journal, setting certain standards; (c) Conduct short-term workshops on specific aspects of the study of media; (d) provide fellowships and grants to individuals to study aspects of the media, with written deliverables.

  • Students of this centre could be drawn from master's programmes in parallel fields like sociology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology and communication, depending on the degree of their interest in the field of media. Individuals who have been working in media could also apply for the M.Phil-Ph.D. programme. Students from other areas like science and technology could also apply, but would be accepted into the programme based on their level of knowledge of and interest in media. This would be gauged on the basis of an entrance examination.

  • The Centre can begin with a direct Ph.D. admission in 2012. One year professional experience in journalism may be given preference.
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