By Joy Jenkins, University of Missouri
Bob Trumpbour calls the Cultural and Critical Studies Division the “conscience” of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Whether studying race and gender depictions in the media, the impact of the rise of new media technologies, or even the cultural influence of sports arenas and mascots (one of Trumpbour’s areas), members often make moral claims on topics in pursuit of revealing broader power imbalances and inequalities.
“That, to me, is what makes our division a fun division,” said Trumpbour, who served as division head in 2009-2010. “When we do research, we actually understand that there may be people who don’t necessarily agree with what we’re doing, but we’re laying claim and we are making a statement that we think this is right or wrong. I think there’s some real good value in that.”
The Cultural and Critical Studies Division began as the Qualitative Studies division in the mid-1970s. Theodore Glasser, who served as division head in 1983-1984, said the division was formed as a response to the lack of consideration for qualitative methods and critical essays in the Communication Theory and Methods Division and Journalism Quarterly.
Linda Steiner, who served as head of Qualitative Studies from 1990-1991, joined the newly formed division around 1979 and was impressed with the level of scholarship participants offered.
“When I first started coming to AEJMC, I was obsessed about attending sessions, from the first to the last each day, and went to sessions across quite a few divisions,” she said. “And certainly the ones sponsored by QS seemed the most interesting, the deepest, the most theoretically nuanced and philosophically developed.”
Over the next two decades, division members worked to legitimize qualitative research among the broader AEJMC community and emphasize the role of critical teaching methods, said Jacqueline Lambiase, who served as division head in 2011-2012. Lambiase said one of her early tasks was to work with Trumpbour to draft the division’s bylaws. At the time, the fact that the division did not have bylaws was “almost a point of pride,” she said.
To maintain the division’s democratic feel while meeting AEJMC obligations, Lambiase and Trumpbour looked at other divisions’ bylaws, talked to division members, and even looked outside of AEJMC to create “something that actually really was just a written version of what we were doing,” she said.
During this time, members also discussed the fact that the division’s name was “too general and vague and even falsely boasting of quality,” Steiner said. Further, it neglected the division’s theoretical and social justice concerns, said Karen Kline, who served as division head in 2007-2008.
The shift to calling the division Cultural and Critical Studies helped “build as big a tent as possible” for researchers who might not fit with the methodologies emphasized in other divisions and interest groups, Lambiase said.
“I feel like the skies have opened up a little bit more, and, while the other type of quantitative research and some of that is still privileged, I think a lot of the programs across the country that had space for qualitative and have made more room since that time,” she said.
Spurring from a 2008 member survey and strategic plan, the division has also worked to enhance its visibility within AEJMC and develop partnerships with other divisions and interest groups, such as the Minorities and Communication Division and LGBTQ Interest Group.
CCS continues to draw a variety of research topics and approaches. The division recognizes top student papers each year and since 1985 has presented the Jim Murphy Paper Competition Award to the division’s best faculty paper. CCS has also served as a forum for members to share ideas and create partnerships with like-minded scholars.
Kline said she enjoys serving as a reviewer and discussant for CCS because of the quality and thoughtfulness of the scholarship and issues scholars address.
“The research is uniquely embedded in theory that is tied to concerns I have about inequalities of power, challenging structures that work to oppress some people and unfairly advantage other people,” she said. “The whole social injustice aspect of our society is addressed regularly in the scholarship that is done. That, for me, is a really important component.”
CCS members also discuss changes and challenges in teaching, as well as new ideas and approaches. Additionally, members praised the CCS Division’s continued efforts to encourage young scholars, such as through the AEJMC Midwinter Conference and involving them in division leadership.
Trumpbour said that when he was beginning his time in academia, he appreciated that CCS members, such as former division head James Carey, provided mentorship.
“I remember just tipping a beer with him [Carey] – shooting the breeze about our scholarship, and he always was interested,” he said. “ … I think people in the division always did try to sort of support each other and help each other.”
A touchstone for the division is the Professional Freedom and Recognition Award, which was established in 1979 and honors individuals or organizations for their “courage, persistence or brilliance in upholding professional freedom and responsibility.” Winners represent the host city for the AEJMC conference and have included The Columbia Journalism Review (1979), Molly Ivins (1987), Noam Chomsky (1991), Nina Totenberg (1995), Herbert Schiller (1999), James W. Carey (2003), Bill Moyers (2007), and Robert McChesney (2011).
Kline said she hopes the division continues to support this award.
“I think that’s a part that shines a light on our division, that we do this, that we give this award to a very deserving person, and that would be a way to get people who aren’t members of CCS to get involved,” she said.
Now in its fourth decade, CCS has established its focus and earned recognition among other divisions. Members, though, continue to identify goals for growth, such as building a diverse membership and improving communication.
Glasser suggested that the division should focus on quality over quantity and continue to ask challenging questions.
“There’s much to do and discuss about what the humanities portend for the future of the study of media and communication,” he said. “That discussion might begin with an interrogation of the reasoning behind lumping ‘cultural studies’ with ‘critical studies.’ Is everything that’s cultural also critical? Is everything that’s critical also cultural? What are we implying by linking the two?”
Lambiase encourages division members to make room for new research methods and topics. She described meeting a doctoral student at the Midwinter Conference who had not found a place within his university to do the research he wanted to do, so she encouraged him to become involved with CCS.
“He would find other people thinking about the same ideas and thinking about the same subject matter as he was,” she said. “And I think that’s really how our division can continue to stay healthy and strong, is just by continuing to look for those scholars and giving them the support they deserve because they’re doing important work.”