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Communication in a Globalized World: New Approaches to Theory and Practice

The HSE Faculty of Media Communications starts a new course for spring 2014 — Communication in a Globalized World. The course’s creator, HSE Associate Professor Olga Baysha, PhD in Communication and Media Studies, began her career as a journalist in Ukraine, and that experience helped her to realize that theory cannot be separated from practice. Olga, whose graduate degrees were completed in Colorado (USA), is an example of a modern researcher who teaches students that ‘society is not outside us — it is in us’. She agreed to give an interview to the HSE news service, and to explain why cultural differences matter in global communication.

— Could you please tell us about your new course Communication in a Globalized World? What makes a course like this relevant to the English-speaking world?

— The aim of this course is to present globalization as a synthesis of several disciplinary approaches with an emphasis on media and communication. The course is divided into two parts. The first presents globalization as westernization and modernization and examines the problems associated with this outlook: racism, orientalism, nationalism, and so forth. It analyses the role of media in constructing and reproducing these negative manifestations of modernity. The second part of the course presents contemporary issues of global network society: The emergence of the global market system, the rise of the fourth world, the formation of supranational public spheres, and the spread of global social movements. None of these developments would have been possible but for global communication networks, the analysis of which is central to class discussions.

You can hardly imagine a Western university nowadays that wouldn’t offer courses on globalization, communication, and media. We do live and communicate in a globalized mediated world, and we need to understand this expanded universe.

— How can media affect the spread of global social movements? What role does social media play in this process?

— Media do not just “affect” the spread of global social movements: new media are in the heart of any transnational mobilization for social change. Global social movements cannot exist without global communicative networks. Supranational public spheres where activists meet each other, share opinions, and mobilize resources can emerge and do emerge only through Internet communication. Being embodied into global webs of communicative resources, social media are part and parcel of such transnational public realms.

— Is there anything unique about Russian social media?

— Media are social institutions. They always emerge and function within a web of meanings that characterize this or that cultural milieu. Sociologically, you cannot seriously analyse media without taking into consideration the cultural matrix in which they are embedded. In this sense, you can paraphrase your question and ask: “Is there anything specific about Russia?” If your answer is positive, then you can definitely hypothesize that Russian media, being a part Russia’s cultural field, will inevitably possess some Russian specificities. On the other hand, Russian social media belong to global social spaces where they inevitably borrow non-Russian cultural patterns. This is a matter of cultural hybridization – one of the most fascinating developments of our globalized world.

— How does your work experience in journalism help you in your teaching?

— When I happened to be in the war-torn Yugoslavia of the early 1990s, I learned through practice what many people learn from textbooks: cultural differences matter. In order to stay alive, I had to learn not only the basics of the Serbian language, but also the web of locally adopted beliefs and practices that Serbian people shared. I came to understand that any universal concept — friendship, love, freedom, or even the dignity of the human being — can look utterly different in different sociocultural contexts.

This discovery helped me years later, when I taught global communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder and at Muhlenberg College. What I try to convey to students is that theory cannot be separated from practice. Theory does not “say” — it “does”; theorists do not observe — they participate; society is not outside us — it is in us.

— Could you describe your work with the HSE? How did it start and what goals do you have?

— In a sense, my work with the HSE doesn’t differ much from what I was doing at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which was also a research institution. The work of a researcher is always about reading, analysing, writing, discussing, and publishing. Last month, I finished writing a book that was based on my dissertation; now, I am waiting for feedback from reviewers. This project, in which I deconstruct the mythologies of perestroika, means a lot to me. Hopefully, it will allow other researchers to pick up the theme and look at how in political communication people not only communicate emotionally but also rely on nonrational understandings drawn from mythical representations of various symbols and images. My academic goal is to do research that is meaningful and socially useful.

Ekaterina Solovova, specially for the HSE news service

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