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Communication Researchers and Policy-Making

Editor: Sandra Braman
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003
Review Published: October 2006

 REVIEW 1: Amin Alhassan

First, I must offer a note of appreciation to reviewer Amin Alhassan, whose thorough and clear review of a complex project demonstrates a good eye in the face of complex detail. Thanks.

The five essays of my own in this work (in addition to the introduction and conclusion, there are also essays introducing each of the major sections, for a total of about 120 pages of text) attempt to do several things. One goal was to provide a synthesis of the existing literatures, often much larger than one might have suspected. Another was to conceptualize what we can learn from those literatures in such a way that it might provide a research agenda going forward. And a third was to provide bibliographic references to others who may wish to explore particular themes in more depth, or offer alternative understandings of what has been said.

The question used to identify items for inclusion was whether or not a particular journal article or book chapter directly addressed the problem of what happens when communication researchers try to engage directly with policy-makers and/or the policy-making process. Some works that have had a great deal of influence on communication policy studies fall into that category (e.g., Lazarsfeld on the distinction between administrative and critical research), but many do not. Conversely, many items that have otherwise not received much attention because they are marginal notes in the literature on, say, pornography, become quite valuable in response to this particular question.

This definition of the book's boundaries transforms several of Alhassan's quite-appropriate critiques into an analysis of communication research itself. No items about struggles to introduce greater gender-sensitivity into communication policy processes were included in this volume because no one had written about efforts to do so, or at least none that I could find in the course of a lengthy and exhausting, if not exhaustive, search. Similarly, at the time that this book was being put together I could find no analyses of the struggle to use the results of communication research to inform decision-making on race-related matters. In some instances, such failures are informative in themselves -- there was also no piece about the role of communication researchers in formulation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and indeed that is an accurate reflection of what occurred prior to passage of the legislation. In these areas I agree with Alhassan's concern about important lacunae and join him in issuing a call to communication researchers in these areas to pay systematic attention to what happens at the interface of their work and the policy world so that others can learn from their experiences and increase their own effectiveness.

Similarly, but for different reasons, exemplars to expand upon the trend towards a post-law society were not available at the time that this book was being edited. The work by Lawrence Lessig cited by the reviewer, other work by authors such as Stuart Biegel and Milton Mueller, and my own Change of State: Information, Policy, and Power (MIT Press, 2006) and "Posthuman Law: Information Policy and the Machinic World" (First Monday, December 2002), are all pushing this line of analysis forward. It is perhaps too early, however, to see self-reflexive consideration of what happens when the theories and data that support claims of changing relations between law and society are introduced to policy-makers. It would be this type of material that would be appropriate for inclusion in a further edition of Communication Researchers and Policy-Making. I am eager to see works of this type appear, for in this area such reportage will be particularly valuable as stimulus to further legal experimentation. Alhassan joins every other reviewer of this work -- and myself -- in the critique that the book is U.S.-centric. The original manuscript included 50 historical items, not 25, and almost all of the 25 that were ultimately excluded dealt with policy processes in countries other than the US and in international organizations. The editor at MIT Press, however, insisted that the book's content be confined to the U.S., and so it was. The missing material of course provided information not only about the global context within which any nation's policy-making takes place, but also insights into policy processes in one context that might well be valuable in another. The intention is to produce a second volume that is global in scope in order to redress this very serious problem.

It is notable that a large proportion of the historical items republished in this book about communication policy were not written by scholars or researchers who identify themselves as policy specialists. Rather, they were written by subject experts who believed their research should be valuable inputs into decision-making processes on topics such as the effects of television violence on children and techniques for ensuring truth in advertising. This point is worth emphasizing because the world of communication researchers whose work should critically inform policy-making is much larger than that of the small subset of those who label themselves as policy analysts. I very much appreciated Alhassan's support for use of this book in a seminar devoted to communication policy. My own hope, in addition, has been that it would also be used in proseminars in graduate programs. Doing so would encourage all communication researchers to consider their audience to be not just other academics and students, but society itself. We can address our fellow citizens by serving as public intellectuals, but we can also do so by trying to ensure that those who are making decisions about our communication environment have access to the best empirical data and the deepest thinking available about the world for which policy is being made.

Sandra Braman


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