The third decade of the 21st century has started dramatically for the mankind – the pandemic, growing world tensions, ‘proxy wars’, refugee flows, digital threats, and environmental points of no return dominate the agendas, create new divisions, and shape emergency decision-making around the world. Communication has been key to all these processes: From the infodemic to international environmental forums to spinning in public diplomacy to online storms, global and local audiences have been witnessing the growing capacities and dangers of today’s communicative environments. And not the abundance of information was the biggest hazard, but the fractures in coherent public discussion, lack of collaboration and agreement, and (re)production of existing and new social and political inequalities that prevented mindful deliberation.
Today, media solidarities (Nikunen, 2018) and, wider, mediated solidarities get fractured. Inevitably, the growth of complexity and tension in communication of all levels affects the quality of deliberation and social choice locally, nationally, and internationally. We, though, believe that this impact may have positive sides, too. In online realms where patterns of public discussion lead to cumulative opinion formation, the roles and motives of deliberative individuals make scholars reassess the human grounds of public opinion, including personality, emotion, and fear, thus coming back from ‘re-feudalizing’ institutions to persons. Tiny acts of political participation (Margetts et al., 2015) rethought as tiny communication actions (Habermas 1990) make each like matter for opinion aggregation. The new normativity that includes user communication into deliberative practices needs to develop the deontology for how to separate legitimate dissent from counter-productive and unbearable hatred – and how to grow solidarity despite the complexity of human differences.
Such a position calls for equal reassessing of the social roles of media, especially in polarized and fragmented societies of today. Beside the well-known social, political, and digital divides, we have been witnessing another gap, namely rationality vs. mythological and conspiracist mind, rapidly opening up and cutting across families, friendships, and us ourselves. Inequalities are also supported, rather than beaten, by online platforms and their affordances, creating hidden communities with latent boundaries. However, it is these platforms that also give home to previously impossible transnational online diaspora and ad hoc media that are content and space in one. In this environment, media of more traditional stance orient to audiences with distinct value sets. Even if this allows for audience formation and pursuing public goals that each editorial board considers right, this also deepens the cleavages in societies. Today, media decide whether they advocate for their version of what is right or create bridges between contested truths, and the second option is no less important than the first one.
Media, just as scholars and citizens, encounter Habermassian-and-not-only questions: How do we preserve and find new grounds of solidarity? Do we need the bridges between communities of varying logics, interests, origins, and experiences? And who is responsible for building them? Who still has capacities to overcome the social cleavages?
The 10th Jubilee conference ‘Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World’ (CMSTW’2022) focuses on mediated solidarities and inequalities across contexts and cultures. With it, the conference contributes to setting the research agendas for the next decade which promises even bigger growth of complexity and disruptiveness in social communication. At the same time, it features the scholars, research groups, universities, projects, journals, and sponsors that have been making this conference a meeting point for the leading world scholarship for nine years, 2013 to 2021. In 2022, a range of new formats and features are introduced, while events and participants from the previous conferences will also be in focus. The four traditional tracks of the conference will re-conceptualize the communicative solidarity and divisions (Theory), sharpen the political and social implications of inequalities (Political & Social), put journalism and media into perspective of social divides (Media Industry & Journalism), and develop approaches to detection of these divides in media content and online discussions (Methods).