Special Issue of the Electronic Journal of Communication (EJC)
The concept of ecology has a lot to offer communication research. Broadly, it refers to the context in which the communication process occurs. More specifically, we can define a communicative ecology as a milieu of agents who are connected in various ways by various exchanges (Tacchi, Slater, & Hearn, 2003). Such an ecology can thus be thought of as comprising a number of mediated and unmediated forms of communication. Use of the term is therefore closely aligned to research in the field of media ecology, and is thus informed by the early work of Christine Nystrom (1973) and, more recently, David Altheide's "The Ecology of Communication" (1995). Our particular interest in the concept stems from our study of people in particular places with access to many different media. For example, we have studied communication patterns in inner-city apartment buildings and communities in rural areas. Thus we conceive of a communicative ecology as having three layers. A technological layer which consists of the devices and connecting media that enable communication and interaction. A social layer which consists of people and social modes of organising those people – which might include, for example, everything from friendship groups to more formal community organizations, as well as companies or legal entities. And finally, a discursive layer which is the content of communication – that is, the ideas or themes that constitute the known social universe that the ecology operates in.
Using an ecological metaphor opens up a number of interesting possibilities for analyzing place- based communication (e.g., in neighbourhoods, apartment buildings, or – on a larger scale – suburbs and cities). It can help us to better understand the ways social activities are organized, the ways people define and experience their environments, and the implications for social order and organization (Altheide, 1995, p. 9). For example, in analyzing an apartment complex, an ecological metaphor might suggest first examining the features of the population in the apartment and mapping the patterns of engagement within that population. In addition we could ask how people relate to different places within the apartment, and how this interaction is mediated by the use of technology. Do different groups form around a coffee shop? Do email or cell phone connections define other ecologies? Then we might also be able to study transactions between different ecologies. The ecological metaphor focuses on whole of system interactions. It also enables us to define boundaries of any given ecology, and to examine how the coherence of that boundary and the stability of each ecology is maintained. What topics of conversation define insiders and outsiders in the ecology? Finally, it also opens up the question of the social sustainability of a communicative ecology. Similar sorts of questions could of course be asked of any human communication phenomena in any place-based context.
We invite the submission of conceptual or empirical (quantitative or qualitative) work on the theme of communicative ecologies in any place-based setting. The special issue is scheduled for publication in mid 2007. Deadline for completed manuscripts: 31 Oct 2006. Submissions should be electronic (.doc or .rtf format only, please avoid .pdf and .html). Inquiries about possible topics are welcome. Submissions and inquiries should be directed to the guest editors:
Professor Greg Hearn
Dr Marcus Foth
Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation