I attended the first Plenary Meeting of the International Academic Committee for the Global Communication Research Institute at Shanghai Jiao Tung University on 21 May 2010. It is headed by Dean Zhang Guoliang and his creative associate, Dr Pearl Wang. The Institute has about 20 full-time faculty, including 14 professors working on about 27 research projects. Members of the Academic Committee included Professor Patrice Buzzanell (Purdue), Professor Eddie Kuo Chen-Yu (NTU), and Professor John Pavlik (Rutgers) as well as myself. Some of the developments of most relevance to the Institute struck me as quite in tune with those facing research around the Internet and Web at universities in North America and Europe, such as:
1. The growing recognition of the importance of the social sciences to the study of information and communication technologies. Shanghai Jiao Tung University was traditionally focused on technology, and has been one of China’s leading technical universities. So it was heartening to see a social science oriented institute of communication develop in this context that is committed to multi-disciplinary research on communication in a global context.
2. Like the OII, this institute seeks to have a global perspective. I argued that this might often entail focusing on relatively local developments in Shanghai, the region and China and using its advantageous perspective on these developments in more global forums. For example, I do not believe that the OII could have as significant a role in international forums if we did not have very strong empirical research anchored in Britain, such as the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS).
3. I could also see a tension between the need to be innovative in establishing a new area of study, and also be solidly anchored in the mainstream journals of the field. The GCRI is clearly prioritizing publication in high-quality journals, but it is difficult to be innovative in the study of information and communication arenas and not move beyond the centre of research defined by the discipline-centric journals.
My clear impression from the visit was quite positive about the future of multi-disciplinary research on information and communication developments worldwide with the rise of institutes like the GCRI in China. Key themes of their forward research plans include studies of China’s and Shanghai’s image as portrayed in the media; the role of globalization on local cultures and traditions; risk communication, which includes work on crisis communication, where I argued for more research on global collaboration, such as around responses to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; and the creative industries and innovation in China. These areas provide many opportunities for collaboration with related institutes and research centres, although I argued, and most agreed, that collaboration is best fostered on a project basis, provided real concrete objectives for collaborative activities.