Nico Carpentier

From May 24-28, 2007, the International Communication Association (ICA) held its yearly conference in San Francisco (USA), bringing together more than two thousand media and communication scholars to discuss the state of affairs in our field, and to present new (academic) work to our peers.

As is common with the ICA conferences, each year a specific theme is selected. For the 2007 conference the conference organizer, Sonia Livingstone, selected Creating Communication: Content, Control and Critique as theme. Together with the theme, the conference organizer also selects a theme chair brings the theme of the conference to life, in close collaboration with the conference organizer. For the 2007 conference, Sonia invited me to become the theme chair, an honor I gladly accepted.

Together with Sonia, and with the much-appreciated help of Benjamin De Cleen, I worked for a year to organize the four keynote panels and the sixteen theme panels of the conference. But I soon realized that the theme of the conference—focusing on control and critique—required more than organizing traditional academic panels. When Susana Kaiser and John Kim offered to add a one-day film program to the conference, I gladly accepted. I have not regretted this decision for a moment, given the great films they selected and the enthusiastic response from the audience that in some cases did not leave the room for the entire day.

In talking to Seeta Peņa Gangadharan, I soon realized that we could do even more. Eventually we came up with the idea to organize three so-called grassroots discussion panels, bringing in activists and alternative media people into the ivory tower that academia often still is. Our aim was to organize a dialogue between the people that actually organize, realize, and live the participatory and bottom-up processes that we so eagerly analyze. By asking a wide variety of people from the evenly diverse alternative (or counter-hegemonic) worlds, we maneuvered us academics in the position of the audience, which was (at first) forced to listen to the presentations of our guests. And we were silent, and listened to the fascinating stories about how civil society intervened (sometimes successfully, sometimes less successfully) in the creation of alternative content, in the organization of alternative journalisms and in the attempts to influence the regulation that impacts upon the communicative processes. Only after the presentations, our and their questions came, in successful attempts to discover the areas where our interests met. We found many.

When looking back at these dialogues, we decided that the civil society narrations were too relevant and too fascinating to leave them unpublished. Hence this book, which captures almost all of the narrations we listened to at the grassroots discussion panels during the ICA's 57th conference. Moreover, Steve Rhodes[1], who took pictures at these panels, kindly agreed to have his work included, so that our dialogues materialized even more. I hope you enjoy reading them with the same enthusiasm that we had in listening to them.

All this would not have been possible without the help of my co-organizers (Seeta Peņa Gangadharan and Benjamin De Cleen), all our panel members, our photographer (Steve Rhodes), the conference organizer (Sonia Livingstone), the ICA director (Michael Haley), and the entire ICA staff. I thank them for their appreciated support.

[1] See