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Thinking about communication

USP postgraduate program launches publication to debate the theoretical frontiers of the subject

eduardo cesarReproduction of the picture Central Savings by Richard Estes, 1975eduardo cesar

There are those who insist on the pure and simple non-existence of consistent theoretical production or of original thinkers about communication in Brazil. But there are also those among the academics from the area who invest in disproving this view, which seems to waver between a certain critical skepticism and flagrant ill-will. In this field we now have Matrizes, the newly launched journal of the Post-graduate Program in Communication Sciences at the University of São Paulo (PPGCOM-USP), which starts out with the aim of offering readers material that is sufficiently dense, from both Brazil and abroad, to allow them to reflect better and with more tools at hand on the appropriateness of a given position or another.

In what is called the dossier, concentrated in the first part of this sizeable half-yearly publication (247 pages in the first edition), Matrizes is especially prepared to provoke this reflection and, perhaps, redirect the debate about the theoretical frontiers of communication (which at times is excessively restricted, not to say stagnant) to the problem of a precise and rigid definition of this subject. “The dossier will always be thematic and will always be put together from an author’s perspective; in other words, it should cast the limelight upon those who actually make innovative proposals, establish bridges between the different arenas in which communication is discussed and propose a contemporary solution to old problems,” says Professor Irene Machado, one of the journal’s editors, who teaches graduate semiotics in the culture course and the undergraduate Portuguese writing course at the University of São Paulo’s School of Communication and Art (ECA). One cannot conclude from this that only those who deal specifically with communication theories will have room in this publication. “People who work in journalism, photography, cinema etc., and who are competent to talk about the environments in which they work and the language and technology they use will undoubtedly be invited to make their contribution,” says Irene.

In fact, Matrizes is one of the results of the process of major restructuring that PPGCOM has been undergoing since 2002, under the leadership of Maria Immacolata Vassallo de Lopes, now its coordinator, as well as Chairman of the Postgraduate Committee of ECA-USP, to which five programs are linked: Communication, Information Science, Music, Visual Arts and Scenic Arts. It was in 2002 that the first of of the 31 graduate programs in communication throughout Brazil apparently reached the most critical point in its existence, which was formally given a grade of 3 by the Capes, on a scale from 1 to 7.

According to Immacolata, at that time, what the ECA professors, striving to reform the graduate courses, first sought was “a rearrangement of the competences that were disperse and a regrouping of the major areas that had historically constituted the strength of the program, a type of ‘de-departmentalization’ in order to rearticulate the then-disperse post-graduate study area”. They sought to recover the competences in three major study areas: communication theories, the media and production, and the interfaces of communication with culture, technology, education, politics and other aspects of society. Everything indicates that this effort has yielded good results: as evidenced by the latest Capes assessment, disclosed last November, USP’s program reached grade 4.

eduardo cesarMatrizes Magazineeduardo cesar

It is obvious that professors committed to the program (the history of which includes the creation of the first Master’s degree in Communication in Brazil, in 1972, and the first PhD, in 1980) want much more. They want, for instance, to make it clear that they have alternatives to propose so that the complex area of communication is thought about in a creative way. “Only a program with the tradition and recognition of the USP’s PPGCOM could propose, as we are doing, reflection about languages and from languages move on to reflect on episteme,” comments Irene. What the researcher´s comment seems to bring to mind is that unlike other programs, which are extremely concerned about communication studies’ ‘scientificity’ (implied in the rigid demarcation of their object and methods), which is capable of guaranteeing additional points in the Capes assessment for a while, the USP’s graduate Communication course does not set aside the esthetic sphere, which has always been one of its strong points. “As it restructures, the program wants to go ahead with welcoming new perspectives without giving up its history,” say, (in their own different ways) Immacolata, a respected expert on studies about Brazilian TV soap operas, Irene, and Rosana de Lima Soares, another editor of Matrizes and a professor of media in journalism and graduate studies in Communications at USP.

Key places
Within this vision, Matrizes can be understood as an expressive, and at the same time both provocative and potentially controversial, instrument of an academic project that recognizes that, while outlining the object is the chief challenge of communication, it does not want to be a prisoner to this alone. “The object is always stimulating and challenging because it is mutable and relational; it’s always undergoing transformation,” says Irene – even though from the point of view of the levels of academic policies, the object of communication is always the mass media, full stop. It would seem to be more productive for this project from which the journal is emerging, for example, to consider the places from which these significant authors constructed their visions of communication; places of thought, of course.

This is why the first dossier contains articles by Brazilians Muniz Sodré, Ciro Marcondes Filho and Lucia Santaella, and by non-Brazilians Jesús Martín-Barbero, Bernard Miège and Giovanni Bechelloni, with very different critical and theoretical points of view. Alongside the vision of Barbero, in which the place for thinking contemporaneously about communication is the city and relationships within it, or put another way, “the new political visibilities of public life learned as urban narrative,” we have the originality of Muniz Sodré’s notions about media biographies, a type of new life form that is virtual, created by existence and by the relationship that the media establishes in the social space. Muniz says of this universe: “In this world of fluid temporality, where the stable and the durable are in crisis, the periodization of existence is affected on several planes. One of them is the indistinct nature of time and activity: work time may be the same as fun time or education time. The stages or moments, previously taken as being special, are now diluted in the frenzy of a permanent presence on the Internet. As the happening is uninterrupted it is difficult to conceive of activities that are not ‘switched on’ or that last a ‘length of time’, i.e. that escape from the technical ordering of the happening. The latter is often confused with the click of the user on a computer connected to the cybernetic network” (page 19).

There are various places, however, and from each of them comes the perception that it is communication that one is dealing with. That is also the case, as Immacolota, Irene and Rosana say in the journal’s editorial, of the “communication industries in the global age of Bernard Miège; the interpersonal communication that Ciro Marcondes Filho recovers from Emmanuel Lévinas; the language used in the culture of the media that Lúcia Santaella X-rays in the new objects of mobile communication; the cosmopolitanism examined by Giovanni Bechelloni”. Indeed, “in each of them [there is] a theoretical strand in the apprehension of the communication field”.
Aware of all this content density, Matrizes is very concerned about presenting itself as a well constructed and organic project. The carefully prepared texts are in keeping with its elegant appearance, an unusual feature among its peers. Besides the dossier in the opening pages, there are sections such as Media Literacy, a specific area for reading communication products “mediated in their most acute and individual articulations,” like TV soaps or cell phones. Pauta [Agenda] has themes that contribute to the theoretical maturity of the communication field and more reviews and news of theses and dissertations.

One thousand copies of the journal were printed and it is already available at, where the Brazilian articles are in English and the foreign ones in their original language.

eduardo cesarA thematic file on Regimes of well-being and poverty, organized by sociologist, Anete Brito Leal Ivo, marks 20 years of the Caderno CRH (CRH Supplement), a publication that has become a benchmark in social sciences and demography. This academic periodical, released every four months, has been published since 1987 by the Human Resources Center (CRH) at the School of Philosophy and Human Sciences at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). ”A long time ago the publication stopped being just a vehicle for divulging academic CRH research and became a national channel for the qualified disclosure and debate of relevant social sciences issues and a tool for institutionally strengthening this area in Bahia, the Northeast, and Brazil as a whole,” says Paulo Fábio Dantas Neto, CRH/UFBA director.eduardo cesar

Thoughts on development

With its 700 copies the Caderno CRH is also available in electronic format since August 2006, at Classified by Capes as a National A journal, last year it received the go-ahead from the SciELO Consultative Committee for inclusion in its strictly-controlled electronic scientific library. The name, the Human Resource Center, recalls a concept from the late sixties, which included research into employment, education and demographic issues. Today, the center’s aims are broader (it is linked to social sciences), but the name has been maintained.

“The journal’s files are related to the research we do at CRH,” says Guaraci Adeodato Alves de Souza, a UFBA professor and one of the CRH founding members. The journal is distributed to 200 university libraries.

Its editorial project is divided into two parts: a thematic dossier and a set of sections that incorporate collaborations from authors in the form of articles and reviews. Since its launch, the journal has encouraged debate on key themes of national and regional development, such as the effects of globalization on labor relations, the nature of democracy and citizenship in countries that have peripheral capitalism, the specific regional aspects of Latin America in the global scenario, etc. ”The journal has become a multiple agent of research and enables close articulation between research and teaching, which is fundamental for innovation and the debate about social science issues,” says Anete Brito Leal Ivo, who is not only CRH’s senior researcher, but also a postgraduate professor in social sciences at UFBA.

In her opinion, the consolidation of the journal is due to a series of factors, such as the collaboration of researchers from other institutions and CRH’s collective capacity for reflection. But the main one, she says, is the critical dimension of the publication. ”This perspective was only possible because an academic center was established that, since the 1970′s, has focused on thinking critically about the nature and character of Brazilian development,” she says.