Communication as a field of inquiry is dedicated to understanding the various and complex processes through which human beings communicatively construct systems of meaning, institutional forms, and social realities. As a department, our guiding assumption is that Communication is a critical and creative activity in which the “everyday” objectivity of human meaning production is called into question, scrutinized, and transformed.  The department enacts this activity via three principles that inform our modes of teaching, research, and service and that, articulated together, constitute the philosophical foundation of our program.  The three modes of enactment are Engagement, Creativity, and Critique.  These three modes, though different, must be inseparably linked if they are to embody our fundamental commitment that ideas matter in shaping the possibilities for a better world. To sustain our commitment to any one of these, all three must be supported and embraced.  Moreover, it is our belief that communication is the ideal locus at which these three commitments can be enacted together.

1. Engagement recognizes communication and its study as practical activities in which the act of connecting with others—individuals, texts, communities, organizations, etc.—opens up possibilities for dialogue, understanding, and social change.  Our teaching, research, and service missions include a commitment to engaging other groups, discourses, and communities in ways that make a practical difference in the quality of life of UNC’s various constituencies.

Engagement is a complex and multidimensional commitment and again, it is our intention to embrace all of its possibilities, including the possibilities opened up by alliances, partnerships, different forms of outreach and collaborations.  But engagement suggests more, for it implies not only political and social engagements, but also ethical ones as well.  Engagement entails putting ideas into action, and allowing ideas to emerge out of and in response to action.  It means embracing the belief that ideas are actions.

2. Creativity recognizes communication behavior and its study as practices always constituted within a dialogue of the actualities of the past, the conditions of possibility of the present and the open–ended or indeterminate character of the future.  In that sense, communication is always going beyond itself to realize new ways of acting, of relating, of being-in-the world.  As such, creativity has to be brought to bear on the forms of knowledge we produce, and the ways we produce such knowledges.  Creativity recognizes that there are multiple forms of knowledge!

The fundamentally creative aspect of communication is most clearly embedded in its inevitably expressive modality, which can take many aesthetic forms and engage numerous audiences, both cognitively and affectively.  Whether embodied in speech, performance events, the production of visual or acoustic texts, or writing, our efforts to better understand and teach human communication processes and practices requires the ability to explore and engage with the aesthetic dimensions of these various modes of discourse.

3. Critique acknowledges that our role as teachers and scholars is not merely to describe the world as it currently exists, but to explore how realities are made, why some realities hold power over others and what consequences this has for different social groups and the health of society (or the world!) as a whole.  But such critique can never merely stop at the negative, for its real purpose is to open up possibilities for alternative realities, for other ways of thinking and acting, both individually and collectively.  Critique recognizes and interrogates the power and politics that underlie all forms of discursive production, including knowledge, even as it seeks a better understanding of the world in which we live.  Critique recognizes that knowledge is always inseparable from the context in which it is articulated, and the subjects it engages, as producers, objects and consumers.  And therefore, knowledge must always be a response to reality that accepts its own responsibility for that reality.

These commitments– our philosophy of engagement, creativity, and critique—provide the foundation for our pedagogical practice as an effort to help develop in our students and the broader citizenry a set of critical capacities that, taken together, would contribute to constituting an engaged, creative and critical 21st century citizen who participates actively in public life.  After all, it is our belief that a commitment to “engagement, creativity, critique” demands a different “public” pedagogy.  If skills enable you to know how to do something upon demand, something that can be identified in advance, capacities build the potential to change, to adapt to new contexts, new resources and new demands.  That is, the pedagogy of capacities attempts to imbue students with a commitment to critical and creative engagement, with an openness to the new that is simultaneously an opening up of the new.  Among these critical capacities are:

  1. An understanding of the consequences and implications of various communication choices, practices, and technologies through an awareness of the complex set of contextual relations that constitute such phenomena and their possible effects.
  2. An ability to analyze communication phenomena in a variety of contexts—interpersonal, rhetorical, organizational, mass-mediated—and understand the ways that such communication phenomena construct and shape human identities, social realities, and institutional forms.
  3. An understanding of how knowledge and theory work to enable, critique, and transform human communication behavior.
  4. An appreciation of the productivity of differences, even within knowledge, which would enable one to understand the multiplicity of positions on any issue without falling into relativism.
  5. An awareness of the complexities, contradictions and contestations of power that both shape and are shaped by the full range of communicative actions.
  6. An ability to translate capacities into contextually appropriate and communicatively effective skills such as: producing a staged performance; creating a documentary, narrative, or animated film; leading a group discussion; constructing a persuasive speech; conducting scholarly research; and organizing a community event.

Through our teaching, research, and service, we seek to develop and enhance the creative and critical capacities of students, citizens, and communities to engage with others in transformational ways, express themselves though various aesthetic forms, and critique the systems of knowledge and power that shape their—and our—lives.  We view such capacities as vital to the development of a democratically engaged citizenry that can face the enormous challenges and problems of our 21st century global societies.