Re-MEDIAting the Wild: The 16th Conference on Communication and Environment

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Type of Call: 
Call for Submissions
February 1, 2021

The International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) will hold the 16th Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE) online everywhere in June 2021. This conference will mark IECA's 10th anniversary. As always, we will bring together artists, practitioners, scholars, students and engaged citizens from around the world to discuss the state of communication related to environmental affairs. We consider Indigenous perspectives to be central to this topic and therefore especially encourage the participation of Indigenous People.

We welcome submissions to the conference on any aspect of environmental communication and specifically call for work that addresses the conference theme, Re-MEDIAting the Wild.

We are at the end of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, and the news is grim. The intent of this theme is to bring attention to research and practical experience on how best to communicate for the sake of Wildlife and Wild places. At the same time, we expect the conference to address the ways in which communication and culture influence how humans value the Wild and perceive their relationships with the rest of Nature.

This is an overdue theme for consideration by the environmental communication community. The United Nations Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity's recently published Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 is the latest in a series of reports on the dire situation humans have created for the Earth's wild species. The report begins with the unambiguous statement, "Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying." It goes on to explain that not one of the twenty Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 has been achieved.

A recently released high profile BBC program about the crisis facing the planet's Wildlife, Extinction: The Facts, takes a hard departure from host David Attenborough’s typically celebratory and spectacular Wildlife films. Viewers are given a peek into the dismal circumstances under which many of the Earth's species exist and the implications of that for humanity. In particular, the program uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a frame to connect our own health with that of Wildlife.

Compounding the crisis on the ground and the existing communication challenges, advocates for biodiversity now face an all-too-familiar tactic of rhetorical opposition, denial and the trope of uncertainty. In this case, "extinction denial" and questioning of the science of conservation biology and ecology.

What, then, do we mean by Re-MEDIAting the Wild? In a literal sense it suggests healing Wild places, the species that live there, and humanity's relationship to the rest of Nature. In other words, rewilding and restoring resilience and integrity to the living Earth.

As this is a communication conference, we wonder what can the lens of communication bring to this challenge? What does Re-MEDIAting the Wild mean from that perspective?

For starters, and most importantly, it refers to how communication using technology–everything from handwriting to television to social media–affects people's understanding of Wild Nature and our relationships with it. It also refers to ways of reconciling conflicts related to Wildlife and Wild places. And it means connecting or linking ourselves to the Wild in a variety of ways, including as advocates for species and places that are unable to speak directly to our institutions and decision-makers. In all cases, the Re- is important; we must communicate better than we have.

Some questions asked by the conference organizers may serve as prompts for the discussions we hope will ensue.

  • How have advocacy campaigns portrayed the Wildlife and Wild places they have sought to protect, and how has that affected the campaign outcomes?
  • Are there common characteristics of successful campaigns for Wildlife?
  • How have Wild species and places been portrayed through television, Wildlife films, advertising, popular culture, and other media, and what have been the consequences of those representations?
  • How should we re-MEDIAte (communicate in new ways) about and for our fellow residents of Earth in order to heal Nature?
  • What can Indigenous languages and perspectives teach us about how to communicate better for the Wild?
  • What would it mean to re-Wild our language in the service of Nature?
  • Is it even appropriate to be using the word "Wild" given how it has been used in the past in discriminatory ways?
  • How can communication help us celebrate the Wild and build hope for the future while staying focussed on the present crisis?

Finally, we need to acknowledge the irony of holding an online conference on communication for and about Wildlife and Wild places. However, the online-only format of this meeting is a social symptom of COVID-19, so we can use that fact to help us further reflect on our conventional ways of doing things, and of communicating, not to mention our connections to the natural world. We hope you will join us for this adventure and experience COCE “as you’ve never seen it before.”

More details and submission guidelines are on the call web page or see the attached PDF.