Mass Communication Research and the Invisible College Revisited: The Changing Landscape and Emerging Fronts in Journalism-Related Studies

By Chang, Tsan-Kuo; Tai, Zixue | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Mass Communication Research and the Invisible College Revisited: The Changing Landscape and Emerging Fronts in Journalism-Related Studies


Chang, Tsan-Kuo, Tai, Zixue, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The purpose of this study is twofold: first, to chart the changing landscape of mass communication research in journalism-related studies over the past two decades and, second, to determine the contemporary form and content of the invisible college in the field through its intellectual configuration and structural interaction. A simple citation count is inadequate; the analysis of co-citation networks should be a better indication of the field's effort to build on its theoretical foundation. The findings suggest that there is some sort of theoretical and methodological convergence in contemporary journalism-related studies.

To paraphrase Karl Mannheim, it is incorrect to say that the single researcher thinks. Rather, the researcher participates in thinking further what others have thought before.1 Although Mannheim's idea mainly deals with modes of thought and their social origins, the thesis of a sociology of knowledge is highly relevant to journalism and mass communication research. For one thing, students of journalism and mass communication often find in research situations "preformed patterns of thought and of conduct."2 This raises intriguing ontological and epistemological questions: How does the single researcher come to know what other researchers have thought before? Who are these "other researchers" who constitute intellectual groups that have developed a specific way of thinking and doing research? What is the network of informal communication among these researchers?

Implicit in such questions is the notion of "the invisible college" that has long guided research on the sociology of science, especially the diffusion of knowledge in scientific communication as a sub-field of sociological investigation. In journalism and mass communication research, the idea of "other researchers" as "the invisible college" has less often been empirically examined. Notwithstanding, since the early years of the "founding fathers,"3 the field of mass communication has increasingly become a research community in its own right with its own disciplinary histories and collegial relationships.4 These, both at the individual and collective levels, have for years been driving forces that advance the field's knowledge through such venues as graduate seminars, paper presentations, and publications. Given its influences on theory and methodology in the field, this disciplinary-like community5 and its intellectual and scholarly practices deserve attention. The purpose of this study is twofold: first, through a replication of a co-citation networkstudy, to chart the changing landscape of mass communication research in journalism-related studies over the past two decades and, second, to determine the contemporary form and content of the invisible college in the field.

The Invisible College, Sociology of Knowledge, and Citation Analysis

Although the concept of the invisible college could be traced back to the Royal Society of London in the seventeenth century,6 its systematic application to the empirical study of communication in science is more recent. lievrouw wrote: "An invisible college is a set of informal communication relations among scientists or other scholars who share a specific common interest or goal."7 The invisible college is a "community of scholars" that has collegial relevance and potential for its members. As such, it is closely related to the central premise of the sociology of knowledge perspective: social relationships influence modes of conceiving and doing things.

At the risk of oversimplification, the essence of the sociology of knowledge as a theoretical framework, according to Mannheim, centers on the ideas of "collective knowing" and "a community of experience."8 It seeks to uncover the devices of thinking and perceiving that individuals or groups use to "accumulate, preserve, reformulate, and disseminate" their intellectual heritage in society and their connections to the social conditions or structures in which they occur. …

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