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Global Challenges and the Response of International Scholarly Associations

The second day of ANZCA 2017 starts with a keynote by Paula Gardner, whose focus here is on the ethical quandaries of the present day; these are exacerbated by the corporate and international dimensions of current problems. Paula is addressing this especially from the perspective of the International Communication Association, which has embarked on a course of greater internationalisation and decentralisation away from its traditional roots in the United States.

One of the key international problems at present is the massive flows of migrants across the boundaries of nation states, driven themselves by increasing gaps between the rich and the poor and the corporatisation of international relations. Nation state boundaries both make possible and prohibit international migration; originally, they asserted national identities, but in doing so also cast out migrants who fail to assimilate to such national identities.

Nation states usually seek to assist close neighbours more than those from more distant countries, even though there is some affective sense of responsibility; yet migrants are also depicted as a significant burden on the state. Globalisation has skewed and conditioned international migration flows, and the products of globalisation (mobile phones and other communication tools) have assisted migrants in finding pathways to new countries; these countries also privilege skilled migration, however.

Generally, the most generous countries in terms of acceptance rates for migrants have not been the most wealthy countries in the world; there has been much reporting on the strains of migration on wealthy European countries such as Italy or Germany, for example, but far less so on poorer countries with a much larger intake, such as Kenya. There are also much higher hurdles for public acceptance of migration programmes in public discourse in wealthy countries: any even minor issues with the integration of migrants are seen as threatening the future of migrant intakes. This is further complicated by the normalisation of differences in race, class, ethnicity, and gender, which privileges particular groups of migrants from culturally more affine origins; in the 1990s, many migration programmes privileged ex-Yugoslav refugees over African refugees, for instance.

Further, the emerging corporatocracy across the developed world has served to undermine and bypass the power of nation states: long-held democratic values are being replaced by a corporate ethos, and administrations such as that of Donald Trump are quite literally staffed by long-standing CEOs of major corporations, including former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. These CEOs personally represent the bypassing of national laws in pursuit of corporate deals – and the supporters of such political regimes have voted for their leaders in the vain hope that the wealth generated by a more unfettered corporatocracy will somehow trickle down to them. Yet to criticise them for this hope, from a scholarly perspective, might also represent an instance of class warfare, and this is concerning.

For an international scholarly association such as ICA, these questions also have a number of practical implications. ICA has traditionally been strongly US-centric, but this is changing and the Association has embarked on a process of conscious decentring: this includes greater acceptance of non-US scholarly traditions, themes, or ways of presenting an argument; seeking greater international representation on the ICA board; partnering with a wider range of affiliate journals; staging regional conferences in traditionally underserved regions; facilitating the publication and visibility of research from such regions; promoting open access to and fair use of scholarly publications; and becoming more proactive in making political statements where there are gross injustices in the world.

Even having an ethical standpoint is a sign of privilege; the very possibility of doing harm to others through deliberately or inadvertently unethical acts is a sight of power. Individuals and associations who are in a position to consider their ethics also have an obligation to do so that stems from their privileged position, therefore. This is also a call for a consideration of the role of communities in developing ethical consensus, of course.