The Challenge of Communicating Truth

WFI Symposium Poster

The WFI 2011 Symposium

Following the official launch of the WFI in October 2010, we began to plan the annual events and symposia that would help highlight dimensions of the important relationship between communication and social justice. The inspiration for the 2011 event was derived from conversations between the WFI director, Bryan Crable, and pioneering communication theorist Barnett Pearce.

Barnett’s work was groundbreaking within the field of communication, and especially his co-creation (with Vernon Cronen) of the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) theory. This perspective, a unique synthesis of symbolic interaction and social construction, was a radical challenge to much communication scholarship when it first emerged in the 1970s. Barnett was one of the first to congratulate Dr. Crable on the WFI after its official launch, and their initial email exchange sparked a conversation about the connections between CMM and the WFI, and their mutual focus upon communication's role in making better social worlds. Together with Kim Pearce, Barnett’s collaborator and partner, the theme for the 2011 Symposium emerged. It read:

“One of the easiest things to say is simply “tell the truth!” But what does that actually mean? (by this, we mean questions such as: How do you tell the truth? Whose truth do you tell? Who gets to tell the truth? Who doesn’t? To whom do you tell the truth? What happens between those telling opposing truths? Does telling the truth require assistance? Etc.) We’re hoping to interrogate such issues through a focused conversation among those doing innovative, communication-focused work in activism and/or scholarship.”

The plan was for Barnett and Kim to lead this event, to guide the conversation among and between a collection of innovative communication scholars and practitioners, drawing inspiration from this thematic statement. Unfortunately, Barnett was ultimately unable to attend (and passed away soon after the event). As a result, we honored Barnett’s life and work through the day’s events, and our list of participants and dialogue leaders suggests the exciting conversation that was produced over the course of the day.

Our participants and dialogue leaders engaged each other, Villanova students and faculty, and members of the Philadelphia community. They jointly reflected upon the theme, and upon moments or instances when their work raised, complicated, eliminated, answered the question of how one communicates truth. Just as intended, the symposium provoked insight and conversation—dialogue—rather than extended soliloquy. New connections emerged, new projects created, and new conversations emerged from this event. It was the perfect way to embody and pay tribute to CMM and to Barnett himself.

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