Austrian Day of Communication Science 2011 – Identity – Diversity – Integration

Vienna, 1-2 December 2011

Identity – Diversity – Integration

Forum for Methods at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna Austrian Academy of Sciences – Commission for Comparative Media and Communication Studies Austrian Association for Communication Science (ÖGK)


As a result of globalization, migration, changing values, demographic upheavals and social movements of emancipation, current debates on social policy now fall into three principal categories : „identity“, „diversity“ and „integration“, in which socio-cultural diversity and societal integration are seen as existing in a relationship of greater or lesser tension, depending on the degree of reflexivity and flexibility of collective identities.

Among the wealth of possibilities for creating identity, there exist, on the level of the (historically predominant) nation state alone, different varieties of nationalism, patriotism and cosmopolitanism, representing key mediating variables for the integration of highly diverse societies. In particular, national identities are often seen as conflicting with the development of other, supranational, identities and as an obstacle to integration processes. But the political force of the concept of national identity, which remains undiminished to this day, presents social science research with the challenge of closely examining, with appropriate methodological instruments, collective identity structures (and their constructors) and clarifying the conditions under which, in a pluralist, democratic society, certain forms of identity either exercise an integrating effect, or have dysfunctional consequences. This is the starting point for the conference, which aims to achieve an interdisciplinary dialogue.

The wide range of topics touched on here, which figure prominently in the media on an almost daily basis, embrace policy toward asylum-seekers and the recruitment of highly qualified „migrant labour“, the conflict between self-determination and a collective fundamental consensus in a pluralist society, as well as the consequences of economic and political globalization. These consequences pose a threat to collective self-understanding, whether through the outsourcing of many branches of production to low-wage countries, which, as we are now seeing in the USA, are even causing the fundamental societal consensus be called in question, or through the formation of supranational entities, which, as the example of the European Union shows, are themselves not yet firmly established and tend to react defensively to the possible admission of new members.

These examples all demonstrate beyond doubt that relationships between persons or groups cannot be reduced to rational actions within material or institutional limits but must be understood as patterns of action that are formed through social identities and can themselves be identity-forming. In this process the construction of one’s own identity (or of a number of individual, situationally determined identities) invariably goes along with the construction of ideas about the other, whereby either positive differentiation of the „ingroup“ or denigration of the „outgroup“ („othering“) can have a primary identity-forming effect. Ultimately, the resulting (reciprocal) expectations regarding the behaviour of the respective other exercise a powerful influence on the interpretation of the actions of that other.

Although identities naturally tend toward stability, nevertheless they are not static. Their transformational character is grounded in the fact that „identity“ is not a finished product, to be called upon when required, but needs to be continually tested, adjusted and constituted. Under democratic circumstances these processes of reflection upon and construction of social identities are subject to public negotiation, that is to say, to the interplay between a „socioculture“, with its crystallized mentalities, usually unreflected upon, and a „culture of interpretation“, in which the elements of socioculture are, in a certain way, actualized, clarified, placed in a meaningful context and, not least, modified. This actualization of latent cultural patterns, this communication of offers of interpretation and meaning for the interpretation-hungry present, is performed by a series of intermediary societal authorities (such as political parties, churches and NGOs, among others) ; in the modern information society, however, it is primarily performed by the mass media as well as by social media. In a society based on the division of labour such as our own, the media represent one of the key constructors, if not the key constructor, of collective identities.

In essence, the construction of collective identities always amounts to establishing who „we“ are and who „they“ are (something that becomes particularly clear in the case of national identities). However, the media, on account of their particular logic of action, bring matters „to a head“ more strongly than other socialization authorities ; i.e, in the interests of better communication, they reduce complexity in a particularly radical manner. Thus they not only act in a field of tension between traditional forms of identity formation and „postmodern“ multiple identities – they redefine it themselves every day. Their definitions characterize both the understanding and the realization of diversity and integration along the fine line between lived pluralism and the rise of „parallel societies“.

It is thus one of the most urgent tasks of social science research to investigate the collective identity structures observed within a society and the role played by socialization authorities, above all the media, in processes of integration. The object of the proposed conference is to discover what approaches are offered by the social sciences’ repertoire of theory and method, what empirical research results are already available, what research work is currently in progress. Special emphasis should be given on the methodological challenges that confront such work.

Theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions are invited from all social science disciplines. Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome. Extended abstracts of no longer than 1,000 words (including references and footnotes) must be submitted online not later than September 30, 2011 ( Selected papers presented during the conference will be included in the conference proceedings.

Keynote-Speakers :

Prof. Dr. Heinz Fassmann, Department of Geography and Spatial Research at the University of Vienna, and Head of the Commission of Migration and Integration Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences Prof. Dr. Leonie Huddy, Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, New York, and Director of the Center for Survey Research

Preconference (in cooperation with the Department of Communication Science at the University of Salzburg) : „What Do We Really Know About Herta Herzog ? Symposium for a Pioneer of Empirical Communication Research“


The symposium will honour the life and work of Herta Herzog (August 14th, 1910 – February 25th, 2010). For the first the amazing scope of Herzog’s work as one of the founders of empirical communication research and of market and motive research will be addressed by a scientific conference. Herzog’s significance for the development of the social sciences in the USA as well as for the German-speaking countries will be discussed. The symposium will bring together experts from Austria, Germany, the USA and Israel.

Date : December 1st, 2011, 10 am – 5 pm

Location : Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Organized by : 
— Univ. Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Klaus, Department of Communication, Paris Lodron University Salzburg 
— Dr. Josef Seethaler, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Office : Frau Mag. Ingrid Serini, ; +43-(0)1-51581-3110

Supported by : 
— Austrian Association for Communication Science 
— Forum for Methods at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna