Complicating Communications for Ecology

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Lester, Libby
Foxwell-Norton, Kerrie
Konkes, Claire
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Eugene, USA


Ecology, as the study of interrelationships among living beings and with their environment, tackles some of the most complex processes, patterns and networks confronting science. Since its emergence as a field in the last century, its mission has been to map and explain complexity in useful ways. It is no surprise then that Ecology has regularly been at the forefront of scientific endeavour to increase stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange and impact on public and political decisions (Enquist et al. 2017). This endeavour necessarily involves crossing boundaries that, often by default through such things as career pressure and funding regimes, have increasingly fragmented methods, languages and locations. One way of thinking about this process is as ‘translation’, a fundamental concept to communications scholars and recently popular in Ecology and other sciences. Even in its most limited form – that is, translation between languages – it is too important a practice not to deliberately and wholeheartedly adopt. When applied to the ecological sciences in its broader form –that is, as translation of knowledge to facilitate or impede understanding and agreement (Waisbord 2016) – it is central to all our futures.

Our attempt here is to intervene in the ways communication is understood and applied conceptually and in practice as pressure mounts to better translate ecological science for those who make decisions about theirs and others’ future. We do this in the face of a notable and confusing failure; the current distressing state of the Great Barrier Reef is the case study on which we draw to illustrate our argument. Focusing on a recent special issue on ‘Transnational Ecology’ in the influential Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the journal of the Ecological Society of America, we analyse how ‘communications’ is now commonly represented and understood in such discourses, arguing that oversimplification of such a complex set of practices risks the core missions of both Ecology and Environmental Communications. We conclude by outlining how complexities within communications can be usefully embraced by Ecology to enhance its capacity to translate its research in ways that matter.

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International Association of Media and Communications Research Annual Conference

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Other earth sciences

Communication and media studies

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Foxwell-Norton, K-A; Lester, L; Konkes, C, Complicating Communications for Ecology, International Association of Media and Communications Research Annual Conference, 2018