This post has been brewing for some time, and I suppose now's the moment in which to put it out into the world. It's about the discipline of communication--my own discipline--and people's perceptions of it.
I'll start with a few anecdotes:
(1) I recall attending a panel at the National Communication Association annual convention a few years ago, in which the panelists reflected on the discipline's wellbeing. One of them, I remember, commented on how the association's newsletter, Spectra, always included a list of books and articles that communication scholars had published in venues outside the discipline. He attributed the list to the discipline's self-consciousness about itself and, more specifically, to a latent sense in which the "real" work was taking place in disciplines other than our own. (I may be mistaken, but I think Spectra has since discontinued the list.)
(2) I've met with editors at various university and commercial-scholarly presses who've all commented on their ambivalence toward the communication discipline. Generally, they seem to feel as though there's a handful of scholars in the discipline whose work is exciting, but as for the rest of it.... Friends and colleagues who work outside of the communication discipline, or who are in it but don't identify with it, have expressed similar feelings to me.
(3) I wish I had a dollar for the amount of times a student said to me, "I wanted to major in business, but I couldn't get into the business school. That's why I decided to major in communication." (FYI, that's happened less frequently here at IU, where the department calls itself Communication & Culture.)
Enough with the anecdotes. By now you're hopefully getting the drift. There seems to be a pervasive sense in which communication is a second-rate discipline, one that's: discomforted with its being relatively young; perceived by many to be intellectually unstimulating; and imagined by some students to be their fallback to a more challenging--and presumably more rewarding--career in taking over the world.
The odd thing is, many of the most rigorous, imaginative scholars I know work in communication departments--and that's not only because I mostly know communication scholars. Beyond that, though, it's surprising to me to see how much weight both the idea and practice of communication are given in contemporary society. It seems strange that the communication discipline hasn't become the discipline of our age, or at least one of them. Maybe that's because every discipline seems to "do" communication in one form or another. I'm always struck, for example, when literary scholars publish research about, say, the internet, "communicative production," or immaterial labor (which often includes at least some communicative aspect).
In any case, it's clear that the communication discipline finds itself in an odd place. While its subject-matter unquestionably is important, the discipline doesn't seem to be perceived as equally important. The question remains, why?