Written by: Zoe Vedova
The most important communications conference of the year was held over this past weekend.
And it was a failure.
This defeat, however, did not come as a shock to the event organizers, or the keynote speaker, or even the conference attendees; the annually held conference has been deemed a doomed project for the last 10 years, when the first conference was held. The conference, titled CMNS: What are we? has consistently failed to meet its goal of creating a single cohesive, comprehensible definition of a communications major ever since the faculty’s founding back in 2009.
The Peak caught up with the conference’s head organizer, Gabby Irkson, to discuss the nuances of this year’s definition disappointment.
I meet Gabby during her TA office hours. We only have 45 minutes for the interview because she shares her office, a converted utilities closet, with six other TAs on a rotating schedule.
We skip pleasantries.
“I disagree with the term, ‘failure,’” Gabby vehemently declares, leaning back on a filing cabinet made out of a rack meant to hold electrical cords. “Yes, communication majors everywhere are still without a simple definition for their own area of study, but the conference does a lot more than squabble over semantics.”
Gabby isn’t forcing optimism. Throughout the years, the annual conference has grown to include more than 10 straight hours of roundtable discussions about the proper adjectives to describe the faculty. The weekend also includes a moderated debate over whether that Adorno and Horkheimer’s reading on the Leftist Theory is racist, a semiotics competition in which teams are given a meme and two minutes to come up with as much semiotic analysis as possible, as well as a workshop on how students can best handle interrogative questions about what communications is until a definition can be agreed upon.
“The workshop was my idea,” Gabby smiles proudly.
She shows me a video on her phone of students standing in a circle, roleplaying a party where one member is asked by a friend exactly what a School of Communications student learns about.
“The best thing to be is emotionally prepared!” the Gabby on the phone happily informs the group.
Although personal fortitude may have been strengthened at the conference, it doesn’t outweigh the damage done by 10 years of having no concrete explanation for what communications actually is.
Gabby explains how the negative effects of enduring confusion hurt the long-term viability of the communications faculty. “When other faculties can’t quite grasp what we study, it hurts diplomatic relationships between Communications students and other majors,” Gabby solemnly notes. “Not to mention, it puts the entire sustainability of the communications major at risk.”
A decade of being definitionless has also led to the formation of a renegade communications protest group, The Annual Dismantlers, who wish to shut down the yearly conference entirely.
“In the ever fluctuating age of modernity,” their manifesto starts, “it is an advantage, not a disability, to remain untethered from archaically ridged forms of organization such as definitions.”
I reached out to the Dismantlers to find out what encapsulated modernity, but received no reply.
Next year, the conference will be mandatory for all communications students to attend. The administrative side of Simon Fraser University has claimed that if there is no definition by 2023, the entire faculty will be dissolved.