Onions, Ogres, and International Communication

Have you ever seen the movie Shrek? You know, that cartoon featuring Mike Myers as an ogre with a heart of gold and Eddie Murphy as Donkey, his obnoxious-yet-loveable sidekick? If you have seen it, then you’ll be familiar with the classic scene in which Shrek uses an onion as a metaphor for the complex nature of the ogre mentality.

“Ogres are like onions,” he tells a skeptical Donkey. “Ogres have layers.”

You know what else has layers (besides parfaits)? The field of international communication!

Shrek and Donkey welcome your thoughts on international communication.

I know it sounds like a bit of a stretch, but stay with me here and it will all make sense. To borrow a quote from Gary Weaver’s The Evolution of International Communication as a Field of Study: A Personal Reflection, “International Communications is truly interdisciplinary, a mixture of many different areas of academic inquiry.” The field has a theoretical layer rooted in academic research, but it also possesses a practical layer that’s applicable everywhere from international negotiations to international news to NGO activities. There’s a layer of international issues, a layer of domestic issues, and then a whole new layer that looks at how these two issues connect. To take another line from Weaver’s reflection, “International communications allows us to authentically combine all these levels of analysis, to ask the big questions, but also to deal with the individual.”

The layers of the field are also reflected in its contradictory beginnings. On one hand, international communication is almost as old as human civilization itself.  Thussu’s “The Historical Context of International Communication and Mattelart’s “The Emergence of Technical Networks” both offer compelling examples of international communication throughout the ages. The ancient empires of Rome, Persia and Greece relied on official postal and dispatch systems, and inventions such as the printing press and the telegraph had considerable impacts on the world.

Given that international communication has effectively been in use for thousands of years, it seems surprising that the field has only recently been recognized as an area of study. American University’s International Communication program is the oldest of its kind in the world. But that’s also what makes it so exciting. As students, we can help chart the future of the field.

Posted by: Kira VK

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