by Anne-Marie Cotton
Arteveldehogeschool, Belgium

They’re looking at the practice from a scientific point of view,
they’re looking at the science from a practical point of view.

It came to my mind that several EUPRERA members do combine two professional identities: being an academic researcher and working as a communication practitioner. Literature often reports on the difficult or ambiguous relationship between both communities: academia and practice (Gryspeerdt, 2004; Jeanneret & Ollivier, 2004; Brulois & Charpentier, 2009, Morillon, 2016). So, how to deal when these two professional identities are combined into one and the same person -I call “adhocrat”, a neologism described by Mintzberg (1982) as an organisational configuration mobilizing multidisciplinary and transversal competences in complex and unstable environments to achieve specific missions-?

Do they aim to develop knowledge considered as scientific by the research community, or as exploitable by practitioners to support their decision making (Déry, 1997)? Do they target a distinctive audience when their research results aim either credibility (Arber, 2005), either a certain prestige (Déry & Toulouse, 1994)? Does the transfer of theories and analyses into operational knowledge allow them to test theory concepts and, conversely, does practical knowledge nourish their epistemic work (Avenier, 2004)? The experience of fourteen researchers-communicators, so-called “adhocrats”, from seven different nationalities (1), illustrates the contribution of communication practice to communication research and highlights the challenges they face.

While dual identities offer advantages to adhocrats, they do not consciously deploy research strategies to ensure control over the constitution of the field of communication research (Bourdieu 1975, Audet 1986). They only aim at research objectives developing knowledge that is beneficial to both communities: scientifically rigorous and methodologically useful for the research community, and exploitable by their anchoring in practice to help communication practitioners in their actions (Déry, 1997). “If results do not develop scientific knowledge, they won’t help the practice” (UK3).

If the dual identity “once recognized and legitimized by the peers of both worlds, opens doors” (AU), the reputation is built mainly through the publication of results in peer-reviewed journals, by obtaining awards at academic conferences, by being recognized by professionals at the national level, even though the latter generally are unable to value the true impact of academic recognition. The audience of their research are mixed, as are their identities. But if credibility is to be acquired in both worlds (Arber, 2005), the prestige leading to greater access to the field’s resources (Déry & Toulouse, 1994) is mainly obtained via communication practitioners. An attitude which is not without risk: to be considered too close to the subject of study, too close to practice by traditional researchers is making you “go native and uncritical” (SW2), tarnishing your influence in academia but reinvigorating it among practitioners.

Finally, adhocrats believe in the “positive contamination of the two worlds” (IT1) which allows them to test theories and concepts to their practical knowledge and inversely to nourish their epistemic work with practical knowledge (Avenier, 2004). When presenting the results of their research to both academic and professional associations, they remain critical towards those who claim to be interested in knowledge transfer between the two worlds, but do not really do so – mainly because their members belong to one of them. A missed opportunity for the entire communication discipline which would undoubtedly benefit from the recognition of these “double identities” (NL1), knowing that associations – academic or professional- facilitate the constitutive discourse of professional identities and help to reframe and position professional identities to the outside world (Cotton, 2017).

However, “having one foot in each world but with an academic predominance makes it possible to maintain a critical distance from the contribution of the practice in scientific research » (SW2). This critical posture makes the adhocrat aware of the ins and outs of both sides, forcing him/her to a humbler posture because “dual identity makes work more stressful but also a lot more giving» (SW2).

To sum up: “academic research should not only focus on problems derived by researchers, but that academics should serve society by dealing with problems of the real world that need reflection and advancement (which cannot usually be done by the practitioners themselves because of other priorities and lack of time / knowledge / methods), because that is exactly why society pays us” (G1). Adhocrats see themselves as active agents, as agents of change, as mediators – “mentor, coach, teacher, motivator, stimulator, critic, challenger” (IT2) – between the worlds of practice and research whose epistemic work is nourished by practice. They bridge the gap between theory and practice, identifying research questions that really make sense: practice nourishes their research that answers their scientific questions.

(1) Respondents from Austria (1), Germany (2), Italy (3), Slovenia (1), Sweden (2) and UK (3).