Revisiting Communication, Technology and Development: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to Dallas Smythe in China

Guest Editors:

Yuezhi ZHAO (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Yu HONG (Zhejiang University, China)

The general aims and scope of this special issue:

When Dallas Smythe returned from his first trip to China exactly fifty years ago and then posited his “After Bicycles, What?” question at the onset of China’s reform and open-up process, he probably could not have imagined Chinese transnational corporation Huawei’s leadership in 5G technology or the complex and protracted geopolitical struggles surrounding it. To many, the so-called Digital Cold War or the information warfare that the US-led power bloc has orchestrated against China already signals an accelerated global transition that mixes geopolitical, ideological, and technological shifts to an amplified extent. Critically, Smythe’s insights on the politically-embedded nature of technology, his theoretical bridging of communication to political economy, and, ultimately, his fascination with the nature and direction of China’s developmental path, have become ever more pertinent for anchoring analysis of today’s digitalized global communication for which China is an important part.

The first aim of this special issue is to bring forth Smythe’s intellectual legacy so as to link critical inquiry of the unfolding contestations with social struggles of the 20th century. While critical scholars often evoke Smythe’s concept of audience commodity and his treatment of “work” when examining immaterial labour and the new modes of exploitation in digital capitalism, Dallas Smythe has much more to offer. His critique of the “dependency road” and his consistent support for national sovereignties to extend democratic participation in development and governance, exemplifies the kind of critical praxis aimed at contesting global power structures. After all, one should remember that Dallas Smythe blazed a path of challenging Cold War-enforced sinological orientalism and engaging China’s self-proclaimed socialist theories and practices of development. For critical scholarship today though, the so-called China question remains unresolved, ever-more perplexing, and increasingly challenging. Hence, it is time to extend Smythe’s pioneering visit to historically situate China today as part and parcel of the long global transition.

The second aim of this special issue is to revisit, on both the theoretical and empirical level, the nexus of communication, technology, and development that has characterized various modernization trajectories since the 1970s in China and elsewhere. To the extent that global digital capitalism extends exploitation, polarization, and depression, the actions of communities, institutions, and states destabilize any version of digital universalism. In particular, even though imaginaries and practices from the broadly defined Global South have manifested themselves at a time of crises and great change, the knowledge regime has failed to account for their relevance. In light of diverging paths and competing visions, it is time to extend Smythe’s critical acumen to the Digital Age and to examine what constitute development, what mode of social embeddedness makes a developmental agency, and what material relations enable the communication of specific development politics.

Ultimately, as the world is at the crossroads of stagnation and antagonism, as China is hosting the 2022 annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) in Beijing, we draw inspirations from Dallas Smythe to create a dialogue space for collectively exploring the possibility for shared development. We invite conceptually-driven and empirically-based research that addresses the intersections of communication, technology, and development within and beyond China from historical, global, and comparative perspectives. We welcome submissions grounded in varying understandings of China’s developmental path and/or the contemporary global order. Contributions in the areas of political economy of communication, international communication, development communication, rural communication, participatory communication, labor studies, science and technology studies, traditional knowledge systems, post-colonial epistemologies, and other relevant areas are all welcome. Topics of abstracts could include but are not limited to:

● Rethinking development in the era of digital capitalistic crisis

  • Communication and development: paradigmatic shifts and predicaments
  • De-westernization, de-imperialization, and the redefinition of social progress
  • ICTs, networked individualism, and collective action
  • Digital convergence, global subjects, and the radicalized idea of the “local”

● Geopolitics of technology, global power shifts, and China’s developmental path

  • The social impacts of technological change and global interconnections
  • Global connectivity, the rise of BRICS, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative
  • Changing concepts of media imperialism, network sovereignty, and national autonomy
  • Digital divide, technological leapfrogging, and Global South

● Divergent ideologies, colliding global visions, and the resilience of vernacular culture

  • Ideology, consciousness industry, and cultural screens
  • The contemporary rise of populist politics and progressive alternatives
  • Historical trajectories and future paths of popular democracy

● Capitalism, nature, and socialism

  • The material impacts of ICT’s global expansion
  • Consumerism and ecological sustainability in the post-pandemic world
  • Post-capitalism, digital civilization, and new social imaginaries

● Dallas Smythe in rural China: new challenges on critical communication research

  • Urban-rural relations in the context of digital transformation
  • Intellectual property regimes vis-à-vis traditional knowledge systems in rural rejuvenation
  • Re-narrating China’s developmental path and re-imagining socialism in the countryside
  • Connecting scholarship with praxis in local or international movements

All manuscripts should be submitted by August 31, 2022. All submitted manuscripts are subject to a rigorous blind peer-review process. All accepted manuscripts will be published “online first.” The planned printed publication date is an issue of CJC in March 2024. Submissions should conform to the editorial guidelines of the Chinese Journal of Communication found at under “Instructions for Authors.” Papers for consideration in this special issue should be submitted online and should indicate they are intended for inclusion in the special issue. For inquires, contact Yuezhi Zhao at (yuezhi_zhao_a /at/ and Yu Hong at (hong1 /at/

A conference after IAMCR on the topic will be held in July 2022. Although participating in the conference is not a prerequisite for submission to this special issue, we encourage potential contributors to consider joining the conference so that authors would have the chance to share their insights and views and thus improve the articles to be submitted to the special issue.

Detailed information of the conference will be released in due time.