by Hugh Culbertson, Professor Emeritus
As we approach the end of our careers, we professors surely reflect on what we have done in the past 30 to 50 years or so. What major questions did we raise and emphasize in our teaching and research? What tentative (an omnipresent qualifier) answers, if any, did we come up with? And how did these things relate to our work as professional communicators as well as to our transformative studies in grad school and beyond?
I have decided to write down some thoughts along these lines in the document entitled “Some Reflections on a Modest Intellectual Journey: Mine.” Anyone can download this PDF file.
In writing this, I went back over some 70 articles, books, book chapters and monographs that I had published over a 50-year period. Yes, my first journal article came out in 1959!!! I had almost forgotten about some of these publications. And, as I sought to make sense of all them, I found it important emphasize two themes. First, my varied writing and studies had some coherence, with seemingly diverse topics dealt with by using similar or related concepts. And second, my working days as an agricultural journalist influenced my later work as a would-be scholar. I did not desert the world of working journalism the day I enter doctoral studies and thereby turned right, rather than left, at the key fork in my career road.
Like many scholars of my generation, I swam in several academic ponds over the years. As a product of an interdisciplinary, highly theoretical doctor program at Michigan State University, I developed varied interests. I was sometimes accused of being a dabbler — focusing on one topic area for a few years and then moving to another. This suggests I did poorly in meeting an oft-noted call for programmatic research focusing for most or all of one’s entire career on developing a particular theory or perspective.
Upon reflection as the end of my journey nears, I find that my work has been more focused than might appear at first glance. Certain inter-related concepts such as the salience of message components, iconicity, contextual relevance, assessment of writer stand, source credibility and emphasis, veiled attribution, breadth of perspective, coorientation, following vs. leading communication actors, balancing of utilitarian with deontological thought, linkage beliefs, agenda diversity, context, and communitarianism run through my work. These notions tended to show up in more than one of the 11 or so clusters of research and writing that I summarize in the paper.
The ideas listed all stem from a concern for practical application. Before enrolling in a doctoral program, I had worked for four-plus years as an agricultural journalist with the Cooperative Extension Service.
During 38 years of teaching (44 if one counts my time as a fully retired hanger-on who talks with quite a few students), I had offered one bit of advice to many students. Get some practical experience before enrolling in grad school. Your work on the job will influence your research and theorizing, grounding it in real-world practicalities. However, I had never expressed fully how this occurred in my own career. Here I attempt to trace this process.
In writing this paper, I almost felt as though I was re-taking the comprehensive exam that I suffered through some 44 years ago! Maybe such a re-take is not a bad idea. Please feel free to write me at email@example.com with your thoughts or comments.