Samuel Becker’s “New Enlightenment”

As I write, from the Samuel L. Becker Memorial Conference at the University of Iowa, I’m listening to Ashley Duggan (from Boston College and Tufts) give the penultimate presentation of the conference. Her talk, like all the plenary sessions at this meeting, beautifully captures the wonderful diversity, even eclecticism, of this conference where scholars of rhetoric  and cultural studies, health communication, film, media technology, and many other areas came together to share their research and camaraderie. And, of course, to celebrate the legacy of Samuel L. Becker.

imagesI’ve come to believe that the discipline we all pursue and the work that we all do as Communication scholars and teachers would be vastly different today, and much less stimulating and productive, were it not for the efforts of Sam Becker. As the discipline confronted significant challenges of identity and scope in the late 1960s and 1970s, Sam Becker was always present, always pushing the discipline toward “enlightenment” and progress.

Whether at the New Orleans Conference on Research and Instructional Development in Speech-Communication in 1968, or the National Development Project on Rhetoric, or at the Airlie Conference on Long-Term Goals and Priorities for the discipline and the association, Becker was there, in every picture, at every meeting, shaping and guiding the discussions. As Bruce Gronbeck noted, the work at these meetings “gave the SCA/NCA its basic structure, shape, and direction,” and Becker was right in the middle of the action.

One of eight NCA presidents from the University of Iowa, Becker’s presidential address in 1974 was entitled “For a New Age of Enlightenment.” Noting that the Communication discipline was “shocked into self-examination” in the 1960s, Becker called for a renewed enlightenment in the discipline, an enlightenment that is “more than sporadic and lacksidaisical,” one characterized as a “cooperative venture, a community affair.” The acceptance of such core values, he maintained “will not restrict creative or innovative scholarship,” but “will give support to such scholarship by reducing the probability of individual scholars being forced to work in isolation, without the intellectual stimulation and support of a community of which they are parts.”

As I’ve listened to many of the presentations at this Becker Conference, it seems to me that this vision of cooperative venturing, collective inquiry, and a community affair are at work in this conference—the eclectic theme, the varied and rich array of scholars and scholarship that were featured at the meeting, the renewal of inquiry and discovery made possible by all of these scholars coming together in the heartland. All in the spirit of Samuel Becker and in the shadow of his remarkable legacy.

The roster of the speakers at the Becker Conference included Vanderbilt’s John Sloop, Erin Donovan from Texas, Phaedra Pezzullo from Indiana, Michigan State’s Joseph Walther, Lynn Spigel from Northwestern, IU’s Ted Striphas, Dudley Andrew from Yale, Wisconsin’s Derek Johnson, Duggan, and Karma Chavez from Wisconsin.

Along with NCA, sponsoring the Becker Conference were many administrators and units/offices from the University of Iowa. The conference was tweeted at #BeckerCon14 and was live streamed and will be available online at


  1. Dawn O. Braithwaite says:

    Bless Sam Becker for a life well lived and congrats to Iowa.

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