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03/07/2020 The Communication Science magazine

What the Hell is Communication Science?

A frustrated meditation on what it means to study communication science at the University of Amsterdam, courtesy of Hahae, a second year student.


At a point where we are halfway through the bachelor’s, my coursemates and I still mull over this question on a worryingly frequent basis. We are asked by concerned grandmothers, annoying cousins, friendly strangers on the street, awkward Bumble users, chatty AH cashiers, and the men who try to “respectfully” hit on you at 5 am while you’re trying to dance at De School. Nobody knows the real answer, not your terrible Corporate Communication lecturer circa 2018 (bless his heart), and certainly not even Professor Van Selm, our beloved Director.

For many of us, our education is not at all what we had expected from reading the meager course name and description. In fact, for many, our perseverance has merely yielded even more confusion. But at least we are diverse in our confusion! Or at least, the international track is. We have the Dutch, Germans, Italians, and at times, the odd Luxembourger who quietly scurries over to the German camp in an attempt at futile camouflage.   

Now, to address the matter at hand. Do not be fooled by the word “communication”. For many, this term veers the mind’s eye in the direction of content marketing and other capitalist tomfoolery. However, our existence has meaning! We cannot be grossly defined by foolish terms such as “native branding” or “user engagement”, for heaven’s sake.

This brings us to the inclusion of the word “science” in our name. Our friends at Science Park may laugh us out the doors of their hallowed, sustainable, artificially intelligent, self-contained underground recycling center owning, solar powered, non-budget cut affected sanctuary of REAL science in Oost, but we stand our ground and wield our flimsy SPSS independent t-test swords in feeble yet stubborn response to their taunting Rs, Statas, Pythons, and other pretentious what-have-yous.

When the glorious founders of our department decided to attempt to answer this very question somewhere back in the 20th CE, I picture them sitting around a table in CREA, miserably sipping fluitjes of colonial Heineken, moving on to vaasjes, and inevitably succumbing to jugs as the night grew darker and torment reached deeper into their souls.

“I have it!”, shouted one, banging the sturdy wood of the non-IKEA table. He pushed himself up out of his seat, sloshing beer over the rim of his personal jug. Usually a pleasantly unassuming, middle-aged, blonde Dutch male of average height that one would never look twice at whilst waiting for the tram at Weesperplein, Joost could not take the pressure any longer. He craved relief. The simple man and lecturer that he was, he proposed a simple solution.

“Four categories, subdivisions! We must have four! As a young man, I went backpacking in Bali. While tripping on acid and doing yoga on the beach, the Indonesians told me that four is the number of stability, order and completion of justice! There are four cardinal points! North, East, South, West! There are four seasons! Think of Pythagoras, our ancient Greek forefather of modern Western thought! He loved four!”

After this unexpected outburst, there began a murmuring at the table. A murmuring of the likes that had not been heard since the opening of the first Albert Heijn in 1887. “He’s right!”, an elderly Professor Emeritus Jeroen Van Dijk cried out. “It is the perfect number!”

More and more white Dutch males began to shout in agreement. Joost felt empowered. His idea was working! The number four!

What are the four? Name them, please, for the love of god

But alas, all good things must come to an end. A woman piped up. Timidly, as she was the only one. Her name was Jolanda, and she had a question. At first, she was not heard. The men were simply too loud. Finally, she had no choice but to take drastic measures to give herself a voice. In the midst of the excitement surrounding the number four, she climbed up on the sturdy wood of the non-IKEA table and threw her glass fluitje, colonial Heineken and all, against the door of the CREA. It shattered with a bang of epic proportions. Elderly Professor Emeritus Jeroen screamed, and fainted in the new wheelchair his wife had gotten for him from IKEA just that morning. A hushed silence descended.

“WHAT ARE THE FOUR? NAME THEM, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD” (This was back in the days when the Netherlands was a less secular country than it is now. Plus, Jolanda grew up in Zeeland, part of the Dutch Bible Belt. Old habits die hard). The secular white male academics of good socioeconomic standing gasped. They did not expect her to throw this unseemly tantrum. She was a woman, and from Zeeland at that! However, after first thinking Jolanda was in dire need of some good old electroconvulsive therapy for her obvious symptoms of female hysteria, they realized that Jolanda had a valid point. In their excitement, they simply had not thought about what the four should be. Murmuring fell upon the room once more. They murmured on.

Joost smirked, confident amidst the murmurs. He was still empowered from his earlier contribution that had sparked such a frenzy of delightful debate. In fact, he thought he had probably reached Nirvana. “Is that what those Indonesians were talking about? Perhaps I am a bodhisattva”, Joost thought to himself as he slowly stood up from his seat. Standing, he looked Jolanda straight in the eye. All the men paused, jugs halfway to their lips, and leaned forward to hear what the man had to say. Jolanda tensed, waiting for the response with a pit of despair growing in her stomach as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Political. Corporate. Persuasive. Entertainment.”

The men burst out into thundering applause. Some cried with joy and others hugged Joost, kissing him three times on the alternating cheeks. Elderly Professor Emeritus Jeroen was revived. The men burst out into a booming repertoire of “Lang Zal Hij Leven”, thrusting their jugs into the air with every “Lang”. Joost called his father Jaap to let him know the goed news.

However, in the midst of the raucous celebration, Jolanda collapsed to her knees, still on the sturdy wood of the non-IKEA table, and shed a single tear.

Well, looks like that didn’t go too well.

However, there is yet a slight glimmer of hope, twinkling upon the distant horizon.

Where? Roeterseiland Campus Building C.702.

When? On weekdays between 9:00-17:00.

Telephone: 0031 (0)20 525 3003

Email: educationdesk-cs@uva.nl

After all, it is your “first point of contact for questions about the Bachelor’s in Communication Science” (UvA, 2019). But in the absolutely unforeseeable circumstance that even they do not possess the panacea to our collective woes, there is no more hope for us. That, my friends, is our point of no return.

Que será, será. C’est la vie. Zo, is het leven. But hey, maybe the study advisor can help.

Cover: Hans-Peter Gauster/Unsplash / Final Editor: Ivo Martens

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