The field of communication is highly diverse in methods, theories, and objects of study. What, if anything, unites the field as a coherent entity? What warrants bringing together such an apparently eclectic group of topics and approaches in a single reference work? Presumably, the common focus is on “communication.” But what is the nature of that common focus? Is communication merely a nominal theme that loosely connects a series of otherwise unrelated disciplines and professions? Is communication truly an interdisciplinary field in which progress in knowledge is only possible through close cooperation and synergy among several distinct disciplines composing the field? Is communication actually (despite its apparent fragmentation), or at least potentially, the object of a distinct intellectual discipline in its own right? Might each of these interpretations of the field be true in some respects?
This section of the site, Communication as a Field and Discipline, is concerned with the historical development and academic–professional institutionalization of communication studies. It includes articles covering the history of the field, professional organizations and issues, and the current state of communication research and education in geographical regions around the globe. Where the question of communication’s disciplinary coherence is concerned, these institutional and professional aspects of the communication field also touch on matters of theory and methodology.
History of The Communication Field
The English word communication derives from Latin and originally referred to acts of sharing or making common but without the distinctively modern emphasis on communication as a process of sharing symbols, information, and meaning. Those modern senses of the word can be traced back through a long “spiritualist” tradition (Peters 1999) to ancient and early Christian eras in the west, but emerged toward their current prominence in ordinary English discourse only from the late nineteenth century. Around the same time, academic studies of communication began to appear on scattered topics such as transportation systems, crowd behavior, community, and newspapers, with important work being done in Germany, France, and the USA. By the post-World War II period, in which communication research began to be recognized as a distinct academic field, the ordinary concept of communication had evolved rich connotations related to semantics, therapy and human relations, interaction and social influence, mass communication, and information technology, and derivatives of the Latinate term, communication, or native words that had acquired similar connotations, were spreading globally in various languages.
Communication research and education underwent rapid growth and institutional consolidation as an academic discipline in the second half of the twentieth century (Craig & Carlone 1998). Unlike, for example, the field of molecular biology, which emerged around the same time as the result of a unique scientific breakthrough (the 1953 publication of DNA’s double helix molecular structure), communication and media studies sprang more or less independently from many different sources. Formation of the communication field has resulted from a partial convergence of various disciplines and lines of research that intersect in complex ways, all somehow related to the phenomenon of “communication,” but have never been tightly integrated as a coherent body of thought. Hence, the manifest diversity of communication research and education is not a recent development but has characterized the field throughout its history.
The intellectual traditions that have informed the modern field of communication have come primarily from two streams: the humanities and the social sciences. Antecedents of the humanities most relevant to communication go back to the ancient Greek arts of rhetoric, dialectic, and poetics. In early nineteenth-century Europe, the humanities formed as research disciplines concerned with historically oriented studies of texts and artifacts. The disciplines of aesthetics, hermeneutics, historiography, and linguistics were among the intellectual traditions important to communication that developed with the humanities in this period.
The second main stream that informs the modern field of communication emerged a century later with experimental psychology and the social sciences. The system of social science disciplines that crystallized in that period included anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology but not communication (Abbott 2001). However, communication became a topic of interest across disciplines and a stimulus to interdisciplinary work that eventually gave rise to the institutionalization of the communication field.
As it was institutionalized, the field constructed an eclectic theoretical core by collecting ideas relevant to communication from across the social sciences, humanities, and even engineering and the natural sciences. Craig (1999) presented a model of the field based on the idea that distinct theoretical concepts of communication in the diverse intellectual traditions of the field interact with ordinary meta-discourse about communication to address practical social problems. Craig identified seven main traditions of communication theory distinguished by different practical concepts of communication that underlie them: rhetoric, semiotics, cybernetics, phenomenology, social psychology, socio-cultural theory, and critical theory.
Communication Research and Education Around The Globe
The state of communication research and education varies considerably within and among countries but can nevertheless be summarized with regard to some common themes. One theme certainly is growth: the field is flourishing in many parts of the world, wherever political and economic conditions and academic institutions have allowed it to take root at all. Where growth has been stimulated to a great extent by demand for trained employees in burgeoning media and communication-related industries, which is often the case, growth is also associated with certain problems: strain on resources, an overemphasis on practical training of undergraduates that can stifle the development of a strong research discipline, and the threat of co-optation by commercial interests that are not necessarily aligned with academic and intellectual priorities.
Although always with much borrowing from Europe, the field matured first in the USA and spread from there. Overdependence on American and European concepts and practices and the need to develop locally based, culturally relevant knowledge of communication are common themes in other regions. Yet, as that very emphasis on local development suggests, the field is increasingly internationalized, with global influences now flowing from many places. As the field has spread globally, its assimilation to different academic systems and national cultures has created distinct local characteristics.
Finally, an international consensus may be emerging that the name and underlying concept of the broad field to which all contribute is communication. Insofar as the concept of communication is understood to include forms of human interaction not encompassed by media studies and related professions, this trend may have implications for the future development of sub-fields of communication that now may seem to be “missing” from programs in many places. These themes are further developed as we survey the communication field region by region around the globe.
Academic communication and media studies programs in the USA are numerous, well established, and often include a broader range of sub-fields than programs in other countries. Unlike the rest of the world, in which communication research and education tend to be identified with media studies and related professional fields, in the USA communication typically includes, in addition to media-related areas, substantial components of speech and rhetorical studies, interpersonal communication, organizational communication, and other areas of study not primarily concerned with media. Those subjects are studied, of course, at universities elsewhere but are less likely to be institutionally affiliated with communication; instead, they may be housed with disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, or management. Similar academic configurations are also common among some of the traditional elite universities in the USA, such as those of the Ivy League, many of which do not yet have communication schools or departments.
Canada (with important exceptions, such as rhetorical and organizational communication studies at the University of Montreal) generally follows the international pattern. A distinct Canadian contribution to the field has been the tradition of medium theory growing from the work of Innis and McLuhan.
In the history of US higher education, “practical” subjects like speech and journalism were established in the early twentieth century primarily in the growing public-land-grant universities. Under the influence of the interdisciplinary communication research movement that coalesced after World War II and related cultural trends, speech and journalism, along with other communication-related fields, gradually shifted their academic identities toward communication and began including that word in the names of courses and academic programs, professional associations, books, and journals. Student enrollments soared as communication programs in various arrangements (some in comprehensive schools or departments under various names, others divided between journalism/media studies and communication studies) became the designated institutional homes for communication research and education across the range of topics and approaches (e.g., writing, speech pathology, performance studies, or theater, in some institutions; see Craig & Carlone 1998).
Major academic associations serving the communication discipline in North America include the National Communication Association (NCA; www.natcom.org), the Canadian Communication Association (CCA; www.acc-cca.ca), the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC; www.aejmc.org), and the Broadcast Education Association (BEA; www.beaweb.org).
Journalism schools were founded in Latin America beginning in the 1930s and 1940s. Communication research, including both US-influenced empirical studies of mass communication and diffusion of innovations as well as critical studies on topics such as cultural imperialism and globalization, developed slowly beginning in the 1960s but more quickly in recent years. Associations of communication scholars currently active in the Latin American region include the Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC; www.alaic.net), the Federación Latinoamericana de Facultades de Comunicación Social (Felafacs; www.felafacs.org), and nationally based associations such as the Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação (Intercom; www.intercom.org.br) in Brazil and the Asociación Mexicana de Investigadores Comunicadores (AMIC; www. amicmexico.org) in Mexico.
Europe And Russia
The oldest intellectual traditions from which modern communication theory derives originated in Europe, as did certain fields of modern communication research (e.g., journalism studies growing out of the late-nineteenth-century German Zeitungswissenschaft). However, communication research did not really take off as an organized academic field in western Europe until the 1970s and in eastern Europe and Russia until the post-Soviet period in the 1990s.
Communication research in western Europe through the 1960s was influenced primarily by US empirical social scientific studies of mass communication content and effects. From the late 1960s, reverse flows of influence from Europe to America in the fields of critical theory, political economy of the media, and critical studies of popular culture also became important. Despite these significant cross-influences between Europe and the US, differences both among European countries and between Europe generally and the US due to different media and political systems, policy concerns, languages, and academic traditions have also shaped the field of communication in western Europe.
For example, the state tends to be more directly involved with the mass media in Europe than in the US, including a much larger publicly owned media sector, as a result of which European research tends to be more concerned with questions of media independence, political diversity, and cultural policy. Fields such as journalism studies, political communication, technology and communication, and popular culture are highly developed in western Europe, while fields such as interpersonal communication and rhetorical studies continue to be less developed or institutionally disconnected from communication and media studies. Research on personal forms of communication occurs, however, in areas such as computer-mediated interaction, intercultural and intergroup communication, and organizational communication, all growing fields in Europe. The recently established European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA, created in 2005 in a merger of two older associations) presently includes 13 thematic sections covering both established and emerging topical areas (www.ecrea.eu).
The field of communication, primarily focused on media and related issues, developed rapidly in central and eastern Europe and Russia from the 1990s. Prior to World War II the beginnings of communication research across several disciplines followed trends in the west except in the former Soviet Union, where journalism studies were organized to support the functions of state propaganda. The Soviet pattern prevailed as well to varying degrees in countries of eastern and parts of central Europe from the postwar period through the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Media and journalism historiography, media sociology, linguistics, literary theory and semiotics, and “press science” in the former Soviet bloc are among the disciplines that have principally contributed to the formation of communication research and education in eastern Europe and Russia. Although nonmedia areas of study are not usually affiliated with the communication discipline in this region, topical areas represented in the recently organized Russian Communication Association (RCA; www.russcomm.ru) currently include interpersonal communication, group communication, and discourse pragmatics, along with media-related fields.
Africa And The Middle East
Communication education and media studies are beginning to develop in sub-Saharan Africa despite the postcolonial legacy of economic and political problems that continues to affect academic and media institutions across much of the continent. The expansion of media industries in some countries has created a rising demand for journalism and communication training programs, which are generally based on western models. Research goes on in universities and research institutes in fields such as development communication, health communication, and cultural studies. Aside from the recently organized Trans-African Council for Communication Education (Tracce), the most currently visible academic association is the nationally based South African Communications Association (SACOM; www.ukzn.ac.za/sacomm), which includes sections representing corporate and business communication, cultural and social theory, film studies, and journalism and media studies.
Having grown rapidly since the 1980s, the communication field is more densely developed in the Arab world, where at least 70 academic programs currently exist in universities across the region, most primarily engaged in technical training of undergraduates for occupations in media or public relations. The production of research, limited to date and usually based on western models, has focused on development communication, cultural identity, Arab stereotypes, Islamic communication, new technology, and globalization, among other topics. Issues concerning imbalances in international news flows and policy debates on the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) were prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. Academic associations currently active in the region include the Arab –US Association of Communication Educators (AUSACE; www2.gsu.edu/~wwwaus) and the Saudi Association for Media and Communication (SAMC; www.samc.org.sa).
The field in Israel has developed differently from other countries of the region since the founding in 1966 of the Communication Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as the first Israeli institution for communication studies. Communication programs in Israel, which currently number 18, have traditionally emphasized theory and research, although practical training in journalism and media fields has increased since the 1990s, partly in response to privatization and consequent growth of the media sector. In addition to media research, both administrative and critical, Israeli scholars have been prominent in cultural studies, discourse studies, and ethnography of communication, among other fields. The Israel Communication Association (IsCA; www.isracom.org) has about 200 members.
Asia And The Pacific
In South Asia (India, Pakistan, and nearby countries) the field of communication grew from university-based journalism education, which developed slowly from the 1940s through the 1980s, and from research projects sponsored by international foundations and agencies primarily concerned with the functions of media and communication in national development. Economic liberalization and privatization of education and media institutions in the 1990s led to a second phase in which the rapid growth of media industries and professions has driven the related growth of career-oriented media education and training programs at a large number of academic institutions. Communication research has also been expanding in areas such as development communication, community media, new media, cinema, and postcolonial studies, and new academic journals are appearing. South Asian media and communication scholars participate in local and international academic associations, among the latter especially the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC; www.amic.org.sg).
The communication field is burgeoning in East Asia and shows promise of important theoretical contributions spurred by efforts to adapt the discipline to Asian cultural traditions. Communication research and education, mainly in journalism and media studies, are well established in Taiwan and Hong Kong and have been developing rapidly in mainland China since the 1990s as economic liberalization has expanded the job market for communication professionals. The field is also highly developed in South Korea, where most universities have instituted journalism and communication programs since the 1970s, and where interpersonal communication and public relations studies are now growing along with the earlier established and still dominant media fields. Journalism education based on US models began to develop in Japan after World War II and the field of communication has gradually emerged in recent decades. As in some other parts of the world (e.g., China and Russia), practical instruction in speech communication skills and intercultural communication sometimes occurs in English programs, which forms a basis for developing studies of interpersonal forms of communication within the broader communication discipline. Communication and media studies are represented in the East Asian region by a growing number of academic journals and by international associations as well as nationally based associations such as the Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies (KSJCS; www.ksjcs.or.kr), the Communication Association of Japan (CAJ; www.caj1971.com), the Chinese Communication Society (CCS; http://ccs.nccu. edu.tw) in Taiwan, and the recently formed Chinese Association of Communication (CAC) in mainland China.
Communication, journalism, and media studies programs are developing in the southeast Asian and Pacific region, most prominently in Hong Kong (which can be included in this region for some purposes), Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, but also in other countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Aside from the common themes of growth with a typical emphasis on journalism, public relations, and media studies, the diversity of the field across this vast region inhibits generalization. In Australia, for example, research and instruction cover a wide range of communication sub-fields, although not always institutionally located in communication/media departments or schools. Australian scholars have done important interdisciplinary work in intergroup communication, discursive psychology, organizational discourse, and cultural studies, among other fields. Organizational communication has a strong presence in New Zealand. Comparative Asian studies are an important contribution from Singapore and Hong Kong. The Pacific and Asian Communication Association (PACA; www.paca4u.com) and the Australia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA; www.anzca.net) are among several academic associations that serve media and communization scholars in this region, and at least 11 local journals are published.
The field of communication as a whole is served by two international academic associations of worldwide scope: the ICA and the IAMCR. Several other international societies, such as the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP), and the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR), represent particular specialty areas.
ICA was founded in the USA in 1950 as the National Society for the Study of Communication (NSSC), an offshoot of what was then the Speech Association of America (now the National Communication Association), and launched the Journal of Communication in 1951. With its reorganization and adoption of its new name in 1969, ICA began a slow, uneven process of growth and internationalization that accelerated in the 2000s as a result of structural changes that markedly increased international membership and participation in the association’s governance, conferences, and publication programs. As of 2007, ICA is a USA-based international organization of more than 4000 members from 76 countries. Its 21 divisions and special interest groups span most fields of communication and media studies. It holds conferences in the USA and around the world, and sponsors several highly ranked journals and a review yearbook, among other publications (www.icahdq.org).
IAMCR from the beginning has differed from ICA in significant ways. Founded in 1957 by a Constituent Assembly meeting in Paris under the auspices of UNESCO, the International Association for Mass Communication Research (as it was then called) was from the start a diverse international organization that, despite the global Cold War polarization of the time, brought together media researchers from the Soviet bloc, the developing world, and the west. IAMCR has further differed from ICA in being somewhat smaller and differently structured in membership, more focused on international media policy and development issues, and more actively involved in international policy debates on those issues. In response to the changing media environment of the early 1990s, IAMCR changed its name (while keeping the same acronym) to become the International Association for Media and Communication Research. IAMCR sponsors publications, including a book series, and holds major biennial conferences around the world, with smaller conferences held in alternate years (www.iamcr.org).
Communication As A Discipline
The word “discipline” in one of its standard senses refers to any distinct branch of knowledge or learning. Philosophers over many centuries in the western tradition have proposed category schemes for classifying knowledge (Machlup 1982). With the development of modern research universities since the nineteenth century, the notion of a discipline has evolved in relation to specific institutional and professional structures (university faculties, scholarly societies, peer reviewed journals, funding agencies, etc.) that interact in complex ways with conceptually defined categories of knowledge.
Becher (1989), in a study of academic disciplinary cultures, wrote:
Disciplines are thus in part identified by the existence of relevant departments; but it does not follow that every department represents a discipline. International currency is an important criterion, as is a general though not sharply-defined set of notions of academic credibility, intellectual substance, and appropriateness of subject matter. Despite such apparent complications, however, people with any interest and involvement in academic affairs seem to have little difficulty in understanding what a discipline is, or in taking a confident part in discussions about borderline or dubious cases. (Becher 1989, 19)
Sociology, political science and economics are well-established social science disciplines in this academic system. While communication in the past few decades has acquired many of the trappings of a discipline, not even scholars in the communication field universally regard it as such.
By one relatively straightforward definition, an academic field becomes a discipline when it forms a faculty job market in which PhD-granting departments at different universities regularly hire each other’s graduates (Abbott 2001). Communication does appear to meet this structural criterion. For example, a survey of ICA members conducted in 2005 found that two-thirds (rising to three-quarters of younger members) had received academic degrees in communication (Donsbach 2006).
Skeptics, however, still may debate whether communication is sufficiently coherent and distinct from other disciplines in its methods, theories, and objects of study to warrant admitting it to that exclusive club.
History Of The Debate
Communication’s status as a discipline and/or an interdisciplinary field has been debated internationally at least since the 1980s. The “ferment in the field” addressed by a special issue of the Journal of Communication in 1983 mainly concerned the insurgency of critical cultural studies and political economy against the established tradition of functionalist mass communication research (Gerbner 1983). Because the insurgent approaches had gained earlier acceptance in Europe and elsewhere than in the USA, the “ferment” also involved tensions between different national traditions within an increasingly internationalized field. The primary theme implied by the title and contents of the special issue, although not endorsed with equal enthusiasm by all contributors, was unity in diversity. The dissidents were now “in” the field. The field would be redefined to include them.
This spirit of inclusiveness was somewhat in tension with a second theme of the 1983 special issue: that the sought-for unity-in-diversity of communication studies was that of a distinct academic discipline rather than an interdisciplinary area. Discussions of this theme foreshadowed the elements of the communication science model of communication as a social science discipline that was articulated in a series of prestigious publications over the following decade (see especially Berger and Chaffee 1987). While the communication science model acknowledged a broader field of communication extending across a diverse array of academic disciplines and methodological approaches, it asserted the existence of, or at least the potential for, a focal discipline of communication marked by characteristic methods, lines of research, and scientific theories.
More specifically, the communication science model described the discipline in terms of five salient features: (1) its historical origins in the mid-twentieth-century interdisciplinary communication research movement; (2) its rapid institutional growth and consolidation in the last decades of that century; (3) its core identity as an empirical social science; (4) its proper place as a “variable” discipline spanning different “levels of analysis” in the scheme of academic disciplines (Paisley 1984); and (5) its urgent need to rejoin the “split” between interpersonal and mass communication that constituted the most serious barrier to the development of a cross-level theoretical core in the discipline (Hawkins et al. 1988; Craig 1994). Communication science admittedly did not yet have a well-developed theoretical core; however, its distinct focus on messages was said to provide a framework for constructing new theories to explain how messages perform specific functions across a microto macro-range of levels of analysis of communication. Whereas “level” disciplines like psychology and sociology focus on certain levels of human interaction, “variable” disciplines like communication and economics focus on variables that perform related functions on all levels.
The communication science model asserted grounds for inclusiveness and closer integration between interpersonal and mass communication studies, yet its core identity as an empirical social science tended to marginalize the critical and humanistic studies whose massive entrée into the field had produced the earlier-noted “ferment.” Aside from that structural problem, not even all empirical social scientists agreed that communication could or should become an independent discipline. Beniger (1988, 1990), for example, argued based on journal citation analyses that the academic field of communication had unfortunately isolated itself from interdisciplinary trends that offered the most fruitful approaches to communication theory. None of the most important communication theorists were associated with the communication discipline itself, he maintained; hence, communication research could thrive intellectually only if studied as an interdisciplinary field, not as an isolated discipline. Institutionalization of communication as a discipline has only produced intellectual poverty, according to this view (Peters 1986). Yet, as Donsbach (2006) noted, powerful institutional imperatives still drive communication to define itself as a discipline.
The ferment in the field was taken up in a different way in ICA’s 1985 annual conference on the theme “Beyond polemics: Paradigm dialogues” and a subsequent twovolume edited collection of essays (Dervin et al. 1989). Included among an international group of authors representing a wide range of areas and approaches to communication research were two major interdisciplinary theorists, Stuart Hall and Anthony Giddens. Although the communication science model was reflected in several chapters and commentaries, the framing vision of “paradigm dialogues” emphasized epistemological pluralism, interdisciplinary openness, and critical reflexivity in communication studies. One essay proposed that communication should be regarded as a “practical discipline” that uses both scientific and humanistic methods to pursue a common, essential purpose, “to cultivate communicative praxis, or practical art, through critical study” (Craig 1989, 98).
In 1993, the Journal of Communication revisited the question of disciplinary status in two successive special issues on “The future of the field” (Levy & Gurevitch 1993). A crosssection of the 48 articles reveals no emerging consensus. Many writers referred casually to “the discipline” as if there were no longer any question of disciplinary status or identity. Many others claimed, some quite emphatically, that the field of communication was not a discipline, but they differed greatly in their attitudes toward this fact and their prescriptions for what, if anything, to do about it. Some were optimistic that the field was emerging toward disciplinary status; others seemed equally certain that no such thing was happening. Some saw the continuing fragmentation of the field as a problem; others celebrated fragmentation as an invaluable source of adaptive strength. Some called urgently for efforts to define the intellectual focus of the discipline; others just as urgently insisted that any such effort to define a theoretical core would be not only useless but counter-productive. Still others were unclear about the possibility or desirability of becoming a discipline but nevertheless proposed various conceptual definitions of the communication field.
None of these views clearly dominated the field by the mid-2000s. The disconnection between interpersonal and mass communication research was still regarded by some as a problem (McMahan 2004), as was the continued institutional growth of the field without any consensus on a theoretical core and a rigorous scientific epistemology (Donsbach 2006). The pluralistic vision of “paradigm dialogues” also continued (Putnam 2001; Dervin 2006), as did efforts to define a disciplinary theoretical core that could still accommodate the field’s pluralism (Craig 1999, 2007, forthcoming).
Prospect for The Future
If communication is a discipline, it is one that will continue to have distinctly applied emphasis. As Donsbach (2006) noted, growth of the communication field has been stimulated by the high demand for communication expertise in modern societies. Applied communication research is both a quality that characterizes much of the field’s work globally as well as an organized sub-field that has developed, so far, principally in the USA. The field’s practical relevance to important policy concerns, ranging from media concentration to public health campaigns to new forms of conflict resolution, both attracts research funding and draws communication scholars into policy debates. Also driving the field toward an applied emphasis is its incorporation of, or close association with, a series of professional/occupational areas, including, among others, journalism and other media fields, public relations, advertising, intercultural training, and organizational training and consulting. Creative efforts to resolve the inevitable tensions that arise between the different needs or value priorities of professional training versus academic research may, in an optimistic view, transform both types of work constructively. Research scholars who may differ in their epistemological commitments still agree that communication research should be applicable to key normative questions and social problems (Deetz 1994; Donsbach 2006).
No matter how intellectually or institutionally well established the discipline of communication may become, many areas of the field will continue to be highly interdisciplinary. Contextually focused areas like health communication and political communication inherently straddle disciplinary boundaries. Study of the media as social institutions is unavoidably a multidisciplinary endeavor involving psychology, sociology, economics, legal and policy studies, technology studies, etc. The question is not whether communication will continue to be an interdisciplinary field, as it certainly will do. The open question is whether communication may also have a theoretical core that enables communication scholars to approach interdisciplinary topics from a distinct disciplinary viewpoint that adds real value to the interdisciplinary enterprise. The growing centrality of communication as a theme in global culture involves the discipline of communication in a “double hermeneutic,” a process in which the academic field derives much of its identity and coherence from its profound engagement with communication as a category of social practice while also contributing to the ongoing evolution of that very cultural category that constitutes the discipline’s centrally defining object of study.
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