Abstract The nature of communication study discourse tends to focus on how to teach it, and often hides its pragmatic origins in the field of inquiry. The article uses C.S. Peirce's philosophical realism to address the needs of intellectual inquiry in communications under increasing social and political globalisation. Journalism, media and communication (JMC) studies are treated as institutional functions within a changing, and often shrinking, social realm. I conclude that environments of social and political change offer JMC practitioners a good opportunity for reconceptualising their relationships with other practitioners in the changing social realm of post-modernity.