While the periodizing concept “post-truth” (PT) initially appeared in the United States as a key word of popular politics in the form “post-truth politics” or “post-truth society,” it quickly appeared in many languages. It is now the object of increasing scholarly attention and public debate. Its popular and academic treatments sometimes differ in respect to its meaning, but most associate it with communication forms such as fake or false news, rumors, hoaxes, and political lying. They also identify causes such as polarization and unethical politicians or unregulated social media; shoddy journalism; or simply the inevitable chaos ushered in by digital media technologies. PT is sometimes posited as a social and political condition whereby citizens or audiences and politicians no longer respect truth (e.g., climate science deniers or “birthers”) but simply accept as true what they believe or feel. However, more rigorously, PT is actually a breakdown of social trust, which encompasses what was formerly the major institutional truth-teller or publicist—the news media. What is accepted as popular truth is really a weak form of knowledge, opinion based on trust in those who supposedly know. Critical communication approaches locate its historical legacy in the earliest forms of political persuasion and questions of ethics and epistemology, such as those raised by Plato in the Gorgias. While there are timeless similarities, PT is a 21st-century phenomenon. It is not “after” truth but after a historical period where interlocking elite institutions were discoverers, producers, and gatekeepers of truth, accepted by social trust (the church, science, governments, the school, etc.). Critical scholars have identified a more complex historical set of factors, to which popular proposed solutions have been mostly blind. Modern origins of PT lie in the anxious elite negotiation of mass representative liberal democracy with proposals for organizing and deploying mass communication technologies. These elites consisted of pioneers in the influence or persuasion industries, closely associated with government and political practice and funding, and university research. These influence industries were increasingly accepted not just by business but also by (resource-rich) professional political actors. Their object was not policy education and argument to constituents but, increasingly strategically, emotion and attention management. PT can usefully be understood in the context of its historical emergence, through its popular forms and responses, such as rumors, conspiracies, hoaxes, fake news, fact-checking, and filter bubbles, as well as through its multiple effects—not the least of which the discourse of panic about it.
Sarah J. Jackson
Because of the field’s foundational concerns with both social power and media, communication scholars have long been at the center of scholarly thought at the intersection of social change and technology. Early critical scholarship in communication named media technologies as central in the creation and maintenance of dominant political ideologies and as a balm against dissent among the masses. This work detailed the marginalization of groups who faced restricted access to mass media creation and exclusion from representational discourse and images, alongside the connections of mass media institutions to political and cultural elites. Yet scholars also highlighted the ways collectives use media technologies for resistance inside their communities and as interventions in the public sphere.
Following the advent of the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, and the granting of public access to the Internet in 1991, communication scholars faced a medium that seemed to buck the one-way and gatekeeping norms of others. There was much optimism about the democratic potentials of this new technology. With the integration of Internet technology into everyday life, and its central role in shaping politics and culture in the 21st century, scholars face new questions about its role in dissent and collective efforts for social change. The Internet requires us to reconsider definitions of the public sphere and civil society, document the potentials and limitations of access to and creation of resistant and revolutionary media, and observe and predict the rapidly changing infrastructures and corresponding uses of technology—including the temporality of online messaging alongside the increasingly transnational reach of social movement organizing. Optimism remains, but it has been tempered by the realities of the Internet’s limitations as an activist tool and warnings of the Internet-enabled evolution of state suppression and surveillance of social movements. Across the body of critical work on these topics particular characteristics of the Internet, including its rapidly evolving infrastructures and individualized nature, have led scholars to explore new conceptualizations of collective action and power in a digital media landscape.
Paul W. Speer and Leah Marion Roberts
Agents of change serve as catalysts for stimulating social change, particularly at community and societal levels of analysis. We often think about the characteristics of individuals who act as change agents, such as their capacity to motivate others or their training skills. However, organizations and disciplinary fields can also serve as agents of change. There is an emerging awareness in the fields of public health and community organizing as to how these respective fields can collaborate to leverage their collective insights and skills to become effective agents of change for community health outcomes. Importantly, while public health is concerned with the social determinants that shape health inequities in all communities, community organizing is focused on community issues that residents confront as constraints or problems in their daily lives. There is an inchoate understanding within the fields of public health and community organizing that the social determinants addressed in public health are often the same issues identified and addressed by community organizing groups.
Both disciplines work as agents of change through their traditional efforts; however, there is promise in the evolving collaborations between these two fields. Recognition that both fields are addressing the same community phenomena is an important step, but whether collaborations and shared practices become distributed and institutionalized is an open question. Public health possesses research and analytic sophistication capable of identifying different social determinants and the pathways through which such determinants contribute to poor community health outcomes. In contrast, community organizing supplies an understanding of social change that requires the exercise of power through the participation and active engagement by those most directly affected by local issues or social determinants. One tension in this emergent collaborative practice stems from the fact that, at times, these different disciplinary skill sets are at odds. Whereas public health has a deep value of data analysis and expertise, community organizing prioritizes the participation and self-determination of those impacted by community problems. Fundamentally, the tension here is between the value placed on expertise versus the value placed on public participation. Neither value is inherently superior to the other; understanding how these two values can complement one another to address social determinants that shape community health outcomes is critical for realizing the promise of these organizational agents of change.
Damien Smith Pfister
Public spheres are sites of communicative interaction that feature citizens turning their attention to collective problems and democratically legitimate solutions. Closely associated with German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, the idea of public spheres constituted by a range of publics and counterpublics animates a broad array of interdisciplinary scholarship relating to democracy and political theory, argumentation and deliberation, citizenship and civic engagement, media ecologies and the press, and institutions and power relations. Habermas originally theorized the emergence of the bourgeois public sphere as a counterpoint to the aristocratic regimes of early modern Europe, aiming to rescue select democratic practices from an otherwise flawed ideology. Critics of Habermas’s early formulation of the bourgeois public sphere have noted the presence of a multiplicity of public spheres, rather than a single public sphere, the problem of the public/private divide that is definitive of the public sphere, the role of bodies and emotions in addition to language and reason in the formation and operation of publics and counterpublics, the role of media technologies in sustaining and expanding critical publicity, and the difficulties in extracting knowledge claims from the power relations that constitute them. The idea of public spheres has remained resilient despite these criticisms, as any functioning democracy requires a space between the family, the market, and the state to thematize, problematize, and address the challenges of life in groups. Strong public spheres are characterized by hospitality to counterpublics, groups that distinguish themselves from the rational-critical debate of dominant publics through different dispositions, styles, and strategies for steering public attention. Scholarship on public spheres, publics, and counterpublics continues to proliferate, with new directions accounting for the increased prominence of visuality, ecology, digitality, and transnationality in deliberating bodies.
Jo Holliday, Suzanne Audrey, Rona Campbell, and Laurence Moore
Addictive behaviors with detrimental outcomes can quickly become embedded in daily life. It therefore remains a priority to prevent or modify these health behaviors early in the life course. Diffusion theory suggests that community norms are shaped by credible and influential “opinion leaders” who may be characterized by their values and traits, competence or expertise, and social position. With respect to health behaviors, opinion leaders can assume a variety of roles, including changing social norms and facilitating behavioral change. There is considerable variation in the methods used to identify opinion leaders for behavior change interventions, and these may have differential success. However, despite the potential consequences for intervention success, few studies have documented the processes for identifying, recruiting, and training opinion leaders to promote health, or have discussed the characteristics of those identified.
One study that has acknowledged this is the effective UK-based ASSIST smoking-prevention program. The ASSIST Programme is an example of a peer-led intervention that has been shown to be successful in utilizing opinion leaders to influence health behaviors in schools. A “whole community” peer nomination process to identify opinion leaders underwent extensive developmental and piloting work prior to being administered in a randomized trial context. Influential students were identified through the use of three simple questions and trained as “peer supporters” to disseminate smoke-free messages through everyday conversations with their peers. In response to a need to understand the contribution of various elements of the intervention, and the degree to which these achieve their aim, a comprehensive assessment of the nomination process was conducted following intervention implementation.
The nomination process was successful in identifying a diverse group of young people who represented a variety of social groups, and whom were predominantly considered suitable by their peers. The successful outcome of this approach demonstrates the importance of paying close attention to the design and development of strategies to identify opinion leaders. Importantly, the involvement of young people during the development phase may be key to increasing the effectiveness of peer education that relies on young people taking the lead role.
Ilona Fridman and E. Tory Higgins
Regulatory Focus Theory differentiates between two motivational orientations: promotion and prevention. Promotion-oriented individuals focus on advancements, growth, and making progress toward their hopes and aspirations, whereas prevention-oriented people are more concerned about safety, security, and fulfilling their responsibilities. Promotion-oriented individuals tend to focus on moving toward a better state ensuring gains and improvements. In contrast, prevention-oriented people tend to focus on ensuring against making mistakes and maintaining a current satisfactory state rather than moving to something worse. When individuals pursue desired ends using their preferred means (ensuring gains for promotion, and ensuring against losses for prevention), they experience regulatory fit, which makes them “feel right” about what they are doing. Regulatory fit is associated with strengthening engagement and intensifying evaluative judgments.
The advantages of regulatory fit could be utilized in communications to motivate individuals’ healthy behavior. The messages that encourage healthy behavior could be framed in a way that fits recipients’ personal goal orientations. For instance, to increase motivation among promotion-oriented people for getting vaccinations, the message might state, “A flu vaccine helps you to continue achieving your goals even during a flu season.” This message emphasizes advancements and gains that fit a promotion orientation. To increase motivation among prevention-oriented people to choose healthy options, the messages could instead highlight avoiding losses: “A flu vaccine helps you avoid strength-sapping illness during a flu season.” Past studies on health communications have demonstrated that regulatory fit tends to facilitate participants’ willingness to follow the message and engage in healthy behavior.
Could regulatory non-fit messages also work? When individuals pursue desired ends using non-preferred means—ensure gains for prevention-oriented individuals or ensure against losses for promotion-oriented individuals—they experience regulatory non-fit. Non-fit makes them “feel wrong” about what they are doing. Regulatory non-fit is associated with weakening engagement and de-intensifying evaluative judgments. How might a non-fit health message be helpful?
What if individuals’ initial attitudes toward a healthy option were negative, even anxiety producing, despite that option serving their interests better than alternative options? It would be better if the individuals could thoughtfully consider the potential benefits of the option without their negative feelings rejecting it. For a thoughtful decision to be made, the intensity of the initial negative feelings could be decreased. A regulatory non-fit message, in this case, could be an effective tool. By making people “feel wrong” about their initial reaction, it could weaken their engagement and de-intensify the negative reactions, for example, reduce anxiety about the option. Thus, the regulatory non-fit message could help an individual to reconsider potential advantages of the initially disliked option.
While the ways in which Regulatory Focus and Regulatory Fit theories can be applied to improve health communications are known, important questions remain. For example, are there circumstances when fit or non-fit messages could make people feel that their decision-making autonomy is being threatened? Can fit or non-fit messages create resistance? If so, how can this be avoided? Both fit and non-fit messages are persuasive techniques. Is there a downside to these techniques? What can be done to ensure that these persuasive techniques are not just effective but are also ethical?
Christina R. Foust and Raisa Alvarado
What moves the social? And what is rhetoric’s relationship to social movement? Since 1950, scholars studying the art of public persuasion have offered different answers to these questions. Early approaches to social movements defined them as out-groups that made use of persuasion to achieve goals and meet persistent challenges. However, protest tactics that flaunted the body and spectacle (e.g., 1960s-era dissent) challenged early emphasis on social movements as nouns or “things” that used rhetoric. Influenced by intersectional feminist theories and movements that featured identity transformations (along with ending oppression) as political, rhetoric scholars began to view “a social movement” as an outcome or effect of rhetoric. Scholars treated movements as “fictions,” identifying the ways in which these collective subjects did not empirically exist—but were nonetheless significant, as people came to invest their identities and desires for a new order into social movements. Scholars argued that people manifested “a social movement’s” presence by identifying themselves as representatives of it. More recently, though, rhetoric scholars emphasize what is moving in the social, by following the circulation of rhetoric across nodes and pathways in networks, as well as bodies in protest. Inspired by social media activism, as well as theories of performance and the body, scholars concentrate on how symbolic action (or the affects it helps create) interrupts business as usual in everyday life. To study rhetoric and social movement is to study how dissent from poor and working-class people, women, people of color, LGBTQ activists, the disabled, immigrants, and other non-normative, incongruous voices and bodies coalesce in myriad ways, helping move humanity along the long arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice.
Celeste M. Condit and L. Bruce Railsback
Whether understood as a set of procedures, statements, or institutions, the scope and character of science has changed through time and area of investigation. The prominent current definition of science as systematic efforts to understand the world on the basis of empirical evidence entails several characteristics, each of which has been deeply investigated by multidisciplinary scholars in science studies. The aptness of these characteristics as defining elements of science has been examined both in terms of their sufficiency as normative ideals and with regard to their fit as empirical descriptors of the actual practices of science. These putative characteristics include a set of commitments to (1) the goal of developing maximally general, empirically based explanations certified through falsification procedures, predictive power, and/or fruitfulness and application, (2) meta-methodologies of hypothesis testing and quantification, and (3) relational norms including communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism, and originality. The scope of scientific practice has been most frequently identified with experimentation, observation, and modeling. However, data mining has recently been added to the scientific repertoire, and genres of communication and argumentation have always been an unrecognized but necessary component of scientific practices. The institutional home of science has also changed through time. The dominant model of the past three centuries has housed science predominantly in universities. However, science is arguably moving toward a “post-academic” era.
Kristin L. Farris and Maureen P. Keeley
Social support in the context of chronic illness management is important, as individuals diagnosed with these conditions and their loved ones often experience increased distress, reduced relational quality, and diminished physical health as a result of coping with these long-term symptoms. Therefore, diagnosed individuals and their close relational partners rely on others to provide support in their time of need. The communication of social support is characterized by “verbal and nonverbal behavior produced with the intention of providing assistance to others perceived of needing that aid” (MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011, p. 317). Individuals living with these chronic illnesses and their loved ones often turn to a variety of interpersonal others, including friends, family, health care providers, and support groups to manage the difficulties that accompany their physical symptoms. Although some researchers suggest that diagnosed individuals seek support most frequently from close relational partners, other scholars assert that chronic care support groups (whether meeting face to face or via computer-mediated channels) offer support recipients an opportunity to discuss their challenges and receive help from experientially similar others.
On the one hand, regardless of the support provider, individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic conditions generally perceive effective supportive communication to be messages in which their support providers enact competent tangible assistance in managing the illness, provide an opportunity for them to vent their feelings, and express messages of empathy and affection, among others. Ineffective messages, on the other hand, are those in which diagnosed individuals feel their partners are overly involved in helping them make decisions about their care or portraying negative attitudes or discomfort around them. Overall, research in this area suggests that support recipients and their relational partners have improved emotional, relational, and physical outcomes when they perceive support to be available or receive effective support from these resources.
Catherine Chaput and Joshua S. Hanan
Depending on how you approach it, economic justice is either an extremely old intellectual tradition or a relatively new one. From the first perspective, economic justice is part and parcel of classical political philosophy—Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s The Politics, for instance, both discuss property distribution in an ideal society, emphasizing the philosophy of justice over economic precepts. From the second perspective, the one we embrace, economic justice is a uniquely modern inquiry that emerged with the writings of Karl Marx and his revolutionary critique of the capitalist political economy. For Marx, economic justice can be understood as a critical enterprise that attempts to locate contradictions between universal and particular conceptions of human freedom and intervene politically into these contradictions with the aim of creating a more just, equitable, and egalitarian society. So conceived, economic justice liberates the collective potential of humanity from its exploitation and degradation by capitalism as well as the various legal institutions it develops to control human behavior for the purpose of extracting of surplus-value. It is this Marxist perspective and the various historical reformulations that it has authorized that influence the way rhetoricians and scholars of cultural studies conceptualize economic justice in the discipline of communication. While not all of these scholars endorse an explicitly Marxist line of thought, they all attempt to conceptualize economic justice as a normative political category that influences various models of rhetorical agency and social change.
Keri K. Stephens and Millie A. Harrison
Attention to population health issues is growing, and considering that people spend more time at work than in any other organization outside their home, worksites may offer a solution. For more than 30 years, many worksites have included programs to address employee health, safety, and risk. While some of these initiatives are mandated through legislation, other programs (e.g., workplace health programs (WHPs) or wellness initiatives) are often voluntary in the United States. Programs vary around the globe because some countries merge health, risk, and safety into one overarching regulated category, and there is a growing trend toward expanding these focus areas to include mental health and workplace stress. These programs can be quite innovative. Some interventions use technologies as prompts, such as mobile apps reminding employees to take medication. Other programs incorporate concepts from behavioral psychology and economics such as providing sleep pods at work and pricing healthy food in the cafeteria lower than high fat foods. Governmental incentives are offered in some countries that encourage employers to have WHPs. Yet despite the surface-level advantages of using the reach and access found in employing organizations to impact health, employees do not necessarily participate, and these programs are rarely or poorly evaluated. Furthermore, it is difficult to know how to make WHPs inclusive and how to communicate the availability of these programs. With the dual goals of directly impacting workers’ health and saving employers money, understanding how work can be a site for intervention is a worthwhile challenge to explore.
WHPs struggle to achieve documentable objectives for several reasons; theory-driven research is suggesting new ways to understand what might improve the outcomes of WHPs. Privacy and surveillance concerns have dominated the WHP conversation in countries like the United States due to fears that health data might be used to fire employees. Another concern is the need to tailor workplace health messages for diverse cultures, ethnicities, and gender identities. Two other concerns relate the power differentials inherent in workplace hierarchies to overt and covert pressure employees feel to participate and meet what is defined as an ideal level of health. While these major concerns could be difficult to overcome, several theories provide guidance for improving participation and producing positive behavioral outcomes. Employees who feel a part of their organization, or are identified with their group, are more likely to positively view health information originating from their organization. Growing evidence indicates that certain technologies might also tap into feelings of identification and help promote the uptake of workplace health information. In addition, workplaces recognized as having norms for safety and health cultures might be more influential in improving health, safety, and risk behaviors. Recognizing boundaries between employee and workplace can also be fruitful in elucidating the ethics and legality of WHPs. Finally, program evaluation must become an integrated part of these programs to effectively evaluate their impact.