Media technologies are at the heart of media studies in communication and critical cultural studies. They have been studied in too many ways to count and from a wide variety of perspectives. Yet fundamental questions about media technologies—their nature, their scope, their power, and their place within larger social, historical, and cultural processes—are often approached by communication and critical cultural scholars only indirectly. A survey of 20th- and 21st-century approaches to media technologies shows communication and critical cultural scholars working from, for, or against “deterministic” accounts of the relationship between media technologies and social life through “social constructivist” understandings to “networked” accounts where media technologies are seen embedding and embedded within socio-material structures, practices, and processes. Recent work on algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and platforms, together with their manifestations in the products and services of monopolistic corporations like Facebook and Google, has led to new concerns about the totalizing power of digital media over culture and society.
John Oetzel, Saumya Pant, and Nagesh Rao
Research on intercultural communication is conducted using primarily three different methodological approaches: social scientific, interpretive, and critical. Each of these approaches reflects different philosophical assumptions about the world and how we come to know it. Social scientific methods often involve quantitative data collection and research approaches such as surveys and experiments. From this perspective, intercultural communication is seen as patterns of interaction, and we seek to explain and understand these patterns through clear measurement and identification of key independent variables. Interpretive methods often involve qualitative data collection and research approaches such as interviews and ethnographic observation. From this perspective, intercultural communication and meaning is created through interaction, and we seek to understand these meanings by exploring the perspectives of people who participate as members of cultural communities. Critical methods often involve qualitative data collection and research approaches such as interviews and textual critique. From this perspective, intercultural communication involves inequalities that can be attributed to power and distortions created from (mis)use of this power. Critical scholars seek to unmask domination and inequality. Most scholars utilize one of these primary approaches given the consistency with their world views, theories, and research training. However, there are creative possibilities for combining these approaches that have potential for fuller understanding of intercultural communication.
Matthew Bost and Matthew S. May
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are among the most powerful theorists of communication and social change under present-day global capitalism. In their Empire trilogy and other individual and collaborative works, Hardt and Negri argue for the fundamentally communicative nature of contemporary power. Their analyses demonstrate the ways that media technology, global flows of finance capital, and the contemporary shift to economies based on information and affective or emotional labor create new, more complex networks of oppression and new possibilities for more democratic social change. Hardt and Negri’s work, therefore, shifts the focus of critical communication and cultural theory from attaining or challenging political power within the nation-state and invites scholars to rethink sovereignty as empire: an interconnected global phenomenon appertaining to capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They furthermore reimagine dissent as a constitutive process of resistance and mutual aid through which the multitude simultaneously withdraws from empire and composes itself through the social communication of struggles across time and space. Hardt and Negri’s work has been taken up in communication studies to theorize the materiality of communication; the labor performed in cognitive, communication, and service industries; contemporary media audiences and reception; and historical and contemporary social movements, from the Industrial Workers of the World to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
Robert Alan Brookey and Jason Phillips
Michael Warner is the Seymour H. Knox Professor of English and American Studies at Yale University, and his career has followed an interesting trajectory, beginning with the study of print and its importance to the emerging American nation and extending into queer theory and contemporary politics. There is an important line of thought that connects three of Michael Warner’s books: The Letters of the Republic (1990), Publics and Counterpublics (2002), and The Trouble with Normal (1999). In The Letters of the Republic, Warner begins to outline the way in which publics emerge and are discursively produced. In Publics and Counterpublics, he more thoroughly engages both the production of normative publics and the resistant communities of counterpublics, the latter of which he often illustrates with examples drawn from queer communities. Finally, in The Trouble with Normal, Warner challenges the efforts of gay and lesbian rights advocates to accommodate and assimilate to heteronormative standards in an effort to join the public constituted by the dominant heterosexual society. As he notes, these efforts effectively undermine the transformative qualities that queerness can bring to a society in refiguring the way sex and relationships are regarded. In effect, The Trouble with Normal seems to be a queer, counterpublic polemic, one that mirrors (in purpose, if not in content) the emerging revolutionary discourse in 18th-century America. In addition, Warner provides some valuable perspectives on the development of public discourse in American, and makes several observations that pre-date, yet bring into sharp relief, some of the issues and concerns that have been raised about social media.
Michel Foucault, who was born in 1926 into an upper-middle-class family, came of age in post-World War II Paris, studied with Louis Althusser, and rose to intellectual prominence in the 1970s, died on June 25, 1984. The near celebrity status that he acquired during his lifetime has multiplied since his death as the Foucault of disciplinary power has been supplemented with the Foucault of neoliberalism, biopolitics, aesthetics of the self, and the ontology of the present. These different forms of Foucauldian analysis are often grouped into three phases of scholarship that include the archeological, the genealogical, and the ethical. The first period, produced throughout the 1960s, focuses on the relationship between discourse and knowledge; the second period, developed throughout the 1970s, zeroes in on diverse structures of historically evolving power relations; and, the Foucault that emerged in the 1980s explores technologies of the self or the work of the self on the self. This well-recognized periodization highlights the triangulated structure of associations among knowledge, power, and subjectivity that animated his work. Because a number of decentered relations, something he called governmentality, are woven through everyday experience, Foucault questioned the assumption that communication takes place between autonomous, self-aware individuals who use language to negotiate and organize community formation and argued instead that this web of discourse practices and power relations produces subjects differentially suited to the contingencies of particular historical epochs.
Although a critical consensus has endorsed this three-part taxonomy of Foucault’s scholarship, the interpretation of these periods varies. Some view them through a linear progression in which the failures of one moment lay the groundwork for the superseding moment: his discursive emphasis in the archeological phase gave way to his emphasis on power in the genealogical phase which, in turn, gave way to his focus on subjectivity in the ethical phase. Others, such as Jeffrey Nealon, understand the shifts as “intensifications” (p. 5) wherein each phase tightens his theoretical grip, triangulating knowledge, power, and subjectivity ever more densely. Still others suggest that the technologies of the self that undergird Foucault’s ethical period displace the leftist orientation of his early work with a latent conservatism. Regardless of where one lands on this debate, Foucault’s three intellectual phases cohere around an ongoing analysis of the relationships among knowledge, power, and subjectivity—associations at the heart of communication studies.
Focused on how different subjects experience the established “regime of truth,” Foucault’s historical investigations, while obviously diverse, maintain a similar methodology, one he labeled the history of thought and contrasted with the history of ideas. As he conceives it, the history of ideas attempts to determine the origin and evolution of a particular concept through an uninterrupted teleology. He distinguishes his method, the history of thought, through its focus on historical problematization. This approach explores “the way institutions, practices, habits, and behavior become a problem for people who have certain types of habits, who engage in certain kinds of practices, and who put to work specific kinds of institutions.” In short, he studies how people and society deal with a phenomenon that has become a problem for them. This approach transforms the narrative of human progress into a history broken by concrete political, economic, and cultural problems whose resolution requires reconstituting the prevailing knowledge–power–subject dynamics. Put differently, Foucault illuminates historical breaks and the shifts required for their repair. Whereas the history of ideas erases the discontinuity among events, he highlights those differences and studies the process by which they dissolve within a singular historical narrative. Glossing his entire oeuvre, he suggests that his method can address myriad concerns, including “for example, about madness, about crime, about sex, about themselves, or about truth.” An overarching approach that intervenes into dominant narratives in order to demonstrate their silencing effects, the history of thought undergirds all three of Foucault’s externally imposed periods. Each period explores knowledge, power, and subjectivity while stressing one nodal point of the relationship: archeology stresses knowledge formation; genealogy emphasizes power formation; and the ethical period highlights subject formation. This strikingly original critical approach has left its mark on a wide range of theorists, including such notable thinkers as Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Donna Haraway, and Judith Butler, and has influenced critical communication scholars such as Raymie McKerrow, Ronald Greene, Kendell Phillips, Jeremy Packer, and Laurie Ouellete.
Massive migration both within and between countries has been witnessed over the last two centuries. Migration is a multifaceted event with significant socioeconomic, cultural, political consequences for both receiving and sending countries/regions. Migrants typically move to a more developed region with the hope of obtaining better employment and living standards. Migrants, a cheap labor source with high achievement motivation, seem to be the ideal workforce for aging societies that have an urgent need for working populations. Despite migrants being needed for local economic growth, migrant workers are often marginalized in host societies. In addition, lacking human, social, and cultural capital, migrants are more disadvantaged in the job markets, especially during economic downturns. Life establishment in host societies is by no means an easy task for migrants who are also confronted with issues such as cultural differences and extra socioeconomic pressures. Institutionalized and daily discrimination from host societies also have significant negative impacts on migrants’ professional and everyday lives. Thus, migrants often report lower levels of happiness, job satisfaction, and health than their local counterparts. It is urgent to facilitate migrants’ integration and diminish social division between migrants and locals to improve migrant workers’ life quality in the host societies.
Mary E. Triece
A study of social movements advances a people’s history of the United States, providing a window into the ways ordinary people often took extraordinary measures to make laws, workplace conditions, the educational system, the quality of home life, and public spaces more open and responsive to the needs and concerns of marginalized groups. With the rise of industrial capitalism in the early 1800s came a host of social ills that prompted individuals to form organizations that enabled them to operate as a force for social change. As the Native American Chief Sitting Bull is purported to have said, “As individual fingers we can easily be broken, but together we form a mighty fist.”
The 1800s through the early 21st century provides numerous examples of people acting together as a mighty fist. As early as 1824, workers in textile mills in the Northeast United States enacted work stoppages and strikes in reaction to wage cuts and deplorable working conditions. The movement to abolish slavery in the mid-1800s provided a way for disenfranchised black men and women, such as the eloquent Frederick Douglass and Maria Stewart, as well as white women, to speak and organize publically. In the area of labor, female and black workers, excluded from the more formal organizing of trade unions through the American Federation of Labor, organized their own labor meetings (e.g., the National Labor Convention of the Colored Men of the United States), unions (e.g., the Women’s Trade Union League), and strikes (e.g., the Uprising of 20,000). By the late1800s through the 1930s, American socialism and the Communist Party, USA, influenced the philosophy and tactics employed by labor activists, many of whom were factory girls who played a formidable role in mass walk-outs in the Progressive Era. Struggles for workplace and civil rights continued throughout the 20th century to undo Jim Crow and segregation, to advocate for civil rights, to advance the rights of women in the workplace, and more recently, to fight for the rights of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender communities, undocumented workers, and immigrants, and to fight against the police repression of black and brown communities and against imperialism and globalization. Activists’ tools for resistance have been as diverse as their causes and include petitioning formal legislative bodies, picketing and rallying, engaging in work stoppages, occupation of public spaces (e.g., sit-downs, walk-outs, occupying squares and parks), and most recently, using social media platforms, blogs, and other forms of Internet activism to facilitate empowerment of marginalized groups and progressive social change.
The Internet has provided an important tool for facilitating international connections of solidarity in struggle. Although what follows focuses specifically on movements in the United States from roughly the 1800s to the present, efforts should continue to focus on the ways movements join forces across and around the globe.
Ana Caballero Mengibar
The concepts of nation and identity are intimately linked to how power functions in society. At its core the nation is associated with some sort of “authentic” cultural location. Speaking of the nation often implies cultural homogeneity and a sense of national unity. Critical cultural studies contest this view of the nation and the consequent construction of a coherent identity. The nation and its identities are neither univocal nor culturally homogenous, nor do the people have a socially cohesive experience. The nation is the product of cultural practices of representation between “Us” and the “Other,” all contained in stored societal knowledge and disseminated in discourses. The knowledge contained in discourses about the nation and its people, critical cultural followers argue, produce and reproduce a very particular type of truth contained in social categories such as sex, gender, age, race, ability, and class. The nation and its identities following a cultural critical tradition have been studied by an array of interdisciplinary theoretical approaches but most notably by postmodernists, postcolonialists, critical feminists, and multiculturalists. At their core, they all share the belief that the nation and its identities are socially constructed and that obscured social relations of power contained in discourses of nationhood can be uncovered. They also share a commitment to denouncing discrimination and inequality and enhancing the voices of the margins, the subalterns, and the multicultural identities contained in and transcending the nation. Critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Central to critical studies is the critical examination of discourses seeking to uncover the socially constructed machinery of power with the end goal of enacting social change. The terms nation and identity are political in nature and thus are highly interrelated with power.
Peter K. Bsumek
Neoliberalism has become a central topic in critical cultural studies and communication. Broadly speaking, neoliberalism refers to economic theories, political discourses, and cultural practices that support free markets and private property. It is a political project dedicated to rolling back “the welfare state” and instituting a society based on market principles, as well as the ideologies and forms of governance that justify and enable such reforms. Neoliberalism is seen by many in the critical cultural tradition as a threat to enduring values such as justice, equality, and the ideals of “the public good” and the “common interest.” Others are critical of it as an explanatory concept, arguing that it lacks coherence and is used promiscuously as an all-purpose category of denunciation.
In general, communication scholars have approached neoliberalism in two main ways. On the one hand, they have attempted to analyze communication about neoliberalism by focusing on the ways that communication is utilized to represent, enable, and justify neoliberal ideas, policies, and practices. This scholarship is largely concerned with the persuasive effects of communication and rhetoric. On the other hand, they have focused on the forms of communication that produce the cultural and material realities of neoliberalism. These scholars are generally concerned with the circulation of communication and rhetoric. It should come as no surprise that the distinction between the two approaches is not always neat and tidy. This is so, at least in part, because the critical traditions that inform this scholarship do not necessarily agree upon what exactly neoliberalism is. Communication scholars have engaged neoliberalism by aligning with, building upon, and mobilizing a variety of critical cultural scholarly approaches. Three of the most common approaches are discussed: neoliberalism as hegemonic project and ideology, neoliberalism as governmentality and biopolitics, and neoliberalism as political project and process. Each of these traditions assumes that neoliberalism constitutes, to a significant degree, the world we now inhabit.
Néstor García Canclini is an anthropologist and philosopher of culture whose work in Latin America has pioneered ideas of interculturalism, hybridity, consumption, and citizenship, both regionally and globally. His collaborative and individual research has provided extensive empirical and theoretical insights into the daily lives of ordinary people, as well as the significance of indigenous and avant-garde art and the role of the popular in building nations and sustaining them under circumstances of globalization.
In 2009, one of the most powerful executives in the world, Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein, asserted that his firm was “doing God’s work.” This comment was made in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that Goldman Sachs and other U.S. and European investment banks played important roles in creating. The comment’s audacity did not escape notice, raising eyebrows even in the mainstream news media given its historical situatedness at the tail end of the crisis. Although Blankfein’s comment was coded negatively in the cultural consciousness, it was also represented as iconic of the culture of Wall Street’s “Masters of the Universe,” as referred to in the popular vernacular. Blankfein’s comment is deployed to illustrate the conceptual models and methodologies of those fields of study known as critical and cultural organizational communication research. These closely coupled but distinct fields of study will be delimited with special attention to their objects of investigation and methodological deployments using this example.
Cultural and critical organizational communication represent closely coupled fields of study defined primarily by their phenomena or objects of study—organizational communications. Scholarship maps and analyzes communications to understand how organizations are constituted through communications that decide organizational policies, programs, practices, and values. Typically, organizational communications include all formal and informal signifying systems produced by members of the particular organization under investigation. Cultural approaches to organizational communication emphasize how these communications produce meaning and experience, while critical approaches address the systemic and historically sedimented power relations that are inscribed and reproduced through organizational communication signifying systems.
Organizational communication scholarship from a cultural approach would ordinarily seek to represent the organizational culture primarily using ethnographic methods aimed at disclosing an organization’s employee articulations, rituals, performances, and other circulations of symbol systems in the course of workaday life. However, the challenges to accessing Goldman Sach’s hallow grounds might defeat even the most intrepid ethnographer. Lacking direct access to the day-to-day practices and experiences of investment bankers, challenges of access to work-a-day spaces have encouraged researchers to adopt rhetorical and/or discourse analytical methods to understand the culture as represented in available cultural texts, such as internal communications, press announcements, available corporate policies, shareholder reports, and so on. Ethnographies of communication and rhetorical/discourse analysis together represent the primary nonfunctionalist methodologies commonly used to study how organizational meanings are produced, disseminated, and transformed.
Across disciplines, organizational cultural analysis, particularly when pursued ethnographically, is typically rooted in an interpretive tradition known as verstehen, which understands meaning as agentively produced through a temporally emergent fusion of subjective horizons. Culture is therefore regarded as emergent and is believed to be actively constructed by its interlocutors, who are afforded great agency within the tradition of verstehen. The emergent aspects of culture are fertile and seed subcultures that produce novel cultural performances as members delineate symbolic boundaries. Power is regarded by this tradition as largely visible to the everyday interpretive gaze, although admittedly fixed in institutions by rules, roles, and norms. The relatively visible character of institutional power hierarchies is believed to beget open conflict when disagreement exists over the legitimacy of power relations. Power is believed to circulate visibly and is thus subject to re-negotiation. This emergent and negotiated social ontology encourages researchers to adopt a pluralist view of power and a more relativistic approach to evaluating the social implications of specific organizational cultures. However, the Blankfein example raises complex moral questions about organizational cultures. Does everyone at Goldman Sachs really think they are doing God’s work? If they do, what does that actually mean, and is it a good thing for society given the firm’s demonstrable appetite for risk? More deeply, what are the conditions of possibility for the CEO of one of the world’s most powerful organizations saying that his firm is pursuing God’s work?
Critical organizational communication adopts the methods of verstehen, in addition to methods from other critical traditions, but interjects ethical interrogation of systemic inequities in access to power and resources that are found across many social institutions and are deeply embedded historically. For example, a critical scholar might interrogate whether Goldman Sach’s cultural exceptionalism is found across the financial sector’s elite organizations and then seek to explore the roots of this exceptionalism in historical event and power trajectories. The critical scholar might address the systemic effects of a risk-seeking culture that is rooted in the collective belief it is doing God’s work. Critical organizational communication research seeks to understand how organizational communications naturalize or reify particular organizational interests, elevating them above the interests of other stakeholders who are consequently denied equitable opportunities for agency.
Cultural and critical organizational communication studies have prioritized various discourse-based methodologies over the last 20 or so years. The challenges with ethnographic access may have helped drive this shift, which has been decried by those who see discourse analysis as too disconnected from the daily performances and meaning-makings of organizational members. However, the primary challenge facing these fields of study is the one long recognized as the “container metaphor” (Smith & Turner, 1995). The study of organizational communication too often represents its field of study as a self-contained syntagm—a closed signifying system—that too narrowly delimits boundaries of investigation to communications produced in and by particular organizational members with less examination of the material and symbolic embeddedness of those organizational communications within a wider social milieu of networked systems and historically embedded social structures. In essence, organizational communication has struggled to embed its observations of discrete communications/practices within more encompassing and/or networked social systems and structures.
Paul Gilroy is a central figure in British cultural studies. From There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack to Darker than Blue, his work has consistently interrogated what the political means for cultural studies, particularly with an eye toward making the world anew at some point in the near future. Indeed, Gilroy’s work suggests that the construct of the “political,” for cultural studies, has at least two interrelated meanings, both future-focused: (1) the political involves one form of investigation as a mode of entering into the conjunctural analysis; and (2) the political is also a nod toward black futurities as a mode of forever transforming said conjuncture. First, as noted by Stuart Hall, the cultural studies scholar has the responsibility to “necessarily abstract” from the conjuncture to begin an analysis. What this means is, whereas disciplinary scholarship focuses on the cultural, social, economic, or the political as set boundaries, the cultural studies scholar can begin with the political, in the first instance, and this may (or may not) lead to an investigation of the social, economic, or cultural elements of the conjuncture. This is an inherent element of the interdisciplinary approach of cultural studies. For Gilroy, nationalism and fascism are political constructs that he begins with, in the first instance. These political constructs, then, disproportionately lead to questions of racism and colonialism, which are disproportionately left out of the larger British cultural studies project. Gilroy’s career outlines a position that arguably has changed very little in contemporary British cultural studies: that white men are largely the gatekeepers of what constitutes cultural studies, many of whom completely ignore race in their theorizations of nationalism and fascism, even when it serves as an absent presence. Further, this liberal position of cultural studies requires intervention. Thus, second, and as noted by Lawrence Grossberg, the political for cultural studies also assumes that one’s work should do something in the world; it should seek to forever transform the conjuncture. In short, cultural studies is not just a theoretical exercise, but it is about telling a “better story” that can lead to transformation in the world. Indeed, Gilroy’s treatise on “racelessness,” often considered a nod toward colorblindness, is actually his attempt to speak the world anew. Put differently, Gilroy’s project has always been concerned with “routes” toward a new construct of humanism to disrupt Western engagements with the human. Despite its potential for white liberalism, then, Gilroy views cultural studies as uniquely positioned to speak the world anew, to challenge the solidity of the Western human and its connections to the Western nation. This, for Gilroy, requires rethinking the future, not through Karl Marx’s communist future, but Frantz Fanon’s decolonial future. In short, black futurities are everyone’s future.
For Paulo Freire, the Brazilian activist educator and philosopher of education, communication is at the heart of pedagogy, teaching, and learning through praxis that involves reflection and action ultimately to address social injustice and dehumanization. Dialogue is at the center of his pedagogical approach, as means to individuation and humanization. Dialogue assumes participants to be on an equal level even in the presence of difference. In his literacy work, Freire required teacher-facilitators to co-investigate the most important themes in the lives of students. These themes were codified into pictures and brought to dialogue that animated the re-creation of knowledge of participants’ world and themselves in it and, in the process of learning how to read, achieving knowledge of the word. The objective of this approach was not to reproduce “banking” education but to promote revolutionary emancipation of individual and society. Freire developed his work in the context of life in the state of Pernambuco, in the challenging circumstances—socially, historically, and geographically—of the Brazilian Northeast Region. He experienced poverty and hunger and was lucky in his access to education thanks to the efforts of his mother. He rose through the ranks of civil service, serving at state and national levels, addressing the literacy and emancipatory needs of the population, particularly adults in rural areas. Exiled during the military dictatorship in Brazil, Freire lived in Chile, the United States, and Switzerland, where he worked on education projects worldwide.
Bryant Keith Alexander
The nature of human social engagement could be described as operating along four basic principles: (1) notions of naming and recognizing features of particularity and difference; (2) establishing relational rituals and activities that build organizational systems in and as communities; (3) instantiating hierarchies of power that regulate the vagaries of daily living; and (4) enacting methods of communication that seek to promote ideas and mediate social understanding. Thus, the construction of “performance of race, culture, and whiteness” articulates and integrates these four overlapping notions that animate and map onto aspects of human social engagement that might also be reframed as enquiry, enactment, and enculturation. A range of diverse definitions of each of the terms exists and their features coalesce and co-inform each other. The social actors in the dramas of everyday performances do not always self-select the roles they play. But they can shape the performances they engage in and promote productive culture and relational engagements toward social justice.
Performance studies presumes that political economy, cultural continuity, self-fashioning, and interpersonal exchange are embodied, aesthetic, affective, creative, contested, and rhetorical processes whose work can be understood through analyses of their presentational and representational particulars. Scholars in the field investigate storytelling, ritual, dance, music, and theater: live and mediated, professional and amateur. But they also deploy “performance” as a heuristic tool for examining practices of everyday life, history, the economy and the law, material culture, and other cultural forms not typically considered performance with the goal of excavating their aesthetic, theatrical, spectacular, audience-directed qualities, then explaining how these qualities do cultural and political work. Thus, in performance studies, performance is both an object and a method of study: a mode of communication and a strategy for framing and examining cultural artifacts and processes. Performance practice is a primary commitment in performance studies; it is a site to be investigated, a mode of scholarly inquiry, and a tool of scholarly representation. Within the field of communication, it is most closely aligned with rhetoric and critical cultural studies. But its many interdisciplinary incarnations include those that privilege modes of communication other than the linguistic, including dance studies and ethnomusicology.
The field of performance studies is highly interdisciplinary, with its roots in the practices of elocution, the oral interpretation of literature, and theater, as well as anthropology and folklore studies. The fundamentally contested nature of performance as a concept requires researchers to clarify the parameters and presumptions about performance in their analyses, including who or what performs, and in what sense. The field’s investment in the body as a site of knowledge and cultural production is evidenced in its primary methodologies, including performance ethnography, performance historiography, and oral history. This investment in the body also emerges in the field’s use of performed and written autoethnography and in experiments with performative writing.
Political economy approaches examine the power relations that comprise the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark the political economy approach including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, Europe, and the less developed world.
Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of both concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions.
Political economy approaches tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film or a book to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe and companies use media technologies, now often comprised of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.
Dal Yong Jin
Political economy of the media includes several domains including journalism, broadcasting, advertising, and information and communication technology. A political economy approach analyzes the power relationships between politics, mediation, and economics. First, there is a need to identify the intellectual history of the field, focusing on the establishment and growth of the political economy of media as an academic field. Second is the discussion of the epistemology of the field by emphasizing several major characteristics that differentiate it from other approaches within media and communication research. Third, there needs an understanding of the regulations affecting information and communication technologies (ICTs) and/or the digital media-driven communication environment, especially charting the beginnings of political economy studies of media within the culture industry. In particular, what are the ways political economists develop and use political economy in digital media and the new media milieu driven by platform technologies in the three new areas of digital platforms, big data, and digital labor. These areas are crucial for analysis not only because they are intricately connected, but also because they have become massive, major parts of modern capitalism.
M. Madhava Prasad
At the core of what we know as popular culture studies today is the work of scholars associated with or influenced by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Popular culture itself and intellectual interest in its risks and possibilities, however, long predate this moment. Earlier in the 20th century, members of the Frankfurt School took an active interest in what was then referred to as “mass culture” or the culture industry. Semiotics, emerging in the latter half of the 20th century as an exciting new methodology of cultural analysis, turned to popular culture for many of its objects as it redefined textuality, reading, and meaning. The works of Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco are exemplary in this regard. The work of the Birmingham school, also known as British cultural studies, drew from both of these intellectual traditions but went on to forge its own unique methods drawing on Marxist and poststructuralist theoretical legacies. Quickly spreading across the Anglophone world, Cultural Studies is now widely recognized, if not as a discipline proper, as a distinctive branch of the humanities. Other methodologies contemporaneous with this trend are also now clubbed together as part of this generalized practice of cultural studies. Important among these are feminist approaches to popular culture exemplified by work on Hollywood cinema and women’s melodrama in particular, the study of images and representations through a mass communications approach, and ethnographic studies of readers of popular romances and television audiences. A minor, theoretically weak tradition of popular culture studies initiated by Ray Browne parallelly in the Unites States may also be mentioned. More recently, Slavoj Zizek has introduced startlingly new ways of drawing popular cultural texts into philosophical debates. If all of these can be taken together as constituting what is generally referred to as popular culture studies today, it is still limited to the 20th century. Apart from the Frankfurt School and semiotics, British cultural studies also counts among the precursors it had to settle scores with, the tradition of cultural criticism in Britain that Matthew Arnold and in his wake F. R. Leavis undertook as they sought to insulate “the best of what was thought and said” from the debasing influence of the commercial press and mass culture in general. But the history of popular culture as an object of investigation and social concern goes further back still to the 18th and 19th centuries, the period of the rise and spread of mass literature, boosted by the rise of a working-class readership.
Diane Marie Keeling and Marguerite Nguyen Lehman
Posthumanism is a philosophical perspective of how change is enacted in the world. As a conceptualization and historicization of both agency and the “human,” it is different from those conceived through humanism. Whereas a humanist perspective frequently assumes the human is autonomous, conscious, intentional, and exceptional in acts of change, a posthumanist perspective assumes agency is distributed through dynamic forces of which the human participates but does not completely intend or control. Posthumanist philosophy constitutes the human as: (a) physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment; (b) moved to action through interactions that generate affects, habits, and reason; and (c) possessing no attribute that is uniquely human but is instead made up of a larger evolving ecosystem. There is little consensus in posthumanist scholarship about the degree to which a conscious human subject can actively create change, but the human does participate in change.
As distinguished from posthumanism, humanism is credited with attributing the conscious and intentional human subject as the dominant source of agency most worthy of scholarly attention. Since its inception during the Renaissance, humanism has been constituted in various ways throughout history, but as a collective body of literature, the human is typically constituted through humanism as: (a) autonomous from nature given the intellectual faculties of the mind that controls the body, (b) uniquely capable of and motivated by speech and reason, and (c) an exceptional animal that is superior to other creatures. Humanist assumptions concerning the human are infused throughout Western philosophy and reinforce a nature/culture dualism where human culture is distinct from nature. In contrast, a posthumanist scholar rejects this dichotomy through understanding the human as entangled with its environment. A posthumanist scholar of communication typically integrates scholarship from a variety of other disciplines including, but not limited to: art, architecture, cybernetics, ecology, ethology, geology, music, psychoanalysis, and quantum physics.
Nathan A. Crick
Poststructuralism represents a set of attitudes and a style of critique that developed in critical response to the growth and identification of the logic of structural relations that underlie social institutions—whether they exist in terms of politics, economics, education, medicine, literature, or the sciences. Poststructuralism should therefore not be thought of as a distinct philosophy that exists separately as its own “structure”—a proposition that would undermine its most fundamental attitudes. Rather, poststructuralism should be thought of as developing or arising only in response to pre-existing structures and, as a set of attitudes, helping us better understand, interpret, and alter our social environment by calling established meanings into question, revealing the points of ambiguity and indeterminacy inherent in any system, rejecting the rationalistic piety that all systems are internally coherent and circle around an unchanging center, showing how discourses are carriers of power capable of turning us into subjects, and placing upon us the burden of ethical responsibility that accompanies the acceptance of freedom.
Although poststructuralism by its very nature as a set of attitudes denies any attempt at comprehensive definition, this essay examines three of the major postructuralist thinkers in order to relate their thought to the study of communication. First, following Derrida, poststructuralist thought invites a critical deconstruction of any discourse that presents itself as completely coherent, centered, and rational. Poststructuralist approaches thus do not argue against a position by harnessing counterarguments drawing on a different set of principles. Rather, it deconstructs a discourse by occupying it and exposing the gaps, contradictions, paradoxes, and deferments, thus revealing its established hierarchies, binaries, logical conclusions, and principles to be far more loosely structured and poly-vocal than its advocates wish to present them. Second, following Barthes, poststructuralism refuses to locate any single point of origin of any text that can ground its meaning—particularly by pointing to some ground of the author. Although not denying that writers exist, Barthes refuses to identify the meaning of a text with the author’s biography and intentions, instead inviting multiple interpretations from the perspective of individual readers who encounter the text as a unique event. Therefore, just as discourses do not have a unified structure, neither do individual texts or the authors that produce them. Lastly, following Fouacult, poststructuralism invites an inquiry into how discourses, texts, and acts of communication are always implicated in relations of power that act upon possible actions. Following the first two propositions, poststructuralism does not analyze these relations of power as completely structured and determinate, however. Power relations are always within a dynamic relationship with acts of resistance, thereby constantly leaving space for freedom and possibility.