Matthew S. May and Kate Siegfried
Louis Pierre Althusser (1918–1990) is widely recognized as one of the most significant and influential Marxist philosophers associated with the structuralist turn in the middle of the 20th century. The ongoing publication of scholarly monographs that develop his conceptual legacy, the depth of his impact in disciplinary debates in fields across the humanities and social sciences, and the continued translation of his work from French into multiple languages, to offer only a few examples, testify to the consensus regarding the enduring importance of his theoretical innovations and often controversial interventions. He devoted tremendous intellectual energy toward a critique of humanism and phenomenological-based Marxism even as he eschewed traditional positivist economic explanations of history and exploitation—engaging in what amounts to nothing less than an effort to fundamentally shift the way the West reads and interprets Marx. Despite the controversial aspects of his interventions, there is little disagreement that the concepts produced by Althusser irreversibly affected and continue to affect the trajectory of Marxist and post-Marxist thought throughout the world, albeit often through the back door, smuggled in and unrecognized—in his lexicon: as an embedded but nevertheless absent cause.
Doug Ashwell and Stephen M. Croucher
The Global South–North divide has been conceptualized in political, cultural, economic, and developmental terms. When conceptualizing this divide, issues of economic growth/progress, technology, political and press freedom, and industrialization have all been used as indicators to delineate between the “North” and the “South.” The North has traditionally been seen as more economically, technologically, politically, and socially developed, as well as more industrialized and having more press freedom, for example; the South has been linked with poverty, disease, political tyranny, and overall lack of development. This conceptualization privileges development efforts in the Global South based on democratic government, capitalist economic structures with their attendant neoliberal agenda and processes of globalization. This negative view of the South is a site of contest with people of the South offering alternative and more positive views of the situation in the South and alternatives to globalization strategies. While there may be some identifiable difference between some of the countries in the identified Global South and Global North, globalization (economic, political, technological, etc.) is changing how the very Global South–North divide is understood. To best understand the implications of this divide, and the inequalities that it perpetuates, we scrutinize the Global South, detailing the background of the term “Global South,” and examine the effect of globalization upon subaltern groups in the Global South. We also discuss how academic research using frameworks of the Global North can exacerbate the problems faced by subaltern groups rather than offer them alternative development trajectories by empowering such groups to represent themselves and their own development needs. The culture-centred approach to such research is offered as alternative to overcome such problems. The terms usage in the communication discipline is also explained and the complexity of the term and its future is explored.
Diana Isabel Bowen
Gloria Anzaldúa was a Chicana feminist, queer, cultural critic, author, and artist who is well-known for her concept of the borderlands, physically referring to the U.S.–Mexico border, but also incorporating psychological aspects to describe the spiritual, sexual, or other boundaries that, although arbitrary and painful, guide one’s identity. Using her experiences as a means to create art and social thought, Anzaldúa calls the process of using struggles resulting from sexism, racism, and homophobia a starting point; she explained how theories of the flesh were born out of this necessity. Often, this process involves creating art or writing poetry, fiction, and theoretical essays that require adopting or crafting new terms and categories to more fully explain the lived experiences of people of color. In her writing, she used autohistorias—a term that describes using biographical stories interspersed across genres of writing—and often switched between English, Spanish, and Náhuatl languages. Noticing that scholars tended to use her theory of the borderlands almost exclusively to discuss the geographic tensions between the United States and Mexico, for example, she adopted the Náhuatl term nepantla to more succinctly describe the spiritual dimensions of experience.
Scholars interested in Anzaldúa’s work have observed the importance of acknowledging intersectionality and standpoint theories as central to exploring Chicana feminist thought. While her work connects her to the Chicana/o movement and to the women’s movement, Anzaldúa also discusses how the Chicana/o movement excluded women and the women’s movement excluded voices of women of color. Centering experiences of women of color and bringing marginalized voices to the center highlights Anzaldúa’s strategy for gaining awareness of one’s marginal status, reclaiming one’s identity through this knowledge, making use of everyday and structural acts of resistance, and creating theories of social change. These spaces of in-between are uncomfortable but also provide opportunities for social transformation.
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.
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.
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.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s intellectual projects have consistently foregrounded a deep and rigorous critique of power—the power of capitalism, colonialism, and racialization, ethnic nationalism and heteropatriarchy—and have established the significance of feminist perspectives for struggles for economic and social justice. Her work is generative and provocative for critical cultural communication scholarship in providing methodological tools with which to think about the nexus between power and knowledge, discourse, the appropriation of the local and the particular for the formation of the global and vice versa, the formation of universals abstracted from their histories and social formations such as the “Third World Woman,” identity, and historical materialism. Hers is an intellectual project, grounded in feminism, that takes on the thorny task of carving out solidarities through critique. Her project delineates its own ideological standpoint and formulates a feminist historical materialism that strives methodologically to hold local particularities and their global implications in a tight grip. Mohanty’s work is, in fact, a provocation to formulate modes of analysis that are founded on a careful epistemological critique, such that it has often been used most productively to unravel the formulation of ethnocentric universalism. As such, Mohanty’s work has been particularly relevant for the fields of black cultural studies, feminist media studies, postcolonial communication studies, transnational media studies, race, and communication within critical cultural communication studies.
Deanna L. Fassett and C. Kyle Rudick
Critical communication pedagogy (CCP) emerged from an interdisciplinary exploration of the relationships between communication and instruction that draws from and extends critical theory. This critical turn has influenced how the communication studies discipline defines and practices communication education (i.e., learning in communication or how best to teach communication) and instructional communication (i.e., communication in learning, or how communication functions to diminish or support learning across a broad array of contexts), from the one-on-one tutoring session to training and development, and beyond. This critical turn in communication and instruction is characterized by 10 commitments of critical communication pedagogy refigured here along three themes: (1) communication is constitutive, (2) social justice is a process, and (3) the classroom is a site of activism and interpersonal justice.
Critical communication pedagogy is defined by three primary criticisms: (1) CCP focuses on postmodern and constitutive philosophies of communication to the detriment of critical theory, (2) CCP focuses too much on in-class communication to the detriment of activist learning, and (3) CCP is over-reliant on autoethnographic and performative methodologies. An expanded, reinvigorated, and radicalized critical communication pedagogy for communication studies scholars entails greater attention to and extension of critical theory; sustained engagement in and with activism (both within and beyond the classroom); and a more robust engagement of diverse methods of data collection and analysis. Critical communication pedagogy scholarship as militant hope is more relevant than ever in the post-Trump era, signaling a way for communication scholars to cultivate ethics of equity and justice at all levels of education.
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.