Adrienne Shaw, Katherine Sender, and Patrick Murphy
Critical audience studies is the branch of media research primarily concerned with what people do with the media they consume, rather than on the supposedly negative effects of media on people. Critical audience studies has long drawn on “ethnographic ways of seeing” to investigate the everyday uses of media in myriad contexts. This area of audience research has had to define who and what constitutes “an audience,” where audiences are located, and how best to understand how people’s lives intersect with media. Changes in media production and distribution technologies have meant that texts are increasingly consumed in transnational and transplatform ways. These changes have disrupted historical distinctions between producers and audiences. Critical cultural approaches should be considered from a largely qualitative perspective and look at feminist and global reception studies as foundational to the understandings of what audiences might be and how to study them. Taking video game players as a boundary example, we need to reconsider how contemporary media forms and genres, modes of engagement, and niche and geographically dispersed media publics affect audiences and audience research: what, or who, is an audience, how can we understand it, and through what methods might we research it now?
Rebecca S. Richards
For much of human history, “femininity” and “masculinity” were unknown terms. But that does not mean that the concept of gender did not exist. Indeed, many societies in recorded history had conceptions of what it means to be a gendered person—most often noted in the binary of “man” and “woman”—but these conceptions were normative and perceived as intrinsic to human behavior and culture. Masculinity and femininity were naturalized concepts, assumed to be the ways in which men and women should act, look, or communicate.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars and activists noted that femininity and masculinity are social constructions of a gendered society, often denoting the ways in which people, objects, and practices conform to or transgress gendered expectations. Both terms are highly contingent upon the cultural, historical, and geopolitical locations in which they are used, meaning that they can only be accurately understood or defined for a given time or context; it is impossible to define either term in a universal manner. Femininity, as an articulated concept, has a longer history of being visible and enforced by communities. Masculinity, on the contrary, historically elided critique or visibility because its attributes were often the normative and prized values and characteristics of a given social context. However, feminist movements and intellectual projects have brought masculinity to light, showing the ways in which masculinity, just as much as femininity, is a learned and enforced way of viewing actions, people, and things.
In communication studies, current scholarship on masculinity and femininity examine how they circulate in a globalized world, picking up new definitions and often restructuring people’s lives. Even though both terms are abstractions with shifting definitions and applications, they create the conditions for people’s sense of identity and limit or enhance their ability to engage in communicative acts. Differently stated, while abstract concepts, they have material consequences. To understand how an abstract social construction creates material consequences, communication scholars have looked at several research locations where masculinity and femininity most obviously manifest, such as leadership and authority, media representations, rhetorical style and delivery, and interpersonal communications.
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.
The critical study of cultural and creative industries involves the interrogation of the ways in which different social forces impact the production of culture, its forms, and its producers as inherently creative creatures. In historical terms, the notion of “the culture industry” may be traced to a series of postwar period theorists whose concerns reflected the industrialization of mass cultural forms and their attendant marketing across public and private spheres. For them, the key terms alienation and reification spoke to the negative impacts of an industrial cycle of production, distribution, and consumption, which controlled workers’ daily lives and distanced them from their own creative expressions. Fears of the culture industry drove a mass culture critique that led social scientists to address the structures of various media industries, the division of labor in the production of culture, and the hegemonic consent between government and culture industries in the military-industrial complex. The crisis of capitalism in the 1970s further directed critical scholars to theorize new dialectics of cultural production, its flexibilization via new communications technologies and transnational capital flows, as well as its capture via new property regimes. Reflecting government discourses for capital accumulation in a post-industrial economy, these theories have generally subsumed cultural industries into a creative economy composed of a variety of extra-industrial workers, consumers, and communicative agents. Although some social theorists have extended cultural industry critiques to the new conjuncture, more critical studies of creative industries focus on middle-range theories of power relations and contradictions within particular industrial sites and organizational settings. Work on immaterial labor, digital enclosures, and production cultures have developed the ways creative industries are both affective and effective structures for the temporal and spatial formation of individuals’ identities.
Gayatri Spivak is one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. Although a literary critic, her work can be seen as philosophical as it is concerned with how to develop a transnational ethical responsibility to the radical “other,” who cannot be accessed by our discursive (and thus institutionalized) regimes of knowledge. Regarded as a leading postcolonial theorist, Spivak is probably best seen as a postcolonial Marxist feminist theorist, although she herself does not feel comfortable with rigid academic labeling. Her work is significantly influenced by the deconstructionist impulses of Jacques Derrida. Additionally, the influence of Gramsci and Marx is prominent in her thinking.
Spivak’s work has consistently called attention to the logics of imperialism that inform texts in the West, including in Western feminist scholarship. Relatedly, she has also written significantly on how the nation, in attempting to represent the entirety of a population, cannot access otherness or radical alterity. This is best seen in her work on the subaltern and in her intervention into the famous Indian group of Subaltern Studies scholars. Other related foci of her work have been on comprehending translation as a transnational cultural politics, and what it means to develop a transnational ethics of literacy.
Dialogue and its extension to polylogue are presented as an intersubjective basis of communication. The intersubjective aspect cannot be explained by any discipline without a contradiction, since any explanation would require intersubjective awareness. While necessary, dialogue requires a third aspect: dialogue about something, a theme, a subject matter, a problem, a point of disagreement, such that the topic sets a limit to the dialogical partners. This third aspect shifts the discussion away from subject-to-subject encounter as inadequate and moves to the subjects as partners who first are engaged in a dialogue about something. While speaking to someone about something, there is a mutual exchange of awareness and a broadening of horizons of both, with an addition of others who are co-present even if they are not empirically available. To speak to someone of physical laws is also to speak with Newton, Einstein, Planck, and others who form a polylogical field—forming an extension of the awareness of dialogical partners. The issue that arises is whether the individual can form her own position, or whether she is dominated by a historical tradition of interpretation. The dialectical debate between Habermas and Gadamer shows the problem, which is finally resolved by an extension of dialogue through education. The final and most concrete aspect of dialogical communication is present at the level of praxis as bodily activity which is equally intercorporeal. We build our world and thus our history and form a depth of intercorporeal communication of what we can do.
While the dialogical domain is the focus of this research, it also includes suggestions on critical evaluation of specific theories and mutual controversies among theorists, e.g., Habermas and Gadamer. Such controversies are necessary to show how dialogical procedures not only posit different theoretical positions but help such positions to become clearer and more articulated.
For the past two decades, the Korean Wave has been recognized in many parts of the world, and has articulated dynamic junctures of globalization, regionalization, and localization in the realms of media and popular culture. Due to online media platforms such as streaming services, television content has been diversifying and increasing its transnational circulation. More recently, the outbound scope of K-drama and K-pop has further reached dispersed global audiences, most of whom are not Korean media consumers or fans, thanks to active use of social media, such as YouTube, in transnational media consumption. The Korean Wave can be a meaningful contra-flow in transnational pop culture. Moreover, the Korean Wave is an evolutionary cultural flow, as traced in the history of its growth. The Wave has been experiencing continuities and discontinuities in its stream for years, along with its popularity cycle, and interestingly disjuncture has shaped it differently. A set of studies of the Korean Wave should map out the presence of the Wave in the big picture of cultural globalization, beyond the pre-existing geocultural divisions. The very recent Korean Wave drives not only the flow of various kinds of content and formats but also reciprocal interchanges of diverse levels of human, financial, technological, and cultural elements; this reconstructs implied meanings of the Korean Wave and its globalizing phenomena.
Srinivas Melkote and H. Leslie Steeves
The decades that immediately followed World War II witnessed the political independence of most of the so-called Third World from colonization and the birth of the United Nations, marking the formal beginning of development and directed social change to facilitate it. The role of communication in development (devcom) has evolved according to the overarching goals of the development programs and theories during each historical period since then. The process of modernization, in which devcom was initially nurtured, was influenced by quantitative and empirical social sciences theory, philosophy, and methodology; in particular, it had a strong economics orientation. It has been one of the most powerful paradigms in development study and practice to originate after World War II, with enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. Concepts and theories that articulated the development of Western Europe and North America were used by sociologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and others to generate development models for countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Mass media were accorded a central position in the modernization paradigm. The use of media for transmission of information and for persuasion, derived from World War II–related psychological warfare research in the United States, were transferred to areas such as extension education, instruction, agricultural, and health extension in development. By the 1970s, the concept of development and change expanded to include many more types of social change guided by different theories, disciplinary influences, geographical considerations, and methodologies. Change now included a widely participatory process of social change in a society and included social and cultural aspects besides the economic. While the participatory mode of communication for development programs and activities was a welcome addition to the devcom toolbox, the definitions of participation reflected a wide variety of approaches. In many contexts, the level of participation required by the people was low and perfunctory.
Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept and practice of empowerment expanded upon the earlier objective of participation in development communication models and practice. Broadly, empowerment is a process by which individuals, organizations, and communities gain control and mastery over their social and economic conditions. The concept and practice of empowerment posed a challenge to the identity and practice of development communication. It changed the way communication was conceptualized earlier and used in development and change work. At present, social justice within the processes of development and social change has gained traction and urgency. In the last 40 years, there has been a steep increase in income inequality and individual opportunity globally. Millions of people are still exposed to life-threatening diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and other debilitating conditions, and have very limited access to basic resources, such as education and healthcare. What are the progressive alternatives to the neoliberal model of directed change? What should be the place and role of devcom in alternative approaches? These concerns are addressed by anchoring ideas within a critical theory of social change for social justice.
Central to many definitions of the term “cultural imperialism” is the idea of the culture of one powerful civilization, country, or institution having great unreciprocated influence on that of another, less powerful, entity to a degree that one may speak of a measure of cultural “domination.” Cultural imperialism has sometimes been described as a theory, especially where scholars build a case that the cultural influence of the stronger entity has had a pervasive, pernicious impact on the weaker.
The term evolved from 1960s neo-Marxist discourses within cultural, media, and postcolonial studies that contextualized the post–World War II “independence” wave of new nations emerging from colonial servitude. It was propelled by the writings of nationalist revolutionaries, revolutionary theorists, and their sympathizers of the 1950s and 1960s, but it has sweeping relevance across human history. The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller. The concept was adopted and endorsed in the 1970s by both UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Following Oliver Boyd-Barrett, the concept may denote a field of study embracing all relationships between phenomena defined as “cultural” and as “imperialism.” These encompass cultural changes that are (1) enforced on a weaker entity and (2) occur within both stronger and weaker entities through contact, contest, and resistance, including (3) assimilation of social practices encountered by the stronger in the weaker entity, and (4) original hybrids manifesting cultural traces of both stronger and weaker entities.
The concepts of cultural and media imperialism were much critiqued during the 1980s and 1990s, and many scholars preferred alternative concepts such as globalization and cultural globalization to analyze issues of intercultural contact, whether asymmetrical or otherwise. John Tomlinson critiqued the concept, identified four different discourses of cultural imperialism, and argued in favor of its substitution with the term “globalization.” Mirrlees has placed Tomlinson’s work in context by describing the dialectical—parallel but mutually aware—development of both a cultural imperialism and a cultural globalization paradigm. Both are influential in the 21st century.
“Imperialism” commonly references relations of conquest, dominance, and hegemony between civilizations, nations, and communities. “Cultural imperialism” relates primarily to the cultural manifestations of such relations. Culture and empire relate in many different ways, fueling different theories that often play on dichotomous discourses, including territorial/non-territorial, totalistic/partial, benign/malign, ephemeral/perpetual, superficial/essential, voluntary/involuntary, intended/unintended, welcome/unwelcome, forceful/peaceful, noticed/unnoticed, linear/interactive, homogeneous/heterogeneous, and acceded/resisted.
The concept has affinities with hegemony, the idea that stability in conditions of social inequality is achieved not mainly by force but by securing the consent of the masses (starting with co-option of their indigenous leaders)—through persuasion and propaganda—to the elite’s view of the world. This process is commensurate with forms of democracy that provide the appearance but not the reality of choice and control. Fissures within the ranks of the elites and within the masses create spaces for resistance and change.
Culture encompasses the totality of social practices of a given community. Social practices are manifest within social institutions such as family, education, healthcare, worship, labor, recreation, language, communication, and decision-making, as well as their corresponding domains. Any of these can undergo change following a society’s encounter with exogenous influences—most dramatically so when stronger powers impose changes through top-down strategies of command and influence.
Analysis of cultural imperialism often incorporates notions of media imperialism with reference to (1) print, electronic, and digital media—their industrialization, production, distribution, content, and capital accumulation; (2) cultural meanings that media evoke among receivers and audience cultures; (3) audience and media interactions in representations of topics, people, and ideas; and (4) relationships between media corporations and other centers of power in the reproduction and shaping of social systems.
Media are logically subsumed as important components of cultural imperialism. Yet the significance of media can be understated. The concept of mediatization denotes that “knowledge” of social practices draws heavily on media representations. Social practices that are experienced as direct may themselves be formed through exposure to media representations or performed for media.
Discourses of cultural imperialism speak to major current controversies, including: cultural suppression and genocide; ideas of “globalization”; influential economic models of “capitalism” and “neoliberalism”; ideologies that are embedded in the global spread of concepts such as “modern,” “progressive,” “growth,” “development,” “consumerism,” “free market,” “freedom,” “democracy,” “social Darwinism” and “soft power”; cultural specificity of criteria and procedures for establishing “truth”; instrumentalization for the purposes of cultural conquest of academic disciplines such as psychoanalysis, economics, social anthropology, or marketing, or environmental crises, especially as linked to western ideologies that underwrite humanity’s “right” to dominate nature.
Hans J. Ladegaard
Although there is no exact definition of globalization, and relatively little empirical evidence on how it affects people’s lives, most scholars argue that it reflects an increasingly mobile and interconnected world. People travel for pleasure or work, or they migrate to other parts of the world. They also communicate with linguistic and cultural others, either face-to-face or via modern communication technologies, which requires them to use a global lingua franca (English). This leads to greater interdependence and a sense of sharedness, but also to more intergroup conflicts. Thus, the world has become more interconnected, but also more fragmented, and social and economic inequality both within and across nation-states has become more visible.
The importance of culture as an analytical concept in (intercultural) communication research is another pertinent topic in the literature. Some scholars have argued that culture has lost its potency as a meaningful analytical concept and therefore should no longer take center stage in communication research. Others claim that culture will always be salient and influence behavior. How and to what extent globalization changes culture has also been discussed extensively in recent years. Some scholars argue that globalization leads to sameness and uniformity, and ultimately to the end of the nation-state. Others disagree and posit that globalization leads to a strengthening of the nation-state and of the cultural values we associate with it.
A meaningful way to test theoretical assumptions about globalization and culture is to analyze communication and work practices in global organizations. Research from these contexts suggests that globalization has not led to cultural assimilation and uniformity. Employees in the global workplace and student sojourners use national stereotypes as a frame of reference when they communicate with cultural others, and they demonstrate high awareness of cultural differences and how they impact their communication, study, and work practices.
Recent research on cultural change and globalization has included a critical dimension that questions a world order where the increase in power and cultural and economic wealth in developed countries happens at the expense of poor people with no voice and little visibility living in developing countries. Critical (intercultural) communication research considers these imbalances and also provides a critique of Anglocentric research paradigms, which do not include the cultural and linguistic experiences of non-Western cultural others.