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.
Celebrity politicians are having a profound impact on the practice of politics within the United States and United Kingdom in the 21st century. With the adoption of social media platforms, celebrity and image candidates have deployed new strategies for attracting constituents. Taken together, the proliferation of celebrity politics and the ubiquity of digital platforms have fostered a unique atmosphere in the contemporary political moment, wherein “outsider” candidates may leverage their fame to launch themselves into the public spotlight. In turn, through their celebrity brands and digital presence both populists such as the U.S. President Donald Trump and left-wing leaders including U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have established an “authenticity” in which they “occupy” a public space to define their candidacies. Consequently, as celebrities and image candidates promote political agendas among target audiences/citizens, it is necessary to reflect upon their significance in election campaigns, policy agendas, and activism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Globalization should be understood as a new economic, political, and cultural dynamic in what is now a global space. It is diagnosed based on a description of the different phases in its development, as an abstract, modern narrative reinforced by cyberculture, the information and communications technologies (ICTs) culture that emerged in the 1970s. Communications media have enabled the constraints and limits of space and time to be overcome, expanding human agency and connecting people and objects. Globalization is linked to the development of cyberculture precisely because this increases the number of different types of connections between people, products, and information all around the planet. It is constructed abstractly, as it does not pay the price of the connections and connectors that locate social relations. At the same time as it helps to create the fiction of “global globalization,” cyberculture reveals mediators that always connect objects, processes, people, and places, making a “localized globalization” visible. Rather than being merely deterritorializing, globalization produces connections and situations with the aid of connectors. Like every sociotechnical network, it is involved in the creation of new spatialities. The narrative of globalization ignores the connectors and overlooks the notion of territory, asserting the global nature of globalization when in fact it is the result of concrete mediations performed locally, produced by a specific and material network. It is important to politicize globalization. This requires “relocalization” of the global, that is, identifying specific, material situations. Having an appreciation of this dependence leads us to very concrete political attitudes. Attention is drawn to the need to give visibility to the mediators that anchor experiences, gainsaying the generic nature of globalization and allowing it to be politicized.
Kevin A. Whitehead
In the wake of what has been called the “discursive turn” or “linguistic turn” in the social sciences, research at the intersection of language and communication and race and racism shifted from being largely dominated by quantitative and experimental methods to include qualitative and particularly discursive approaches. While the term “discursive” potentially encompasses a wide range of modes of discourse analysis, discursive approaches share a focus on language use as social action, and as a constitutive feature of actions, events, and situations, rather than as merely a passive means of describing or transmitting information about them. When applied to the study of race and racism, such approaches have examined ways in which language functions to construct, maintain, and legitimate as well as subvert or resist racial and/or racist ideologies and social structures.
Research in these areas has made use of a range of empirical materials, including “elite” texts and talk (media texts, parliamentary debates, academic texts, etc.), individual interviews, focus groups and group discussions, “naturally occurring” talk-in-interaction from conversational and institutional settings, and text-based online interactions. Although these different data types should not be seen as strictly mutually exclusive, each of them serves to foreground particular features of racial or racist discourse(s), thus facilitating or constraining particular sorts of discourse analytic findings. Thus, different data sources respectively tend to foreground ideological features of racial discourse(s) and their intersection with power and domination, including examination of “new” racisms and the production and management of accusations and denials of racism; discursive processes involved in the construction and uses of racial subjectivities and identities; interactional processes through which prejudice and racism are constructed and contested; and the everyday interactional reproduction of systems of racial categories, independently of whether the talk in which they occur can or should be considered “racist.”
Robert T. Tally, Jr.
Fredric Jameson (b. 1934) was the leading Marxist literary and cultural critic in the United States and, arguably, in the English-speaking world in the late 20th century and remains so in the early 21st. In a career that spans more than 60 years, Jameson has produced some 25 books and hundreds of essays in which he has demonstrated the versatility and power of Marxist criticism in analyzing and evaluating an enormous range of cultural phenomena, from literary texts to architecture, art history, cinema, economic formations, psychology, social theory, urban studies, and utopianism, to mention but a few. In his early work, Jameson introduced a number of important 20th-century European Marxist theorists to American audiences, beginning with his study of Jean-Paul Sartre’s style and continuing with his Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison-House of Language (1972), which offered critical analyses of such theorists as Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, along with the Frankfurt School, Russian formalism, and French structuralism. With The Political Unconscious (1981) and other works, Jameson deftly articulated such topics as the linguistic turn in literature and philosophy, the concepts of desire and national allegory, and the problems of interpretation and transcoding in a decade when continental theory was beginning to transform literary studies in the English-speaking world. Jameson then became the leading theorist and critic of postmodernism, and his Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) demonstrated the power of Marxist theoretical practice to make sense of the system underlying the discrete and seemingly unrelated phenomena in the arts, architecture, media, economics, and so on. Jameson’s concept of cognitive mapping has been especially influential on cultural theories of postmodernity and globalization. Jameson’s lifelong commitment to utopian thought and dialectical criticism have found more systematic expression in such books as Archaeologies of the Future (2005) and Valences of the Dialectic (2009), and he has continued to develop a major, six-volume project titled “The Poetics of Social Forms” (the final two volumes of which remain forthcoming as of 2018), whose trajectory ultimately covers myth, allegory, romance, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and beyond. Jameson’s expansive, eclectic, and ultimately holistic approach to cultural critique demonstrates the power of Marxist critical theory both to interpret, and to help change, the world.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Amid the large scale inequalities in health outcomes witnessed globally, communication plays a key role in reifying and in offering transformative spaces for challenging these inequities. Communicative processes are integral to the globalization of capital, constituting the economic conditions globally that fundamentally threaten human health and wellbeing. The dominant approach to global health communication, situated within the global capitalist logics of privatization and profiteering, deploys a culturally targeted and culturally sensitive framework for addressing individual behavior. The privatization of health as a commodity creates new market opportunities for global capital. The extraction of raw materials, exploitation of labor, and the reproduction of commoditization emerge on the global arena as the sites for reproducing and circulating health vulnerabilities. By contrast, the culture-centered approach to global health foregrounds the co-creative work of building communicative infrastructures that emerge as sites for resisting the neoliberal transformation of health care. Through processes of grassroots democratic participation and ownership over communicative resources, culture-centered interventions create anchors for community-level interventions that seek to transform unhealthy structures. A wide array of social movements, activist interventions, and advocacy projects emerging from the global margins re-interpret the fundamental meanings of health to create alternative structures for imagining health.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the periodizing concept “post-truth” (PT) initially appeared in the United States as a key word of popular politics in the form “post-truth politics” or “post-truth society,” it quickly appeared in many languages. It is now the object of increasing scholarly attention and public debate. Its popular and academic treatments sometimes differ in respect to its meaning, but most associate it with communication forms such as fake or false news, rumors, hoaxes, and political lying. They also identify causes such as polarization and unethical politicians or unregulated social media; shoddy journalism; or simply the inevitable chaos ushered in by digital media technologies. PT is sometimes posited as a social and political condition whereby citizens or audiences and politicians no longer respect truth (e.g., climate science deniers or “birthers”) but simply accept as true what they believe or feel. However, more rigorously, PT is actually a breakdown of social trust, which encompasses what was formerly the major institutional truth-teller or publicist—the news media. What is accepted as popular truth is really a weak form of knowledge, opinion based on trust in those who supposedly know. Critical communication approaches locate its historical legacy in the earliest forms of political persuasion and questions of ethics and epistemology, such as those raised by Plato in the Gorgias. While there are timeless similarities, PT is a 21st-century phenomenon. It is not “after” truth but after a historical period where interlocking elite institutions were discoverers, producers, and gatekeepers of truth, accepted by social trust (the church, science, governments, the school, etc.). Critical scholars have identified a more complex historical set of factors, to which popular proposed solutions have been mostly blind. Modern origins of PT lie in the anxious elite negotiation of mass representative liberal democracy with proposals for organizing and deploying mass communication technologies. These elites consisted of pioneers in the influence or persuasion industries, closely associated with government and political practice and funding, and university research. These influence industries were increasingly accepted not just by business but also by (resource-rich) professional political actors. Their object was not policy education and argument to constituents but, increasingly strategically, emotion and attention management. PT can usefully be understood in the context of its historical emergence, through its popular forms and responses, such as rumors, conspiracies, hoaxes, fake news, fact-checking, and filter bubbles, as well as through its multiple effects—not the least of which the discourse of panic about it.
Sarah J. Jackson
Because of the field’s foundational concerns with both social power and media, communication scholars have long been at the center of scholarly thought at the intersection of social change and technology. Early critical scholarship in communication named media technologies as central in the creation and maintenance of dominant political ideologies and as a balm against dissent among the masses. This work detailed the marginalization of groups who faced restricted access to mass media creation and exclusion from representational discourse and images, alongside the connections of mass media institutions to political and cultural elites. Yet scholars also highlighted the ways collectives use media technologies for resistance inside their communities and as interventions in the public sphere.
Following the advent of the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, and the granting of public access to the Internet in 1991, communication scholars faced a medium that seemed to buck the one-way and gatekeeping norms of others. There was much optimism about the democratic potentials of this new technology. With the integration of Internet technology into everyday life, and its central role in shaping politics and culture in the 21st century, scholars face new questions about its role in dissent and collective efforts for social change. The Internet requires us to reconsider definitions of the public sphere and civil society, document the potentials and limitations of access to and creation of resistant and revolutionary media, and observe and predict the rapidly changing infrastructures and corresponding uses of technology—including the temporality of online messaging alongside the increasingly transnational reach of social movement organizing. Optimism remains, but it has been tempered by the realities of the Internet’s limitations as an activist tool and warnings of the Internet-enabled evolution of state suppression and surveillance of social movements. Across the body of critical work on these topics particular characteristics of the Internet, including its rapidly evolving infrastructures and individualized nature, have led scholars to explore new conceptualizations of collective action and power in a digital media landscape.